$ilkmoney’s “My Potna Dem” is slithery and blown-out, with a whispery, chanted hook, intricate, snappy verses, and a guitar-like loop that could’ve been lifted from an Eighties power ballad. It has soundtracked more than 1.6 million videos on TikTok, and for a time was earning 650,000 streams a day. This song is unquestionably a hit. But the rapper behind it cannot comprehend how.
“I was on the phone talking to the CEO of Capitol Records,” $ilkmoney says. “He was like, ‘$ilk, you know this is a hit.’ But to me, a hit is defined as something that everyone likes and understands and feels because they have an experience with it. So I don’t know how the fuck it’s a hit. The song is near and dear to me.” It’s about his closest friends, and packed with acronyms that only they use. He has no idea how it can be near and dear to the millions of streamers who have no relationship to the people or places described in his song.
Perhaps that’s part of why, unlike nearly every other artist who has gone viral on TikTok, $ilkmoney has absolutely no intention of scrambling to amplify the attention he’s received — by hopping on the app and starting to engage with trends, doing a Genius video about the “My Potna Dem,” paying for a high-profile remix, or any of the other moves from the standard industry playbook. “I like being heard more than seen,” $ilkmoney says. (He also likes to keep his real name and location to himself, preferring to remain something of a mystery.)
And while major labels have been clamoring to sign him, $ilkmoney isn’t interested in that route either. “The major labels are like, ‘we need you in the studio ASAP, we need you to make more ‘My Potna Dems!’ I’m like, that’s where you fucked up. I’m not making another ‘My Potna Dem.’ We make music for us. That’s what I’m gonna continue to do.”
Not that he’s complaining about the success of his track, which he released independently more than 18 months ago — he says money from “My Potna Dem” allowed him to spend $12,000 on weed recently. “I’m truly appreciative of TikTok for affording me the luxury of feeling weird,” $ilkmoney says. “But I’m still sitting here like, I’m not the TikTok guy. I didn’t make [the song] for that.”
$ilkmoney is discursive, meandering, refreshingly open, and frequently hilarious. While he clearly enjoys rapping, he never thought it would be his career — he was more interested in becoming “a weed kingpin.” He speaks about marijuana with the same passion as a professional athlete talking about his love for the game. “I wanted to be around weed, surround myself with weed as much as possible,” $ilkmoney says. “I wanted to be the best to [deal] it, ever.”
More recently, though, anyone who follows $ilkmoney on Twitter knows he has partially switched his allegiance to mushrooms — he frequently posts about his culinary adventures with shroom chocolates. “Doing shrooms was such an eye opening experience for me,” $ilkmoney says. “It made me want to be a better me, eat better, talk better. And it definitely got me off that molly shit!”
While many songwriters make their art a central part of their persona, $ilkmoney portrays his as a hobby. “Everyone always wants to tell you they’re a rapper,” he notes. “When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a mycologist. Before I’d say, ‘I’m just a guy on the couch, I don’t do much.'”
But this is not entirely accurate: While dealing weed in Richmond, $ilkmoney met the members of a young rap group named Divine Council and soon joined up. Divine Council scored a deal with Epic Records, released the Council World EP in 2016, and managed to land a rare but typically astounding verse from none other than Andre 3000 on the remix to a riveting, unsettling sex song named “Decemba,” which ends with the former Outkast rapper getting shot through the heart as the same time as he achieves an orgasm.
$ilkmoney calls his time as a major-label act “traumatic.” “They always say in the music industry you have to pay dues,” he notes. “I did that. That’s what it is when you do a song with Andre 3000 and you don’t get a fucking dollar off it.” (A source close to the situation says Divine Council did not recoup its advance.)
“You ever been somewhere and just been like, ‘damn, they don’t give a fuck about you?'” he adds. Besides being at Epic Records, “I’ve never been anywhere that I’m obligated to go to, besides school, that it’s like, ‘damn, they don’t give a shit about us here.'” A representative for Epic declined to comment.
$ilkmoney is no longer with Epic or Divine Council; started releasing solo albums with lengthy, amusing titles — take, for example, Get the Fuck Off My Dick: There’s Not Enough Room for All You Motha Fuckas to Be on It Like This — in 2018. They’re full of swift rhymes that sprawl pleasantly over jittery, distorted beats: “I got a bottom bitch that keep a purse that’s bottomless for when I gotta zip/I had to speak in other consonants and switch it to a different providence/Because they’re watching, I’m confident.”
$ilkmoney likes to construct songs from banal day-to-day experiences. One of his forthcoming tracks is titled “The Cold Quesadilla Fucked My Stomach Up.” “It’s about how this one night, I was really high, and I fell asleep on this quesadilla in the kitchen,” $ilkmoney explains. “It got really fucking cold. I woke up and it was three or four in the morning, and I was like, ‘I’m just gonna eat this, I don’t even want to sit here and warm it up.’ I ate it and regretted it immediately.”
“My Potna Dem” comes from a similar lineage of stories of day-to-day life. The chorus that became so popular on TikTok is like a nursery rhyme — “DBSB,” “G-L-O-B-E,” “A-B-B” — packed with inside references $ilkmoney uses with his friends. “‘DBSB’ simply means dirtbag shorty boys, do better stop bitchin,'” the rapper says. “We’ve been reppin’ that for years. DBSB was something for my friends to go, ‘let’s not cry over spilt milk. Let’s do better next time.'” “ABB” stands for another of their favored expressions, “all [a]bout bread.”
$ilkmoney had absolutely nothing to do with his song taking off on TikTok; he was on a hiatus from social media when the app’s users started putting his song in their videos, so he almost missed the trend completely. But he figured out something was up once labels started calling and pushing him to sign with them. $ilkmoney turned down all their offers. “I’m not here to kill the record deal — there’s that one guy who’ll tell you, making that deal is the best move for me,” he says. But “Epic ruined me from ever wanting to have another label experience ever again.”
So life continues as it did before, except with a little extra weed money floating around. $ilkmoney continues to work on new music, including a song titled “I Ate 14 Grams of Mushrooms and Boy oh Boy” that he says was inspired by the neo-soul singer Jill Scott. His go-to producer, Kahlil Blu, is coming by the house later this month to work on beats.
The other day, $ilkmoney’s cousin called him. “He said one of my little cousins is over here and playing my music, but he doesn’t even know it’s you,” the rapper recalls. “I like it like that.”