Desiigner live at The Illmore at SXSW 2016. Photo by Paul Ramirez for Okayplayer.
“I’m here to see the Panda guy. Panda. Panda. Panda. Panda. Panda. Panda.”
Leron, like myself, really wants to see the “Panda” guy, otherwise known as Desiigner. We’re on the third floor of the World Of McIntosh Townhouse making small talk, waiting for the BedStuy rapper to arrive and play songs from his forthcoming mixtape New English.
“He has to do Panda, right?” Leron asks. Before I can respond he’s chanting “Panda” again, his voice growing more and more enthusiastic with each repeating. He never finishes the rest of the hook; he never goes into the verse. He’s in a perpetual state of “Panda.”
Above us we begin to hear music and someone yelling Desiigner’s name. I run up to see that a circle has formed towards the end of the room, cameras pointed at someone in the center. It’s Desiigner. He’s screaming the lyrics from the first song off English, and somehow doing a million dabs per second.
He looks like a victim from The Fourth Kind whenever they’re about to get abducted: stretched mouths and rolled back eyes, as if Desiigner is possessed by a supernatural entity that can only speak in a vocabulary of Dab, Milly Rock and the occasional “GRAAAAAA!”
By the end of the event Desiigner is the only one in the room drenched in sweat. We all stay where we’re at, anxiously awaiting a “Panda” encore. The moment never comes. Instead, Desiigner retreats to a corner of the room to take pictures; everybody else tries to get one last glass of wine, goes to the roof of the Townhouse to smoke or leaves.
Heading home, all I could think was “Damn, Leron is probably pretty disappointed.”
Desiigner is trying to find himself as an artist post-“Panda,” which is hard to do considering the everlasting momentum of the track. As much as we joke about “Panda” being Desiigner’s only song, it’s a great fucking song. Sure, up until recently we never knew what he was saying (we still really don’t), but “Panda” excelled for two simple reasons: having one of the best beats of the year accompanied by one of the catchiest hooks of the year.
“Panda” is also important because it introduced us to Desiigner the performer. At peak “Panda” we were being bombarded with videos of the 19-year-old performing his hit song. However, what made them enjoyable and different from each other was the performance: the dabbing; the choreographed microphone catching; the unexpected throwing up.
The same song but a different dance.
Desiigner the performer is always such a treat to witness because it’s a teenager wilding out. Watching Desiigner dab is almost the equivalent of witnessing someone catch the holy spirit for the first time. It’s admirable, fearless, outrageous — a level of lit not even attainable by the faint of heart. But why wouldn’t he be excessively lit? If your song was the impetus for one of Kanye’s latest hit songs, wouldn’t you be the living embodiment of five rows of flame emojis? There’s power in the Desiigner dab and it gives life to all.
Then there’s the XXL freestyle, which only further cemented Desiigner as a performer. Accurately (and humorously) described as a “negro spiritual” the 46 second clip features the rapper snapping his fingers, as he sings a hook inspired by The Fairly OddParents.
“Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, Turner / He be wishin’ for a burner.”
It’s just as beautiful as it is bizarre, a performance so unexpected that it’s still getting talked about (as well as covered throughout the Internet).
Where Desiigner is headed as an artist is still unknown. New English is a complicated and messy listen because of this: he’s experimenting and trying out different voices to little avail. Many of the tracks feel less like finished ideas and more like paint thrown at the wall to see what will stick. “Talk Regardless” and “Zombie Walk” are the only real standouts, and even then the Future comparisons are inevitable. Overall, the project feels like filler — fresh material to keep the “Desiigner only has one song” jokes at bay.
But where the G.O.O.D. Music artist separates himself from everybody else is his performance. Hopefully he’ll achieve that other half — Desiigner the artist — in time. He’s 19 after all. But, if there’s anything that Desiigner’s BET performance showed us this past weekend, it’s this: Desiigner the performer is a spectacle, and that alone makes him interesting — for now.
Watch Desiigner Get Beyond “Panda” In His XXL Freestyle Below: