When Nikee Turbo was first approached about being a part of the first season of Netflix's Rhythm + Flow, he thought it was just another Instagram scammer trying to get his attention.
Dating back a year ago, he says he was contacted by someone to be part of a "rap competition." The rapper, whose real name is LaMarco Taylor, was skeptical. That is, until he dug a bit deeper and found it to be just the opportunity he'd been hoping for.
Soon enough, he was performing in Chicago in front of Chance the Rapper.
"Two weeks later, I'm downtown for an audition," Taylor says. "Next thing I know, I'm in Chicago, then LA, and top 30 out of 80,000 people."
In October, the streaming service premiered the first season of Rhythm + Flow, a hip-hop competition where rappers battle for a $250,000 prize and bragging rights. On the show, viewers are introduced to Nikee Turbo at that Chicago audition, where he interests the judges first with his personal story — one of growing up in St. Louis and enduring family struggles, including living with his father's incarceration from a young age.
"I'm trying to break generational curses," the rapper says in front of the judges. "All my life we struggled. My daddy left and went to jail for life."
Taylor piqued Chance's interest with his sparkling sequin jacket, his personal history and his "Turbo Step," a dance the rapper came up with after a fun night at the bars.
"He's a great performer," Chance says to the other judges as Taylor performs his song "I'm Bout to Blow."
On the show, Turbo makes it to LA, where he is one of the top 30 contestants. Once there, he enters into a rap cypher alongside four other artists. Chance, T.I., and Cardi B deliberate on who to send forward in the competition, and this is where Nikee Turbo's time is cut short.
Although he did not see the competition to its completion, Taylor's humility, charisma and optimism earned him the respect of all three judges.
"This was a win for me," the rapper says to the judges after being eliminated. "Nobody in my family ever made it this far. Just to sit in front of y'all is an experience I'll never forget."
Since his appearance on the show, Taylor has gotten the attention of people across the country, including a co-sign from Cardi B, who tried her best to learn the Turbo Step. His time on the show even ushered in a new social media craze: the #TurboStepChallenge.
This month, the rapper finally dropped what his fans had been waiting for — an actual Turbo Step tutorial on his YouTube channel. The video currently has more than 16,000 views, with fans eager to follow the rapper's journey.
The dance has multiple steps. It begins with two steps on each foot, "sort of like the two-step, but you add an extra foot," Turbo says in the video. Next comes the arm swinging from side to side, combined with the feet. The third element of the dance is speed, naturally, but Taylor tells viewers that the dance can be done at any speed they're comfortable. "It can be any pace you want it, depending on the music," he says.
For more experienced dancers, he recommends "turbo speed," which is about as fast as one's body can humanly go. The rapper incorporates the swinging of his own hair to the most advanced level of Turbo Stepping. If you didn't find that difficult enough to get down, try the hardest level of the Turbo Step: the Turbo Zone. (Please just watch the rapper's YouTube video, because no amount of descriptive words will do it justice.)
Taylor's music is similarly energetic. It's the kind that should be played in a Dodge Charger with an impeccable sound system. The beats on his songs are nasty, and just as hype as the rapper himself. Coming off the height of his Netflix success, Taylor dropped the aptly named The Nightmare Before Fame a day before Halloween. It's a project that's as much about energy and self-fulfillment as it is about making money and flexing in the face of adversity.
Taylor has been performing and making music for several years, creating a dedicated fanbase. In 2018, he was named one of RFT's STL 77 honorees for his mixtape Flood the Streets. This past spring, the rapper released Toro Joven (Young Bull), a ten-track LP with features from city favorite Jizzle Buckz and local rapper A1.
Taylor says that while the opportunity to be on Rhythm + Flow was great for him personally, he also likes that it gives other artists in the city a chance to shine.
"It's good for St. Louis and the artists that aren't getting exposure. It's long overdue," Taylor says. "It's hard for us to reach the masses because we're looked over. It's like Nelly is good enough, and no one is looking for anyone else from St. Louis."
He hopes the momentum continues, not just for himself, but for others in the city who are trying to accomplish their dreams in music.
"It's like, if Nikee Turbo is there, then who else is?"[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of Nikee Turbo's collaborators. We regret the error.]