Lay Bankz on Viral Success, Ignoring Negativity and Wanting to 'Kick Ass' Like 'Favorite Artist' Beyoncé (Exclusive)

The singer-rapper, 20, spoke to PEOPLE about blowing up following hits "Ick" and "Tell Ur Girlfriend," as well as how she’s pushing boundaries with her music

<p>Kyle Clayton</p> Lay Bankz

Kyle Clayton

Lay Bankz
  • Lay Bankz has shot to fame with viral. hits like "Ick"

  • The singer-rapper, 20, dropped her latest project, After 7, in late May

  • "This is my first big girl body of work," she tells PEOPLE

If you scroll through your TikTok or X feeds long enough, you’re bound to stumble across a video of Lay Bankz — the 20-year-old singer-rapper hip-rocking to the top thanks to her music making waves on social media.

Over the past year, Bankz, a Philadelphia native of Eritrean descent, has exploded on the internet with viral hype hits like “Ick” and “Tell Ur Girlfriend.” The latter peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 this year and spent three straight weeks atop the TikTok Billboard Top 50 chart, all thanks to a boost from a lively dance trend.

The “Would You?” artist’s rise to fame may seem quick to those who just got hip, but Bankz tells PEOPLE she’s been on this artist grind since she was 14 years old.

“To other people, it might seem like it was fast, but for me, it felt like it's taken forever,” she shares of her slow-burn path, comparing it to “taking the stairs.”

<p>Pablo Flores Perez</p> Lay Bankz

Pablo Flores Perez

Lay Bankz

Growing up in Philly, Bankz says she was the kind of creative kid who “tried any and everything” — including playing the violin and piano, taking vocal lessons, writing poetry and raps, doing musical theater and even singing at the tender age of 3.

“If you ask my mom, she'll tell you the first song I ever sang was ‘Irreplaceable’ by Beyoncé,” the singer laughs.

Bankz gives most credit to her mother for establishing her musical taste. Morning car rides with her on the way to school introduced the singer to her “favorite artist” Queen Bey and others like Keyshia Cole. Those ordinary yet “monumental” moments helped fuel the professional music journey she's embarked on over the last few years. Now, Bankz just hopes people take note of the work she’s put in to be more than a viral sensation.

<p>Chase Epstein</p> Lay Bankz

Chase Epstein

Lay Bankz

Since last summer, Bankz has unleashed two full-length projects: Now You See Me, her formal introduction that dropped in August 2023, and her latest, After 7, which arrived on May 27.

“This is my first big girl body of work,” she says of the project that allowed her to be “more mature” and show “a different side of myself.” “I feel like I'm starting to really grow up, and I think with this project, I learned what goes into actually creating [one].”

Most newcomers like Bankz can’t say they’ve dropped back-to-back projects in less than a year. The “On My Soul” rapper guesses it’s probably because “it's a lot of f---ing hard work and determination and trying to stay inspired and pulling inspiration from anything and everything.”

“Just knowing what I want to talk about and trying to stay on topic of [that] is very f---ing difficult,” she shares.

Bankz’s musical ingenuity oftentimes comes from her real-life experiences as a blossoming young adult who’s navigating relationships and pushing past negativity. No matter how taboo or “cringe” those topics may sound to some, the singer isn’t shy about being real.

Her breakout hit “Ick” — which blew up after her gas station-set music video made rounds on socials — captured the relatable feeling of suddenly losing interest in a lover amid the “sassy man apocalypse” with blunt lyrics like, “Lady boner gone / He dry humpin' me and huffin' like a dog / And he whispered in my ear did I get off? / Then he finished, turned over, and called his mom / Can't make this s--- up.”

Meanwhile, her dance floor-ready heater “Tell Ur Girlfriend,” where she sings of creeping around with someone else’s man behind her boyfriend’s back, relayed an incident she actually went through.

“I'm just inspired by what I experience, and I talk about what I go through and like, and what I think people might want to hear from me,” the singer-rapper explains of her lyrical process. “I think one of my strengths is talking about real-life experiences and making them sound so fun and danceable. Making a song where people, on first listen, all they want to do is dance. And then when they go back to listen to it, they're like, ‘Oh, s---. I didn't even know she said that.’”

<p>Chase Epstein</p> Lay Bankz

Chase Epstein

Lay Bankz

“That's the gag” behind the singer’s “controversial” music. No matter if people “like it” or “hate it,” all that matters to Bankz is that her material remains “honest and authentic.”

“Regardless of what people think, I'm a hit-maker. That's the truth,” she declares without hesitation. “All of my songs that have done something to get me from one point to the next have the same qualities. They're all controversial, they're all interesting, they're all attention-grabbing, whether it's the production, or it's my voice, or the cadence or a hook that you just can't get out your brain.”

“Figuring out how to come up with a song that people can't ever forget,” she adds, “I think that's the key to making a hit.”

Another central factor in Bankz’s hit-making formula has been tapping into the dance craze culture that’s bolstered today’s TikTok generation. “I locked in, and I figured out a way to incorporate my music into going viral, and I think that was the turning point for me," she explains, "Using TikTok or any of my social media [pages] as a strength to promote my music.”

But Bankz isn’t stopping at TikTok virality; she has much loftier goals than that.

Looking at the legacies of her musical influences, such as Beyoncé, Aaliyah, Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson, the budding artist has noted the “trajectory of the beginning of their careers and where they ended up.” She aspires to reach the same level one day.

“The process, the artist development, how much of performers they are and their resilience. I feel like all of them push boundaries,” Bankz says. “Our artists who push boundaries and who are so successful and can never be put in a box, that's what really inspired me to be who I am.”

<p>Pablo Flores Perez</p> Lay Bankz

Pablo Flores Perez

Lay Bankz

Of course, the musician is “still growing” as a rookie in the mainstream music game. Getting potential fans to "take me seriously” has been one of her biggest challenges as she aims to break through the “stigma” that “people who go viral on TikTok are not real artists.”

“I'm a real artist, regardless of what anybody thinks about me because I rock my hips or because whatever the case may be,” Bankz proclaims. “I don't care about none of that. I am authentically and 1000% original and I am myself. And just because another artist is not doing this or whatever the case may be, I am still myself, and I'm not out here trying to be like anybody else.”

“Being a Black woman and coming up from where I come from and trying to make pop music, I think that was probably the hardest thing,” she continues of her biggest career obstacles. “I think getting in the door is the hardest part, but once you're in it, [you can] open all the other doors.”

<p>Jade Tiffany</p> Lay Bankz

Jade Tiffany

Lay Bankz

Bankz has big dreams she's still working toward. Collaborations for remixes of her hits (BLACKPINK for “Ick” and Nicki Minaj, JT, Latto, Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi B for “Tell Ur Girlfriend”), being “the most streamed female artist in America" and a goal to “kick ass” like her idol Beyoncé are at the top of her list.

For now, though, the rising artist to watch is just grateful to “live off my passion” and “give back to those who love and care about me.” More importantly, she’s excited to continue growing her fanbase with people “who feel like me” with music that “feeds my soul.”

Reflecting on all her accomplishments, the After 7 artist — a firm believer in the number seven signifying “divine timing and growth” in her life — says her recent success hints at an even brighter future for her. “It means I'm getting closer to my dream."

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