Migos & Memes: How Everything From Strippers to Donald Glover Helped 'Bad & Boujee' Explode

Tyler Kaufman/Getty Images for Pepsi

Migos attends The National Black MBA Association Presents  2nd Annual Pepsi MBA Live at The Metropolitan on Oct. 14, 2016 in New Orleans.


If you’ve been near just about any FM radio dial, social media feed or person under 20 in the past month or so, you know that the only possible follow-up to that formerly innocuous word is “drop top,” completing the opening rhyme from the current Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 song “Bad and Boujee” by Migos, featuring Lil Uzi Vert.

But it’s more than just a catchy refrain. Offset’s hook spawned an online movement via memes that reached just about every demographic, especially after Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino, a.k.a. creator of the Migos-featuring sitcom Atlanta) declared his love for the “Boujee” in his Golden Globes acceptance speech.

The song’s road to No. 1 began long before it hit national TV, though -- here’s the story of its unlikely rise to the top.

1. The Single 

“Bad and Boujee” arrived Aug. 27, 2016, ­exclusively on SoundCloud, “a ­community on the brink of what’s going to break,” according to Quality Control Records head Kevin “Coach K” Lee. It was a new strategy for Migos, but one Lee had seen work with one of his other young artists, Lil Yachty. “Quavo was featured on one of Yachty's songs on SoundCloud, and it got like a million plays in 24 hours, so our strategy this time was to feed those fans,” he says. “They’re the ones you want to touch first.”

Even before it dropped, though, Lee was certain the song was a hit. “Offset just sent me a hook and verse at first -- as soon as I heard it, I was like, ‘Man, where’s Quavo? Where's Takeoff? They need to get on this record ASAP.’ Within three days, we put it out.” Timing was crucial: Lee wanted to release the Metro Boomin-produced “Boujee” in time for Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3-5), typically home to some of the biggest radio mixshows of the year.

The response -- especially to Offset’s opening hook -- was immediate, albeit confined to the hipper corners of rap internet. There were about 100 tweets quoting “raindrop, drop top” the day the song was released, according to data from Twitter, probably starting with this one:

Within an hour there were more:

The song’s meme-readiness even came through in the album art, which itself was originally a meme based on a photo of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta star Tommie Lee.

“I didn’t know they were using the picture, but I was flattered,” Tommie Lee told Billboard via email. “It's always cool to know someone appreciates your vision. Plus, the song is super catchy -- I like it.” The story behind the photo, fittingly, is about as “Bad and Boujee” as it gets: “I was at such a transitional time in my life, and I wanted the photo to tell a story,” says Tommie Lee. “My photographer Cris Evans and I snuck into the Sun Dial [the restaurant at Atlanta’s The Westin Peachtree Plaza] and pretended we were there to eat. I ordered a tea and asked for extra hot water. When the server brought the water, my photographer pulled the noodles out of his bag to catch the shot. I had to tip the server $100 to be the lookout and give us five more minutes -- $100 all for a dope Instagram picture, LOL. My favorite part was that so many people could relate to it.”

Despite its instant online cred, the next step for the track was totally old school: club and radio promotion, specifically via Atlanta strip clubs and listening parties. In September, Migos personally visited “every club and every strip club” in the city to perform and promote “Boujee,” according to Coach K. “We hadn't done that in a while, because [Migos had] been on the road so much, but with this record we knew we had to go back to the basics, back to the grind,” he adds. "Perform the song, and personally go up to the DJ and say, 'Hey, this is our new record.'" Plus: “If those girls start putting up clips of themselves dancing to it on Snapchat,” says Coach K of the strip clubs’ dancers, “you know it’s going to go.”

2. The Video 
The track’s video, released Oct. 31, racked up 1 ­million views in just three days and within a few weeks was added to more than 4,000 YouTube playlists daily. “For a hip-hop artist that’s not necessarily global yet, that was impressive,” says YouTube head of culture and trends Kevin Alloca. That, combined with the song’s official single release (Oct. 28) across platforms and radio push, prompted the song’s chart debut: No. 42 on the Hot Hip-Hop/R&B Songs chart for the week ending Nov. 10. Though it entered the chart thanks to exponential growth in streams, airplay was still a factor, particularly in Atlanta (the top city for “Boujee” airplay every week since its release except one, confirming that they are still very much local boys making good), Chicago and New York.

“Boujee” mentions were still growing, mostly on Twitter -- users sometimes tweeted the lyrics while attaching a picture or GIF (Wiz Khalifa was an early adopter, see below):

3. The Memes, and the No. 1  
By mid-November, the lyrics were averaging 2,500 mentions a day on Twitter, and it had become almost a prerequisite to attach an image or an exhortation to respond to any mention of “raindrop” with “drop top.” Two of the meme formats that have had the most impact, though, seem to have been created by Atlanta artist Zack Fox, an Awful Records affiliate and most recently cast member and writer of Flying Lotus’ debut film Kuso.

