Jaah SLT remembers the first time his music was made into a meme.
It was November 2019 and the south Charlotte rapper was working in a factory at Printful, a custom screen-printing company based in Steele Creek. The Myers Park graduate had earned a bit of buzz earlier in the year after No Jumper podcast host Adam22 reviewed his song “Fuck a Hook” as one of the best on Soundcloud, but things had been relatively quiet since then.
The April release of his single “Tuff” had dropped to little fanfare, and the September video release looked to be the same. Then he came across an Instagram video of Dexter, the titular character from the Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon, walking along a hallway, perfectly on beat with the “Tuff” lyrics, “10, 11 … 13, I don’t fuck with 12 and they don’t fuck with me.”
From there the clip spread like wildfire, and before Jaah knew it, his music was everywhere on the internet. It’s been half a year since that meme first hit, and as of the time of this writing, the one clip from “Tuff” has been featured in the background of more than 297,000 TikTok videos. His Spotify streams are currently holding steady at half a million per month.
In February, he signed with Alamo Records, a New York-based record label founded by former Warner Bros. CEO Todd Moscowitz.
“We came across Jaah and fell in love with everything he had out,” said Alamo A&Rs Jacob Gilliland and Zeke Hirschberg in a joint email. “He blends styles from a variety of musical influences, and his sound is versatile and unique. After witnessing the explosive success of ‘Tuff,’ Alamo saw a clear path to making Jaah SLT a household name.”
For Jaah himself, the whole experience has been a whirlwind.
“Adam22 gave me the kickstart I needed to get me something going on, but the point I’m at now, I don’t even know how I got here,” Jaah SLT said in a recent phone call with Queen City Nerve. “Like just in November I was in this bullshit ass factory, I was busting my ass every day trying to make some bread, and all of a sudden I see this meme on Instagram, and it’s the first meme I’ve seen where I didn’t pay anybody for no promotion … and then all of a sudden it just got to this point and I couldn’t even tell you how.”
On May 28, he dropped the video for “Dottin’ Up,” his first release since joining the Alamo team (below). The video features Jaah wandering the empty streets of downtown Gastonia during the stay-at-home order, rocking his recognizable gym-shorts-and-white-tee get-up and boasting his signature flow, which features an unpredictable dynamic that can flip from chill to aggressively hype without warning.
Jamir Rucks’ rap career began in the classrooms of Myers Park High School. He and his friends would clown each other over beats, not full-fledged battles per se, just fun freestyle rhymes to pass the time. The varsity wide receiver would also freestyle in the locker room before football games to hype himself and his teammates up.
After graduating in 2018, he attended Jireh Preparatory Academy in Matthews, a school aimed at helping students who struggled elsewhere excel in academics and athletics. It wasn’t a great experience, as the school had recently filed bankruptcy.
“That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to be playing football forever and I needed to figure out something to do,” he said, “because I didn’t want to go to school, and I wasn’t fittin’ to go to school, so I was like, ‘Shoot, I can rap.’”
And so Jaah SLT was born. According to him, it was all about believing in himself.
“I’m a confident person, so in anything I do, I always believe that I’m the best at it,” he said. “So I just felt like I knew this is something that I’m really good at, and I just always felt that this was something I could legit do. “
He dropped “Fuck a Hook,” which was featured on No Jumper in January 2019. He performed at a few pop-up shows throughout the year, all of them pay-to-play and none of them worth the money, but he enjoyed it and continued releasing songs and videos.
Despite the spike in attention he got from the Adam22 review, things were slow to pick up — until “Tuff” hit TikTok.
“What’s crazy about the ‘Tuff’ song is, I dropped that song when I first started in April 2019, and then I shot the video, and then posting the video was a whole debacle,” he recalled. “When I posted it, it didn’t even get any attention. Then I sent it to Adam, and he ain’t even fuck with it, so I was like, ‘Man, this song a dud,’ and I just left it at that … I never even told anybody that it was my song. It was like that, then all of a sudden here we are.”
The “Tuff” TikTok clips are made up of predominantly white teenagers who may or may not know what the reference to 12 means — many of them featuring some sort of overly confident stroll and a caption referencing how they are a disappointment to their parents in some way.
In one, two siblings saunter down the steps to the song with a caption reading, “Us waking up at 5pm for breakfast.” In another, three people get out of a car and hit poses with the caption “When the 3 disappointments show up to the family gathering.”
For Jaah, despite being 19 years old himself and growing up in the meme generation, he was taken aback by going viral.
“It was weird. I didn’t expect it to come so fast,” he said of his newfound internet fame. “I’ve never been up in the camera. I never was the type of person to take a whole bunch of pictures, and it was just weird seeing myself all across people’s pages. It was weird to see myself all over the internet.”
He’s not into TikTok, and though he admits that he’s never found many of the memes that use his music very funny, he’s far from ungrateful for the support.
“It’s real humbling,” he said. “I didn’t really come from a lot, so there’s nothing to really brag about. So it’s just humbling to see everybody really support my music. All this time that I busted my ass at this weak-ass job, all the jux and plays I was making, all this time I put in, and to see that people are really enjoying my music, it’s just a really humbling thing and I appreciate everybody who supports it.”
His humility stretches to his dress code; in most of his videos he can be seen just rocking the gym shorts and tees — even slides — that have been a fixture of his wardrobe for years.
“When I was working, I ain’t worry about no clothes,” he said of the looks he serves in his videos. “I’ve been wearing the same clothes since my freshman year of high school. I might get a little more drip, but I pretty much just like being comfortable in what I wear and I’m not much of a designer, so there isn’t a lot to my look; it’s just me.”
When asked what he plans to do now that he’s signed but can’t tour, Jaah SLT let out a long, Clay Davis-like “Shhiiiiiiiiiitttt.” He can’t wait to get on stage again — this time getting paid for it as opposed to dropping his own dough just to perform two songs.
Since that’s not happening anytime soon thanks to COVID-19, however, he plans to take things easy in the coming months.
“Make music, smoke good gas, chill. That’s pretty much it. I’m a content person I don’t really need a lot,” he said. He then went back and emphasized that first part about making music.
“Get ready to see a whole bunch of Jaah SLT,” he said. “The bummy drip, the ugly shorts, the blonde hair; you’re gonna see me a lot more of me.”
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This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.