When Lil Tecca's "Ransom" debuted on the Billboard Hot 100in June, the Queens rapper was just another 16-year-old trying to burst through the SoundCloud bubble. That changed swiftly when he teamed up with director Cole Bennett (founder of multimedia company Lyrical Lemonade), headed to the Dominican Republic and filmed the song’s rump-shaking video. It quickly racked up millions of views on Bennett’s YouTube channel, which has 11.6 million subscribers. Within two months, Tecca’s whistling anthem peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100.
“The music he makes is different, his voice is different,” says his manager, Giuseppe Zappala. “He has a very clear vision of what he wants to do.” In May, Republic Records signed Tecca to a joint venture with his own imprint, Galactic Records. On his 17th birthday in August, Tecca released his debut album, We Love You Tecca, which landed at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. For Tecca, the appeal is simple: “A lot of my fans] downloaded SoundCloud just to listen to me. You have to be unique. That’s it.”
How did you develop a strong fan base so quickly?
Lil Tecca: There has to be a reason why people connect to you. I’ve been a fan of artists before, and there’s a reason why they resonate with me. If there’s nothing different about you, you’re not going to get a special kind of fan base.
Giuseppe, why do you think We Love You Tecca went to No. 1?
Giuseppe Zappala: The buildup to “Ransom” helped all of Tecca’s old songs pop off. “Love Me” came out seven months before “Ransom”; “Did It Again” came out five months before it. So everything was a buildup because of those smaller wins. When we got our first 10,000 plays on SoundCloud, we were losing our shit. Tecca’s also very engaging with his fan base. He was consistently dropping good music and also marketing it. He was one of the first people to use the social video app] Triller to promote his music.
How does Tecca compare with other artists you have worked with?
Zappala: He’s one of the hardest-working people I’ve stumbled across. He’s very articulate. What he has that a lot of artists don’t is a personal sense of direction in what he wants.
Tecca, your manager thinks you can be one of the greats. Are you ready for that?
Lil Tecca: I don’t put myself on that pedestal. Right now, I’m trying to get there -- if I put myself in that space already, that would just build ego. I have to keep going and grinding like I’m still getting 100 plays.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of Billboard.