BeatKing doesn’t just rap; he commands the room. On many of his tracks, the Houston rapper-producer urges fans, in his gravelly baritone, to “throw that ass!” It’s a directive that his listeners have heeded with glee for more than a decade across the dance floors of Texas clubs and beyond. His music thrives in the nightlife: one of his most popular songs, the instant confidence booster “Crush,” was released in 2009, and it’s still often played in clubs across the state.
Since then, the self-proclaimed “Club God” has been cranking out hit after hit that encourages maximum dance participation, with attitude—“Hammer,” “BDA,” “Bussibak,” “Throw Dat Ahh,” among others over the years—with many of them catching fire across the South and, sometimes, all over the nation. His most recent single, “Then Leave,” is his biggest song to date, one that’s been cosigned by hip-hop’s unofficial A&R, Drake; BeatKing even reportedly signed a $3.3 million deal with Columbia Records on the heels of the single’s success. And it’s all thanks to TikTok.
Released in March, “Then Leave” is one of the latest songs to dominate the social video app. As of mid-June, users had uploaded more than 90,000 videos of all kinds featuring the song: the most-viewed videos feature TikTokers doing choreographed dances, comedic videos about family dynamics, and art tutorials. A month later, more than 2.1 million videos had been created with the song as its soundtrack. The explosive popularity of “Then Leave” is undeniable, especially considering BeatKing’s reality—for years he’s been tinkering with his approach to creating music that sticks to the brain, and he’s perfected it at just the right moment. The viral era has breathed new life into his anthemic formula. “Crazy sh*t is my music has been all over the world for the last 10 years but most of my listeners never knew it was my songs they liked,” BeatKing tweeted last month. “I could be in a club in Miami and the whole club is going crazy to my song and they’d have no idea I’m standing there. Tik Tok is wilddd.”
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“Then Leave,” much like BeatKing’s other songs, is raunchy and filled with lyrics you wouldn’t exactly want to play in polite company. The tune begins with women humming over sparse snaps, before Queendome Come, who’s featured on the track, starts her verse:
“Like Club God say, throw that ass, poke it out / Bad bitch, and my bitches too / Take all these niggas’ money what we finsta’ do / Then leave, then leave / Get that bread, get that head, then leave.”
When BeatKing enters the equation, his production cracks open to include his signature trunk-rattling bass, and he proceeds to rap about his sexual proclivities and preferences.
BeatKing’s songs are part of a lineage of timeless club rap that’s become embedded in the lives of Texans who have ever stepped out for an event, party, or gathering where hip-hop is played. His record deal, as well as his acknowledgment by several of rap’s biggest stars after the virality of “Then Leave,” could be an indication that labels are recognizing—or remembering—the significance of Texas club music that exists for the sole purpose of getting people moving.
The rapid ascent of “Then Leave” is especially striking considering that nightclubs—the arena where BeatKing’s songs flourish—have been closed for months, because of COVID-19. Instead of dancing in a room surrounded by sweaty bodies, fans of the song are coming together and connecting through social media—dancing while quarantined at home, but together online. Seeing so many people dance to this song in their own settings reminds me that we’re all coping with our current situations in the best way we can. Beyond that, it gives me a preview of a club filled with people of all kinds and backgrounds, dancing to music from an artist who has long been a source of joy for Texans.
One of these people is my sister, Geordai. She’s the biggest social butterfly on the dance floor I’ve ever met; she knows of nearly every Texas artist who’s put out a regional hit, and brings their songs to life by dancing to them with a magnetic charisma that makes her the center of attention. Geordai, who introduced me to “Then Leave,” says BeatKing’s music is a constant source of inspiration for her. “BeatKing usually gets me going,” she says. “‘Hammer’—whenever I hear that shit, that’s when the club goes off.”
We’ve only been able to listen to “Then Leave” in the car together at this point, but each time we hear it, Geordai recites it louder, incorporating her own movements. I take mental notes, enjoying the song and making plans to match her liveliness when things return to some kind of normal. Or at least I’ll attempt to. I often joke that my sister got all the coordination in our family. I’ve become her unofficial hypewoman and videographer, often whipping out my phone to record her while she’s dancing. But I’m quick to jump up next to her on the dance floor when I hear something new or old by BeatKing, or any of the other Texas club anthems. It’s almost like it’s in our genes to move, to rap along, and to represent the state any time something homegrown comes on.