“There's no mystique to how I use the Internet,” says Fox. “Most of what I do is just me on my laptop with a blanket over my head, Photoshop is open, and it just happens.” Fox already had a substantial Twitter following, which helped his tweets go viral (now, he’s at more than 40,000 followers). “If I didn't do it, somebody else was going to,” he adds. “There's definitely some checks that could be written, but I wasn't thinking to myself, ‘I'm doing this so this song can be No. 1’ -- it's honestly the best song I've heard in the past five years.” The week after Fox’s tweets and the many, many others that emulated them (ending Dec. 15, 2016), “Boujee” grew almost 60 percent in airplay audience nationally, its largest jump since just after its official release. By the end of December, the song was in the top 40 of the Hot 100 and brands like Wendy’s and Jimmy John’s jumped on the trend, confirming that it had gone mainstream.

“Rap culture saying or doing something cool and then some big corporation making it wack is just the way it works,” says Fox of the corporate use of “Boujee” memes. “Twitter accounts doing it is so funny because you see exactly how it happens -- you're giving me 140-character evidence that your corporation is built on taking shit and manipulating the same people you took it from. I'm probably gonna go eat Jimmy John's after this, like ‘Raindrop, drop top’ ... where have I heard that before?”

Lee says that since OG Maco (also a Quality Records signee) blew up via memes with 2014’s “U Guessed It,” he’s made concerted efforts to go viral as part of his marketing strategy. “Oh hell yeah [we try to cultivate memes],” he says. “We're like, ‘Who made this meme?! We need to get them this record.’ It's really a promotional tool now -- we didn't have to pay anybody, but there's a business out there for it.” He traces the impact of memes to seeing snipes (posters) on the street in his early days as a promoter. “You'd say, ‘Oh damn, this record's about to be hot,’ because you'd seen it a lot of places. This is before the Internet.”

Courtesy of Twitter

The timing of the song’s exploding popularity was also a combination of old-school and new-school marketing -- sure, it was tied to going viral on Twitter, but it also happened over the holidays, traditionally a boom time for song and album sales. “It really popped between Thanksgiving and Christmas ... I think because the kids were, like, on break,” adds Lee. “A lot of times it's the kids that really move the culture.” A combination of increasingly prolific meme-ing and the holidays (read: iTunes gift cards) meant the song’s sales almost quadrupled over Christmas (digital sales rose 380% to 116,000 the week ending Dec. 29). On New Year’s Eve, the turn-up ready single was added to 12,000 YouTube playlists -- one portion of the song’s almost 40 million streams that helped it finally land at No. 1 on the Hot 100, the week ending Jan. 5, 2017.

4. The Co-Sign
Just three days later, Donald Glover called “Boujee” “the best song ever” during his Golden Globes ­acceptance speech, helping it become the top gainer across metrics on the Jan. 28 chart. “I was like, ‘Oh shit,’” says Lee. “Middle America, the world -- they all know now.” During the ceremony, there were 175,000 mentions of “Bad and Boujee” or Migos -- more than, for example, there were about Ryan Gosling. By Jan. 11 (three days after the Globes), the video had 100 million views on YouTube -- currently it’s at over 137 million.

Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Donald Glover accepts the award for Best Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy for his role in Atlanta onstage during the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, Calif. 

“It's a very 21st century type of popularity,” adds Alloca, who sees “Black Beatles” as a strong comparison. “They're both songs that became much bigger than themselves -- they’re part of a movement, and really driven by people's creative expression and enjoyment.” He adds that at least via YouTube, they’ve sowed the seeds for future success: “Migos started 2016 with about 280,000 subscribers, and now they’re at over 800,000 -- they've increased the reach as soon as they drop their next song.” “Bad and Boujee” is atop the Hot 100 for a second week with the chart dated Feb. 4, breaking the record for the most weeks (this is its fifth) as the chart’s top streaming gainer.

Migos will be looking to expand their reach even more with their new album Culture, which drops this Friday, Jan. 27 -- but Lee sees some reason to celebrate already. “Two years ago there was all this Internet gossip about Migos and The Beatles, then Rae Sremmurd comes with this song called ‘Black Beatles,’ that was up on the charts forever. Then, boom -- the Migos, who originally had all the Beatles stuff, we come and we take down the Rae Sremmurd record,” he says, laughing. “You can’t make this stuff up, you know?”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 28 issue of Billboard.