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Chartbreaker: Tommy Richman Says ‘It Was a Blessing’ to Drop ‘Million Dollar Baby’ Amid Kendrick-Drake Feud

Tommy Richman photographed by Gustavo Soriano on May 23, 2024 in Los Angeles.

Tommy Richman photographed by Gustavo Soriano on May 23, 2024 in Los Angeles.

Before R&B-leaning singer Tommy Richman vaulted into the mainstream conversation, he recorded music in his mom’s basement. An ardent supporter of her son’s career, she’d often tell him her favorite songs — but oddly enough, his breakthrough hit hardly cracks the list. “‘Million Dollar Baby,’ that’s the one everybody likes?” Richman playfully teases during our Zoom conversation in late May, mirroring his mom’s reaction. “She likes a lot of older songs way more and [other] stuff off the album, too.” But while his parents may not be captivated by the ‘80s funk-inspired track, the rest of the country has been infatuated, giving him a steady top-5 Billboard Hot 100 hit.

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A native of Woodbridge, Va., Richman, 24, grew up listening to 50 Cent and Lil Wayne. Though the small town near the nation’s capital lacked an active music scene, he earned some of his musical sensibilities from his father, a drum teacher. And despite many residents working government jobs, his musical aspirations trumped the idea of a traditional 9-to-5 career. He self-released the somber single “Pleasantville” on YouTube as a freshman in college; then, he spammed various YouTube pages linking to it and urging listeners to “be brutally honest with the last song I posted.”

The positive feedback he received online encouraged Richman to chase music as a full-time career, and in 2022, he met Darren Xu, COO of Brent Faiyaz’s imprint, ISO Supremacy, and his now-manager. Before long, Xu felt Richman was ready to take the next step and connected him with Faiyaz. By last August, the two artists were in business as well, with Richman signing a record deal with ISO Supremacy in partnership with PULSE Music Group. He also joined Faiyaz on his F*ck the World, It’s a Wasteland Tour that summer, and in October, they collaborated on Faiyaz’ Larger Than Life album standout “Upset” alongside FELIX!, which reached No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart.

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“[My team] values me as a person,” Richman says. “A lot of people look at you as an object: ‘We have to stay around this guy because he makes good songs.’ This sh-t wouldn’t have really transpired like that if we didn’t get along as people.”

He adds that “Drake reached out super early when I put out [2023 single] ‘Last Nite.’” And as the A-list cosigns began to accumulate, Richman’s confidence grew. He released two grooving singles in 2024 before his breakthrough, first with “Soulcrusher” and then “Selfish.” On April 13, Richman uploaded a teaser of another track — what would ultimately become “Million Dollar Baby” — to social media, shot in a grainy VHS style and featuring the artist and his friends dancing to the beat in the studio. It went viral, garnering over 12.5 million views on TikTok alone, as his falsetto in the infectious chorus quickly struck a chord with fans: “Cause I want to make it so badly/I’m a million dollar baby, don’t at me,” he sings.

“It was the combination of the sound of the VHS camera, the vibe of the people in the studio, how short the snippet was and how in your face the audio was,” says Richman. “The audio is really loud. I compare the audio to my other TikToks, and the one snippet is in your face. I think that’s why it caught on.”

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He followed it with a few more clips, and according to PULSE Music Group vp of marketing Sara Ahmed, they made the decision to drop the song just four days before its ultimate April 26 release. Richman turned in the master recording at 1:00 a.m. on April 23. “I built him a rollout [plan to] build into the hype of the song,” she says. “We didn’t have much lead time to [create] a campaign.”

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Nevertheless, “Million Dollar Baby” had a seismic debut, netting 38 million official U.S. streams in its first full tracking week (April 26-May 2), according to Luminate. It entered at No. 2 on the Hot 100, and atop Billboard’s Streaming Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot R&B Songs charts — a particularly notable feat given the track was released amid the vicious hip-hop battle between Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Lamar’s “Euphoria” arrived as “Million Dollar Baby” was gaining momentum; in the same weekend as its release, Drake’s “Family Matters” and Lamar’s “Meet the Grahams” and “Not Like Us” dropped, elevating the culture-defining feud. But even as the heavyweights threatened to stymy his opening week numbers, Richman remained unfazed.

“It was a blessing, low-key,” Richman relays. “I was reading a lot of comments like, ‘Damn, this is like the worst time to drop your song.’ It was kind of funny. A lot of people looked at us like we were the palate cleanse.”

“There’s nothing out there like this,” Ahmed adds. “I think people are looking for something new, exciting and different, and Tommy is it. This great song coupled with sharp strategy and Tommy’s determination really carried the song through — and we have barely scratched the surface.”

In five weeks on the Hot 100, “Million Dollar Baby” has remained a fixture in the top 10, and according to Richman, the song’s music video will arrive ahead of summer. As for a potential remix, fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. “There’s no remix, man,” he says. “A couple people [have reached out]. It’s cool, but for the integrity of the track, let’s keep it by itself.”

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As Richman savors his newfound success, he’s already chipping away at his debut album, Coyote. Though he doesn’t have a release date, Richman believes his project will showcase his artistry beyond being a one-hit wonder.

“This is a big record, but this s–t doesn’t define me,” he says. “I’m using this as ‘We’re here. We arrived.’ Not as ‘We made it!’ This is the start of a run.”

A version of this story will appear in the June 8, 2024, issue of Billboard. This article first appeared online on Billboard U.S.

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