Since social media has existed, rappers have been using it to blow up. Soulja Boy reflected on how he used YouTube and other platforms to help “Crank Dat” become one of the biggest songs of the 2000s. Rappers like Drake, Jay Electronica and many grew their fan bases on MySpace. Twitter and Instagram are pretty much ubiquitous and have helped just about every rapper out there connect with their fans and gain new ones. Even SoundCloud can be considered a direct to consumer platform that aspiring artists used to blow.
These days, viral challenges are helping both established rappers and newcomers promote their hits. Now it’s TikTok’s time. The buzzing video app and social platform is a distant cousin of Vine that allows users to create skits and short dance clips to songs of their choice.
That format is perfect for hip-hop, as ingenious TikTok users are zoning in on memorable moments from the songs as the springboard for their videos. From satirizing Roddy Ricch’s “eeh err” from “The Box,” or letting people know who their type is with the help of Saweetie’s hit song "My Type," the more that TikTok videos use songs like this, the more the artists benefit from the streaming numbers going up and Billboard chart placements soon follow many times. The most recent craze is the Flip The Switch challenge, in which people are switching outfits while listening to Drake’s song “Nonstop.”
But beyond the witty moments are the simple dances, which gives any artist the chance to simply search their song on TikTok and see how many random people are genuinely enjoying their music, a benefit that previous generations of rappers haven’t enjoyed. More rappers than ever are going viral with TikTok-curated moments, making the app an unwitting A&R vehicle, a dance tutorial and comedy platform all in one. Here are 13 times that rappers benefitted from going viral on TikTok.
Yeehaw Challenge Helps Lil Nas X “Old Town Road” Blow Up
We now know that Lil Nas X is a social media maestro, and the virality of “Old Town Road” is his master stroke. The 20-year-old rapper was an anonymous artist before early 2019, when his “Old Town Road” song became the soundtrack to the Yeehaw Challenge, in which TikTok users abruptly went from wearing normal clothes to cowboy attire. The wave of TikTok attention shot his “Old Town Road” rap-country fusion first to to No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart before ascending to the top and staying there for a record 19 weeks.
Flip The Switch Challenge Is a "Nonstop" TikTok Hit for Drake
Drake’s #InMyFeelings Challenge was a worldwide sensation in 2018. It helped drive streams of his Scorpion album to record highs. But the Toronto artist is so popular that “Nonstop,” a Scorpion track which had reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, engendered its own TikTok craze two years later. The challenge consists of multiple people, often couples, turning the lights off and switching clothes when Drizzy rhymes, “I just flipped the switch.” The craze transcended TikTok, with everyone from J.Lo and Alex Rodriguez to Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren partaking on Saturday Night Live.
Savage Challenge Runs Up Megan Thee Stallion's Song
Megan Thee Stallion has a banger on her hands with the J. White Did It-produced track "Savage," which sits on her recently released EP, Suga. Less than a month after its March 6 release, the song debuted at No. 98 and skyrocketed to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to the Savage Challenge taking over on TikTok.
Nineteen-year-old choreographer Keara Wilson created the dance, a mix of playful and sassy moves. Actors like Keke Palmer and Marsai Martin have tried their hand at the challenge as well as celebrities Hailey and Justin Beiber, and plenty of Megan's fans.
Roddy Ricch’s "Eeh Er" Ad-Lib Inspires Hilarious Videos
It's unlikely that Roddy Ricch anticipated his “eeh err” ad-lib from “The Box” becoming the basis for a viral meme. In early 2020, TikTok user Jay Will posted a parody in which he wiped a mirror to create the “eeh err” sound, while his producer crafted the rest of the beat.
The ad-lib has been mimicked on TikTok for other moments like a squeaking door and a “talking” baby. That viral infamy helped “The Box” top the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 11 weeks, as well as the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts. Roddy has secured a two-times platinum accolade for the track and 580 million Spotify streams.
NayahXTweaking Challenge Helps Calboy's “Envy Me” Rise
Calboy was one of rap’s first beneficiaries of TikTok hysteria. Viral star @d1.nayah gave the Chicago rapper a springboard for visibility when she did a dance to his “Envy Me” track in November of 2018. Her original video, which started the #NayahXTweaking challenge, was posted on the Dubsmash app. But users from TikTok and Instagram jumped on the trend, performing fun dances that acted out lines of Calboy’s melodic, storytelling bars.
The viral challenge helped Calboy's song receive 269 million Spotify streams, 106 million listens on SoundCloud and a No. 31 chart position on the Billboard Hot 100. The track has since been certified three-times platinum.
