2016 No. 1s: The Story Behind 19-Year-Old Desiigner Scoring the Year's Weirdest Smash

Eric Ryan Anderson
Steven Victor [COO, G.O.O.D. Music; manager; senior vp A&R, Universal ­Music Group], Desiigner, and Steve Bartels [CEO, Def Jam] photographed on Oct. 24 at Def Jam Recordings in New York.

“Panda” -- Billboard Hot 100 (2 weeks), ­Streaming Songs (14 weeks), Hot Rap Songs (17 weeks)

When G.O.O.D. Music COO Steven Victor first heard “Panda” (a friend texted him the song), he wasn’t sold. “It was hot, but I was like, ‘He’s probably 40. He sounds too old,’ ” he recalls. “Then I went to Los Angeles, and Kanye [West] played the song without me even bringing it up to him. I was like, ‘I’m going to go find him.’ ” Several studio ­sessions with West later, the animated and not at all old 19-year-old, Billboard’s top new R&B/hip-hop artist of 2016, and Grammy nominee, became Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music’s youngest chart-topper. With its hypnotizing, Menace-produced beat and Desiigner’s lyrical ­calisthenics, “Panda” -- inspired by the BMW X6’s features -- raced to the top of Billboard’s ­Streaming Songs, Hot Rap Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot 100 charts, ­eventually toppling the nine-week reign of Rihanna’s “Work” on the Hot 100.

Getting something to be disruptive really needs to happen now, for artists to stand out, because there’s so much noise in the world. The very first time I met him was in our conference room after the signing happened, and he came in and performed literally for 40 minutes straight on top of our conference room table. I kept thinking to myself, “This can’t be real.” People come in, but they don’t keep that level of intensity. I kept worrying the lights on the ceiling were going to break.

VICTOR (COO, G.O.O.D. Music; manager; senior vp A&R, Universal ­Music Group):
I don’t think that “Panda” filled a void -- it just cut through. If you listen to the lyrics, he’s a rapper’s rapper. It’s so unique because it’s really difficult for a rapper to fill in bars like that. Usually they just say nonsense and it sounds good. When you’re listening to it, you’re like, “Yo, he’s jumping from subject to subject,” but he’s really not. It just grabs your attention.

I put everything I see -- a movie, Grand Theft Auto -- in my music, so when I made “Panda,” it was crazy. I get possessed. I know I’m saying words; it’s just like you’re tapped into my world. That’s my job as an artist: to show you and make you understand.

Watch Desiigner, Steve Bartels and Steven Victor talk about watching "Panda" explode and linking up with Kanye for his Madison Square Garden fashion show. 

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17 issue of Billboard.

Billboard Year in Music 2016


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