We talk to the viral rapper and find out what his deal is.
“Every single rapper raps about shit I can’t relate to,” Lil Dicky wrote in a blog post titled “Mission” on April 25 of last year, the same day that he released his music video for “Ex-Boyfriend,” which would go on to earn a million views in 24 hours. The blog post continued, “Unless you’re an extremely stupid person that began life as a poor, violent man, only to see your fortunes turn once you started rapping, you won’t be able to relate to 99 percent of today’s rap music.” A month later, he would release the music video for “White Dude,” perhaps his best—and most incendiary—song. The clip finds Dicky both explaining and indulging in the minutiae of white male privilege, rapping about how his name “ain’t stupid,” how “I go on dates, never have to worry about getting raped,” and “I know I’m being condescending in my rhymes / but my premium channels mean Tyler Perry’s never live.” Dicky demonstrates this by pissing on a cop car, laughs at a black man for having deodorant streaks in his armpit, and beats a different black man—who, it is implied, has no idea what a tennis racket is—at tennis.
At his best, Lil Dicky crosses Big Sean’s goofy wordplay with Larry David’s satirical eye, or a one-man Lonely Island with better flow. At his worst, he is a defensive, clueless asshole who, to quote the writer Sam Rosen, is “constantly lamenting the fact that he is not Black while simultaneously celebrating the spoils of white privilege.”
Lil Dicky isn’t going anywhere—his newest video, “Lemme Freak,” has roughly 2.4 million views on YouTube. He’s on a tour that he funded through Kickstarter, and is readying an album entitled Professional Rapper. His new material creeps closer and closer towards actual hip-hop that is comedic, rather than comedy-rap. “The Gumption” is what you’d get if Daniel Tosh made an A$AP Rocky song; meanwhile, “Really Scared” is an even more self-obsessed, ennui-ridden version of a Drake song that I could completely see a 17-year-old rap fan being really in to. As for “Free Bread at the Outback,” well, I stopped listening after Dicky rapped, “I just fucked a black chick / Yeah I’m proud, if that’s racist suck a black dick!”
Though it’s easy to write Dicky off as an annoying curio, his message—that upper-middle-class white dudes are underrepresented in society—is a relatable one, namely among the upper-middle-class white dudes who have been flocking to his shows. So, I called Lil Dicky up, and ended up conducting an interview that was one of the most excruciating in my history as a journalist. In the span of half an hour, the ad creative-turned-rapper rattled off his resume to me for no apparent reason, complained about not getting laid on tour, and claimed he had more to lose by rapping than a poor black person might, because unlike a poor black person, he implied, he had job prospects. He was defensive, combative, badgering, and self-conscious in turn—in essence, he was everything that the rappers he claims to be emulating are not.
In that same blog post from 2013, Dicky wrote, “If I looked like Rick Ross, do you realize how much fun that would be? I’d literally get to say any combination of words without being judged. Proper societal standards just don’t apply to the Rick Ross’s [sic] of the world. They get to operate on a completely different playing field than the rest of us.” I don’t think Dicky is a white supremacist, which he accused me of accusing him of being. That would necessitate him possessing a sense of historical context, coupled with a mustache-twirling evil that few possess. Instead, his crime is subtler, more common, and all the more sinister for it—it’s hard to think negatively about other people if, as Lil Dicky appears to do, you’re only thinking about yourself all of the time. If enough people with who are inherently privileged by being white and male act like this, then there's no room for society to progress. When I confronted Dicky about his inherent contradictions, he claimed no responsibility. “I’m pretty much just the messenger,” he told me. But the messenger for what?
Noisey: I heard that at your Irving Plaza show in New York you said, “Make some noise if you’re white!” and the response was overwhelming.
Lil Dicky: Yeah, I mean there’s a reason I asked that. I go and do white dude antics, and I acknowledge the entire room is full of white men, then I do a song called “White Dude.”
Talk about specifically “White Dude.” Something about it in the back of mind makes me go “hmm.”
How about you try and describe that feeling. Tell me what you’re feeling.
You’re talking about how if you get a girl pregnant and you can just up and leave. Or the thing about rubbing deodorant in your armpit and a black dude does it, and there’s white deodorant in his armpit.
Oh I know what happened. I’m asking what that feeling you're describing is. I know what the video is. I’m saying what are you feeling?
I’m saying it’s almost like you’re gleeful about being a white male. It seems pretty easy to take seriously.
Sure. Totally. I understand what you’re saying. I don’t know what answer you want from me, I wouldn’t expect kids to understand brilliant satire. I wouldn’t expect kids to understand complex satire. One thing I’m pretty into in terms of my music is being a cultural puppeteer in some sense. I’m totally interested in you feeling a certain type of way. I’m not telling you how or what to feel—you can form your own opinion on why you feel that way. It’s a good exercise in finding out where we all stand as people, if that makes sense.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up right outside Philly. I’ve always been very funny—that’s been the main theme of my life. People who know me very well would label me the funniest person they know. There’s nothing better than making people laugh and I feel I deserve respect and recognition. Apart from being funny, I’m smart and well-qualified for jobs that have nothing to do with my sense of humor.
