In 2013, Zack Fox started getting attention on Twitter under an unforgettable alias: Bootymath.
Fox was anonymous, and he only made the account to make his friends laugh. It wasn’t long before his wit led to tens of thousands of followers; he now sits at just over 200,000. More recently, Fox has transitioned from Bootymath (RIP) to his own name and refined his creativity in the process. The switch-up doesn’t mean he’s any less popular, though: his tweets go viral on a near-daily basis.
Fox, who frequently collaborates with Awful Records, is also a stand-up comedian, an illustrator, and a writer for a variety of in-the-works projects (including an animated concept with writing partner Alex Russell).
Now, he’s adding “rapper” to the list.
“Square Up” is Fox’s tongue-in-cheek answer for the absence of a contemporary fight anthem. The song comes 14 years after the release of “Knuck If You Buck,” and it sounds like the soundtrack to a WorldStar fight compilation. The whole song is a joke, sure—but it’s also really fucking good. Just ask Chance The Rapper.
When we caught up with the L.A.-based Fox, he was on the East Coast, roaming the streets of NYC. He spoke with us about how “Square Up” came together, why musicians should stop trying so hard to go viral, and what it’s like to be such a visible figure online.
Until now, most people knew you as a funny guy on Twitter. What made you finally drop a song as a rapper?
I mean, it’s kind of something that was brewing for a long time. Up until this date, my career has been surrounded by people in music, as far as Awful Records, people at Brainfeeder—Lotus, Thundercat—Mac Miller. Just everyone that I’ve always been interested in, in the industry. I’m more interested in being around musicians than comedians, to be honest. There’s just a lot more fun to be had and a little bit more to discuss. I have very few comedian friends.
I think it was just something that was always in the back of my head, like, “I can probably do this, but I’m going to wait until it's the right time.” I’m never gonna try and force something because I think it’s really annoying when people do that. But I think the day was just perfect for it, because I was with my good friend Kenny Beats. We were just out and he was like, “When are we going to do this song?” I was like, “Let’s just tweet that we’re going to do it.” And then we did: We tweeted out that we were dropping a song, then three hours later, we just dropped the link.
I remember seeing the “dance” before the song. Did that lead to you making “Square Up” or were those two different things you combined?
It was both. I was doing a staycation and my friend Rob was there. We just made up the dance on the spot and he was like, “Oh, you need to record this and put it on the internet.” It was just a joke at first, to do on IG Live. But I was just like, “Man, what if we made it a dance to just make everybody want to fight?” Since like 2004, rappers had dances to accompany their stuff, especially people from Atlanta. Kenny Beats was like, “Why don’t we just Soulja Boy this situation and make a song for the dance?” So, I’m kind of just looking to my ancestors for inspiration. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I saw that you were tweeting about Tisakorean. Is there any crossover with the Woah dance for “Dip” and “Square Up”?
They’re really different. The Woah is a Dallas dance that’s been going on for a while. I think people who know dancing would know that there’s a difference because there’s just a lot of different motions going on. But yeah, I definitely am a huge fan of 10K [Cash] and Tisakorean. 10K was a big inspiration in making the song. We talked briefly about getting him on it. There’s definitely some crossover, but it’s cool to see those guys doing their thing.
You’ve been hanging out with Awful forever, and I’m sure you’ve ended up in the studio with them. Have you ever tried to record a rap song before?
I’ve made songs before, just joking around, and it’s always a different approach. Whether I’m trying to make bedroom Pimp C-type shit or—
Yeah, yeah, but it’s never been something… I just like being around music. And I like being around musicians, so I’m never in the studio trying to crowd somebody’s space. If anything, I’m a fan. That’s the only way I approach it. Me and Kenny have been talking about it for a minute, where he was like, “You know, we could definitely do this. We could knock it out really fast.” He’s not just good at making beats. He’s good at figuring out hooks with you and figuring out where to change the flow and where to insert an adlib. He’s really on his Jimmy Iovine shit. He knows how to make a hit, so he kind of really was pushing it.
