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05/14/2020
Article
DripReport’s ‘Skechers’ Is a TikTok Hit Confounding the Music Industry

April 16 was an auspicious day for DripReport’s “Skechers,” easily the most-streamed song in history about $40 light-up sneakers. The track, which blends keening vocals with a typical trap beat, seemingly earnest infatuation (“I just can’t stop thinking about her”) with leering pubescent come-ons (“I’ll buy you the purse, only if you show me your boobs”), finished its fifth week on top of Spotify’s Viral 50 chart in the U.S., passing a mark set by Lil Nas X’s runaway hit “Old Town Road.”

DripReport, who says his parents emigrated to America from Pakistan, sees this as a landmark moment for Pakistani voices in hip-hop. “I want to be the first to bring in South Asian trap,” he declares. “Most rap songs talk about the luxury lifestyle, high-end designer brands. I wanted to go in the opposite direction, focus on the majority of people like myself who can’t afford those things.”

DripReport began as an Instagram page almost two years ago. The rapper hoped to create “the next big platform in the hip-hop space,” but do it “using sounds from my own culture.” Initially, he gravitated to short covers of popular tracks like XXXTentacion’s “Moonlight,” Lil Nas X’s “Panini,” replacing the intonation of the original with his own accented singing. The accompanying videos were as important as the music: DripReport frequently took a dance routine from a Pakistani or Indian movie and synced it up with the beat of the rap single he was covering, offering a buoyant illustration of cross-cultural fusion.

Despite his Pakistani roots, DripReport labeled each of these concoctions an “Indian remix.” “People over here really can’t tell the difference between [India and Pakistan], he says, and adds “we were all one country at some point.”

The covers weren’t immediately popular. “I didn’t get paid for the first five or six months,” DripReport says. “And when I started getting monetized, the songs were other people’s copyrights, so it was really demotivating. For that whole nine months, I probably made less than $800.”

At the same time, pressure at home was mounting. DripReport had left college to focus on music and video work. “My parents always saw me doing that stuff and the mentality they had was, ‘Why are you wasting your time,?'” he says. “I was being pushed to go back to school.”

The comments on his remixes, however, were encouraging. “A few were like, ‘The remix is better than the original, wait until he puts his own song out,'” DripReport recalls.

To make his first single, DripReport hoped to acquire a beat from a known producer. But he couldn’t afford one, so he pulled instrumentals from YouTube instead. One of his picks was a chattering beat from Ouhboy, a “Type Beat” producer from Germany. It was the kind of ticking, bass-heavy instrumental that was once unique to Atlanta trap but now underpins seemingly every genre. “I like to mix elements that don’t seem to match well at first,” Ouhboy says. “So I tried to make a dreamy, ambient melody with a club beat tempo and pattern.”

When DripReport cued up the track, he says the first thing that popped into his head was “shorty bad,” which became the single’s distinctive opening salvo. Three to four days later, DripReport’s sub-two-minute ode to a woman wearing light-up sneakers was complete.

Like seemingly every streaming sensation of the last 15 months, “Skechers” became wildly popular on the app TikTok, where it has soundtracked more than 2.7 million videos. While DripReport hadn’t made much money on his pre-“Skechers” remixes, he had managed to start building a digital following. The “Indian remix” of Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” became especially popular on TikTok, soundtracking a series of memes.

The app’s users were even more enthusiastic about “Skechers,” sinking their teeth into the single in February; many users got a laugh out of the line about boobs, though the TikTok clips remain PG. In March, DripReport’s track took over the top of Spotify’s Global Viral 50, landing him a major-label deal with Arista Records that was rumored to be above a million dollars.

This trajectory is hardly unfamiliar. In the same way that, two years ago, radio seemed to exist primarily to amplify Spotify hits, Spotify now often takes songs bubbling on TikTok and serves them up to older listeners who aren’t on the app. Spotify does this by moving songs through its coveted “editorial” playlists. Once Powfu’s “Death Bed” acquired momentum on TikTok, for example, it was added to “Chill af” (roughly 122,000 followers) on February 10, Lorem (more than half a million) the next day, Front Left (also more than half a million) the day after that, and then Today’s Top Hits (26 million plus) on February 14.

But Spotify hasn’t thrown much weight behind “Skechers.” Last Friday, DripReport’s reach across Spotify’s editorial playlists was 21.5 million, according to the analytics company Chartmetric. This suggests the service hasn’t introduced the song to many potential fans when compared to other TikTok-turned-Top-40 hits, which often enjoyed editorial playlist reach of more than 100 million.

The discrepancy points to some of the challenges faced by artists who get popular with memes: the music industry is wary of taking them seriously. TikTok users don’t care about a song’s context; it doesn’t matter if a track is a goofy parody or High Art as long as it works for their videos. But if gatekeepers think a song is a joke or a fluke, they might not be so forgiving. Even Ouhboy was a little confused when he first heard “Skechers.” “I thought it was funny and catchy but nothing more at first,” the producer recalls. “I also remember that I thought, ‘Damn, I hope people that see this don’t think I’m a meme producer.'”

“… After listening to it a few times more, I was quickly surprised by the artistry in it,” Ouhboy continues. “I feel like you overlook it at first because the funny meme elements are so present.”

The difference in Spotify editorial support for “Skechers” when compared to other breakout TikTok hits also serves as a reminder that Spotify primarily serves an audience in the U.S., Europe, and parts of Latin America. Those listeners may not be ready for DripReport’s “South Asian trap,” even if it’s actually cooked up Stateside.

While Spotify may not be quite sure what to do with “Skechers,” the shoe company couldn’t be happier. “Brands try and hope to create these moments — often by spending a lot,” a company spokesperson told Footwear News. But in this case, the brand didn’t have to spend a dime to connect with a “hard-to-reach audience, 15-to-34-year-old-consumers.”

DripReport still has plenty of earnest goals for his breakout hit: He wants to “make Skechers really cool” and also deliver a “message about self-confidence and not letting external things determine your self-worth.”

For now, the rapper can revel in more than 250 million global streams — “I finally got put in a comfortable position” — and the fact that he won over two very important fans: His parents. They were initially dismissive of his project. “Now,” DripReport says, “they’re grateful: ‘Thanks for being patient with us.'”