In early March, the veteran A&R Chris Anokute was listening to a SoundCloud link from an aspiring artist. The track came to an end, and the platform’s algorithm automatically queued up Curtis Waters’ “Freckles.” “I felt like he was telling my story,” says Anokute, who worked with Katy Perry at her hit-making peak and now runs an entertainment company called Young Forever Inc. “I became a fan immediately.”
The chance SoundCloud encounter was timely: Anokute became Waters’ manager before the May release of “Stunnin’,” a beach-party ready slab of pop-rap that sounds like Will Smith’s “Miami” remade for the TikTok generation. Last week, “Stunnin’” became the fastest unsigned record to go into Spotify’s flagship playlist, Today’s Top Hits, since Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne,” which went on to earn more than a billion streams.
But unlike Zervas, who inked a deal with Columbia Records, Waters is choosing not to sign with a major label. This is an especially noteworthy step at a time when the exploitative nature of the music business’ longstanding business model is coming under fire.
Waters, who was born in Nepal but now lives in Cary, North Carolina, has been making music for six years, initially motivated by video game soundtracks and Odd Future. “I’ve put out so many horrible beat tapes,” he says. He recorded “Stunnin’” while balancing college and a job making smoothies for minimum wage — “I was just in a bad mood, trying to make some stupid shit and cheer up.”
Before releasing “Stunnin,’” Waters studied the path of recent viral hits like the BoyBoy West Coast’s “U Was at the Club,” “where the audio was already trending [on TikTok] before the song was even [officially] out,” and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which benefited from a relentless meme campaign. Both songs had been well received on TikTok, so Waters decided to get on the app for the first time. He made a series of videos for “Stunnin,’” and a laid-back, appealingly shabby dance routine with his brother suddenly picked up hundreds of thousands of views overnight.