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How Blueface’s Rap Hit ‘Thotiana’ Found Crossover Success

Blueface’s “Thotiana” is the latest rap hit to cross over into the pop format. While the track by the Los Angeles rapper first saw radio play in January, it’s steadily picked up spins in top market Top 40 stations like Los Angeles KIIS-FM, Miami’s WPOW and Orlando’s WPYO. While in the Rhythmic format, “Thotiana” overtook Urban in March and is treading close behind in April, per Mediabase. As of the end of March, the total audience listening to “Thotiana” amounts to 172.5 million, according to eOne, the label which, along with Fifth Amendment Entertainment, released the record. According to BuzzAngle Music, the song has surpassed 1 million units in the U.S. in downloads and streaming equivalents.

It’s no small feat. In 2017, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE” were two of the few successful hip-hop-to-pop crossover songs. Last year, Travis Scott’s “Sickomode” also broke the mold, and as he’s shown, exposure to this popular genre means more streams, video views and social media followers which eventually leads to bigger bookings, including festival slots, and a bigger fanbase.

“Day one, there wasn’t a plan to crossover the song to mainstream or pop radio, but the success dictated that,” says Chris Taylor, eOne’s Global President of Music. “It became much more of a moment than we even anticipated when we first started looking at it last year.”

Taylor suggests that the song has a wide appeal. “For guys, it’s a statement about sexuality, and similarly for women, it’s about being free and being sexy — that’s at the primary level.” (Worth noting: the song takes its name for the slang acronym Thot, or “that ho over there.”) Taylor continues: “People talk about Blueface’s distinctive flow, that’s connecting, too. Just his general aura and personality comes through on the track. It’s distinctive.”

Alan Grunblatt, eOne’s President of Urban Music, goes one further. “These kind of records transcend radio,” he says. “A pop-based audience of 15-year-old girls love ‘Thotiana.’ It’s the bridge between both worlds.”

But it’s hardly the kind of record one would predict for crossover success. Critics commented that Blueface’s MC skills sounded like “fingernails dragged across a chalkboard” with one going so far as to label him “the end of rap.” More recently, Joe Budden of Spotify’s “Joe Budden Podcast” and a star of VH1’s “Love & Hip-Hop” declared his “hate” for the song “Thotiana.”

Haters be damned, the Los Angeles native delivers his brand of zero-Fs-given attitude, pretty boy swag, voice crackling, intentional or unintentional off-beat flows, and signature “yea aight” — which is exactly why Wack 100, The Game’s long-time manager, signed him to Cash Money West. “I found him because he was different and he wasn’t like all the rest,” he says.

Wack attributes the success of Blueface to three things: the “Thotiana” dance, Blueface’s viral appearances (he’d draw fans to places like Belmont High School creating a ripple effect of FOMO where bystanders wanted to know who this Blueface kid was) and the features — Cardi B and YG (Nicki Minaj, Young M.A. and Desiigner show up on unofficial versions) — for which the manager takes full credit. “The features were business moves on our side,” Wack tells Variety. “He just allowed me to do so because he could’ve shut that down. He followed my lead, so I really respected that.”

Wack says the Cardi remix came together because “Cardi B personally was interested, and my relationship with her management — Pierre “P” Thomas at Quality Control — came together. But Cardi actually reached out and showed interest. And me and P were able to work that out, it was a smooth transition.”

eOne’s Taylor describes the co-sign as a “miracle. … I didn’t think that was gonna happen, let alone happen as fast as it did. Wack has really had a plan about different quadrants, East Coast to West Coast, Latin, Electronic, there’s more plans for the song beyond where we are now that he has in his mind to keep expanding the audience. It’s really extended the life and the reach of the track.It’s a shining example of what independent labels can do. It’s great to have a viral hit that does OK on SoundCloud, but there’s a 30 to 50 page marketing and radio plan we’ve been following alongside with management. It’s more than a viral sensation at this point. You don’t get played at Power 106 70 times a week by accident. [Same for] a No. 13 single on the UK chart. That doesn’t happen by accident. The radio success, there’s a whole team, a whole budgeting process. Internationally as well, our team in London has done a fantastic job really putting it on the radar. It’s something we can take to the next artist and show them. ‘Look, we did this.’ Hits breed more hits and this certainly qualifies as that.”

Indeed, Grunblatt stated in a New York Times article that “Thotiana” was “poised to be the most successful song” he’s worked on since Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “Crossroads.” “‘Crossroads’ sold eight million, this will double that,” he told the paper.

Taylor puts it into context. “It’s a different era where hip-hop is pop. It’s mainstream culture at this point. The audience for the music, along with streaming has expanded into a global phenomenon. A hit urban or rap record years ago had more of a ceiling than it does today where the gates have flown wide open. That combined with the sort of viral aspect to it, gives it more earning potential for most pure dollars and cents standpoints. We [at eOne] have DJ Khaled’s ‘All I Do Is Win’ and a bunch of great recordings in the catalog, but this could be one of the biggest songs we’ve ever had as a record label with the way it’s going.”

eOne boasts dozens of Gold- and Platinum-certified plaques and has demonstrated incredible longevity. As Grunblatt explains: “Because we’ve owned the Death Row catalog, this is sort of our spot. We pride ourselves on being the top hip-hop independent, and I think we maintained it. It’s funny, this is my favorite eOne story. When a rapper comes up here and wants a deal, I say ‘Ok, who’s the biggest artist on eOne?’ They look at me and say ‘The Game, etc.’ I say ‘no no no, the biggest hip-hop artist on eOne is Tupac Shakur motherf—er.’”

Something Blueface has in common with the late rapper: affiliation with L.A. gang the Crips. But in the wake of Nipsey Hussle’s senseless death — the rapper was gunned down outside his Marathon clothing store on March 31 — one might wonder if such credentials were downright dangerous. Wack sees it differently, pointing to Blueface’s collaboration with YG, a known Blood. Wack says Blueface, whose real name is Johnathan Porter, is a “very smart guy” and that the aim with Blueface and YG, is “to be a face of the West Coast. A face of Los Angeles, not just a facade. Bringing that collaboration together was a big step towards keeping the gang violence down. His Crip affiliation is gonna help keep gang crimes down! I’m a Piru. I’m from the other side. I got a red flag in my back pocket. Blueface is a Crip, so even with him entertaining me being his management, it’s showing our culture that we can get past the colors. Our whole movement is a representation of unity.”

He may be on to something. In an interview with Bel Aire, Chicago’s own G Herbo broke down how “Thotiana” became the hottest record in the streets. “The kids, us, we listen to it,” said the Chitown rapper. “The word originated in Chicago; Blueface is from L.A. Nobody ever said, ‘Oh that word came from Chicago.’ But it don’t even matter because people in Chicago are so busy beefing that we couldn’t even capitalize off it and make a hit!”

Wack says the song has transcended formats to become “pop culture.” He points to “200 million streams collectively” and that “he’s booked out for the next four months.” Blueface is also now the face of Fashion Nova Man (as Cardi B is for women) and will next be heard on a single with French Montana, all of which gives Cash Money West a huge headstart as they take on the next act of Blueface’s recorded career.

Adds Wack: “We workin’!”

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