We’re quarantining together, so while working on this piece, I asked for her help in remembering the club tracks that best represent Texas. As we sifted through YouTube and Spotify together, song by song, she grew more and more excited, often getting up from her desk to twerk on the spot while reminiscing about past nights out. When I ask what Texas club music means to her, she sounds prideful. “It’s our music and it’s for us,” she says. “It’s nice that Texas has its own genres. Like, we have chopped and screwed music, and then we have club music, similar to Atlanta, Louisiana, and Florida. We have feel-good music that’s straight to the point, with directions. It’s hard not to dance along to that.”
Her earliest recollections of club music are from her college years in Austin, in the mid-to-late aughts, when she attended the historically Black college Huston-Tillotson; in particular, she vividly remembers dancing to “Get It Bitch” by Dallas’s Trap Starz Clik. “When they say ‘get it bitch,’ we all put our fists in the air, arched our backs like we were stretching, ass poked out to the beat,” she explains. “And when they say, ‘Drop it to the floor, pick it back up,’ that’s when I really didn’t know what I was doing. We literally did a frog leap—not even a cute, respectable twerk. And then we would pick it back up and vibrate. It was a wack vibration, but we thought we were real cute and we were really corny. All nineteen years old.”
Back then songs like Lil Wil’s “My Dougie,” the Party Boyz’s “Flex” and “Daddy Stroke,” and the Paper Chaserz’s “Franky” all erupted out of Dallas, thanks in large part to the fact that they came with ready-made dances that were easy to learn. These songs gained significant traction, precursors to the dance crazes that would later come via TikTok. “Whenever those songs came on, the club went up,” Geordai recalls. “And that’s usually when everyone started dancing … the Dallas dances, in particular, started hitting small towns. It felt good to go back home to [our hometown] Seguin and do it.”
Houston has also produced its fair share of club music: Lil Keke’s “Southside” is an H-Town song that comes with a dance of its own (which Beyoncé has been known to break out); J-Dawg’s “First 48” evokes passionate emotions out of even the most stone-faced person; Chalie Boy’s “I Look Good” and Lil’ Flip’s “I Can Do Dat” braggadociously encourage people to stunt on their haters; Z-Ro’s “Mo City Don” and Lil’ Troy’s “Wanna Be a Baller” have been memorized by just about anyone who wants to show and prove they’re from Texas; Lil O’s “Playas Get Chose” and Big Moe’s “Just a Dog” are notoriously recited with or without music; Fat Pat’s “Tops Drop” and Yungstar’s “Knocking Pictures Off Da Wall” can wake up the sleepiest of clubs; and Big Hawk’s “You Already Know” and DJ DMD’s “25 Lighters” feature some of the catchiest hooks ever produced in the Lone Star State.
According to my sister, younger, more contemporary artists like Yung Nation (“Pimp,” “Wurk Wurk Don’t Stop”) and Tisakorean (“The Mop”) have become the new torchbearers for Texas club music. But one artist in particular has blown the door off the hinges. “Megan Thee Stallion is making major moves,” Geordai says. “All these songs have been men screaming what to do or whatever, but it’s actually a woman encouraging you to get out there and have a good time, on some hot girl shit. We were definitely missing that—it’s inspiring.”
As the pandemic stretches on, my sister admits that she misses the club scene more than she thought she would. “It sucks,” Geordai says with a sigh. “I feel like my ankles are getting weak because I’m not wearing heels often; I feel like I’m rusty on the dance floor. I think [COVID] is going to change the way people move in the club, as far as dancing in large groups. I don’t want that to change the whole scheme of the club.”
Though I dance sparingly, I model myself after my sister, unconsciously studying her motions and mannerisms as she lets the music move through her. Geordai is freer than free, and she’s inspired me to let go, a lesson I’m hoping I haven’t lost during the pandemic. Even though it’s likely we may not go out for months to come, Geordai, like many people in quarantine, is maintaining her connection to the music that makes Texas what it is—by listening to artists like BeatKing. “The high-energy person that I am, I constantly listen to it because I like to move,” she says. “So it’s guaranteed to get me up, cause it’s gonna bring back memories of the club, or it’s just gonna get me in a feel-good, twerking mood … I just want to hear, ‘Throw that ass!’”