Bryson Gray, a self-described Christian conservative rapper, was leaving Scottsdale in his Rav4 on Thursday, getting ready to make the 24-hour drive back from a string of shows in Arizona to his home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A flight halfway across the country was not an option: Gray has not gotten vaccinated against COVID and refuses to wear a mask, 20 months into the pandemic.
“Once you comply, the more control they have,” he explains. The grandson of a Black Panther, the Trump-supporting rapper featured on a song called “No Vaccine” has paid for sticking to his skepticism. “It takes us multiple days to do one show,” he says, of the driving. “I missed out on probably $50-, $60,000 on shows this year.”
But Gray has made up some of that lost revenue in an unexpected way, capitalizing on a meme that has circled in conservative media over the past month called “Let’s Go Brandon.” The phrase is as cryptic as its meaning is blunt: “Fuck Joe Biden.”
That’s what NASCAR fans were chanting at Talladega Speedway on October 2 when NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast was trying to interview driver Brandon Brown about his first-place finish. Stavast dutifully tried to interview the first-time winner when she said on air that the fans were chanting “Let’s Go Brandon.” Conservative circles online found Stavast’s correction to be really funny. Always down to make money off an arcane inside joke, merchants promptly circulated T-shirts and masks with the phrase, as Republicans from South Carolina and Florida referenced the cutout insult on the House floor. Forever in pursuit of new lows, the Trump forever-campaign is even selling “Let’s Go Brandon” merch.
Then came the music. Several different rappers have released completely separate songs called “Let’s Go Brandon,” hoping to siphon some attention from the viral trend. Of the main three, Loza Alexander got there first, with a quick, pro-Trump track that sounds vaguely like Childish Gambino’s “Sweatpants.” Forgiato Blow — who owns a lifted pickup with Trump depicted as Rambo on one side and Trump with stimulus checks painted on the other — followed up with a country-rap version, which he invited Gray to jump on. Gray says he declined because he did not want to join in on the trend. As a devout, nondenominational Christian who has been celibate for a decade, he also did not want to get on a track that involved swearing. He was going to pass on the fad until the Black Conservative Preacher — who is also selling “Let’s Go Brandon” bucket hats and aprons — convinced him to do it in a “more creative way, without using profanity.”
The result was, once again, a song called “Let’s Go Brandon.” Its video begins with a quote from Revelations with the word “the” spelled wrong, leading into Gray rapping about the “planned” pandemic, and how he doesn’t “need a plane / I just hit the road.” (The song also contains lines like “Biden said the jab stop the spread, it was lies.”) The video was taking off, until it was taken off YouTube due to “medical misinformation.”
“In hindsight that probably helped,” he said. After the song was removed from YouTube, it rose to the top of the iTunes chart, knocking Adele from the No. 1 spot, as five unrelated versions of “Let’s Go Brandon” wound their way into the top 100. To complete the cycle, Gray appeared on the radio show of Glenn Beck, who cited the song as an example of how the “left is losing its grip on the culture war.”
That may be overstated. Forgiato Blow — who also made the iTunes chart with his “Let’s Go Brandon” — acknowledges that “people don’t buy music” anymore. While the iTunes chart represents listeners who have actually bought songs for $1.29 each, it does not account for the much larger population streaming on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, where household names like Adele and Drake are still dominating the charts. But he sees the proliferation of “Let’s Go Brandon” tracks as a “positive thing for the movement,” as different artists get the message out “trying to red-pill people.”
Blow is probably the most prolific voice making what he calls “pro-America music, patriotic music.” The grandson of the founder of one of the largest classified-ad magazines in the country, Auto Trader, the rapper has Richie Rich tattooed on his right cheek and named his first right-leaning song “Silver Spoon.” He has not had the same troubles as his collaborator Bryson Gray in getting around the country during COVID. “I flew private,” he says, of his travel to some shows during the pandemic.
As a stranger to the virtue of not wanting to swear, I was curious why Blow, who says “shit” and “fuck” all the time, did not just come out with a track called “Fuck Joe Biden.” The template was already there: During the 2016 primary, YG and Nipsey Hussle had “Fuck Donald Trump.” Blow said that he was actually coming out with a family-friendly version hours after we spoke, though the expletive-free “Let’s Go Brandon Slide” released Thursday night does say “F— Joe Biden.” He also wanted to put YG’s song in perspective. “That’s the biggest song of his career,” he said. “What does that say about what he has done?” (Though representatives for YG did not respond to requests for comment, he has had several Billboard-charting songs since the Trump diss track.)
Unlike the other rappers who hopped on the “Let’s Go Brandon” wave, Blow’s support of the former president goes well beyond the music. During the 2020 campaign, he says he organized “Trump trains,” which are highway takeovers by MAGA supporters, and “flag waves,” which is when Trump supporters wave really big Trump flags. “I’m probably the most Trump-crazy of all of us,” he says, noting the similarities between them: “People say I had it easy like Trump had it easy.” That connection, or at least his extremely visible support, may have led to Trump sharing an open secret with Blow after a rally in Sarasota on July 4. According to the rapper, Trump told him “personally out of his mouth” that he is going to run in 2024.
This post has been updated to reflect why Bryson Gray initially passed on a recording of “Let’s Go Brandon.”