To some extent, the success of T-Wayne was inevitable in 2015: Guy uploads rap video after rap video to YouTube, one song eventually goes viral as a meme on Vine, said song becomes a legitimate hit and rises as high as number nine on the Hot 100. On the other hand, T-Wayne's ascent is highly improbable: Not only is it always a crap shoot to know what will go viral on social media, the hit song in question, “Nasty Freestyle,” is not exactly primed for mass consumption. There's no hook or melody, and the video shows T-Wayne dancing around in a parking lot and under a bridge.
It went viral off the strength of its opening two lines, “First let me hop out the motherfucking Porsche / I don't want her if that ass don't sit like a horse,” which happened to be perfect for social media (among T-Wayne's own favorites is a Vine that syncs the song to a video of a moonwalking horse). The success of “Nasty Freestyle” shocked no one more than T-Wayne himself, who had been putting out songs for years and making what money he could from music by writing for other artists in Houston.
“A few months ago before I made the Porsche song I didn’t even have a car,” T-Wayne told me incredulously on a recent visit to New York, part of the whirlwind tour that comes with having a sudden hit. “Now I made the song, and now I've got two cars. So that shit is crazy... I was always complaining about how I don’t get no shows, and now I’m doing more shows than I could ask for.”
T-Wayne grew up in the small town of Abilene, Texas, and moved to Dallas when he went to high school. He played football, but his chances at a scholarship fell through when he was sidelined with an injury. He turned his attention instead to music, selling CDs around school and eventually landing a local dance hit called “South Dallas Swag.” The song took off especially in Houston, so T-Wayne moved there to capitalize. However, his buzz slowly evaporated, and he was back to square one.
He focused his attention on cultivating a social media fan base, but it was only in the last few months that things came together. In May he released a solid mixtape called Who Is Rickey Wayne? that has him rapping over familiar beats, essentially without hooks and filtered through Auto-Tune, like an '07 DJ Drama release. His sound is straightforward and fun, perhaps most similar to the low key drawl of Atlanta's Cash Out, although he credits Future as his biggest influence with using Auto-Tune. “Nasty Freestyle” was pretty much the first song he recorded with that eventual project in mind, and it took him out of the more radio-friendly zone he'd been aiming for before. “I just started talking some shit,” he told me, laughing.
Noisey: So that’s crazy. You basically decided to take your music in a new direction, and the very first song you do that is a hit.
T-Wayne: Yeah, because before I did that song, everybody was always telling me I always had kid fans. But everybody else would be like, “Watch your language! Don’t cuss in your music 'cause you got so many kids watching you.” So I was holding back and not saying what I wanted to say 'cause the kids listen, but then on the “Nasty Freestyle” I said “fuck it.” Then the kids are saying the cuss words more than the grown people are.
What’s Abilene like?
It’s crazy out there. It’s like nothing there. It’s country as hell, nothing, no disrespect to Abilene, I love Abilene, but it’s hella dust, dirt, everywhere. There’s nothing to do out there but play football or play basketball. The town is so small everybody knows each other, it’s like a messy little town.
You have a bunch of younger brothers. What was that like growing up?
Crazy. I always be scared they’re going to get in trouble or do some crazy shit. I was always paranoid that I can’t be down there to look after them, but they're doing their thing. My little brother just got a truck and all that shit. He got a good ass job. So I’m proud of him. My other little brothers they started dancing and stuff now. It’s better than standing in the streets, that’s the good thing. That’s what I want, I don’t have to worry that much like I usually do.
The streets exist in Abilene? It’s a small town!
Abilene is ratchet. You got Abilene, you got football, you got the people that work, then you got the streets. My older brother, that’s a gangsta street dude, he moved out, when I moved to Dallas with my mom, he stayed in Abilene by himself and he was only 17, all he had was the streets. I came up from the streets too, but I moved to Dallas, to the good part of Dallas. It gets dangerous out there.
What was it like when you moved from Dallas to Houston?
I was the new guy, the new kid at school, the new guy in the city, they were all like, “Oh that’s T-Wayne!” The song just took off, it was easier for me to be out there than it was in Dallas 'cause I wasn’t getting no shows or nothing in Dallas, I was just sitting out there being bored. I made that song in a living room with a house full of people, if you hear the song, the a capella, you hear like a hundred people in the background just talking. So I made the song for fun—but it sound good as hell though—but it blew up in Houston, so I moved out there.
Houston and Dallas are nothing alike. I was like, “Man, I’m in a whole new world over here so…” New girls, new clothes, new people, everybody was cool, nobody was hating. People didn’t start hating until once that song started dying down. That’s like, “All right, your song is gone, bye.” Then it got hard.
Was that discouraging?
It was like being in Dallas. I didn’t even want to go to clubs anymore, I would go to clubs and stand in the DJ booth, and the DJ wouldn’t even say I was there. The DJ wouldn’t even acknowledge me. He’d be like, “Oh T-Wayne, all right, ” played none of my music. I got so tired of trying to get my music to my DJs that I went home, and that’s what made me start working on the Vine and all that stuff, because everybody out there, when I asked them, “How do you get your song on the radio?” They’d be like, “You gotta be in the club, every club” and I was like, “Even when I’m in the club they still don’t play my song.” Whoever I give the song to they don’t care, they’ll just be like, “Oh this T-Wayne,” and throw the song away. So I took it into my own hands and blew the song up on the internet myself. When you calculate it, there’s only so many people in these clubs. When you do stuff on the internet you could do stuff for the whole world.
There’s kind of a cool new scene that’s sprung up in Houston in the last year with you and guys like Chedda Da Connect and BeatKing.
A lot of people are starting to hear about Texas again, but it’s not just me, Chedda, and Beat King. It's more people too. We’ve got a lot of people out there, in Dallas and Houston. I was saying everyone used to hate on each other; now everybody is starting to work together.
Why do you think that is?
We’re finally figuring out that hating on each other and talking shit ain’t going to work. Once everybody started coming together, I guess it took like one person to do a song together, and have it blow up.
What song do you think did that?
I think the first song that just made everybody start really messing around back in Houston was “Flicka Da Wrist.” That made people open they eyes, they was like “Wow, Chedda did it.” Because Chedda didn’t rap like that. He was a club promoter when he did that song. So everybody couldn’t believe it. Everybody wanted to get cool, and Chedda’s a cool dude, so it made everybody want to come together like “Damn, he did this, how he do this?” Everybody got cool. I feel like that’s what really brought everybody together. Just off that one song. He gave the city hope. He gave the state hope. There was no action going on until that song came out.
So you were just supporting yourself off of songwriting until this hit?
Yep, I was trying to figure out how to pay my damn phone bill, I swear. When I put that song on iTunes I was like, “All right, this one will pay my phone bill and this other bill for the next two or three months.” I thought I was going to make like $1,000, you know what I'm saying? Now the song is about to go platinum, it’s crazier. All I wanted was just some real cheap things.
Well that’s good, I think if your expectations are low, that’s when the best stuff happens.
That’s true, 'cause when they was hot...
I’m sure right after you got that first smaller hit, you were like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to be this super famous rapper now…”
The first one, I was like, “Yo, I’m famous!” That’s what people do, they get too cocky too fast, you don’t go nowhere. That’s what I did. I was just feeling myself too much and wasn’t going nowhere, sitting on my ass.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.