Jalaiah Harmon's Renegade Dance Gives K Camp a Boost
In September of 2019, 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon, a classically trained dancer, created the Renegade Dance to K Camp’s 2019 “Lottery (Renegade)” track—Reazy Renegade produced the song. The teen and her friend showcased the new dance on her Instagram account that same month, but other, more popular, TikTok users ended up getting mainstream buzz for their renditions of the dance after they posted it to their accounts.
Black Twitter cried foul. The New York Times piece profiled her plight in February, and she was invited to perform at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game festivities. One of the other perks? K Camp personally met Jalaiah to thank her for helping blow up the song, which has 72 million streams on Spotify and doubled his monthly listeners to 7.6 million.
TikTok Users Propel 24kGoldn's "Valentino" to Viral Success
Amid today’s constant deluge of music, there’s no such thing as old or new sounds. Just music you’ve heard, and music you haven’t. Bay area artist 24kGoldn is a chief example. During a 2019 interview with Houston’s 93.7 The Beat, the rapper called TikTok “the direct pipeline to the youth.” He has firsthand experience. He released his song “Valentino” in January of 2019, but it didn’t pick up steam until late last year when TikTok users began using the infectious chorus as the backdrop for their videos. The track has since accrued over 143 million streams on Spotify and pushed into the No. 92 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 2019.
TikTok's Love for "223s" Keeps YNW Melly's Name Buzzing
YNW Melly is currently incarcerated while awaiting trial on murder charges, but his presence is still being felt in the rap world. His song “223s” featuring 9lokknine likely caught fire on TikTok during the fall of 2019 because of Melly’s melodic hook, but that feel-good vibe is deceptive when one intently listens to the lyrics, which currently hit close to home: “Heard he caught a body/But that does not mean shit to me/Got two on me.”
Artists like Melly aren’t often credited for conscious rap, but the visual of young TikTokers signaling “2-2-3” with their hands and jovially dancing to his menacing jingle is undoubtedly social commentary.
Chance The Rapper Starts a "Groceries" Contest on TikTok
TikTok challenges are usually organic moments, but they can also be fun when they’re thematically calculated and help people in need. Chance The Rapper embraced the power of TiKTok to promote his 2019 track “Groceries.” He created more hype for the breezy single by announcing that the 10 best TikTok dancers would receive a year’s worth of free groceries. That rush may have helped the track reach number 14 on Billboard’s Rap Digital Song Sales chart in June of 2019.
Runway Challenge Sparks Stunna Girl's Career
Last summer, Sacramento rapper Stunna Girl released “Runway,” a rowdy track featuring lyrics like, “Bitch, I look like I’m fresh off the runway/Bitch, I go crazy the dumb way/Bitches wanna be me, one day.” TikTokers used the song in a variety of videos, especially makeover/transformation clips.
The use of the song in over 3 million clips helped the track shoot up to No. 8 on Spotify’s Viral 50 chart, and get Stunna girl a deal with Epic Records. The track sits at more than 22 million streams on Spotify right now. Her rapid come up demonstrates that having the right moment in a song can change your whole life.
TikTok Users Give Their "Type" With Saweetie's Song
The viral hype around Saweetie’s "My Type" was a glove fit for the concept of the song. On the 2019 banger, which breathes new life into Petey Pablo’s “Freek-A-Leek,” Saweetie rhymes “Rich nigga, eight-figure, that's my type.” The song was perfect for TikTok users to use for videos in which they highlighted their own romantic type with text blocks, before rapping along to Saweetie proclaiming, “That’s my type! That’s my type!” There are nearly 1 million TikTok videos highlighting the rapper's platinum-selling track.
TikTok Flocks to Ambjaay's Bilingual Banger "Uno"
For Watts, Calif. rapper Ambjaay, his 2019 track “Uno” served two purposes. He wanted it to be as successful as possible, and bring Black and Latino people together with his bouncy bilingual banger. He achieved both. Several popular TikTok users made dances to his track, which has been used in over 2 million TikTok clips to date. The track entered Spotify’s Viral 50 chart at No. 4 in May of 2019 and also peaked at No. 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 18 on the U.S. Rhythmic charts.
Yung Baby Tate Receives a “Stupid” Boost With TikTok
Ashnikko's 2019 track “Stupid” featuring rapper Yung Baby Tate is an ever-relatable ode to attraction, with Baby Tate rapping lyrics like, “Stupid boy thinks I need him” and “I know you think about me in the shower, Pornhub on your browser.” Ashnikko's screamo vibes of "What, what, what!" is a wild wake-up call, too.
The snarky song was perfect as the backdrop for TikTok skits or for TikTok users who are feeling themselves and wanted people crushing on them to know. The song reached Billboard's Bubbling Under Hot 100 Chart and earned a No. 2 spot on Spotify's Global Viral 50 chart, giving Yung Baby Tate more eyes and ears in her direction.