Of all the songs floating in and out of the Billboard Hot 100 in the past couple weeks, two are songs by young upstart rappers: Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen," which we've covered extensively, and T-Wayne's "Nasty Freestyle," which erupted from nowhere.
A beat-jack of Bandit Gang Marco's "Nasty," T-Wayne's "Nasty Freestyle" is a choppy, extended brag about sold-out shows, one-night stands, and owning wild tigers as pets. Users of Instagram and Vine have meme-ified the song's opening bars: "First let me hop out the motherfucking Porsche/I don't want her if that ass don't sit like a horse."
While "Nasty Freestyle," which dropped in late February, is now something of a sneak success, Lyor Cohen's 300 Entertainment took early notice of T-Wayne's imminent Top 10 hit and signed the kid immediately. T-Wayne, who also goes by Ricky Wayne, was in New York last week, promoting his latest mixtape and introducing himself to the music business. ("T-Wayne," he explains, is a combination of his actual given name, Ty-Shaun, and his middle name Dwayne. He's not to be confused with the rumored Lil Wayne and T-Pain collaboration of the same name.)
We met up with T-Wayne and asked about the thrill of overnight success, the perils of becoming a meme, and the difference between chasing trends and crafting a distinct musical signature.
Justin Charity is a staff writer for Complex. Follow him @brothernumpsa.
Talk to me about Texas. Where are you from?
I’m from a little town called Abilene. I moved to Dallas at 15, then I moved to Houston at 19. I’ve been living in Houston for a long time.
Why’d you move to Houston?
Just better opportunities. My first song blew up in Houston four years ago, and I wanted to take advantage of that.
You have a song that’s No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 right now, out of nowhere. “Nasty Freestyle” was at No. 17 last week, and you’re in the top 10 this week.
It was kinda random. At first, I saw "Nasty Freestyle" doing numbers on YouTube, but those numbers weren’t crazy. Until I saw how (the single) was selling, I didn’t know. Someone else had to call me. People from labels see the inside information that normal people can’t see. So many people started to call me and say, “You know you’re No. 50 (on the charts)?!” I wasn’t even trying to do that! I was just trying to get a few quick YouTube views.
When did you first notice that it was blowing up on Vine?
It was popping on Instagram first. The Vines didn’t come for a minute, until a month after the song had started popping. I just started seeing random videos: the one where the girl’s weave fell out, and the horse one, which is new. It went from dance videos to skits, and that’s when it just took off.
If I made a song and hundreds of people started chopping it into jokey memes, I don’t know how I’d initially feel about that. What did you make of it?
I just thought it was crazy. I was sharing as many of those memes as I could just to let people see that the song was doing good. A lot of people are followers. They won’t do something unless someone else does it. So I started posting the dances everyone was doing and the memes, and other people saw it and did their own so that I would post theirs, too.
When you first uploaded “Nasty Freestyle,” did it have that shaky-cam music video? Or did you shoot that after the song started to gain traction?
When I first dropped the song I had done that video, but I hadn’t put it out. Once the song started blowing up, I realized that I didn’t have time to reshoot the video. So I just threw that video out with it.
Who produced the video?
My homeboy Vanilla Trill; he shot it, and I helped him edit it. I didn’t have a cameraman back then, so we was all hands-on with everything. I don't wanna wait on people. We had people that were considered our cameramen but they would take their time, and that would slow down the process.
When did 300 reach out to you?
They reached out after the song had dropped at the end of February. We did a little dance video at the beginning of March, when the song had been out for two or three weeks. It only had a thousand hits on it. It wasn’t moving at all. I didn’t think nothing of it. Me and my homeboy, we used to drop two or three dance videos a week. We would record two or three videos a day, and “Nasty Freestyle” was just one of the songs that I chose at the time.
But when exactly did 300 reach out to you?
After a few weeks of the song being big. We had been talking, and we just came to an agreement. It was a pretty good agreement.
