Debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 chart is no easy feat, let alone stay on it for 17 weeks. But that was exactly what Imanbek Zeikenov did – with a self-confessed illegal remix of someone else’s song armed only with his decade-old Acer laptop and music production app FL Studio.
Now 19, he studied railway engineering and used to work as a signalman at the train station in the small village of Aksu, in northeastern Kazakhstan. Then in summer 2019, he stumbled upon “Roses”, an R&B song by Guyanese-American rapper-songwriter SAINt JHN.
The 2016 release was a breakout hit for SAInt JHN. But Imanbek’s remix grabbed the international spotlight. The latter has now been streamed more than 700 million times on Spotify. The original track, with its slower tempo, sounds more like mournful party music. But Imanbek, who has dabbled in music production since 2017 by watching YouTube tutorials, breathed new life into the track. He cranked up SAINt JHN’s vocals to a falsetto and added a catchy electro-house beat. He didn’t know it then, but his tweaks had transformed “Roses” into a vibey club hit.
Like most other teens who remix songs for fun, Imanbek uploaded his work onto social media and forgot about it, expecting a couple of likes from family and friends.
Then magic happened. Before he knew it, he was signed by Effective Records, a major Russian label, and officially released his version of “Roses” after reaching a deal with SAInt JHN in September 2019. The earnings from the remix were enough for him to quit his job at the train station and pursue music as a full-time career.
But it was the video-sharing app TikTok that propelled “Roses” and Imanbek to global fame in 2020. Personalities such as YouTuber James Charles took to TikTok to post their dance interpretations of the catchy hit, popularising moves like the iconic hip sway and the “I’m shy” fingers. Before long, “Roses” was topping multiple international charts in countries like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
SAInt JHN, too, has been enjoying a career boost. He is now a celebrated artist in Russia, even though most Russians don’t speak English!
Imanbek’s life might be coming up, um, roses. But he is still the teen who remixes music for fun on his trusty old laptop – albeit a teen who now has multiple artists knocking on his door for potential collaborations.
For now, he is focused on learning how to D.J. live and exploring various musical genres to stretch his career runway. “I understand where I am now, that my success is truly global,” he told The New York Times. “Now, I need to prove that I’m not a one-hit wonder.”