Panda, panda, Panda, PANDA PANDA PANDA PANDA…. By now everyone knows these lyrics, whether you’re a farmer in rural Indiana or some kid in Desiigner’s hometown of Brooklyn, you know that he’s got broads in Atlanta. While no one may know what the rest of the words in the song are, we all know the song and are familiar with Desiigner’s unique brand and unintelligible speech and cadence. When Panda first came out, I was not fully sold. At first, I thought it was actually a Future song and I was confused because I was actually just starting to understand Future’s lyrics and this song was entirely unintelligible. But then, I found out this song was written by some 18 year old kid out of New York and my mind was blown. Let’s be honest, in no universe will Panda ever be considered a “great rap song”, the lyrics are repetitive as hell, there is no type of unique rhyme scheme, he’s not saying anything innovative or new; homie basically just stole Future’s whole persona and then made a song. I was convinced that Desiigner would be a flash in a pan of a rapper, but I’ve come to realize that I was wrong and he’s actually a marketing genius. I know I might have lost a lot of you with that statement, but give me a chance to explain. He’s managed to master several important aspects of marketing, has a (somewhat) unique developed brand, and has an uncanny ability to make everything he does turn viral. I’ll explain each of these points in details to better convince you.
Desiigner has developed a unique and immediately recognizable brand through his distinct ad-libs and wild persona (just watch him in the background of that video and you’ll understand what I’m saying). Many rappers before him have had unique ad-libs, from Flava Flav’s “CHYYYEEEAAA BOOOOOIIIII”, to Rick Ross’s signature “UNNNNGGGHHH”, to even Kayne and French Montana’s “HAAAAAANNN” (apparently these are actually different sounds, but they sound the same to me). While Desiigner is hardly the first rapper to have his own distinct ad-libs, his are very much so a part of his character. Honestly, when I first heard Panda, I though that the “GYYYEEEAH GYYEAAH GYYEAAAH” and the “GGGRRRRRRAAAAHHHHS” were part of the instrumental, but nah, that was actually just homie in the background being wild. These sounds have helped Desiigner stand out regardless of what song he’s on. Regardless of whether it’s a new song he’s debuting, a song he’s featured on with a verse, or a song Kanye put him on to literally say like 7 words and make sounds in the background, you know Desiigner is on a song when you hear “GYYYYEEEAHHHH GGGGYEAAHHH GGGGRRRRRRAAAAAHHHHH”.
Instant recognizability is one of the most important components of branding. You want your brand to be one that people can notice from a mile away. The Nike Swish and the Target um, target are some of the best examples of this. When you see those brand images, you know immediately know who it is and what they stand for. Desiigner has done the same thing in an auditory capacity. With his unique sounds, Desiigner has made sure that everyone knows who he is and how to instantly recognize when he’s on a track. Whether or not those sounds make you want to skip to the next verse is on you, but at least you know it’s Desiigner coming up.
Buzz Creating and Virality
Everything Desiigner touches goes viral. This might seem like only a coincidence as he’s really only released two songs, but I’d like to argue that homie is actually thinking through his moves and making calculated, thoughtful plays. Let’s start by looking at his first single, Panda. First let’s think about the title of the song. He named it Panda. What rapper raps about fucking pandas? Pandas are silly, cute, hilarious fur balls. This is pretty much the OPPOSITE image of what most rappers want to portray. Homie came out the gate with a single named after a cute, bumbling, loveable animal, but the song went HARD AS FUCK. The beat bangs, the subject matter is typical rap fuckery; broads, lean, selling drugs, shooting niggas, and all other types of basic rap fuckshit. No-one expected this type of subject matter to come from a song named after the most harmless bear to ever exist. The audacity of him to even name his song Panda directly contributed to it’s success. When someone comes out with a song named Panda, regardless of subject matter or genre, people are at least going to give it a listen.
