By any measurement, Desiigner is having a great summer. Sure, he released a poorly received mixtape in June, the repetitive and drill-derivative New English, but it didn't kill his momentum so much as briefly pause it. That same month his XXL Freshman freestyle, typically a forgettable exercise in showmanship, became a minor viral sensation, leading to elegant covers, countless remixes, and an almost feverish anticipation of an expanded version. When we eventually got the Mike Dean-produced studio version of "Timmy Turner," it was equally as evocative and mysterious, a gurgling and chilling synth concoction with a beating heart at the center. Released in July, it charted at 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August, giving Desiigner his second top-40 hit this year. You couldn't call him a one-hit wonder anymore.
But what is it about the "Panda" artist that makes him so representative of this particular moment? As the upper echelon of important contemporary artists -- Rihanna, Drake, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Frank Ocean -- becomes increasingly reliant on elaborate album rollouts and semi-public partnerships with corporate streaming platforms, the singles chart remains the place where emerging young artists like Desiigner, Lil Uzi Vert, or Lil Yachty can break out. As Slate's Chris Molanphy pointed out, the song's chart dominance mostly relied on "non-Vevo YouTube views." That's how what essentially sounds like a mixtape track can bubble to the surface, upending the monotony of the charts.
Also, it's just catchy as hell. After months of listening to it, "Panda" still makes you want to body-slam people. As a piece of music, it's one of the stranger, more splintered songs to become such an enormous hit in recent years. Lacking the ballad-like cadence of Fetty Wap's 2015 hip-hop chart hit "Trap Queen," or the dancehall vibes of other 2016 hits like Drake's "One Dance" or Rihanna's "Work," "Panda" is all jagged edges and throaty ad-libs. It's intense. When Desiigner performs the song, which he's done countless times this summer, it looks like he's trying to exorcise a demon. Maybe it's a panda demon.
Then there are the lyrics: by now you probably know it's not about a real panda. (The repeated "panda/panda/panda" line is a reference to the BMW X6.) At one point in the track, he says, "I've got broads in Atlanta," but he's clearly not from Atlanta. "The fact is that Facebook is this lit: I did have a bitch in Atlanta," he told Genius. If you're generous, this is yet another example of A$AP Rocky-like post-regional rap; if you're not, it's another New York rapper taking the style of another city, and blowing up off the hard work of others.
Where does Desiigner go from here? First off, he's got emojis to sell. This summer, he went to Central Park and played Pokémon Go with GQ, leaping around the green grass, smiling with fans, and making ad-libs as he caught a Pidgeotto. It's hard to watch the video and not draw a parallel between the overnight teenage rap sensation and the mobile game. Both the rise of Pokémon Go and the rise of Desiigner have come with lots of hand-wringing about durability. Is he just a fad? It's impossible to know.
There's money, fame, and acclaim out there, and Desiigner is trying to catch it all. He's diving in headfirst. As the salmon color of his suit suggested, he'll keep swimming.