How one Houston rapper made a name for himself by making rap songs based on viral videos.
Sometime between November 26 and November 27 of last year, as the churlishness of late night Twitter bled into the astrology-based lean of early morning Twitter, a video of a girl unfortunately named Sharkeisha beating up a girl with nearsighted eyeballs went viral. An hour or so later, Beatking, a 29-year-old rapper from Houston, was uploading a song about it to Hulkshare.
This was not a spur of the moment thing (inasmuch as a song recorded at 4 a.m. can avoid that designation, anyway). More, it was the application of a methodology that Beatking has employed since 2011.
“It got to the point where that’s how some people knew me—I was the guy that makes the funny songs about stuff.” - Beatking
The back story: Beatking has, for five years now, maintained a professional presence on the radio in and around Houston. His career arc mirrors that of an untold number of local rappers made good: He started out freestyling with friends, then graduated to dishing Sharpie-marked CDs of himself rapping, then up to proper mixtapes, then up to local acclaim, then up to regional acclaim, until eventually the local radio stations could no longer ignore him. He is now, were you to somehow scale everything, second only to Kirko Bangz in buzz in the city, despite operating independently for the entirety of his career. It is, again, not an unfamiliar tale.
But where Beatking has separated himself is in his marketing, specifically him recording humorous quick songs based on videos that go viral. It seems simple and natural (and maybe it is), but it’s also effective (cumulatively, his viral songs have been viewed nearly one million times).
“I just do it to do it,” says Beatking. “The first time I [made a song about a viral video], after I put it out it got a big response. It grew every time. It got to the point where that’s how some people knew me—I was the guy that makes the funny songs about stuff.”
The song he's referencing is his 2011 track "Amber Cole Freestyle," which was aimed at Amber Cole, a then 14-year-old Tennessee girl who'd been filmed performing oral sex on a boy behind a school. That one, as you might imagine, elicited a very strong response, a mix between (a) people that were championing Beatking's unflinching candor, and (b) people that wanted to remove his head from his shoulders. He eventually posted an apology video on YouTube (in proper Beatking fashion, it was called "BEATKING AMBER COLE APOLOGY I GUESS LOL 10/18/11" and the first real sentence he says on it is, "I'm not apologizing for this freestyle"), but ultimately he was unswayed by the vitriol. Art, he decided, needed the Internet.
When Sharkeisha went viral, Beatking made a song.
There have been plenty in between, but those three represent his trinity.
"I had the Sharkeisha video sent to me I don't even know how many times," said Beatking, laughing. "I knew as soon as I watched it that I was gonna do a song. I think it took 60 minutes to do and it was up."
The songs are fundamentally the same (mostly, they're just one verse and that one verse is Beatking talking through punchlines), and, the Cole song exempted, well received (the song he made about Jaide the bully getting beat up was cosigned by Jaide herself on Twitter). But they're also endlessly catchy, and nearly always funny.
"I had the Sharkeisha video sent to me I don't even know how many times. I knew as soon as I watched it that I was gonna do a song. I think it took 60 minutes to do and it was up." - Beatking
In the Sharkeisha song, for example, he splices in sound bites from the actual video into a swelling, swollen bass line, and jokes "If I ever, ever, ever, ever get a bitch pregnant, and she name the baby Sharkeisha, I'm not gon' take care of it."
"It's fun to me," says Beatking, when asked why he records these songs. "That's why I do it. If I don't think it's funny, then I'll stop."
The first time I interviewed Beatking for this story, we sat in a Mexican restaurant in southwest Houston and ate nachos and drank beverages that were non-alcoholic because, somehow, despite his nearly drunken unfilteredness, Beatking doesn't drink anything stronger than soda. We sat together for nearly two hours, talking about his kids (two daughters—Beatprincesses, as it were), how dropping out of high school during his senior year didn't, at least at the moment, appear to have turned out as life-ending as he'd been led to believe it was going to be, and whether or not he still got excited to hear his music on the radio given that it's been happening with more and more regularity for the last handful of years (yes, duh) and maybe about 6,000 more things.
Really, though, there was only proper question that needed to be asked: Were you expecting these songs to cause the e-reverb that they did for you when you first started doing them? Extension: Did this all actually start out as a sort of Weird Al Yankovic-style guerrilla marketing plan, or did it just eventually become that when you saw that it could?
"It was all planned," says Beatking, a small laugh following.
And what about when their effect wanes?
A brief consideration. Then an answer:
"When YouTube got old, Vine came out. [The Internet] continues forever."
Shea Serrano is a writer and illustrator living in Houston. You can follow him on Twitter at @SheaSerrano.