The coronavirus pandemic, which has confined much of America to their homes and threatens to cause a worldwide economic catastrophe, almost also robbed humanity of a Drake song. Until three days ago, that is, when four 20-years-olds premiered a new TikTok-ready dance in a sparse living room with a stationary ceiling fan. The voice instructing them to dance was immediately recognizable as Drake’s, and he was giving simple instructions: right foot up, left foot slide, right foot slide. The song, though, hadn’t been released yet.
“I’mma a spill a little bit of tea, not a lot,” Teo, one of the dancers from the original video, says. “See, the coronavirus messed up the dropping schedule. He was gon’ have us in the music video and junk, but the coronavirus messed it up. So it took us two extra weeks to drop the video we made for it.”
It’s Thursday afternoon, and Toosie, Hiii Key, Ayo & Teo are on FaceTime, passing around a phone in what looks to the be the same living room where they created the dance. It’s a few hours before the official release of “Toosie Slide,” and the four friends are crackling with energy and anticipation. “Drake hit me up and was like, ‘Yo, I need your help,'” Toosie says. “So he sends the record. It was just an idea at the time. It was just the hook and a verse. I came up with this dance. [Drake said,] ‘What you think? You think you can come up with a dance for this song that I made?’ So I sit down, listen to it. Luckily, I’m at Ayo and Teo’s house with Hii Key and all of us. We all chilling. We came up with it pretty fast. We just all pieced it together. We all contributed.”
Toosie, Hiii Key, Ayo & Teo, are all producers and artists in their own right. Toosie is a popular dancer on Instagram with a tendency to deliver sharp yet smooth choreography to a wide array of in-the-moment hits. He also moonlights as a producer and, recently, performed with Future. Ayo boasts that, at this point in his internet stardom, Toosie could ask for $50,000 just for a club walkthrough — especially once “Toosie Slide” is released. Ayo & Teo are brothers, dancers, and a rap group. The duo’s 2017 song “Rolex” is certified double platinum and their YouTube and TikTok presence is sizeable: one of their more recent videos, a dance to Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” has logged over 9 million views. Rounding out the group is Hiii Keys, also dancer with a large YouTube and Instagram following, and also a producer. Collectively, they can provide a sizable bump to a new song — if they decide to dance to it.
The crew sent a rough outline of the dance back to Drake less than 45 minutes after he reached out. According to Toosie, the video that introduced the song to the world this week is the same “raw” footage they sent to Drake. “Drake said, ‘You guys are the greatest ever.’ This is a text message,” Toosie says, still in disbelief at Drake’s response to the group. “We got receipts. Literally, he fell in love with it. It was just an idea for it. I said, ‘This is just what we came up with so far.’ He was like, ‘Bro, this is it. You don’t need to do nothing else.'”
From there, according to the dancers, Drake began sharing the video with members of his team. At the time, the choreographed moves didn’t have a name, and neither did the unfinished song — people began referring to it as the “Toosie Slide,” after one of the creators. An official music video was going to follow soon after, but the pandemic sidetracked that plan. “This kind of worked out in our favor,” Toosie says. “You have nothing else to do. You might as well do the ‘Toosie Slide’ in the house. You can’t go nowhere. We were still bummed about the video — of course, we wanted the big music video — but this is cool, too.”
As TikTok continues its stranglehold over the industry, it makes sense that Drake’s next single is set to use a dance-assisted boost to cut through the competition. 7 out of 30 songs on the Rolling Stone 100 charts — Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Lil Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo,” Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Trevor Daniel’s “Falling,” Powfu’s “Death Bed,” and Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne” — went viral on TikTok through memes or specific dance challenges. And influencers that know how to pull those online levers, like Toosie, Hiii Key, Ayo & Teo, are now more in-demand than ever.
“It’s never-ending, every day,” Ayo says of requests from artists. “We gotta be careful with that. We got our own careers, too. We could have a single coming up. If we were to accept a challenge from somebody and we make it go viral, it’s our priority now. We become the creator of that movement. You gotta be careful with your own power.”
“We contribute and push records, too,” Ayo says. “We are walking A&Rs.”
“We been doing this for so long they kind of figured out the formula. They’re like, ‘If we get these dancers to dance to this record and they break this record, they know that that’s the formula,” Toosie adds. “When people be trying to get TikTok-ers to do these dances to their songs, trying to get us, they emailing us their songs or trying to get us to do it — they know the power we got. They know that we control the youth and the culture.”