After sixteen years in the music business, 34-year-old Memphis rapper, Yo Gotti, cracked the US Top 40 for the first time in his career with a track titled “Down in the DM”. The song is a tribute to a popular feature on many social media applications known as Direct Messaging (or DMing). This feature allows users connected via the same app to share private photos and text messages one-on-one without the rest of their social circle’s knowledge.
The earliest predecessors of the mobile DMing phenomenon were only beginning to come into popularity in the early 2000s, around the same time Yo Gotti first started committing his rhymes to tape. That a song whose title includes an acronym for a feature of mobile electronic communication can reach number 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 2016 is a testament to the ubiquitous usage of social media tools. But just as releasing a similarly titled song in 2003 would have confused and alienated the majority of music listeners, will the current trend of rappers namechecking apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook hold up fifteen, ten, or even five years from now?
Parlaying a novelty song into mainstream success, while rare, is nothing new. In 1958, jumping off the rising popularity of the mass production and clever marketing of a simple, inexpensive new toy, Georgia Gibbs scored the last Top 40 hit of her career with “The Hula Hoop Song”. In 1982, Buckner & Garcia recorded what would become a RIAA certified Gold single with their hit “Pac-Man Fever”. The musical duo’s song about the wildly popular arcade game went all the way to number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and spawned a full-length album of video game-themed songs. In much the same way nobody’s writing pop songs about 1980’s video games anymore, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone rapping about Friendster or MySpace in 2016.
While never officially released as a single, record producer-turned-rapper, G-Easy, brought a significant amount of attention to his 2014 album, These Things Happen, with a sexy, R-rated video for his song “Tumblr Girls”. The video collects beautifully filmed and photographed images of young women hanging out with friends on the beach, rolling weed, and drinking mimosas. However, two years later, with the popularity of the microblogging site Tumblr seeing declining usage due to the advent of the more popular Facebook-developed photo and video sharing mobile app Instagram, G-Easy (perhaps wisely) refrained from including any songs with names of social media apps in their titles on his follow-up, When It’s Dark Out. Similarly, rapper, Kitty (formerly Kitty Pryde), accumulated over one million YouTube views with her 2012 song “Ok Cupid”, a reference to an early online dating app that these days you don’t much hear about because of its being eclipsed by the more widely used mobile hook up apps: Tinder, Grindr, and Match.com.
The here today, gone tomorrow fickle cool of social media apps hasn’t stopped up-and-coming rappers looking to get a foothold in the music industry by latching onto the namesake of the latest, hippest mobile services. In just the past seven months, slack rapper, Madeintyo, racked up six million YouTube hits for his song “Uber Everywhere”. The ultimate legacy of rappers who find success in this form of novelty hip hop remains to be seen. But if Buckner & Garcia and Georgia Gibbs’ place in musical history are any indication of what’s to come, it would seem that perhaps rappers looking for long-term success in the genre refrain from basing an entire song on a computer program that may be forgotten in four years.