The song is fire. I don’t feel like I’m listening to an inauthentic rap song. It feels like some real shit. Who inspired you, in terms of delivery? I hear some Rico Nasty intensity on the hook.
Yeah, that’s the thing. I’m not a rapper—I’m a comedian. But there’s not a definitive Zack Fox-style of rapping unless I kept doing it, and then literally no one else would sound like this.
Everyone’s always trying to rap like dudes. Why doesn’t anyone rap like the girls?
But yeah, I approached the studio rapping like artists that I like. So, Rico Nasty over a Kenny Beats production sounds the best, and I have no problem rapping like a woman. [Laughs] I was just kind of like, “Everyone’s always trying to rap like dudes. Why doesn’t anyone rap like the girls?” The girls are kind of killing it. People are saying, “Yo, this sounds like a Rico Nasty song,” and I’m like, “Perfect. That’s exactly what I was trying to do.”
I’d say the hook is definitely Rico. The verses are definitely like 10K—Dallas—Tisakorean; syncopation and some of the ad-libs are Key!, just yelling in the background, from like 2015. It’s a quilt of some of my influences. I think that’s why people like it, because it reminds them of four or five different things. And Kenny is just the best in the game. You can come to him and say, “Hey, I wanna make a Keith Sweat song that sounds like Chief Keef produced the beat and Madonna’s playing the drums and there’s a dude in the back playing the accordion and it sounds like it was recorded on a tape recorder.” He’ll be like, “Okay. I got you.”
I’m sure somebody has said this already, but “Square Up” kind of feels like the 2018 “Knuck If You Buck.”
Yeah, actually that night [that we released it] Mike WiLL said that, which is crazy.
“New knuckle if u buck mf .. 🥊 Whoa Kenny “ 🐋🌊— Mike WiLL Made It 🐋🌊 (@MikeWiLLMadeIt) September 29, 2018
People were adding “Square Up” to footage of the Rockets and Lakers fight. Is that the purpose of the song? A literal soundtrack to internet fights?
Oh, yeah. Me and Kenny were talking to Alex Tumay, who does mixing for Young Thug. He was giving Kenny a little mastering tutorial so we could make the song way louder if you’re listening to it on your phone. I was kind of thinking about it. I was like, “Man, we really have an anthem.” And he’s like, really CEO, cut-and-dry. He’s like, “Bro, we have the fight hit! We have it.” I’m like, “Uh, okay.” [Laughs]
I remember people were making jokes in the beginning like, “Y’all single-handedly ended gun violence,” because the song is very pro-hands. I feel like songs that are just about fighting, which “Knuck If You Buck” was… Crime Mob talked about gun violence numerous times in every other song, but they solely picked “Knuck If You Buck” and “I'll Beat Yo Azz” to only talk about fisticuffs. It has a more visceral nature, so people kind of latch onto it more. Women definitely latch onto it more, because I feel like your average woman doesn’t want to hear the gun shit that men do. We love that type of shit. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some psychology behind what makes a fight song or a banger really accessible to people.
Do you have a favorite “Square Up” meme that a fan has created?
Oh, man. Yes, Mike Manor made an animated version of it.
It’s like pixel art. I don’t know if it’s 8-bit or 16-bit, like old, video game-style animated. He’ll animate a lot of viral videos. He’ll come up with his own scenarios and put songs over them. We’ve been friends for a while, and to be the next one is really fucking hilarious. He paid really close attention to what it would feel like.
What did it feel like to get that Chance The Rapper shout-out on the Joe Budden podcast?