You went from low key to boom very quickly. When you first started having these conversations with the label, were you skeptical? Excited?
There were a lot of labels hitting me up. If you’ve got a lawyer, they’ll make sure you’re in a good situation. Some people just get all excited and don’t read anything. They just sign their life away. I had three people from my management, plus my lawyer, on the phone every time I would talk to anyone. It was a lot of people looking out for everything.
Who from 300 have you met?
I’ve met all the people who work there, but I haven’t met any of the artists.
Who are you trying to work with on 300?
I would do something with Fetty Wap. He’s booming right now.
Fetty has “Trap Queen.” You have “Nasty Freestyle.” You’re both in Billboard’s top 10 on the strength of online streaming, at least initially. What’s the difference, in your mind, between building a fan base via the Internet and a viral single versus building a fan base purely via traditional radio strategy and album sales?
I’ve got a mixtape out right now. It’s doing a lot of numbers. “Gone Off That Drank” and “I Be Killing It" are the two hottest songs off that mixtape, just based on people searching for more of my music online. My next single will be off that mixtape; at this point I’m trying to let the fans choose the next single.
For now, I release a video every week. The last video I released got more views than the video I released the week before that. The views are going up every single time now.
Right before you showed up to the office, I was listening to your “South Dallas Swag” from 2011. That’s more so a snap song than “Nasty Freestyle,” which is trickier to classify in my mind.
“South Dallas Swag,” I definitely don’t make that kind of music anymore. I made that song so long ago. I only did it because it was a trend. I made a dance for it because that’s what everyone was doing back then. Now, all of my music comes with substance. Sometimes I come with the turn-up, sometimes I come with the real stuff. On Who Is Rickey Wayne, I’ve got songs for girls, I’ve got club songs, life songs that’ll make you cry. I’ve got all of that.
What made you want to stop chasing mainstream trends?
I didn’t take “South Dallas Swag” that seriously. When you listen to the lyrics, I’m just being repetitive. I just did what I knew would work. Whereas now I’m doing stuff because I want to do it. I’m doing how I feel.
Is that just your natural growth as an artist?
Yeah. Everybody gotta go through it.
Snoop Dogg did this interview with Pigeons & Planes where he talks about that difference between making songs that leapfrog off of what everyone else is making, versus making songs that are catchy and have their own style that people fuck with because it’s different. Do you think younger rappers in general have a tough time doing that?
Whatever gets you paid, just do it. But at the end of the day, it’s a matter of you not being real with yourself if you’re just going to copy somebody. If that’s how you make your money, though, hey. Go on ahead.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, IT’S A MATTER OF YOU NOT BEING REAL WITH YOURSELF IF YOU’RE JUST GOING TO COPY SOMEBODY. IF THAT’S HOW YOU MAKE YOUR MONEY, THOUGH, HEY. GO ON AHEAD.
When people start listening to other people’s music, their style will rub off on them, and then you’ll catch yourself rapping like them or trying to make a song like theirs because you like it so much. I’ll listen to the radio, naturally. I just don’t jam anyone else’s music like talking about, because the style will rub off.
What made you feel especially confident about signing with 300?
If you just look at the charts, at what’s on top of the charts right now, it shows. I just felt like it was one of the smartest moves somebody could make right now.
T-Wayne, what makes a good mixtape to you?
That’s a hard question. I think a mixtape has to have every type of song.
But people would say that about albums.
I treat mixtapes like albums. I want to put all of my best work out. I don’t want to put out some bullshit just because I want to save my better shit for the album. But I make so much music that I have enough songs to spread around anyway.
So what’s the main difference between a mixtape and an album?
An album, that’s where you’re trying to make worldwide music. The mixtape is for your core fans. Me personally, I feel like white people need to be jamming your album. Going mainstream: That’s what an album is. Your core fans will be mad that you switched it up on the album, but they still got that mixtape.