His hair, styled in the mullet-adjacent local style known as the shag, was two tones of green — aquarium-chemical aqua at the top, nuclear neon at the tail — and he wore a Kanye West “Jesus Is King” sweatshirt.
In between snacking on Sour Patch Kids and Fritos Flavor Twists, he repeatedly headed into the recording booth and asked his small circle of producers to run through an increasingly odd collection of plinks and bloops. When he heard one he liked, 10k.Caash, 18, began spitting out loose splurts of words — “Pixie sticks!” “Move your muscles!” “Everything geeked up, I’m saying Urkel!” He hurled words against the beat, rapping as if he were learning to rap without knowing that rap music already existed.
After one particularly squelchy number, his friend and mentor, rapper G.U.N., shouted: “This beat making me want to slam my head into the wall. It’s a 10k beat for sure!”
What 10k.Caash was working toward making wasn’t quite a song, at least not as they’ve been made for dozens of years. It was a pastiche — part rap song, part sound effect, part comic sketch. It felt like an evolutionary step forward: the post-song.
“Every song should have its own twist, every song should be different,” he said the next afternoon at Geekletes, an esports facility in DeSoto, about a half-hour south of Dallas, where he’d come to play Fortnite. On the wild, 16-minute roller coaster that is “Planet Swajjur,” his inputs are video-game circus chirps, vertiginous alarm peals, flatulent bass slaps that sound like they’re stuck to the ground and so on. It’s a more polished take on the slapstick demolition-derby energy of his debut, “The Creator,” one of last year’s most preposterously engaging albums, full of quasi-nonsensical, punk space-rap redolent of the early, rowdy Beastie Boys.
This is the sound of modern virality — the soundtrack to it, really. 10k.Caash’s music exists somewhere near the intersection of songcraft, dance clips, buzzy video and Foley art. The results are, technically speaking, songs, but they don’t function like songs typically do. They’re exceedingly short, jolting, humorous and designed for interaction: the perfect set of noises to accompany a video of someone who appears to be trying to dance out of a box. Which is to say, viral videos on apps like TikTok and Triller (also Instagram and, to a lesser degree, YouTube), where his music is most at home.
Rapping isn’t his motivation; dance is. When 10k.Caash is in the booth listening to sounds and barking out words, “I think about how I would dance to it,” he said. “What dance I would do to this, what dance I would do to this lyric?”
Rapper Rico Nasty, one of 10k.Caash’s close friends, said she saw him as a multifaceted performer. “I never look at him as just an artist,” she said. “He does so much. He can come up with a different dance every month if he wants.”
These days on the global viral song charts, you’ll find conventionally successful hip-hop and pop songs, and also obscurities and spoken sketches. But the social internet is like one long interwoven dance challenge. It is its own medium, and the music being made specifically for it is becoming its own style, breaking down the traditional song format into components and amplifying the loudest and stickiest parts.
G.U.N., who is frequently in the studio with 10k.Caash, said he initially found his approach confounding. “I’d be like, ‘Yo, you got to make it more like a song,’” G.U.N. said. “He’d be like, ‘Nah G.U.N., watch this.’ And at the end product, I’m just like, damnnnnnn — he taught me something new: Everything doesn’t have to make sense for it to be good.”
10k.Caash, born Treyvon Britt, said he did not listen to much contemporary hip-hop (“I don’t even listen to Drake”) but was drawn to distinctive voices, citing Little Richard and Sir Mix-A-Lot, and distinctive sounds: “cartoons, gaming sounds, anything that sounds out of the ordinary” or just “Instagram snippets people send me.”
The optimal sound of TikTok or Triller is also shaped by the strictures of the medium — it requires immediate shock, catchiness and lighthearted inclusivity. “Think of the deliberateness behind a video that would be played on MTV in the beginning of MTV,” said Justin Duran, Def Jam’s senior director of marketing and 10k.Caash’s project manager. 10k.Caash and his peers are “consciously making music that’s built for a platform,” he said. “They know what the sensibility is for that — it’s deliberate but almost intuitive.”