Another aspect that contributed to the song going viral was the fact that for a good 87.652% of the song Desiigner is literally unintelligible. More than 6 months later, I still have no idea what this song is actually about. Apparently someone gets killed with a banana and there’s lean being poured in Fanta or something. Dude mumbles so much that he had to release a video with Genius in which he reads through the song line by line, and even then I can only understand half of it. While I don’t think this was intentional; I think Desiigner actually might just be incapable of annunciating when he speaks, it did create an extra level of intrigue around the song. People were like “Wow that new Future song that’s not by Future might be dope but I have NO idea what he’s saying, let me listen to it again.” And then when they couldn’t understand the song after five plays they’d hit up their friend like “Yo, you hear that new song by Not Future? Yeah? What the fuck is he saying? You don’t know either? Word, I guess he has broads in Atlanta tho.” That conversation was held thousands of times throughout the country and world. Entire discussions were had about the song; debating it’s meaning, arguing whether or not Desiigner is actually a talented rapper, and whether or not Desiigner actually speaks English. While most of these conversations were disparaging Desiigner, the old adage, “any press is good press”, proved itself to be true here. Because he was able to make such a ridiculous, hyped up, catchy song, the world began to know his name.
Capitalizing on Events:
I first began to suspect that Desiigner might be a marketing genius when I saw his XXL Freestyle. For the uninitiated, XXL is a Hip-Hop magazine and every year they release a “Freshmen” issue in which they feature the best up and coming rappers in the game. To create buzz and fanfare around the Freshmen, they have them rap in cyphers, do interviews, and most importantly, freestyle. The XXL Freshmen freestyle is one of the most anticipated yearly events in Rap as most of the rappers use it as an opportunity to show off their lyrical prowess and diverse rapping capabilities to a large new audience. That’s what most rappers do, but Desiigner was like “Nah, I’ma do it my way” and took his freestyle in a totally different direction.
When I first saw the video, I was weirded out because Desiigner definitely looks like a crazed mutant in the video; but I also realized that something else was going on. The more that I heard the freestyle, in either showing it to my friends for its absurdity, or in the countless memes and remixes that were created, the more I realized that this wasn’t a freestyle, but it was actually a hook, and a catchy one at that. Desiigner took one of the most important awards an up-and-coming rapper can receive and used as an opportunity to preview his new single.
This was a GENIUS move and one that shows foresight and a unique understanding of hip-hop culture. The people who watch the XXL freestyles have high standards and they expect you to bring your very best, as this is a rare opportunity to show off your rapping prowess to such a large audience. These are people who will ROAST YOU ALIVE if you don’t come correct and I bet Desiigner was betting on that. He released what may have been the worst XXL Freshman Freestyle ever as a power move because his sights were set on the endgame. His freestyle blew up and the melody was catchy enough to get stuck in your head, so even if you thought the freestyle was trash, you couldn’t help but hum “Timmy Timmy Timmy Turner, he be wishing for a burner…” all day. And then, just when all the hype around the freestyle was about to die off, he released a single entitled, surprise surprise, “Timmy Turner”.
When I saw this new song, I realized it, we had all been played. Desiigner capitalized on the hype machine that is the internet and turned it against itself. He purposefully didn’t attack the XXL Freshman Freestyle the way others historically have done. He put out a seemingly weak freestyle and turned himself into a meme and then used the virality of his freestyle to gain his name and brand exposure to hundreds of new people. He became a household name by sucking, but sucking so well he became famous. He’s basically the Superhead of mediocre rappers. I won’t say Desiigner’s a trash rapper yet, maybe he’ll put something out that will surprise me. The kid does have a lot of energy and a bit of a unique persona, so perhaps he can parlay those into something compelling. Regardless of his rap skills though, there is one thing about Desiigner that’s undeniable, homie understands marketing. He gets how to turn something into a viral success and then further capitalize on that success. Say what you want about his rap talents, but don’t knock the man’s hustle.