BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Now that his breakout hit “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) is closing in on 50 million YouTube hits, fledgling rapper Silentó has a message for those who doubted his abilities.
“Now people are trying to talk to me, but I don’t really want to talk now. Even when I was right here, I used to have to pay to perform at places, like skating rinks and teen parties. I had to pay them to perform. And I find it interesting because now they call me up and want me to come for free and I’m not coming. They need to pay me, now.”
Silentó, known legally as Ricky Lamar Hawk, just finished his junior year at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, the same school attended by Swizz Beatz, B.o.B. and members of Jagged Edge.
But on this sweltering afternoon, Silentó and his gregarious manager Bolo are tucked inside the unairconditioned Temple Studios just outside of downtown Atlanta, working on songs that might eventually make it to his debut on Capitol Records.
He’s just returned from a couple of weeks of performing his viral hit at radio stations and malls around the country and is primarily concerned with his next single.
“We need a big ‘girl’ record,” Silentó, 17, said. Then he grinned. “I’m good at talking to girls.”
The young rapper, who lives in Stone Mountain with his aunt, is a smooth combination of cocky and charming. He’s quick to hop to his feet to demonstrate the dance that has been emulated by millions online, but only if someone in the room joins him as he slithers his hips (thank God for summer interns).
He’s a bit openly bitter about what he perceives as a lack of support from his hometown – after he performed a different song at a school talent show and lost, he unleashed “Watch Me.”
“I was like, let me show them why they should have picked me,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people believed in me at first…I’ve got to show them, like, you slept on me and now I’ve got to wake you up. And ‘Watch Me’ was a good way to start.”
When he breaks into a snippet of another song he’s working on, completely unaccompanied, it’s obvious that Silentó has a sweet voice to match his Romeo smile.
His musical influences range from Chris Brown to The Dream to Usher and The Temptations, a little bit of everything that he hopes will inform his own music.
“You’re gonna hear all of those songs because of who your parents are and what we go through,” he said. “My momma used to be sitting in the living room and listening to Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. I grew up listening to all of those songs.”
Silentó, who chose his moniker because he believes in “less talk and more action,” said he’s looking forward to returning to school.
“I’m going back the same way I left,” he said. “I left with superstar status and I’m going back with superstar status.”
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