What was your job?
I worked at an advertising agency. Graduated college University of Richmond with a 3.03 GPA. I got a job at an advertising agency in San Francisco. I did the whole 2012 NBA playoffs campaign, I wrote the commercials. I did the rap stuff on the side, and had no life basically. I put out “Ex-Boyfriend” one day, and in my first day as a rapper I ended up getting a million views. It’s very out there, like there’s a whole verse about some other guy’s dick. I didn’t know that many people would find it interesting, but I found there’s a wider market for it than I anticipated. So though I started rapping to be comedic, my ambitions were not to be a rapper. It was to have someone like Judd Apatow to notice I’m really funny.
Realistically, hip-hop is suburban and has been suburban for an extremely long time in terms of its audience.
Right. But that struggle hasn’t been promoted.
What about in indie rock?
Songs in general are so metaphorical. I’m absolutely one of the few literal voices of suburban America. Rap is all about a struggle, and it’s really been about one type of struggle. And suburban America loves escaping their struggles for a while and getting into that struggle. They love that escape. But I’m not sure they’ve ever had the option of really experiencing their struggles in hip-hop. And it’s not just the struggle, it’s like the same way that rappers are swagged-out about their luxuries that are inherent in becoming a successful rapper. I feel no shame in flaunting my luxuries from being who I am. I have just as much right to swag as anybody. Just because of where I grew up doesn’t mean making the most of myself takes any less effort than where someone else grew up, if that makes sense. Do you buy that?
Yes and no.
Explain why you don’t buy that.
I see the logic in your argument. But a lot of the reason a rappers who come from nothing flaunt their lifestyle is because they never had anything before.
I suppose, but I don’t think you hear me swagging about money, or being rich or wealthy. I’m swagging about my lifestyle.
But you’re also talking about—
In “White Dude,” yes. It’s a very themed song, yes. The entire song is predicated about swagging around that idea that I’m a white dude. It’s a concept-driven song, where you can’t look at Lil’ Dicky as a concept. I think I’ve overcome a lifestyle. I think it’s very brave. There’s a line in one my songs that comes out in the future that says, “This wasn’t rappin’ or trappin / This was rappin’ or a big ol’ fucking house with a family.” I had everything to lose, if that makes sense. Obviously it’s very impressive when you go from nothing to something. But let’s be realistic, sometimes people have nothing to lose and it’s very easy to go for their dreams. I had a very safe route that would make me relatively content for the rest of my life. And I pretty much put that aside. I don’t think that should be ignored in my opinion, I think that’s a brave thing.
That’s not true at all. If you failed you could just go back to your job.
I would say that’s very false. My parents were begging me not to put anything online because it would completely damn my possibility of having another job. If I put “Ex-Boyfriend” out on the internet and nobody liked it, then there’s evidence of me saying the word “Kike” and it not being well-received, if I’m trying to get a job in law that could bite me in the ass. Could you not see that? By putting this music out I think I genuinely eliminated 80 percent of the previous jobs I was qualified for. I’m not sure I could’ve gotten my job back. I don’t think it’s black and white. I think there was risk, is all I’m saying. I think I did have something to lose.
What’s tour like?
It’s less eventful than you’d think.
I’ve heard tour is very uneventful.
My vision of it was like, “Every night is the most fun, you’re out there getting pussy left and right, you’re the man!” That’s how I imagine other rappers do, and they have six friends with them. All my friends have jobs they can’t just get up and leave from. The passion the audience shows is truly the kind you’d want to make a movie about. Like these people really believe in me, they know all the words to every song. But I haven’t had sex on this entire tour. I’ve been trying, like not trying as hard as I could have, but certainly putting myself out there in the hopes of getting pussy. And I just haven’t. It’s still a struggle, but I embrace the struggle because who knows how long it will be here for. I think once girls come to my shows it will be a more “party” atmosphere, as opposed to right now it’s like a fucking sporting event.
What kinds of crowds are they? Is it more people drawn to comedy?
I have a lot of people that don’t listen to rap, and some who are like the biggest of hip-hop heads that only listen to Nas and Eminem and say I’m bringing back real hip-hop. It’s certainly men, and certainly 70 percent white men.
Of those dudes that are there, how many do you think realize it’s meant to be funny?
I wouldn't say it’s comedy, I’d say it’s rap music. I think it’s misguided if you think it’s comedy, I think I’m a rapper who’s funny. So I don’t know what you’re asking, there’s certain songs that are more satirical. I think people are smarter than you give them credit for, I don’t think people think I’m a white supremacist or something.
I don’t think you’re a white supremacist.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think the jokes that I’m making, when I make the jokes, everyone gets it. That’s why it goes viral. But I don’t think it’s just comedy, it’s way more a rap show.
Drew Millard is the Features Editor of Noisey and is on Twitter.