Viral hip-hop dance videos are what catapulted 10k.Caash from a teenage time-killer into a formidable member of hip-hop’s rookie class. Built like a stack of gumdrops, he dances in concise, herky-jerk movements, slithering and then stopping as if he suddenly had his plug pulled. A couple of years ago, he honed a dance that had been circulating around Dallas and added a hard locking motion. It became the Woah, one of the most widespread and easiest-to-emulate viral dances of recent years. (As with most viral phenomena, the exact origin point is contested.)
But even before that, 10k.Caash, who hails from the Oak Cliff neighborhood, had been a dancer in a city that had always found overlap between dance and hip-hop — the Dougie, the Ricky Bobby, the Stanky Legg. A few years ago, however, when he and his friends were making dance videos, “Nobody thought it was cool to be a dancer,” he said. “Everybody stopped, everybody felt like we should be hood.”
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Still, he danced, and people began to take note. He was one of the dancers in the viral video that catapulted Ugly God’s “I Beat My Meat” to broad attention. And he and his friends steadily made Woah videos, dancing along to local rap hits. Through dancing, he met Lil Uzi Vert — now an idiosyncratic Garbo-like superstar but then a more accessible aspirant. Uzi appeared in some Woah videos with 10k.Caash and eventually suggested that 10k.Caash try rapping, making songs of his own rather than, in essence, using his popularity to promote other people’s music.
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10k.Caash released his first song, “Dip Swag Dip,” in the summer of 2018. That November, he self-released “The Creator.” Soon after, he signed to Def Jam, the foundational hip-hop label, which rereleased “The Creator” last May. (“He’s an overall internet sensation who just happens to make music,” Duran said.)
Many of his early stage performances were at festivals, coming out for a song during other people’s sets. His ubiquity online also created opportunities to film dance videos with more established artists like Trippie Redd or Chance the Rapper who, Duran said, treated 10k.Caash like a kind of muse: “He was bull-horning his music through 10k.” A hallmark of those clips is their evident joy, as if 10k.Caash had allowed those performers to reach something childlike inside themselves.
“A lot of people hit me up when they’re going through things,” 10k.Caash said. “I naturally make people happy.”
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Rico Nasty said his openhearted disposition was a rarity: “He genuinely wants to build friendship. Most people in the industry just do that when they need you for something.”
For an artist from Dallas — a city with a long hip-hop history but not many breakthrough successes — 10k.Caash has had a rapid, unlikely ascent, bypassing the local rap hierarchy. But he still has a devoted following in the city’s underground scene, which was clear the night after the studio session, when he appeared at a hybrid rap/wrestling event at a dingy banquet space in an industrial strip mall on the city’s northwest side.
It was a loosely hinged scene, a gathering of the subcultures. A disco ball dangled over the squared circle as 10k.Caash rapped and danced his way through an abbreviated set. When he was done, he didn’t speed off but stuck around, sitting on the top turnbuckle to watch his friends perform.
“I really don’t care for music at all,” he’d said earlier that day. “I kind of got drained from caring. In the beginning I actually cared, but once you actually see what actually goes on, it’s like OK, it’s no reason for me to actually care.”
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His earliest engagement with music was through promoting parties and dancing with friends, but the music business is less communal than that. Artists have invited him to collaborate and then removed him from songs, he said. He’s released snippets on Instagram, only to have the sound or words copied by others.
“A lot of people that make songs like me, they don’t even have the confidence to put me on the song,” he said. “I outrap them.” Although he’s recorded approximately 500 songs and hopes to release a third project in April, “I might be done after that,” he said.
So he has backup plans. He’s a freshman at Texas A&M University-Commerce, majoring in accounting. He knows how to code in Python. He’s made friends in FaZe Clan, the powerhouse esports collective. “Sometimes his heart’s not in the music,” G.U.N. said. “He’s happiest when he’s playing a game.”
Which is maybe where 10k.Caash will end up, after moving on from the way station of the record business. Now, he’s a successful rapper, dancer and social media savant. Tomorrow — who can say? “I hope it all transfers,” he said, “and I just can play games all day.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .