It’s 30 minutes before the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers tip-off for a late January showdown at their shared home of Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, and rapper BigXthaPlug is sitting in a purchased box suite with his entire crew. Had he wanted, he could’ve showcased his 6’3”, 400-pound frame in personal courtside seats, but for the Dallas native, it’s a small token of appreciation for those who were with him before he could afford such luxuries. “I’m not finna see nothing for the first time without people that was there when I had nothing,” he says.
Lately, BigXthaPlug has had a lot to showcase: the rapper turned in a banner year in 2023, first with the RIAA-certified gold hit “Texas” that reps his home state, and more recently, with the braggadocious “Mmhmm.” The bass-bumping, sonically nostalgic track, which showcases his bellowing voice adlibbing the song’s title throughout the chorus, broke through on a mainstream level and debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in December. “You gotta say it with a little more ‘Mmmhmmm,’” BigXthaPlug instructs with a deep southern drawl that sounds naturally chopped-and-screwed.
Born Xavier Landum, the 25-year-old was raised by his mother — also a Texas native — who put him onto southern rap dignitaries ranging from UGK to Lil Wayne, while his father leaned more into the R&B acts like the Isley Brothers. BigXthaPlug grew up with NFL dreams and only began rapping a few years ago, with his self-released Bacc From the Dead project in 2020. The EP drew the attention of UnitedMasters’ A&R Aaron Hunter, who then peppered the rapper with DMs before ultimately flying to Texas for an in-person introduction at a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party for the latter’s cousin.
BigXthaPlug signed a deal with the distributor in 2021, and shortly after, he added a manager in Public Figures Management Group founder Kyle Wilson, who first discovered BigXthaPlug on Instagram through his raw track “Safehouse.” (Co-manager Brandon Farmer, a partner at Solid Foundation Management, joined the team in 2023 after watching the rapper’s SXSW set.) “His stage presence, you just don’t really see that,” Farmer says. “You can tell when somebody is a star. X is a star.”
But just as the pieces of his team were coming into place, BigXthaPlug was arrested on unlawful carrying of weapons and marijuana possession charges and served a 2022 jail stint in solitary confinement. The experience was a wake-up call: instead of spending the hours in monotony, he wrote rhymes on medically issued med-line paper and read the dictionary. “I tried to read the Bible but I couldn’t do it,” he says.
He was released later that year, and by 2023, BigXthaPlug translated inspiration into action: he launched his own independent record label, 600 Entertainment, and subsequently added artists Ro$ama and Yung Hood to the roster. He joined rapper Key Glock on tour that April, where he met hip-hop producer Bandplay and immediately established a rapport. In June, the two went on a creative retreat in Arizona, and one of the first songs that came about during the two-week Airbnb stay was “Mmhmm.” Bandplay first cooked up the funky beat in 2020 after hearing The Whispers’ “And The Beat Goes On” while watching a movie. But upon initially hearing the beat in Arizona — which samples the 1979 track also prominently used in Will Smith’s 1998 single “Miami” — it didn’t register with BigXthaPlug.
“I’m a groovy-ass person,” BigXthaPlug recalls. “Bandplay was playing it and me and [songwriter Ro$ama] got to dancing. Bandplay stopped it and was like, ‘Y’all know what sample this is?’ We was like, ‘Hell nah.’” Still, within 30 minutes, the hit took form.
BigXthaPlug saw the track as an opportunity to put his friend in a position to win: in a genre where many are shy about their collaborative writing process, he asked Ro$ama to pen the song’s heavy-flexing opening verse. “I had already wrote a verse — the second is my verse,” BigXthaPlug says. “I [told him], ‘Write a verse, and if it’s good, you could get points and get paid.’ A lot of these rappers are using writers. Even if you don’t end up the biggest artist in the world, you might be the biggest writer. It made me bring the energy.”
After finishing the track, BigXthaPlug headed to nightclubs across the country to crystallize his instincts that he had a mainstream hit on his hands. “I’ll go to the club every day of the week to make sure my songs are getting played,” he says. As an unreleased version of “Mmhmm” began to dominate club venues, UnitedMasters had him pump the brakes for the rest of the summer to make sure the licensing rights were in order. But as BigXthaPlug says, he “doesn’t mind paying that bag to get sh-t cleared,” and upon getting the green light, he officially released “Mmhmm” to streaming services through UnitedMasters last October.
Two months later, he released EP The Biggest, which included a remix of the song featuring fellow Texan Finesse2Tymes. By mid-December, amid the influx of holiday songs on the all-genre chart, “Mmhmm” debuted on the Hot 100 where it has since reached a No. 65 high and compiled 75.5 million total on-demand official U.S. streams through Jan. 25, according to Luminate — and importantly, served as a means of validation for the rapper. “I always like to have reassurance,” BigXthaPlug admits. “Sometimes I catch myself like, ‘Why are you still rapping? You know you not a rapper.’ Then you get a Billboard [Hot 100 entry].”
The song’s success propelled “Texas” and featured turn on NLE Choppa’s “Pistol Paccin” onto Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and as the rapper turns the page to 2024, he isn’t resting on his laurels. He will release a collaborative EP with 600 Entertainment artists and follow it with a solo album. He also says he has a collaboration with Rod Wave, and that Megan Thee Stallion recently reached out, too.
It’s all humbling for BigXthaPlug, who’s still getting accustomed to the buzz — but teases everything will get bigger, and better, this year. He’s a Texan, after all. “I didn’t even want to make [‘Texas’],” he reflects. “If I can do this when I didn’t wanna do it, what the f–k could I do when I want to do it?”
A version of this story will appear in the Feb. 10, 2024, issue of Billboard.