Viral R&B Singer 4batz Says He’s Just a ‘Regular N—a From the Hood’ – But He’s Charmed Millions of Fans With His Music’s Opposing Aesthetic
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Viral R&B Singer 4batz Says He’s Just a ‘Regular N—a From the Hood’ – But He’s Charmed Millions of Fans With His Music’s Opposing Aesthetic

Looks can be deceiving, and 4batz has had just about everyone on the internet fooled.

Regularly disguised in a black Pooh Shiesty mask, a black Nike hoodie and matching sweats, with a full set of gold grillz and a double cup (or stacks of hundreds) in his hand, 4batz looks like he’s about to spit the hardest bars of 2024 about trapping in the hood. But once he opens his mouth, he leaves others’ jaws on the floor with his incredibly delicate delivery, characterized by pitched-up melodies over lo-fi beats and sentimental lyricism about doing whatever he can to keep his girl.  

The seeds to creating this fascinating juxtaposition were planted early, with the artist (real name Neko Bennett) growing up listening to Jodeci, Sade, Anita Baker, Mint Condition, Intro and other old-school R&B and soul acts his mother and grandmother would play around the house. “I’d be listening to it like, ‘Damn, this s–t hard!’” he tells Billboard. “You can learn so much from what they used to do and how they used to sing, and how they used to do their little melodies.”

But when he was in third grade, Bennett grew fascinated by rappers’ overall swag factor – he names DMX as an influence – and would spit freestyles whenever the other school kids made beats by banging their fists on the tables. “I was really supposed to be Trap Boi Batz or some s–t like that,” he chuckles about his would’ve-been rap alter ego. But his original rap music never saw the light of day. “I always felt like it’s not different enough. Everybody from Texas raps. It felt like I was forcing it.”

Now, the 20-year-old artist feels grateful he waited to release his own music. Last June, 4batz released his debut single “act i: stickerz ’99,’” which unmasked just how deep his feelings were after experiencing real-life heartbreak. “It was me honestly being delusional and wanting to fly to her,” he admits. The song’s ingredients felt like it was destined for TikTok virality: pitched-up vocals that are typically the result of songs’ sped-up versions and fit into the nightcore genre (think Lil Uzi Vert’s “Watch This – ARIZONATEARS Pluggnb Remix”), a slowed-down outro with reverb, and a runtime of less than two minutes.

Six months later, 4batz experienced that virality when he dropped “act ii: date @ 8.” He performed it on 4 Shooters Only’s From the Block series, and everyone from the average rap fan to Kai Cenat couldn’t believe their eyes or ears. With his homies hyping him up in the background, as they pull down their Shiesty masks to smoke joints and act out the lyrics, 4batz croons about the romantic night he has planned for his girl and just how much he’s willing to spend on her getting ready for it. In the pursuit of one girl’s heart, 4batz has managed to capture millions more.  

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“Act ii: date @ 8” debuted at No. 77 on the Billboard Hot 100 (dated Jan. 20), and it has since risen to No. 59 (for the week ending Feb. 10). It has also peaked at No. 6 on Hot R&B Songs and No. 20 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and is currently climbing on radio, rising to No. 21 on Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and No. 31 on Rhythmic Airplay this week (ending March 9).

The song is bound to make even bigger moves in the weeks to come, with Drake officially hopping on the “act ii: date @ 8” remix this Friday (March 8) — which Timbaland predicted would be “outta here” back in January when he posted his reaction video to 4batz’s viral From the Block performance.

“It’s crazy, because before this, I was sleeping in cars and I didn’t have a place to stay. And now people talk about “Rookie of the Month” on Billboard,” he exclaims with a chuckle. “I’m just so grateful, and I’m so excited that this is my life now.”

Billboard spoke with March’s R&B/Hip-Hop Rookie of the Month about astonishing people with his “yin-yang factor,” attending his first-ever concert during Drake’s It’s All a Blur Tour, receiving a co-sign and advice from Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) and preparing his debut EP.

What’s the inspiration behind the name 4batz?

[Laughs.] Batz, that’s just my name in the hood. People just called me that. I never knew why, they just like, “Yo, Batz! Batz, come here! Ah ah ah!” I’m from The Four. Inside Dallas, it’s a little hood called The Four. And the “z” was really for the swag, the “za” as we call it. We say “za” after everything because everything we do is exotic. So it’s “4” because we from the South and “bat” with a “z” because n—as don’t do what we do. We do everything exotic.

