Year of the Underdog | Lil Bean’s Fortitude Explained

Lil Bean
Photo Credit - @iladiyyas

Lil Bean has big shoes to fill. At 11-years-old, he was declared the man of the house. The Bay Area rapper was endowed with a certain level of responsibility to follow in his father’s footsteps. Big Beaner’s – Lil Bean’s dad – untimely passing prompted his aforementioned son to pivot into a leadership role at a young age. And yet, it’s Lil Bean’s reverence for family that keeps him going.

Despite a string of regional wins, Lil Bean is no stranger to dealing with loss. A good portion of his success stems from years of practiced resiliency: he’s battle-tested with a proven ability to shake back from just about anything. At his most vulnerable, Bean remained unmoved by the noise. While his childhood friend (ZayBang) was navigating incarceration, the “CGz” composer wasn’t worried about music. “I was focused on real life shit,” he shares. “I had to make my own money.” 

A natural introvert, Lil Bean is at his best when he’s enjoying life’s simple pleasures. The regular shit (i.e., spending time with family, taking a break from music) is what keeps him grounded. “If I’m not at the studio, I’m not thinking about music,” he admits. However, when he does return to the booth, Bean relinquishes the present to his pen, gathering his thoughts before lacing beats with his signature soft-spoken delivery. Through his reserved, slight taciturn ways, the EMPIRE signee has bolstered his spirits with words.

With Still Campaignin, the follow up to 2020’s Campaign 2 project, Lil Bean is primed to flex his mainstream potential. Confidently, he has “never felt this good about music before.” His acclaimed work ethic proves that he belongs, citing collaborations with many of the region’s prominent artists (E-40, ZayBang, Lil Pete, Shoreline Mafia and more). For the Beaner, he’s ready to demonstrate the range of his artistry: “I just feel like I can open up a lot more now.”

Beyond the music, Lil Bean’s underdog mentality helps him find purpose. He performs best when his back is against the wall, with a hard-wearing desire for more.”It gives me the fuel I need,” Bean insists when questioned about life’s pressures. Throughout our conversation, we discussed the high and low points of Lil Bean’s life, his burgeoning rap career, why he signed with EMPIRE, and more.

Read our Lil Bean interview below, lightly edited for clarity and context.

What inspired you to start making music?

I was introduced to music early. My dad loved playing music in the car and shit. I got on a song when I was nine-years-old. My neighborhood had a rec center, so we would just mess around and shit. I’ve always been into music, though.

Was this before you befriended ZayBang? 

We met in first grade. Shit, he knows what I said when I was nine-years-old (word for word). He can rap you the whole verse (laughs). He’ll say it every now and then. 

While he was away, did Zay’s absence do anything for your work ethic? 

When he was down, I wasn’t worried about music: I was focused on real life shit. I was good at basketball, so I was tryna pursue that, but I also had to grow up kind of fast. I lost my dad young, when I was 11. I was put in a position where I had big shoes to fill. I had to be the man of the house at an early age. I had to make my own money. Kids had cell phones, but I had to go get a phone and pay my own bill. Then, it’s like aight, we want cable now. There’s no cable in the house, my lil’ sister wanna watch shit, so now I’m paying for cable. I was in high school when I was doing this. I was just trying to survive. He (ZayBang) would tell me, “Yeah, I was in there, but you had it harder than me sometimes.” We both took different paths, it just depends on how you wanna look at it. When he came home, we both didn’t know what we really wanted to do. We both liked music, but didn’t know how to take it seriously. We was tryna see about a job. 

I’m not surprised to hear that. During your No Jumper interview, you guys touched on that time Zay went to work with a $20,000 check in his pocket.

Yeah, exactly! He prides himself on working. The years when you’re becoming a man, he was in there: 16,17, 18, 19, 20. The years when you’re tryna figure out life, he wasn’t out here. 

When you think of The Bay area’s impact on hip-hop culture, do you feel like you’re endowed with a certain level of responsibility to keep that influence alive? 

Not really. I’m more about being myself. I don’t dwell on what anybody else is doing. There’s people that I looked up to, but now that I’m in music I study more. Everybody got they own path. I’m independent right now, but if I would’ve took another route, I don’t know what I would’ve did. I had to grind it out. That’s why I’m here today. 

Do you think longevity is important in rap? If so, how do you plan on sustaining your career in such a consumer-based industry? It’s clear that you don’t follow trends.

Fasho. By building my fanbase and not worrying about the gimmicks. Like you said, I’m not following trends. I’m just being myself and building my core fanbase to where they (fans) gon’ rock with me on whatever I do. I’m in it to make money, forreal. I don’t gotta be the biggest star. If that come wit it, fasho, we wit it, we rockin’. I lost my dad young, he was the man where I come from. My dad ran my neighborhood. I’m not tryna “fill his shoes,” but I’m taking care of people. Not doing everything he did, but I wanna take care of my whole neighborhood. 

