Who Is Tay-K and Why Is His Song “The Race” Blowing Up?

The Billboard Hot 100 has a new rap entry this week that, unless you're from the Dallas metro area or really tied in to up-and-coming underground hip-hop, probably caught you by surprise (assuming you even noticed it). “The Race” by East Arlington, Texas-based rapper Taymor Travon McIntyre, who goes by Tay-K, entered the chart at No. 70.

The song, which has been remixed by XXXTentacion, Lil Bibby, and most recently Lil Yachty, is the first national hit for Tay-K. But how it happened, and what it means for the 17-year-old artist, is a wild and disturbing story—one that involves several murders, an assault, an attempt to flee from the law, and one music video shot under murky circumstances.

Tay-K started rapping only a few years ago as part of a group called Daytona Boyz. He got some local attention for early efforts like the Auto-Tuned track “Sly Cooper.” 

Just as he was getting started, Tay-K sent a DM to Shawn Cotton, who runs Say Cheese TV. The message touted his crew's “10k plays on soundcloud” and pointed out that they were all between 14-16 years old.

DM
Image via Shawn Cotton

“He reached out to me, but I get so many DMs, I get so many messages,” Cotton told Complex. “I didn't see it.”

By the time Cotton became aware of Tay-K, when the young rapper's track “Megaman” was gaining steam in late 2016, Cotton heard that it was already too late.

“A girl had told me that they had caught some charges, so I never looked further into it,” he said. “People around town was saying that he was gone for life, that he was never coming back. So I didn't pay attention to it.” 

Tay-K faced a charge in Mansfield, Texas, for a home invasion that occurred on July 26, 2016. The invasion, which was set up by two young women, ended with a 21-year-old man named Ethan Walker shot dead. Tay-K, who was 16 at the time, was arrested for the murder and released on house arrest.

He is also a suspect in another murder following a Daytona Boyz performance in late 2015. 

In March 2016, Tay-K was facing a hearing to determine whether he'd be charged as an adult for Walker's murder—a decision that could mean facing the death penalty. So he sent a tweet, cut off his ankle monitor, and fled.

For alleged altercations that occurred during his several months on the lam, Tay-K stands accused of a separate killing in San Antonio and of assaulting a 65-year-old man. While evading the law, he also recorded and shot a video for the song “The Race.” 

The song, which was released the very day, June 30, that the cops caught up with Tay-K and arrested him in New Jersey, is about his situation. “Fuck a beat, I was tryin' to beat a case,” goes the song's opening line. “But I ain't beat that case—bitch, I did the race.” The video, which Cotton confirmed was shot while Tay-K was on the run, became a smash hit, garnering over 19 million views as of this writing.

It is that directness that's making the song a smash, according to Cotton. “It's real,” he said. “Look at the story. It's so authentic. It's real, and he has the story to back it up. Rappers talk shit all day about what they do, but everything he's saying, happened. It's like Tay-K was telling us a story. It's like we're little kids about to go to bed, and Tay-K's telling us a story about himself, and he's visualizing it in the video. And it happened. It's all on the news.”

Tay-K's story garnered support from several well-known rappers, including Lil Bibby, Fat Nick of the Buffet Boys, and XXXTentacion.

So now we're left with a rapper facing serious charges while his first album Santana World races up the iTunes charts. Cotton, who did a recent in-depth interview with Tay-K from jail, said he could “hear a lot of regret in his voice” when talking to the teenager. “When I was telling him a lot of people who was shouting him out and his numbers, he just couldn't believe it,” Cotton recalled. “I know if he gets another chance, he will change his life around.”

If Tay-K does get that second chance, he has incredible potential, Cotton believes. 

“If he somehow gets out of jail, I feel like he could be bigger than Chief Keef has ever been,” he said. “He's young, I feel like he has the street background. I think he'll be a more successful Chief Keef. He'll be right there, because we've never seen this before. Tay-K's only 17, so if he gets out of jail somehow, I think he could be one of the biggest artists of this new rap era.” 

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