It was cool. It was really tight. I really like Chance. I think he’s a really necessary voice in rap and soon to be media. It was tight. Hearing Joe be like, “Man, what the fuck is this?” [Laughs] When people told me Chance played it, I was more interested in Joe, because like, that’s just funny to me, that he heard my song. I feel like the next person to shout it out might be a really surprising one. Maybe like, Elon Musk will play it or something. I don’t know. It’ll be pretty weird though. It won’t be a music personality that will shout it out. That’s my prediction. I don’t know, though. [Laughs]
Do you see “Square Up” as a one-off or are you just getting started?
I think we are gonna take a very lackadaisical approach to the music. I wouldn’t expect a pivot, not right now at least. There’s a lot going on for me to try and completely pivot to rap. We’re definitely going to keep making music, though. We kind of want to do it just how we did this: just approach it as a single and drop the song. Then back off and not do too much. A tape isn’t around the corner, but we definitely already have ideas started. It’s gonna be spontaneous. Whenever it happens, it’s gonna happen. Me and Kenny are definitely going to put out a new song pretty soon.
You’ve been described as an illustrator, a writer, and a comedian. How do you spend your days now?
Oh, it’s mostly comedy right now. The tour is coming up with me and Jak Knight. Me and Alex Russell have an animated idea in the works, so that’s a lot more writing. My life right now in L.A. is very, very writing- and comedy-heavy, so it doesn’t leave a ton of time to do illustration. But I still do it, especially when people ask me. So when Thundercat asked me to do his album sleeves, I jumped back into it. Doing like, Brandon Wardell’s album art and stuff like that. It’s something that I like as a hobby, but it’s not as much of a main focus right now.
“Brandon Wardell: An ASMR Album”— Brandon Wardell (@BRANDONWARDELL) May 3, 2018
(produced by Ricky Reed, cover art by Zack Fox) pic.twitter.com/hpgurIfjs6
You have a big personality, a great sense of humor, writing skills, and an understanding of how social media works. All these things are also important for rappers. Do you think that’s why you were able to cross over into rap for a minute?
Yeah. I think some of my favorite people in rap have a self awareness. They don’t take themselves too seriously. So they can kind of hop in and out of being serious and change gears quickly. Just have a keen eye for what’s going on, all those things you said. I feel like if you possess those things, you might—it’s not guaranteed—but you might have success in a few other [areas].
I mean, we see this time and time again. Donald Glover makes fantastic music. Lil Duval is a fantastic comedian who has a No. 1 song. Blac Youngsta is somebody who really understands social media on an almost god-like level. The one time that he had an IG Live that was like… You know when you post so many stories on IG Live that it’s just tiny little dots? All of his dots were just—it was a mansion that he had, and the entire floor was a wrestling ring with strippers and money everywhere, and he just kept recording more and more stories so it felt like you were there. I think in the next couple days, he had a song out. And then, the video for “Booty.” It was just like, “This guy gets it.” He knows what people want to see.
I think even if one day I was like, “I’m gonna be a wrestler,” I would try to approach that in a way that is very conscious of what it means to be a wrestler. I would do the homework. Whether you think some of these rappers aren’t doing the homework, they’re doing the homework and watching what’s trending and trying their hardest. Some of them are trying really hard to stay relevant. Some of them, it’s just effortless, like Tekashi 6ix9ine. Regardless of what people think about him and their opinions, one thing remains true: He is better at social media than pretty much everybody right now. He just knows how to spark interest, how to spark anger, and now he has his own dance track. There’s more science to it than people give credit.
You have such a huge following online. What does it feel like to always have so many eyes on you all the time?
It’s fun. I don’t really feel a lot of pressure because I didn’t mean to get on the internet in the first place. I’m not gonna pick now to start taking it too seriously. If anything, at this level and at my age, you do have to be a little bit conscious of where your values lie and who can be offended by what you say. It is very rightfully such a sensitive time online, and a lot of things I can get away with during a stand-up show probably won’t fly on Twitter.