It seems like your dad had a really big influence on your life. 

That’s my name, though. You know what I’m sayin’. My dad Big B, Big Beaner. 

I know you’re carving out your own path for the life you created, but following in your father’s footsteps: is there any pressure that comes with living up to his namesake?

I felt a lot of pressure early on, when it was really rough. Cuz’ we’re coming from everything to nothing. Just like that, it happened in a snap. My sisters come from having everything to nothing. It got ugly. I feel like that’s when I felt the most pressure. But with music, there’s no pressure: I just be myself. Of course I wanna be good and keep going up, but I played sports coming up and feel like I’m built for it. I thrive the best when my back against the wall, fasho. I like being the underdog. It gives me the fuel I need.

Contextually, the word “still” implies that something is continuing. What motivates you to keep going? 

What made me even take music seriously – my cousin, he doing time right now: they gave him 17 years. He made music, though. When he first went down and shit, he was going to trial. They were tryna give him 25 (years). My first project was named NastyCampaign, feel me. Basically, I was tryna keep his name alive. He doing time but he still here with us. That’s where the campaign came from. Then I came out with Campaign 2. I was gonna change it, but my other cousin CGz (who recently passed away) was like nah, we Still Campaignin.

What’s the plan when your cousin comes home? Can we anticipate a name change in the series then?

I don’t know, man (laughs). My cousin call me every two or three days. I just be telling ‘em about what’s going on, letting ‘em hear the music. Just trying to keep his spirits up, ya feel me. He living through us. He always tell me, “You should hear what new people be saying,” when they get there. The whole jail be off our shit.

Nowadays, consistency is so hard to come by. How receptive are you to taking intermediate breaks between releases? Your mental health matters too, bro.

Man, it’s a lot. Even after my recent situation, I was ready to say fuck all this shit. I got strong people behind me. His mom is on me, because he was with me everywhere. If you see me, you see him. It was just like damn, I don’t even know what I’m doing this for. I’m doing this so we can have a better life. I’m doing this for his kid, my brother’s kids. I’m doing this so we can have something to hold onto. We ain’t even did the shit that we talked about doing yet. When I finally did get back into the booth – I’m a quiet person, so I really don’t talk about stuff like that – I just let it out. Making music kind of helps me. It’s helping cope with everything. I always try to be consistent. I tell my engineer to book me every week. I don’t care if I don’t hit you, tell me that I’m going to the studio. I don’t write nothing down. If I’m not at the studio, I’m not thinking about music. That’s the break I give myself. I’m at home, I’m with my girl, go chill with my mom, or doing life shit. So when I get in the booth, I can just talk about what I’m going through. 

The regular shit is what keeps you grounded?

I don’t try to overwhelm myself with music while I’m not making it. If that makes sense. When I’m not making music, I’m just doing regular shit. We probably can’t go to the same places we used to go now, because people gon’ want pics and shit, but I got this new spot in the cut where we can kick it. 

Your raps have propelled you to the forefront of a new sound that’s redefining a region. How did we end up here? 

Shit, I don’t even know. I stayed down and I stayed consistent. Me and Zay, we just kept going. We still gotta keep going, though. We doing good, but let’s see where we can take it. I tell ‘em all the time, we ain’t did nothing yet. We can do so much more. I can see the vision.

What about signing with EMPIRE felt like the right decision? 

I love EMPIRE. They let me be me. I got control over what I got going on. If I don’t like something, I can let ‘em know I’m not feeling that. They gon’ give me suggestions. I used to just drop: didn’t have no plan, rollout or anything. I didn’t know nothing about that. And then, they explained it to me, if you do it like this you’ll see results here. I’m thankful for the relationships I got over there. I’ve built trust with them. When I first got over there, I had a project already done. I was ready to turn it in. I didn’t give ‘em a change to do their magic. Now, I’m learning to turn the project in a few months early, getting my songs mastered and shit. I’m like, nigga this how it’s coming out. They explained it to me how when you’re in the club, a Drake song comes on and you hear how loud it’s slappin,’ then they play yo song right after Drake song and it’s like damn, I should’ve got my shit mastered. 

Effectiveness (in music) is often measured by metrics — it’s a numbers game. And you can’t argue with results, Lil Bean clearly has mainstream potential. Is Still Campaignin the body of work that’s going to indicate you belong?

I feel like this is my best music. I’m a shy dude. I remember when I used to go to a family event, I’m all they listen to – me and Zay. Don’t play the songs while I’m here (laughs). I don’t know why it’s like that, but listen to this on y’all own time. Play some Lil baby or something when I come in here. I just feel so confident about this project. My musical growth, everything. When I listen to it, I feel good. I’ve never felt this good about music before. I feel like without even trying, I’ve accomplished every angle you could take. It just feels good. I’m accepting that I’m a rapper. At first, I would be mad. But now, I understand. I used to be hella nonchalant, laid back. I just feel like I can open up a lot more now.

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