Editor’s Look: Lil Xan and the age of internet rappers

The anonymity and low barrier for entry that the internet gives has had a strange effect on rap music.  This new and wild format has led to the advent of shadowy, relatively unknown hip hop characters breaking through on some social media platform and becoming stars overnight, without the discography, experience, or general fame we’ve become used to surrounding rap stardom.  This brings with it a lot of freedom for new aspiring artists, but also a lot of trial and error.  Fans must decipher who is a meme or a one hit wonder and who isn’t.   As well, artists must prove themselves as more than just fast fading, fifteen minute internet sensations; enter Lil Xan.

Xan, like many new internet rappers, did not begin in writing, or even in music at all.  This is becoming a bigger and bigger trend as rap becomes more about culture and  aesthetic, and less about meter and rhyme scheme.  His art was photography, and his own love for rap is what got him into the game, which makes for a great story.  A dedicated $teven Cannon fan, Lil Xan was showing up to every one of Cannon’s shows in the LA area, near Redlands where Xan grew up.  After proving his heart and dedication, Xan made his way into the Low Gang collective as a photographer and friend.  Though after his camera was stolen at a show, he was encouraged to turn to rapping by $teven Cannon, who said he had potential in the booth.  Thus, Lil Xan was born.  This origin story, mind you, is VERY different from rappers before this internet age, and really shows how far the industry has opened its arms.

The “BETRAYED” video with LL’s Cole Bennett was Lil Xan’s breakthrough.  Though there may have been whisperings of his lackadaisical flow, new-school writing and barred-out delivery floating around the web after he premiered his “Slingshot” video on Elevator, the video (which now has 10 million views) only really ever made it to 1 million views in its time, though generated enough buzz to give him a platform.  “Betrayed”, however, blew the fuck up.  Now sitting at around 28 million views, the trippy, drugged out flow and xanax based hook really propelled the song to the top in a rap game obsessed with far out, often depressed, drug-ridden face-tatted anti heroes.  This song, a veritable instant internet hit, was created only months after Lil Xan had begun rapping, and his full potential is yet to be explored.  You can hear the exploration and experimentation that comes with learning a new craft while flipping through his Soundcloud discography.  Older deep cuts like “Leash” have very low key, home made sounding production, and very clean vocals from Lil Xan, who had not yet jumped headfirst into his melting-together, dripping lyrical style yet.  With barely a year of rap experience, and not even a real album under his belt, Lil Xan can grow in any direction he wants; but he also has yet to prove himself.  His newest video/single “Far” (also a Cole Bennett video) brings some hope for his future.

“Far” is a mixture of what we’ve come to expect, and a new, more refined direction for Lil Xan.  The spacey, slow, light hearted synths and trap style drum beats hearken back to “BETRAYED” and “XANARCHY”, where it seems Xan has found his home.  And rightly so, his vocals really shine best on this sort of production.  His verse however, is a new direction.  Aside from being an @ to anyone who didn’t believe he could make it this “Far”, it’s a bit more sing-songy and auto tuned than usual.  It has a slight tinge of Post Malone in it, and that’s a compliment.  Post is another great artist who proved himself to be much more than just a saucin’ “White Iverson” one hit wonder.  The video itself is fairly simple and short, with Xan in all his signature beanie-style walking in the rain, as the sky explodes behind him in a dark and apocalyptic sort of tone.  It’s short, barely shy of 2 minutes, but its a nice tune and definitely feels like a Lil Xan piece.

Lil Xan just might fail.  He could very well be another weird internet fluke who just so happened to catch enough attention to make something of himself, only to fall off.  We’ve seen it before and surely will continue to see it as the years go on and rap evolves even more.  But I don’t believe that.  In his limited interviews, you hear a realness, some genuine humbleness and awe in his voice, like he’s coming to grips with his fame just as quickly as we are.  And he’s only really sort of internet famous as of yet.  Point being, he doesn’t seem to be as much of an asshole as one might assume on a first glance.  He also has a very specific style, one that borrows heavily from his contemporaries, but stands him out just enough to be a little fresh.  And its catchy as hell.  If “Far” is any indication, he’s taking steps in the right direction for an artist who has a long road ahead of him.  Peep the “Far” video below:

Find Lil Xan on: Instagram / Twitter / Soundcloud


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Daniel Pearson

Writer for Apex Hip Hop and beyond. Born and raised in Sacramento, currently residing in Monterey Bay. daniel@apexhiphop.com

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