Why did you decide to pitch up your vocals?

I mean, me being from Texas and listening to DJ Screw, that’s just what we do. We’re just bringing something new to the world that they ain’t heard before.

There’s so much mystique to you. How do you continue to protect your peace and privacy when it feels like everyone’s trying to get a piece?

I’ve always been that nonchalant, mysterious one. S–t ain’t like a plan that we do. What I do is I give people a little bit of something. For Instagram, let’s say I post somebody fighting or I post my friends in the hood slapboxing. Me posting that is showing people a little bit about what I do and how my culture is.

How did you decide to format your song titles as different “acts” with all lowercase letters and different numbers and characters?

I look at it like it’s my story. I look at it like it’s an old testament, like it’s one of those old-ass books, because I feel like my story is some s–t people gonna be talking about for years and years and years and years down the line.

What inspired “act ii: date @ 8”?

It was more for the females. Nowadays, R&B is quote-unquote toxic. It’s a lot of fake toxicity going on. I don’t know about that toxicity. My momma raised me in a way like, “You love a girl, you do this. You open the door for her.” I’m big on that, so that one was specifically for the females.

I love the line “Five hunnid for your f–kin’ hair/ Two hunnid for your f–kin’ nails.”

I had to make sure it was the exact price. I mean, obviously, sometimes it be a little bit more, but yeah, I had to make sure I said that.

How does your latest single, “act iii: on god? (she like),” add to the narratives from your previous two acts?

Once this EP come out, I can be able to really break it down to you and show you exactly how each act connects.

Bet. What’s the name of your EP?

It’s called u made me a st4r.

And are all the songs on the EP going to be different “acts”?

Absolutely! It has to be.

How many songs will be on it?  

I’m still debating that. Probably around six, seven. I don’t know yet.

Your “From the Block” performance of “act ii: date @ 8” in your Dallas hometown stunned everyone because they didn’t expect you to sound the way you did when they saw what you looked like. Did you purposefully anticipate that being a “wow” factor coming into that performance?

You know what’s crazy? I did. Because I remember listening to Aaliyah. [Sings] “Rock the boat, rock the boat.” And I’m throwing up gang signs. And I’m like, “Why am I doing that? Why does this yin-yang factor feel so good to me?” And it goes for other people. A person will be a rapper, face tats and all this stuff, but he’ll be rapping about girls, but you think he supposed to be rapping about killing. And the fact that he’s rapping about girls, playing with that yin-yang factor, is more interesting. I was always [interested in] doing something that don’t supposed to be looking like you’re supposed to be doing it. I had a feeling it was going to do something. I didn’t know it was gonna do this!

What are some other reactions you’ve gotten from that video?

People said I sounded like a sample. I didn’t think that, but s–t, I’ll take it. I think honestly that’s one of the biggest compliments. Everybody knows samples are beautiful. And people was like, “Yeah, when you gon’ start rapping?” It was a lot of that.

And what’s the significance of the Tioga Street and Strawberry Terrace block you performed at?

It’s a block I kind of grew up on. We could have done it in any area, because that whole hood is my hood, but we had to do it exactly on that block — because I’m like, “Yo, Strawberry Street. People gon’ think this is sweet, right? And we doing this! OK, cool. We gotta do it right here.” Plus, it’s even better, because this is the same street where we used to just walk on and not have money and not be able to do this, and now we’re doing the opposite and just embracing what Texas is and what Dallas is and how this s–t go.  

I remember telling you and your team back in January that you had made it onto the Billboard charts for the first time, and everyone was so excited. “act ii: date @ 8” eventually became your first Hot 100 hit. How did you react when you found that out?

I damn near did a backflip, and I don’t even know how to do backflips! That’s one of the biggest flexes. The second song I ever released went on Billboard. I was so shocked, I ain’t even know what to say. I thought people was playing, so I’m going on Billboard searching it up. That is something that I ain’t even dreamed that this was gonna happen. I just thought, “Aight, I’m gonna drop the song and then hopefully in three to five years, you’re gonna start hearing me.” And then after that, I was gonna be where I’m at right now. But God works in mysterious ways.

