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The Kings of Kanye’s Instagram

Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

This week, some disturbing news was reported out of Kanye West’s livestreamed blockbuster Donda 2 listening party in Miami: A young rapper in attendance had been attacked. Anything was possible at what was already a chaotic event in the life of the world’s most chaotic star, who has been busy releasing an album exclusively for a proprietary handheld device when he is not busy attacking his soon-to-be-former wife, Kim Kardashian, and her current boyfriend, defunct Staten Island ferry co-owner Pete Davidson.

“I’m backstage at the DONDA 2 concert and they just jumped ProdByZaqq,” tweeted @big_business_, to the monster numbers of 32,000 likes and 2,000 retweets.

Thankfully, Zaqq wasn’t even in Miami — he was home in New Jersey, and nobody had jumped him (at least not recently or yet). The tweet was wish fulfillment and fan service for Zaqq’s legion of haters. While he’s not well-known, within the greater online Kanyeverse, he’s a figure of notoriety.

Zaqq is one of a handful of young musicians who are using a very niche platform to build their careers: the comments section of Kanye’s Instagram page.

“It’s crazy, like, people are placing me into the drama,” Zaqq said by phone. “Fuck, I’m here for it! I’ll be that meme character in the background, I don’t give a shit … I’m here to rage on your Instagram feed, your comments section, it’s a fucking rage fest when Zaqq is in your fucking town.”

Let’s back up.

A few years ago, a crop of young rappers and Kanye fans were embarking on their careers, building audiences with steady live gigs and their own social-media posts. Then came the pandemic. What do you do when you can’t perform?

Thomas Iannucci, a rapper, musician, and Kanye fan based in Kauai, spent the pandemic working his ass off writing songs and growing as a musician, he said. That’s paying off — he’s putting out music regularly, with a lot more coming soon.

Then one day he happened to be on a very recent Kanye post on Instagram and decided to leave a comment. “Within seconds it got hundreds of likes and then tens of thousands,” he said. “It blew up and my views went through the roof. Out of curiosity I wanted to see if I could replicate it. I did.”

And he does regularly. When Kanye posted a TMZ video about his forthcoming divorce with accompanying text commentary, Iannucci was there to make a grammar note about Kanye’s writing: “No caps, but also no periods.” (Nearly 10,000 likes, 147 replies.)

Photo: Kanye West/Instagram

Iannucci soon saw the power of the reflected attention of Kanye’s IG. When Kanye’s account followed him, he estimated his Instagram quickly grew by a thousand followers. And then one of his comments was quoted in Us Weekly. “I made some dumb joke, and it got like 100,000 likes or something, and the next day I wake up and one of my friends texted me like, ‘Hey you’re in Us Weekly right now.’ And it’s only famous people [on the post]: Kanye, Tom Brady, Kim Kardashian, Pete Davidson, and ‘rapper Thomas Iannucci.’ Fellow rapper? Like, I played football in high school, I’m not fellow football player to Tom Brady. Then I realized: This might actually be a thing. It’s the power of Kanye.”

Iannucci still has a fairly small Instagram following, but since he got serious about Kanye-commenting, his followers have about doubled; he can drop a reel on Instagram now and approach 100,000 views.

“I have no connects. I have no industry in. I don’t have an uncle at some label,” said Iannucci. “This is not something I’m into casually, music. I’m putting my heart and soul into it, so I have to leave it all on the line. I have to use all the tools available to me to try to make it happen.”

But that doesn’t mean he wants to use the reflected power of Kanye for evil. “I’m not going to name names but there are maybe four or five other guys who are also doing similar things and one or two of them are going super hard down the trolling path,” said Iannucci. “I’m not trying to be the Kanye-commenting guy. I want them to see my name and check out my music — not see my name and want to strangle me.”

