Spin’s Rap Monthly column interviews an artist making waves, reviews selections from the past month, and holds goofiness accountable when necessary.
Domonic Patten, the rising Houston rapper and producer who records as TisaKorean, loves to dance. When we meet for vegan food on a recent scorcher in Los Angeles, it’s the first thing I see him do. Wearing a bike chain around his neck, colorful bead bracelets, and tied-up blue dreadlocks the shade of Sour Punch Straws, Patten exits a rental car and two-steps onto the curb with a grin before saying hello. His manager Marcus Recby tells me that after spending the previous night in a recording studio, catching an early morning flight, and checking into their hotel room, Patten asked permission to nap before this interview. Seconds later, Recby glanced over and saw the 24-year-old dancing while video chatting a friend. “I got to get one dance in,” Patten giggles, hearing the story. “I got to.”
Patten entered the public eye last summer with two underground hits, “Dip” and Werkkk,” that were perfectly constructed for 2018’s du jour dance movie, the woah. The homegrown Texas phenomenon revolves around balling your fists and winding them into a wobbly freeze when a bass note booms at the end of a measure. “Dip” pairs a whiny distorted organ melody with a spare ticking drum pattern, giving Patten’s beat a floating sensation, grounded by the bass line and growled hook: “Dip, lean, swag.” Patten opens his verse, “Bitch, Uber to my dick,” while ad-libs like “mmm,” “eraahhk,” “huhh?,” and “aye!” add cartoonish flair. High schoolers filmed themselves dancing along, Lil Uzi Vert (who can be seen dancing on Tisa’s Instagram) released a remix, and Patten sold “Dip” and “Werkkk” to Warner Music in his first major record deal.
As a kid in Houston, Patten remembers his mother, a cook, and father, an air technician, dancing all the time. The latter had his own dance group. “I picked up their rhythm,” Patten says. He also grew up with YouTube, where kids dancing online first minted what is now a common form of micro-celebrity. Patten loved jerking, the Los Angeles style popularized by teen dance crews like the Rangers and rap groups like New Boyz. “I’m like, I’m finna master this,” he says. Patten posted his first dance video in seventh grade, jerking on his laptop camera to “I Need That” by the Mustard-affiliated group Vixens. Attuned to party music, he started DJing in high school and decided to pursue art more seriously after working at a bowling alley during the summer after graduation.
Following an ill-fated stint at Prairie View A&M, Patten began producing off-kilter beats and sending them to local rappers like Dice Soho, who struggled to rap on them. Frustrated, Patten started doing the deed himself. He’s developed into one of the genre’s more original vocal stylists, deploying a range of zany inflections and odd cadences. His writing is raunchy and schoolyard clever (“I’ma shiver in my timbers, Avatar I’m trying to bend her”) and his beats are bright minimalist romps. The songs typically feature catchy repetitive hooks and lyrics set in the club. Patten produces in Logic and records on the spot, normally in his bedroom at his mom’s house. He infuses two decades of dance rap—from Cash Money bounce to SoCal jerk and Atlanta snap—on his 2019 mixtapes, A Guide to Being a Partying Freshman and Soapy Club.
While Patten poses for photos after lunch, Recby tells me that Warner staff tried to persuade TisaKorean to claim ownership of the woah, whose invention has a contested history, but the rapper declined. “I always think forward,” Patten says. He admires artists like Andre 3000 and Pharrell, who outlived their breakthrough styles. A whiteboard in his bedroom reads: “Go back to the drawing board until something works.” Soapy Club, released in late July, features two songs, “Soapy Situations” and “Frito Lays,” that expand the elemental bass-and-clap Texas sound with punchy horn arrangements. But most of the tape feels removed from local trends. “Watermelon Booty,” my favorite left turn, sounds like Matmos hit the studio with Mannie Fresh.
