NEW YORK — Silento, the 17-year-old rapper who’s having a pop culture moment with the dance craze to his debut song, says he wants to be a role model to the young kids who have posted videos dancing to his tune.
His “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” has continued to rise on the charts and gain millions of views on YouTube, becoming popular among children who have imitated the dances he references in the song, including Nae Nae and the Stanky Legg.
“I always wanted to be a role model,” said Silento, born Ricky Hawke, in a recent interview. “I always (wanted) to be the one everybody look at and copy off of.”
Silento’s song has sold 892,168 tracks and boasts 150 million on-demand streams, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It has peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs chart and No. 2 on the R&B/Hip-Hop songs and Rap songs charts, respectively.
Fans, old and young, have posted videos dancing to the popular song. NBA player Stephen Curry and his wife posted a video last week of their daughter, Riley, dancing to the song as she celebrated her third birthday.
“I was just like, ‘Wow! Wow!’ That’s all you can say,” Silento said of the song’s success. “I just be smiling. It looks like me when I was little. I used to do the same thing.”
The performer, a senior in high school in Atlanta, said he came up with the idea for “Watch Me” at school. After recording the song, he uploaded it to SoundCloud in January and posted videos on Instagram of people dancing to the track. Capitol Music Group caught wind of the rising hit.
“They came like that second week. I got an email saying, ‘I’ve seen your song last week and I see it this week and it exploded,’ ” recalled Silento, who signed with the record label. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s that message I was looking for.’ ”
He said that instead of releasing an EP or album, “first we’re going to push out more singles,” adding his next single is “going to be a record for the ladies.”
Silento, who grew up admiring Usher, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey, Ciara and Mary J. Blige, said his sound is a mix of rapping and singing.
“I might throw another dance song in there. I got a couple up my sleeve, but right now I’m not trying to keep people too focused on me as a dancer, I’m trying to show them myself as an artist,” he said.
And what does his stage name mean?
“I used to always tell people what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, so it’s less talk and more action.”