It may not be Spotify’s most-streamed song of the summer (that would be Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night”), but “Johnny Dang” by That Mexican OT wins my vote for the Texas Song of the Summer 2023.
The catchy rap tune gained traction in May when a snippet went viral on TikTok, due in no small part to the charismatic artist doing his rap while nonchalantly cradling a rooster in one arm. (Hey, if Tyler the Creator can cradle a cockroach, why not a chicken?) With that social media boost, the single charted seven weeks in a row on the Billboard Hot 100; meanwhile, the video has racked up more than 21 million views on YouTube, with 25 million global on-demand streams per week via Luminate. Plus, “Johnny Dang” has inspired over 65,000 video creations to the song on TikTok.
What’s the appeal? You can start with the real-life person behind the song’s title. Johnny Dang is a Vietnamese-born, Houston-based jeweler who’s known as the King of Bling for his gem-encrusted grillz that range in price from $250 for a single gold vampire fang to $20,000 for deluxe Carre-cut diamond teeth sets. He creates these and other custom-designed pieces for high-rolling rappers and hip-hop artists, sports figures, and other celebrities.
As for the song’s creator, That Mexican OT (the OT meaning “Outta Texas”) is the stage name of 24-year-old Virgil Rene Gazca. Raised in Bay City, he brings a distinctive Tex-Mex flavor to the rap game with his effortless rolling-“r” trills and cool vaquero style (think straw cowboy hat, boots, and a big, bedazzled belt buckle).
Rapping since age 4, Gazca displays his talent with a masterful flow and dexterity. The bouncy cadence of his wordplay is complemented by a similar light and bouncy musical bed.
On “Johnny Dang,” he’s joined by two guest rappers, his buddy DRODi from Freeport and veteran Houston rapper Paul Wall, whose scattershot punctuated flow provides a distinctive counterpart to Gazca’s style. Wall, who suggested Johnny Dang appear in the song’s video, began collaborating on grillz designs with Dang back in the late 1990s, and that relationship extends to an annual backpack giveaway for school kids at Johnny Dang & Co. every August.
In the video, Dang appears as himself, showing off his own grillz and enormous diamond-encrusted chain while pouring himself a glass from a bottle of brandy. It’s been a fast ride for the Vietnam immigrant, who arrived in Houston in 1996 at the age of 23 and found work doing jewelry in a flea market with his already-settled cousin.
As for the lyrics, do a search online and you’ll find the song described by fans as everything from a “trap anthem about living life to the fullest” to “a celebration of the lavish lifestyle that comes with wealth, status, and reputation.” It contains the usual motifs you’d find in a gangsta rap song (drugs, violence, Louis Vuitton), with some Texas thrown in (“Pop trunk on a hater while we waving goodbye / I’m from Lonestar sipping lean with pecan pie”). The whole South Texas-Mexicano aesthetic is something new and completely different in rap—and as refreshing as a cold bottle of the National Beer of Texas on a hot summer day.
It’s a puro H-Town multicultural setup, too: a song featuring a very successful immigrant from Vietnam performed in the Black vernacular of rap by a Tejano from the boonies (no slight on Bay City; Gazca himself refers to his hometown Bay City as “Dirty Bay,” a place so country that the nearest mall was in Lake Jackson, where Selena Quintanilla grew up).
Gazca is modest about his breakthrough hit. “It was literally another song out of my head, nothing special,” he says, adding, “It’s become Johnny Dang’s theme song. He went to Florida to see [boxer Floyd] Mayweather and they were playing it. He’ll go to smoke shops in Vegas and they’re playing it. He loves it.”
Embracing the cholo vaquero street vibe throughout his new album, Lone Star Luchador, which came out in July and includes “Johnny Dang,” Gazca appears on the illustrated cover as a lucha libre wrestler, masked up and ready to battle in the wrestling ring. He carries the theme over into videos as well. But he’s no one-trick pony when it comes to his music. “I come at you with rock, I come at you with country, I come at you with jazz,” he says. “Mariachis are part of the game plan. My people, they love it…They been waiting for me, cuz.”
At this pace, That Mexican OT can add his name to a growing list of great rappers—Megan the Stallion, Travis Scott, Bun B, etc.—from the Lone Star State. And fans can expect more great summer songs.