Like most humans, Michael Powell, program director for the Washington D.C. rap radio station WKYS, has been spending extra time on Instagram while locked down at home. “There’s nothing else to do in quarantine,” he says. “That’s become my pastime.”
Roughly three weeks ago, Powell came across a new trend: The #Don’tRushChallenge, where women (and a few men) make suddenly stylish transformations as Young T & Bugsey’s “Don’t Rush,” featuring Headie One, slinks through the background. “I kept watching short videos, Shazamed the joint, went on a mad search looking for it,” Powell remembers. “I’m a member of Club Killers” — a service that helps provide DJs with new music — “and I found a dirty version of the record on there, downloaded it, made a clean edit, put it on the radio station immediately.”
In Philadelphia, Paris Nicole, program director at WPHI, made a similarly quick adjustment. “I was watching the ‘Don’t Rush’ challenges on Instagram,” she says. “‘What is this song?’ Then I noticed it was the most Shazamed song in Philadelphia. ‘This needs to go into rotation ASAP.'”
On paper, “Don’t Rush” is not an obvious candidate for this sort of treatment. The single originally peaked in England back in November. And the U.S. mainstream mostly looks at the different varieties of English hip-hop with uniform indifference — artists like Stormzy, Dave, AJ Tracey, Aitch, and J Hus (Young T & Bugsey’s labelmate on Black Butter Records), who routinely fly high on the U.K. charts, barely register on the rankings Stateside.
But when a song becomes the subject of a successful challenge — remember that many challenges never leave the runway — obstacles like age (“Don’t Rush” is five and a half months old) or intonation (English accents) quickly become irrelevant. On TikTok alone, videos marked #dontrushchallenge have already amassed more than 237 million views.
That translates into activity on the streaming platforms. “Don’t Rush” was logging around 40,000 to 50,000 audio streams a week in the U.S. in January and February, according to the analytics company Alpha Data. When the challenge started towards the end of the March, streams ballooned — jumping to over 300,000 in one week and then over a million a week later — while downloads went from single digits to more than 1,000 to more than 8,000.
The boredom jumped out 😖 pic.twitter.com/db1bG6M13G
— Lash (@lase_asoloo) March 22, 2020
Radio programmers like Powell and Nicole moved quickly to capitalize off that momentum, as did Epic Records, which is promoting Young T & Bugsey’s single in the U.S. Last week, only two songs were picking up speed faster than “Don’t Rush” at “urban” radio: Drake’s “Toosie Slide” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” Not coincidentally, both records also have popular challenges associated with them. “You have to be a sponge for what’s happening to be successful as a programmer,” Powell says. “Be where the people are.”
As of Tuesday, “Don’t Rush” was the sixth most-Shazamed song in the U.S. and the most Shazamed record in premier hip-hop markets like New York City and Atlanta. It’s easy to see why listeners are reaching for their phones: “Don’t Rush” has the shine and hollow wallop of early 2000s productions by the Neptunes, and a skipping rhythm that will be familiar to afrobeats fans around the Atlantic. The title phrase is also the chorus: simple and wildly easy to remember.
The “Don’t Rush” instrumental is the work of the producer Grades, best known for his collaborations with the English R&B singer Nao. “Grades basically had a base for the beat already there, so we gathered an idea for it and then sort of steered him in the direction of what we wanted to make,” Young T explained in March.
“This one’s about a lit club night,” Bugsey added ” … This song was a result of us watching loads of Ibiza videos. It was festival season and we were getting ready to go abroad, and there was this Afro-dance song that we kept on hearing that kind of stuck in our heads.”
Now, of course, clubs are closed. Like everyone else, Young T & Bugsey are unable to hit the road to promote “Don’t Rush” and its accompanying mixtape, Plead the 5th, which came out in March. “We wanted to go on tour at the end of April but due to obviously [the] virus outbreak we can’t,” the duo said. “… It’s a bit annoying.”
Without everyone stuck inside, though, there’s the possibility that this British rap single may never have made it to the American airwaves.