“I knew she would blow up! The first time I heard her, I could tell there was something special about her. I’ve been telling everyone to check her out.”
These are the words of a very enthusiastic fan at one of FKA twigs’ first shows in New York City. The show was at The Westway, a small club in Manhattan’s West Village, and the energy in the building that night was almost palpable. Between songs, fans would yell, “I love you twigs!” and it seemed like the kind of show that couldn’t go wrong—the fans wouldn’t let that happen. Even if twigs forgot all her words mid-song, someone would probably yell, “We still love you twigs!” and everyone would cheer as a sign of forgiveness. The show went well, and no words were forgotten, but it was obvious that everyone in the building that night was already an unconditional twigs fan. We were all rooting for her.
It’s an exciting time for FKA twigs right now. She’s not a star yet. She has no radio singles or Hot 100 hits, but she’s got a following that is head over heels. Her fans want her to win, and they’re all doing their part to make it happen.
This isn’t a unique situation. Right now, there are plenty of other artists—like Raury, Banks, and Kelela—who are in the same place. They aren’t yet household names, but their day one fans speak about them like they’re icons and gods. If the ability to build a dedicated fan base is proof of potential, then these are the stars of tomorrow.
If the ability to build a dedicated fan base is proof of potential, then these are the stars of tomorrow.
In today’s volatile music environment, where hit singles and hot trends come and go with the changing winds, having a core team of true believers is an essential element to a sustainable career. If FKA twigs never makes a hit, she’ll still be able to sell out shows and be heard with a little help from her proactive followers who amplify the volume of anything she does. This isn’t stardom—this is that moment right before the spotlight turns on and the curtains open.
This is an important step for developing artists. But how necessary is it?
These days, “blowing up” doesn’t always take years of building, multi-faceted marketing plans, and heavy touring. It doesn’t require Times Square billboards and radio play in every major city across the country.
These days, sometimes all it takes is the right co-sign. We saw what happened with Migos. They blew up into an almost meme-like phenomenon. When Drake dropped the “Versace” remix, Migos went from hip-hop hype to the mainstream spotlight, and it’s still not entirely clear how long that time in the spotlight is going to last. Migos are still relevant, and Migos are still entertaining, but they seem to have peaked. Where else can Migos go from here? Is anyone claiming Migos as their favorite act? Can the casual rap fan even name all the members of Migos? They seem to have fallen victim to a rushed hype cycle, and before they had the chance to fully capitalize on it, the world moved on.
Prior to August 12, iLoveMakonnen wasn’t a name buzzing in New York City. In Atlanta, though, he was hard at work. He quit is job to pursue music full time, and he was working with some of Atlanta’s hottest producers (Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital, DK Spinz, Dun Deal). While the world wasn’t yet in on the secret, things were bubbling. The hype machine gears were turning.
“I quit my job and I was like, ‘Damn, I gotta go out there and make this shit happen,'” Makonnen told us in an interview last month. “I’m either gonna work my job full time or do this music shit full time, because trying to balance out both is a fucking headache. So I just went and quit my job and started doing music full time.”
In the late hours of Tuesday, August 12, Drake released his remix of iLoveMakonnen’s “Club Going Up On a Tuesday.” Suddenly, Makonnen was on.
Last night, iLoveMakonnen performed at The Westway in New York City. It was The Players Ball, in association with We Global, presented by Electric Circus and 10Deep, hosted by Ashley Outrageous.
Before he went on, TM88 and Metro Boomin blasted Young Thug and Future songs while people swarmed into the club and onto the stage. By 11:00 p.m., there were at least 30 people on stage. There were journalists, industry insiders, scenesters, and artists. If you live in New York City and go to a lot of shows, these are people you see often, but it’s not often you see them all on one stage, as if the Hype God himself whispered in their ears, “This is the place to be.”
Leading up to Makonnen’s arrival on stage, the scene at The Westway was already a spectacle. People in the crowd were already like, “Oh my god, that’s A-Trak on stage. Oh my god, that’s Mike Will. Oh my god, that’s G-Eazy and Carnage and Vashtie and Elliott Wilson.” This kind of hype can inflate the situation, and a lot of times it leads to disappointment. More often than not, the microphone isn’t going to be loud enough, or there’s going to be a scuffle near the front of the stage, or the crowd will all realize at once that the performer is just singing along with a backing track.
This level of hype is not easy to live up to.
Every now and then, though, hype materializes into something real. When Lil B performed in New York City back in January of 2011, it was special. And last night for Makonnen’s show, it felt the same way. It wasn’t just hype-mongers and celebrities making an appearance—it was a crowd of people who wanted to be a part of Makonnen’s energy. In these times, the balance between hype and a genuine connection is rare. A big cosign can help, but once you hit that stage, there’s no faking it.
New York is a city that can get bloated with hype, but there’s still a feeling in the air when it’s real.
New York is a city that can get bloated with hype, but there’s still a feeling in the air when it’s real. Last night, Makonnen brought a lot of hype to NYC. But he also made a real connection with the crowd that isn’t fading any time soon. Thanks to Drake, Makonnen skipped a few steps on his path to stardom. But seeing him live last night made it obvious that he’s ready for the spotlight. It was 2012 when Makonnen quit his job to start focusing on music—he’s been ready for a while.