Whether we’ve realized it or not, Panamanian producer and artist El Chombo has always been lurking in the recesses of our collective memory: His unapologetically ridiculous “El Gato Volador” roared at every quinceañera in 1999; the equally silly “Speedy Gonzalez Al Baile Llego” caught on briefly in the 2000s; and in more recent years, audiences have mumbled along to the gleeful gibberish of “Chacarron,” his nonsensical hit with Andy De La Cruz.
With this sheath of wacky, well-known material to his name, El Chombo isn’t exactly new to virality. He’s been popularizing novelty tracks long before social media was really an engine to propel music into digital expanses. But now, it seems like the Internet has fully caught up to him by grabbing hold of his 1998 song “Dame Tu Cosita” and converting it into an addictive meme/dance challenge that unexpectedly catapulted El Chombo onto the Billboard Hot 100.
Of course, as Billboard points out, “Dame Tu Cosita” is actually a throwback. El Chombo originally released it as “Introducción B (El Cosita Mix)” on his mixtape Los Cuentos de la Cripta 2 from 1998. The song had been pretty much forgotten in the mainstream until a few videos of cartoon aliens mouthing and dancing to the track started popping up on the web. A version from French animator ArtNoux gained popularity after being posted on Dailymotion and from there, according to Billboard, users on the video network Musical.ly started uploading videos of themselves copying the alien’s moves, inspiring the “Dame Tu Cosita” Challenge.
The challenge seems to have kept the total plays for the song ticking, and last month, “Dame Tu Cosita” made it onto the Hot 100 at No. 81, marking El Chombo’s first entry there. Meanwhile, on the Hot Latin Charts, the song jumped from No. 4 to No. 1 in four weeks, which Billboard explains is the fastest ascension to No. 1 since “Despacito.” El Chombo is embracing all of the newfound attention; Ultra Music released the alien animation as the official video for the song and has created social media accounts to keep spawning versions of the dance challenge.
While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about the song made it take off years after its release, its impish nature is similar to “Scooby Doo Pa Pa,” which also drew viral interest and demonstrated the often inextricable relationship between music and meme creators. For years now, memes have been playing a huge role boosting certain artists and tracks that somehow enter the Internet’s weird, youthful zeitgeist: In hip-hop, Vine, YouTube and Twitter have surged the popularity of Migos’s “Bad and Boujee,” OG Maco’s “U Guessed It,” and Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” which, similar to “Dame Tu Cosita,” inspired a seemingly random online competition with the #MannequinChallenge.
These memes often extend a song’s lifespan, but the price to pay is that the track then runs the risk of becoming harlequin, and the artist is suddenly being laughed at, not with (see: Psy, Rebecca Black.) Luckily, El Chombo has always trafficked in irreverence; his music doesn’t take itself seriously and therefore, it makes meme fodder that allows him to be in on the joke. At 48, he’s now being exposed to a younger generation who maybe hadn’t encountered the purposeful playfulness of “El Gato Volador” and allows his brand of punch-drunk reggaeton to resurface. His own trajectory after this is unclear, but this might open the vault for a new chapter of strange hits from him.