When G.O.O.D. Music COO Steven Victor first heard “Panda” (a friend texted him the song), he wasn’t sold. “It was hot, but I was like, ‘He’s probably 40. He sounds too old,’ ” he recalls. “Then I went to Los Angeles, and Kanye [West] played the song without me even bringing it up to him. I was like, ‘I’m going to go find him.’ ” Several studio sessions with West later, the animated and not at all old 19-year-old, Billboard’s top new R&B/hip-hop artist of 2016, and Grammy nominee, became Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music’s youngest chart-topper. With its hypnotizing, Menace-produced beat and Desiigner’s lyrical calisthenics, “Panda” — inspired by the BMW X6’s features — raced to the top of Billboard’s Streaming Songs, Hot Rap Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot 100 charts, eventually toppling the nine-week reign of Rihanna’s “Work” on the Hot 100.
STEVE BARTELS (CEO, Def Jam):
Getting something to be disruptive really needs to happen now, for artists to stand out, because there’s so much noise in the world. The very first time I met him was in our conference room after the signing happened, and he came in and performed literally for 40 minutes straight on top of our conference room table. I kept thinking to myself, “This can’t be real.” People come in, but they don’t keep that level of intensity. I kept worrying the lights on the ceiling were going to break.
VICTOR (COO, G.O.O.D. Music; manager; senior vp A&R, Universal Music Group):
I don’t think that “Panda” filled a void — it just cut through. If you listen to the lyrics, he’s a rapper’s rapper. It’s so unique because it’s really difficult for a rapper to fill in bars like that. Usually they just say nonsense and it sounds good. When you’re listening to it, you’re like, “Yo, he’s jumping from subject to subject,” but he’s really not. It just grabs your attention.
I put everything I see — a movie, Grand Theft Auto — in my music, so when I made “Panda,” it was crazy. I get possessed. I know I’m saying words; it’s just like you’re tapped into my world. That’s my job as an artist: to show you and make you understand.