He was being respectful, but it’s obvious the prolific Kanye commenter most likely to be strangled is Zaqq. (“Oh God you’re on here too?? Fuck off dude,” someone responded to him on the Kanye subreddit recently.) Responses to his comments on Instagram recently include:

• “yo stop doing this shit, it’s mad annoying bro. stop taking advantage of kanye’s insta”
• “shut the fuck up”
• “professional meat rider”
• “begging you to stfu 🙏”

“I love it though, I eat it up!” said Zaqq, about being the chief villain of this self-conducted reality show. “Hell yeah. I know who I am and these people don’t know shit about me. For me this is entertainment.”

Photo: Kanye West/Instagram

Here’s how Zaqq discovered the power of Ye’s page.

“For the past year or so, I’ve been commenting on whatever post ‘da 🐐 No 🧢,” I’ve been doing it for like a year and a half almost OCD compulsively. It’s my go-to Instagram shit,” Zaqq said. (For those of you not on TikTok, goat = the greatest, “no cap” = “no lie.”) Kanye’s feed soon followed him on Instagram, and he saw results from commenting there immediately, which he does with supernatural speed and frequency.

Things went to the next level in the fan-auteur relationship when Kanye posted a screenshot of Zaqq’s comments. This was probably the moment that tipped Zaqq into a target.

“There was a moment in the past couple weeks where I was probably getting 30,000 profile visits a week to like millions,” Zaqq said. (He showed screenshots as proof.) “I made 10,000 followers the past week. Shit’s just been going through the roof. I’m just trying to capitalize on the moment.”

In order to do that, he put together a cheap song and video. You can imagine what it’s called.

“I’ve got friends, we can shoot a video, it literally took me five minutes, got on the mic, auto-tuned ‘the goat no cap.’ I put it up and it’s like a satire thing — and everyone thinks it’s so serious! It’s gotten 15,000 Instagram shares, over half a million Instagram views, almost 20,000 on YouTube now, it’s just going up, Reddit, Twitter, everyone is posting about it. I dunno, it’s the goat no cap, you know?”

The comments on YouTube are uniformly brutal and Zaqq thinks it’s hilarious. “A lot of people don’t even realize I am a serious musician. I play six instruments, I was in a metal band, born and raised in the choir in church. I’ve been about this my whole life. But this has gotten me further.”

The regular Kanye-commenting community also includes Nate Dae, an emerging rapper with a great Ye-adjacent aesthetic and no real audience to speak of yet, Lil Mabu (who described himself on TikTok as a “15-year-old white drill rapper from Manhattan”), and a German musician named Jan Metternich. Zaqq and Lil Mabu sometimes DM, but have never met up. The commenter club doesn’t get too heated, at least according to Zaqq: “It’s all love. I don’t think any of us have any bad blood. We’re just hustling.”

For years, arguments have raged about if there is any meaningful difference between positive and negative attention. In the experiment of Kanye West’s Instagram comments, we have found the answer: All attention is beneficial, if what you want is attention. Happiness or peace of mind? That’s a separate question.

And there is a downside to regularly appearing at the top of a Kanye IG posts. “The amount of angry messages every day, people telling me to kill yourself, you’re a cancer to society, I hope you get AIDS,” Iannucci said. (He showed me one message that began “you ficking f- - - - -” and got worse from there.) His wife recently set her account to private to prevent unwanted communication.

Both rappers believed this attention and heat was a dynamic specific to proximity to Kanye. “There’s very few people that could bring this amount of controversy and craziness,” Zaqq said. “I mean, it’s an Instagram page and it’s full-out war in the comments. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

So then what happens?

“Maybe you and I in a couple years we’ll do another interview. Maybe I’ll be popping!” Iannucci said. “Or maybe in 20 years you’ll come to Kauai and I’ll be sweeping floors. We’ll see.”

Zaqq is, as you can imagine, more hyped. “I’m putting a new track out this week,” he said. “It’s about getting my money up and trying to move to the West Coast. Get the bread up and live the lifestyle I’m trying to live.”

At heart, too, they’re fans, and they don’t forget it. “Ye is just a leader and an innovator in the music industry and I just got so much respect for him,” Zaqq said. “Ye the goat no cap for real. I mean it. If you say he’s not you’re just a hater.”

Looking for Fame on Kanye’s Instagram