Speaking of your team, how did you build up yours? How did you meet your manager Amber Ajeé, and when did your distributor Vydia come into the fold? 

I needed to shoot a video for “stickerz.” So I was just going about trying to shoot a video, and a lady had hit me, which is Amber. She was like, “Oh, I can help you.” And she helped me find a video pretty fast. And she was also like, “Yo, I manage!” So really finding her helped me find everybody with Vydia. ‘Cause I didn’t know nothing about it. She just put me onto everything. And after that, slowly but surely, I got the team that I have. It’s probably like four or five people.

Even though you’re our Rookie of the Month, you’ve already been chopping it up with the big leagues. Ye recently co-signed you, and you posted on Instagram that the two of you had FaceTimed. When did you first get in touch with Ye? And what’s the best piece of advice he’s given you?

One day, I woke up and everybody from his side was just texting my phone, “Yo, Ye wants to talk to you.” After that, that’s when we had a phone call. And I was like, “Yo, Ye? We talkin’ ‘bout Ye, Kanye? Or we talkin’ ‘bout Ye from South Dallas?” Nah, it was the real Ye. And when we hopped on FaceTime, it sealed the deal for me. That’s my guy for sure.  

The best piece of advice that Ye ever gave me is: If people don’t want it and you want it, that means you should do it. I remember my first time actually having a conversation with him, because I was just trying to be a sponge and just ask him stuff. It’s crazy, because I didn’t even ask him this question, I was just like, “Yo, what’s up?” He’s like, “Um, I got something to tell you.” I was like, “OK, what’s up?” He was like, “If you were to tell people, ‘Yo, should I drop this song?’ And they’re like, ‘Eh, I don’t really like it.’ But you really feel it in your gut that like, ‘This it. This it, period…’ A lot of people go off of trends, a lot of people go off of what they’ve seen. And if you do something outside of that box, you could be creating a whole box that people ain’t never been in.

When he told me that, I was like, “Bet, bet.” That means we’re doing something right.

You were recently spotted hanging out with Drake at one of his shows. How was that night?

That was the first show I ever been to.

Wait, your first concert?

Ever.

And you went to Drake’s concert and were right next to Drake.

Yeah. [Laughs.] Yeah, I was! Bro, I swear to God, this whole s–t is so funny, because I don’t think people know — and I don’t think even myself know — how crazy this s–t is. I never was on a plane. We ain’t even talking about shows yet. I never did none of this. We pulling up and I’m seeing all these people, what’s it, like 20,000 people? I don’t know, but I’m seeing all these people [and] how they react to the music. I’m like, “Yo, this what I’ve been missing all my life?”

It inspired me a lot, just seeing how he controls the crowd. And I was just like, “Yo, I need to work. I need to make more music.” Because every song he had was a hit! Yeah, Drake’s a good guy.

Have you been to another concert since then?

No, I think my next concert I go to is mine.

Considering you only have three singles out right now (with obviously more to come), how would you envision your first live performance? And where would you want it to be?

It gotta be in my city. I haven’t really envisioned it exactly how I want it yet, but I just know it has to be in Dallas. Who knows? It might be intimate and crazy.

Word on the street is that you’ve been in talks with major labels because they’re so eager to sign you. Is that something you’re interested in pursuing now or later in your career?

I keep going back to this, ‘cause I’m really in love with this EP. This EP’s gon’ break the f–kin’ internet, world, all this s–t. Currently, I’m not really worried about signing right now, because we’re so focused on these songs. I’m in the studio every day. So I’m not really worried about that, but maybe when the time is right.

What’s next for 4batz?

Honestly, I’m with the fans. Me and the fans, we experience this s–t together. So as they’re learning, and as they’re seeing, “Oh s–t, we on Billboard! Oh s–t, we’re doing this. Oh s–t, we’re over here!” I’m experiencing it, too. It’s just God. And whatever God wants, and however that flows, it’s gonna happen that way.

Is there anything else?

I want to tell my supporters some s–t, if I could. First, I’mma say thank you, Jada. And the EP, u made me a st4r, when they hear that s–t, they’re gonna go crazy! It’s gonna be stupid!

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