A lot of things that people get away with on Instagram won’t fly on Twitter and vice versa. It’s kind of a tornado right now. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do on Twitter is make people feel a little bit less alone. If one thought that I had in an Uber makes a few thousand other people’s day a little bit better, then that’s all the app is really for—at least for me. And telling niggas to vote. [Laughs] Other than that, I don’t really sit there and gauge what’s going on, or get too sucked into Twitter. But yeah, if it makes people’s day, then that’s tight.
There was a moment where you took a step back from Twitter, right? Can you talk about what happened at that time?
Yeah, there was so much going on, as far as new opportunities for me that weren’t available to me even a year ago. And there was just something in the air this past summer with Twitter that was extremely toxic. It was a hot summer. That’s the only way I can describe it. There was weird shit happening every day on the internet and it just got to this point where I was like, “This is getting so weird and wack right now. I’ma just take a step back and reevaluate the relationship.”
At a certain point, when you have all these eyes on you, it does get weird. Some people with the biggest followings, whether it’s Wardell or Jaboukie or me, or whoever it might be on Twitter, there’s people out there who do not fuck with you, for no reason.
For me, I was like, “I don’t know. I’m just gonna take a step back.” It’s kind of like that whole Tyler, the Creator joke a while back. He was like, “Y’all get cyberbullied? Just close the laptop.” It wasn’t that severe at all, never. There’s nothing that someone can say online that’s worse than what I’ve heard at a stand-up show or an open mic on the road. But I was just kind of like, “Let me turn my phone off and leave the app for a second, but let people know so they’re not thinking I’m dead or something.” I’ll probably do more diva shit like that in my life, but it was just kind of like a diva moment. That’s the only way I can describe it. [Laughs]
You’re right: it really was a hot summer. People were getting cancelled left and right for random bullshit half the time. And the other half, it was legitimate. So I definitely understand that precaution of being like, “You know what? I should remove myself until I know what the fuck I want my relationship to be with this medium.”
Yeah, exactly. I’ve had people say, “Oh, this joke was this and this was this.” Then you try to correct it and you anger another part of your fanbase. So I was just kind of like, “Don’t talk to me.” I just got to the point where I was like, “I am a person. I’m on this website to make jokes or do whatever silly shit. Please don’t talk to me. Leave it alone. Leave it there.” It kind of felt like when the lights go off and you haven’t paid the bill and you’re just like, “I’m gonna light some candles.” [Laughs] You just have to let go.
You are a person who is very funny and subsequently went viral. Then, you turned that into music. That’s the reverse of what lots of people have been doing lately. They try to make songs in order to go viral. Do you think that approach is played out right now?
I don’t know, because we’re at a fresh beginning with how that even works. I think a lot of people try to do it like somebody else, which is the problem. I don’t think there’s any problem with trying to make something that’s hyper-popular. I just think I can tell. If a 27-year-old man can tell when you’re trying too hard, then a 16-year-old, 17-year-old—the people who consume music and go to the shows—they can tell when you’re trying too hard. Some people just need to put the fucking song out. [Laughs] Just put the damn song out. I don’t wanna retweet your snippet to get the damn link or whatever.
If you want your song to go viral and you want people to really enjoy it, just make a good song and everything else will kind of work itself out. The memes come from how people feel about your music anyway. Right now, Blueface is blowing up on the internet, when L.A. has known about him for awhile now. But his voice and the way he raps is so weird that it’s like, “Yeah, of course this would be a meme, because just listen to what he’s doing. What is his voice doing?” It kind of reminds me of how much people hated Thug just five years ago. They were like, “What is he doing with his voice? This is weird.” But, this is just a dude from L.A. who makes his own videos on Instagram. He’s taking off because somebody will post a video on Twitter and be like, “Yo, what the fuck is this? What is this dude doing?” I saw it and I was like, “I’m going on Spotify right now.” I played it back three or four times. People can either get angry at your music or they love it. One of the two is gonna make it skyrocket. I think people just need to stop trying so hard.
Do you think going viral is necessary for launching a substantial music career in 2018?
