Desiigner’s second act began by snapping his fingers.
It was June. “Panda” had already reached its apex as both the No. 1 song in the country and the most polarizing. XXL, the noted New York-based hip-hop magazine, had crowned the 19-year-old from Brooklyn as one of its coveted freshmen. It followed a spotlight performance at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, an appearance at the 2016 BET Awards and more. In short, “Panda” made Desiigner famous. “Panda,” and by extension his voice's sounding so perfectly wound to match the octaves of Future, made him infamous. The jury was still out before XXL uploaded a video to YouTube as part of its XXL Freshman 2016 promotion. There in black and white, Desiigner stood with his fingers operating as his lone musical instrument. His voice, coated with enough bass to sound like a modest drum, began singing. His eyes slowly peeled out of his head and opened as if his entire body were voice-operated.
Timmy Timmy Timmy Turner
He be wishin’ for a burner
To kill everybody walking
He knows that his soul’s in the furnace…
The clip has been viewed more than 8 million times. It has supplanted OJ Da Juiceman’s 2010 freestyle as the most memorable XXL Freshman freestyle ever. And it was nothing but Desiigner scatting about two things: one, the eponymous character Timmy Turner, who’s so fucked up that he wants to take a gun and shoot a bunch of people because he’s tormented, and two, a woman acting in or out of character for the sake of fame. It’s a morbid, bleak outlook on things, a callback to Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and the kind of living zombies who care for nothing but chaos.
All of my gripes and contentions about Desiigner started with the Future comparisons around “Panda." They’re tempered a bit now that I’ve grown able to easily decipher between the two. Decoding Desiigner’s tone on “Timmy Turner," first in its skeletal scat form and then in its overproduced and operatic final stage via the eternal Mike Dean, became a secondary beast. Guns, money and drugs are the subjects that revolve around Desiigner’s world. His lack of enunciation will forever tie him to the cadences and flows below the Mason-Dixon line. Keeping people curious as to his entire spirit is how he’s managed to survive and win this long.
Dean’s production makes Desiigner’s initial snaps, the base that helped springboard the freestyle into a heretic-like chant, into a secondary figure. Ahead of it are synths kicked up to horror-movie notches, drums aimed to puncture a lung and the Brooklyn kid’s own voice modulated to a Gregorian-like tone. It belongs in the church of goths and misfit kids who find solace in seeing someone like them. Once the song spirals past its two verses, Dean kicks things into space with elongated synth code and heavier, clergy-made piano keys. Somehow the two of them transformed a simple, on-a-whim freestyle into a goddamn moving epic.
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If you hadn’t guessed, “Timmy Turner” is not the skull-rattling drive that “Panda” was. It’s darker, even if the subject matter shrinks behind the massive lead-in. It’s still the best thing Desiigner has come up with, and that includes his New English mixtape. The anarchy that bled through “Panda” is replaced with something temporarily more substantial. They’re both nihilistic in content, but one pulls people inward far more urgently than the other. And the main victor in the entire narrative is someone most (read: me) wrote off after the initial success of “Panda."
Ultimately, there’s a narrative to piece within “Timmy Turner." Desiigner admitted in a recent interview that the song wasn’t based on the lead character from the hit Nickelodeon cartoon The Fairly Odd Parents but rather himself. The end result of seeking out a gun or reaching solely for fame, in his eyes: going to hell. How the record grew from a larval stage to a hit song can be attributed solely to fans wanting Desiigner to win.
Beyond “Panda," he just may have.