Lil Tecca was 16, unsigned and living with his parents on Long Island when he spotted the Twitter post that changed his life.
The teenage rapper, now 17, had been releasing songs on the streaming platform SoundCloud from his bedroom for about a year, using free instrumentals from YouTube as beats. But recording in a studio with a real producer still seemed like a luxury.
So when Taz Taylor, the founder of a young Los Angeles-based music collective known as Internet Money, sent a tweet saying they should work together, Lil Tecca knew he had to find his way to California. Internet Money’s producers, who also started out in their childhood bedrooms, selling beats for cheap online, had gone on to become a crucial element in the rise of platinum-selling rappers like Juice WRLD, XXXTentacion and Trippie Redd, all of whom exploded from SoundCloud.
In a matter of days, Lil Tecca had explained the distinctly 21st century scenario to his mother and father, gotten their signoff and booked a flight with his manager, Giuseppe Zappala, to record with Taylor in person. After just a few hours in the studio, Lil Tecca had created a handful of songs that would help him break through. Though the track may not have stood out in the moment, “Ransom,” a barely two-minute melodic burst of dancehall-inflected rap inspired by artists like Speaker Knockerz and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, would become his instant smash.
Tecca teased the song for months on the social media platforms Triller and Instagram, building anticipation among his growing internet fan base. He also hired Cole Bennett, a 23-year-old director whose Lyrical Lemonade YouTube channel and website has become a taste-making brand in the youngest corners of hip-hop, to make the song’s playfully animated video, introducing Lil Tecca — with his trademark deadpan, glasses and braces — to a much larger audience.
When it was released independently in May, “Ransom” quickly made its way to the Billboard Hot 100, an ascent that only accelerated when the rapper signed with Republic Records following a major-label bidding war. “Ransom” would go on to peak at No. 4 on the singles chart thanks to its growing radio play and online success, even ending the 20-week reign of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” as the most streamed song in the country. The track currently has more than 350 million plays on Spotify and 144 million on YouTube.
In the latest episode of Diary of a Song, Lil Tecca is joined by Taylor and the producer Nick Mira, who whipped up the “Ransom” beat in a few minutes from his parents’ house in Virginia, along with Bennett and Zappala, to break down all of the ingredients that made “Ransom” click.
“Diary of a Song” provides an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at how pop music is made today, using archival material — voice memos, demo versions, text messages, emails, interviews and more — to tell the story behind the track. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Joe Coscarelli is a culture reporter with a focus on pop music. His work seeks to pull back the curtain on how hit songs and emerging artists are discovered, made and marketed. He previously worked at New York magazine and The Village Voice. @joecoscarelli
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