I mean, a substantial music career… Bruh, this don’t even go together. [Laughs] If you want a substantial career, man... Get into fucking welding or engineering. Engineering is substantial. A substantial music career: We’re talking about ticket sales, we’re talking about streaming. You don’t even make money on streaming, not like that. Motherfuckers are releasing albums with [dozens of] tracks on them just so they can get the streaming numbers up.
A lot of these rappers are broke. I think if you’re trying to go viral, what’s your plan? Don’t just go viral for the sake of it. Because as quickly as [Doja Cat’s] “Mooo!” came, that shit went. We’re talking about something that did how many views on Youtube? Like three, four, five, maybe even six million views on YouTube? And you couldn’t even pay somebody to be talking about that song on Twitter right now because…
Oh shit. 26 million now.
I don’t know, maybe people are still listening to it, but Doja Cat doesn’t even like that song. She hates it. If you’re doing something to go viral, make sure there’s a plan after that. Let the music speak for itself after you do this big plan, because imagine if Doja Cat didn’t have a whole catalog of music? She’s been making music since what? 2013? 2014? If she didn’t have all of that and she just made “Mooo!” then you’re kind of just sitting there in the water with this song that keeps growing bigger than you are. She kind of did it right where she was like, “Hey, this is ‘Mooo!’ but here are tickets to the show. Go to Spotify. Stream my album from 2015. Stream the 2016 album.”
If I’m being honest, popping off is really overrated
She already had the structural integrity of her career, but there are a lot of rappers that try to do it their first time. People are going to forget about you. You know what I mean? I think it’s still a good approach sometimes, though. I think the internet is there to be manipulated. One day, I hope somebody goes viral on something weird. Like, find a way to hack into Walmart’s system and make every product your album thumbnail or something like that. The crazier it is, the more I’m interested in it, and I’m interested in the internet as a creative tool. I hope people keep doing viral shit. As far as musicians, please just make music. We need more music.
Do you have any advice for someone hoping to pop off like you have?
Nope. [Laughs] If I’m being honest, popping off is really overrated. If I could have been where I am in life a couple years ago without Twitter, I would take that. A lot of people are in situations where they don’t have the same access as someone whose dad was a producer, or their parents worked in film.
I grew up extremely poor. I had to figure out ways to get my voice heard, so it would legitimize what I had to say and legitimize me as a black man. And legitimize my comedy. The catch-22 with the internet is that yeah, it legitimizes you—this was shit that I was already trying to do. But when people see the numbers… Social media is such a toxic, double-edged sword, because without the numbers, I probably wouldn’t be doing certain shit. But I was already writing. I was already trying to be involved in making shows, making cartoons, making album art, and doing comedy. It wasn’t really until recently in life that I was really given a fair shot, as far as being in L.A. and the kind of elbows you get to rub when you have 200,000 Twitter followers. I’m like, “Well, I don’t really care about this website at fucking all, but I guess.”
If you want to pop off on Twitter, then I guess that’s cool. Do it. But what are you doing when you close the app? What’s the real goal behind it? That’s what I would say. Some of my favorite people are all over the spectrum on Twitter, but they have different levels of [real-life] success. Jak Knight writes for Big Mouth. I think he has like 6,000 Twitter followers. He doesn’t give a fuck about it, because he knows what it is. It’s fake. What matters is what you’re doing in real life, always. And I think we’re about to start pivoting back to that. Hopefully in youth culture, people will be like, “No, it really is about your real-life connections and making a good impression.”
There are other people who are just really fucking good at it. Quinta Brunson is really good at the internet. She should never stop being good at the internet, but her stand-up is some of the best shit I’ve seen. I enjoy what she does for black women. I’d say just do what you want, but make sure a real-life aspect is there and you’re not becoming this husk that’s just for an app.
Thank you, that was a word. Is there anything else you would like to say?
Free Bobby Shmurda.