Patten hasn’t yet signed a recording contract for a full album, but he’s courting offers. For now, the artist continues to record music and film videos. Chance the Rapper recently featured him on a song, “Groceries,” and Uzi has teased an unreleased track, “Numb,” that Patten produced. His latest solo single is “Aero,” a sliver of whistles and finger snaps that has gained steam through dance videos on the TikTok-like app Triller. Patten says he’s approaching his next business steps the same way he approaches his music. “If I was doing this to make myself happy, like, that’s not the key for me,” he says. “I don’t feel like success brings happiness. I feel like happiness brings success. So if I go in already smiling, that could lead me way farther.”
Look Back At It
DaBaby – KIRK
There’s a line on “Pop Star,” a highlight from Dababy’s second 2019 release Kirk, that neatly typifies the Charlotte, NC rapper’s m.o. “You fuck my bitch? That’s cool,” he raps. “I’m fuckin’ niggas’ bitches too.” The guy is almost never mad. Everything he does—whether it’s making threats or just talking about going out to eat with his family—amounts to an effortless flex. He underscores that carefree attitude on “Raw Shit,” too: “Who you know wear designer with Nike? / I smile and I show off my dimples, I’m icy (cheese!).” It’s no accident that on the cover of his breakout release, March’s Baby on Baby, he’s simply grinning at the camera. He’s beloved for his precision lyricism and whiplash flows, but it’s the mindset that really appeals. In a post-Uzi, post-Peep world of nihilisitc emo and scam rap, Dababy is just happy to be here.
Though Kirk is mostly bangers, the contemplative “Intro” works as an emotional anchor for the project. “How the fuck I make it to the top same day I lost the nigga that had me?” he asks, recounting the details of his father’s death, which came just weeks after the release of Baby on Baby earlier this year. But even here, his priorities are solid: “My brother be thinkin’ that we don’t love him and let him struggle like we ain’t family / Like I won’t give up all I got to see you happy, nigga.” For all Kirk’s braggadocio, It’s Dababy’s family that inspires him most. It’s right there in the title. –Will Gottsegen
Sporting Life – Black Diamond
New York producer Sporting Life’s new EP, his first in three years, is music for smoking alone and then sitting in silence with your thoughts. It opens with a dreary beat that sounds like chopped-and-screwed Heatmakerz, over which Queens rapper Deem Spencer contemplates fame’s allure as a salve for alienation, and the struggle to create outside of popular art’s constraints: “My mind make eenie minie mo / My mind ain’t even mine no mo’.” A footwork collaboration with Teklife’s Taso follows, like the project is running away from itself. In the third act, Sporting Life’s Ratking partner Wiki teams with fellow New Yorker Mike to reflect on finding comfort in gold chains: “Shit to give me faith for many brothers’ brains lost.” The suite closes with warped R&B singer Nick Hakim warbling indecipherably over stuttering feedback—an appropriate conclusion for a release that uses lack of clarity to its advantage. –Tosten Burks
K$upreme & ChaseTheMoney – Caught Fire
How many ChaseTheMoney gems have Def Jam dudes, those responsible for handling the producer’s frequent muse Valee, stashed in their search for radio fodder while letting the Chicago rapper’s “Womp Womp” momentum fade over the past year? Avoid pondering that purgatory by listening to the beats on the new tape by Lil Yachty affiliate K$upreme. Chase crafts rude, rubbery bass lines that require few accoutrements; K$upreme’s uniquely wide range of ad-libs, densely arranged, do the trick. Natural sound effects like the metal detector beeps on “Diamond Tester” and the cash counter trill on “Forreal” keep you on your toes. The rapper is primarily here to assure you that his diamonds are pure and his clothes (and car, weed, and umbrella) are foreign, and the album is content to make the aesthetic signifiers sound great. –Tosten Burks
Get Out the Way
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t care enough about the vaguely viral alternative rapper Hobo Johnson to have heard his major label debut, The Fall of Hobo Johnson. But for kicks, let’s pile into Jack’s mom’s Sienna and hotbox it with a Granny Smith apple bowl while bumping Hobo’s latest single. It’s an unlistenable “End of Ze World“-style poem that tells the story of evolution, the development of religion and government, and a post-nuclear destruction future wherein cockroaches rebuild society and repeat the same mistakes as humans. Please stop asking artists to make political music. –Tosten Burks