The cops nabbed The BoyBoy West Coast just a few steps from the Dream hotel in Hollywood.
It was early on a recent weekday morning, and the rising rapper born Manuel Ramirez didn’t think he was on their radar as he walked outside his swank hotel, waiting on a rep from his new major label. The 24-year-old Mexican American and Santa Barbara-based rapper had prior run-ins with police, so he was nervous as the cops approached him. First they asked his name. Then they asked for something else.
“The two police officers were like, ‘You’re BoyBoy West Coast! Can we get your picture, man?’ I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll come take it with all of you,’ and they were like, ‘No, we’re not supposed to be asking you.’ So I’m, like, having to hide behind a sign, taking pictures with the police. That was way different than the experiences I used to have.”
Such is life as the most meme-able new rapper in the music industry.
In just a matter of weeks — days, really — The BoyBoy West Coast has gone from bartending at a casino to a major-label MC with near-universal Gen Z recognition on social media and one of the summer’s most weirdly jubilant singles. Much of it happened over TikTok, the social-video app, and Instagram, where a tossed-off video of him lip-syncing about a barroom fling in his bedroom turned into a cryptically ebullient sensation.
Is BoyBoy’s debut just a lightning-strike moment that will define a brief season of hip-hop social media? Or is he a new hero of SoCal party music?
“It’s like literally if you walked down the street and pointed at some dude and were like, ‘You, we’re going to make you famous’ and whisked him off to L.A. and were like, ‘This is so-and-so, he’s the next guy’,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Am I?’”
The viral “U Was At the Club (Bottoms Up)” video starts like any other bored dude’s late-night missive to his pals. BoyBoy, dressed all in black save for a bit of jewelry, sunglasses and a bandanna around his neck, sips from an oversized Styrofoam cup (it’s not full of booze; BoyBoy is a teetotaler). He wears the uniform of a ’90s gangsta, but BoyBoy’s all smiles as he mouths the words to his own vocoder-tweaked hook. The song defies trends in contemporary rap: it’s major-key, guitar-plucking pop that sounds more like the late-’00s Auto-Tune wave than anything currently breaking off of Soundcloud.
But perhaps most essential to his Insta-fame, right above his trimmed Van Dyke beard, he sports inconceivably lush eyebrows, sculpted with the precision of topiary at an English country estate. His eyelashes alone could make a whole Vogue spread worth of models give up and take day jobs.
“I've gotten compliments on my eyelashes since I was a kid,” he said. “I'd be in the cafeteria line and the cafeteria lady was like, ‘I would die for your eyelashes.’”
BoyBoy is ineffably captivating. You have to ask: What is this dude’s deal?
So far, over the last eight months, tens of millions have asked that on TikTok and other apps. The single racked up 13.5-million views on YouTube and close to 3 million on Instagram before he was even signed and the song officially released. On TikTok, the memes came in a flurry and never stopped: women paste on fake mustaches, hoist white cups and imitate his every head bob. Men case their homes swapping out family photos and replacing them with BoyBoy printouts to see if their families will notice. Parents paint BoyBoy eyebrows on their infants.
But unlike Lil Nas X, a veteran Tweetdeck-er and social media gadfly well before “Old Town Road,“ BoyBoy has barely used the vehicle for his stardom.
“I’ve never even been on the app,” he said of TikTok. TikTok isn’t an app, per se. It lets users create ad hoc 15-second music videos and spread clips to friends and followers. But in an era when virality is the fastest way to a fan base, it’s serving as an A&R resource for labels eagerly hunting for new streaming hits.
“Bottoms Up” didn’t come out of nowhere. BoyBoy had a (very) small independent rap career, which he financed by bartending at the local Chumash casino and a few Santa Barbara spots. He grew up on the wrong side of a rich town, precariously hanging on in a city better known as “a retirement town or a vacation place where Oprah lives,” as he put it.
“I kind of came from a broken home. My mom would be in homeless shelters, there was a time when she was on drugs,” he said. “I started getting incarcerated around 14. But even when I was locked up with crazy criminals, I always had this state of mind, like I still knew who I was.”
His 2018 debut mixtape “Playboy Gangsta” had a cameo from the well-regarded singer Tory Lanez, but his gruff baritone flow leaned closer to the gangsta styles he grew up on. Nothing suggested this kind of breakout until he became an internet phenomenon.
No one, least of all BoyBoy, expects him to be a generational act like Kendrick Lamar. But Diplo and Charlie Puth gave him nods of approval (the former booked time with him, even though BoyBoy admitted “I didn’t know who he was until the car ride there. They had to show me on Instagram that he’s famous. I was just so in my own bubble.”).
In March, just before “Bottoms Up”’s official release, the hip magazine Fader called it “powerful magic … my favorite song of 2019 and it isn’t even out yet.” His interview with the lyrics site Genius is one of its most-viewed clips of all time. Republic, the major-label home of Taylor Swift, The Weeknd and some of the biggest acts in music, saw enough high-spirited fun and charisma there to sign him almost immediately.
BoyBoy is working on new music; he’s recutting his rough-edged follow-up album to move closer to the pop sound of “Bottoms Up.” Who knows if “Bottoms Up” is the first in a streak of strange West Coast party-rap brilliance, or if it’s like a night at BoyBoy’s old casino job, where someone pulls a slot machine and wins huge.
Either way, as fans mug with him outside the Dream hotel, for now, he’s guaranteed to get noticed but not letting it get to his head.