(NYTimes) - Few, if any, independent viral hits have the knotty back story of The Race, one of the fastest-growing songs of the moment, by 17-year-old Texas rapper Tay-K (or Tay-K 47, born Taymor McIntyre).
Released online on June 30, the same day Tay-K was apprehended by United States marshals in New Jersey after three months on the lam, The Race has captivated the hip-hop world with its blurring of life and art. Wanted for a capital murder charge and in connection with other violent crimes, the young rapper can be seen in the video flashing handguns and posing next to a wanted poster bearing his own face.
"I was tryna beat a case/but I ain't beat that case," he raps, "I did the race."
As the tale of Tay-K recording a song about being on the run while actually on the run continues to spread on blogs and social media, The Race has started to enter the mainstream, debuting at No.70 on the Billboard Hot 100 last week and reaching No. 52 this week with 13 million streams (up from 10 million the week before).
Rappers including Meek Mill, Desiigner, Lil Yachty, Kodak Black and Travis Scott have supported the song's word-of-mouth rise on Twitter and Instagram, posting clips of the track or its lyrics and sharing the #FREETAYK hashtag. (The song's airy, melodic beat has also become a go-to for artist freestyles, conferring a certain respect.)
With its video surpassing 26 million views, The Race, barely two minutes long, has also hit No.2 on the SoundCloud chart and sits near the top of Spotify's Viral 50 and Most Necessary playlists.
"If you see somebody that's living what they're talking about, it makes the music seem that much more realistic," said Richard Autry, a founder of the rap website Kollege Kidd, which has chronicled Tay-K's rise and legal issues. Autry, who invoked artists from Chicago's drill scene, like Chief Keef, as Tay-K's direct antecedents, said that any discussion about the morality of listening to or promoting the song "draws more attention to Tay-K" and has helped to "increase his legend".
Laura Dale, a deputy US marshal in Dallas, said Tay-K absconded from house arrest in late March, just before a court hearing in Tarrant County, Texas, in which a judge was to decide whether he would be tried for murder as an adult. (The Tarrant County sheriff's office, citing Tay-K's status as a minor, declined to comment on the case.)
Trent Loftin, a lawyer for the rapper, confirmed that his client had been charged, along with six others, in connection with a home invasion that left a 21-year-old man dead in July 2016, when Tay-K was 16; Tay-K had been released from custody pending the hearing and was wearing an ankle monitor. But on March 27, Tay-K wrote derisively about his house arrest in a tweet, adding "they gn hav 2 catch me". The US Marshals Service soon marked him a "violent fugitive".
Ezra Averill, 16, who met Tay-K as a high school freshman in Arlington, Texas, and works as his manager, said in an interview that in the weeks that followed, he would receive new music from Tay-K, including The Race, sent from random email addresses. (The catchy instrumental, Averill said, was sourced from producer S.Diesel, who had listed it on SoundCloud as a "Pi'erre Bourne x Playboi Carti type beat", indicating its similarity to the rising Atlanta artists.)
A video for the track was shot in late May, according to social media posts from the directors, as internet buzz around the rapper - who had already gained a small but fervent local and online following with singles and shows around the Dallas area - grew. "We hadn't planned on dropping The Race for a while," Averill said, "but when I saw that he was blowing up on Twitter, I was like, I just have to drop this."
On June 30, the video had its premiere on the popular YouTube channel for Buffet Boys, a Los Angeles-via-Miami rap collective. "FEDS CANT HOLD ME BACK," read the accompanying message on Tay-K's Twitter account. "HERE IT GO."
That same night, the Marshals Service announced that it had arrested Tay-K in Elizabeth, New Jersey, citing "dozens of tips" that had "poured in from the entire country". While evading the authorities, the teenager had also become a suspect in a San Antonio murder that occurred after he fled house arrest, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, as well as in the May assault and robbery of a 65-year-old man in an Arlington park. (Loftin said that Tay-K had not been served with any papers regarding the second murder and that his client maintained his innocence in the other cases.)
As Tay-K was extradited to Tarrant County, and eventually moved to an adult jail, the song was already off and running. Averill and his management partner Adrian Blue, 22, said that in less than two months, Tay-K has gone from 3,000 to about 200,000 followers on Instagram. "The best part about it is it's all natural - we didn't force anything," Averill said, adding that the team had brought on an entertainment lawyer, James McMillan, and is in discussions with record labels and music publishers whose backing could potentially help with legal fees.
And while Averill acknowledged that the combination of the song's content and the real-world story had brought the hype "to a crescendo", he stressed that Tay-K is "a professional artist - everything's entertainment".
In a jailhouse interview with Say Cheese TV, Tay-K put his odds at being released around 65 percent. "If I do get out, I know I'm done robbing," he said.
Loftin said that a preliminary certification hearing to decide upon Tay-K's status as a juvenile has been scheduled for Aug 30. "He is ready for his day in court," the lawyer said, adding that his client was "upbeat and in good spirits" during a visit last week.
"Since day one, Mr McIntyre has cooperated with law enforcement entities and maintained his innocence. We feel confident when all of the evidence is reviewed, Mr McIntyre will be exonerated of all of the charges."