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Larry June: Freedom vs Fear

We caught up with the San Francisco-born rapper ahead of his upcoming AUNZ tour to speak about freedom, meantime money, and the pursuit of peace.

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In an increasingly homogenised rap landscape, Larry June has become a cult figure off the back of embracing his entire idiosyncratic self. Sometimes a shrewd investor, other times a lone figure hiking in the hills, occasionally a joker. He’s not hopping on trends; he’s losing his wallet hopping out the 5.0. He pushes aspirational rides and inspirational messages, but never to the point of letting the tyres wear thin. 

To put Uncle Larry in rotation is to be brought up to date with his latest investments, his favourite smoothies, recreational activities (“right now I’m in the booth, after this, I’m goin’ swimming,” is a favourite of mine) and automotive purchases. It’s a balance of the motivational and the mundane, but all entirely comfortable. It’s like a phone call with a friend who just wants you to get on his level, peppered with an excited ‘yee-hee’ here, an encouraging ‘good job’ there, and maybe an occasional ‘aye aye aye aye’ of agreement. 

Like any friendship, keeping it surface level is only going to last so long. Dig a little deeper past the self-affirmations and fresh-squeezed juices and remember this is the same Larry who recently confessed ‘I just want peace, I’ve been through a lot’.

Larry’s pursuit of peace is compelling. His music is a celebration of freedom; financial freedom, the trappings of the trap. The freedom associated with the roar of a Buick Regal GNX or an international flight. But it’s balanced with an unhealthy fear. A creeping anxiety about what could be around the corner. Through this lens, Larry’s investments are recontextualised from a fun flex to a less exciting, fiscally responsible hedging of his bets. “I gotta make investments ’cause it can get ugly quick,” he rapped in 2020 on a song about houseplants.

In his earlier days, already known for owning unique rides such as his Mustang ASC McLaren, Larry confessed to getting around the Bay in a humble Toyota Prius, in an effort to blend in with traffic and escape the crooked eye of opportunistic jackers. He later admitted it was actually a Nissan Versa. To really break this down, not only was Larry driving a compact hatchback as a smokescreen, he was also telling people he drove a different compact hatchback as a smokescreen on top of a smokescreen. There’s layers to this shit. 

Ahead of his Australian tour, Larry speaks to Acclaim about balancing freedom and fear, the lure of the great outdoors, and washing clothes in Paris.

I feel like a lot of your music is about freedom. What’s freedom to you?
Freedom is being able to live how you want to live and not waking up having stress, or to work a job you don’t want to work or, you know what I mean, do stuff that you want to do and, even free from fear, not having to worry about watching your back, not having to go to prison or, you know, things like that, you know, freedom is everything.

Well, it’s funny you say that, man, but we’ll get to fear a little later. Sticking with freedom, part of that is financial freedom. A big part of your branding is the cars on the album covers. You have so many, but is there a car or cars that you’re still chasing?
I got so many cars. I’m kind of over it. The cars that I do want probably cost like a few million dollars, right? I got everything else. I’m kind of just chilling right now. I’ve been into the home development properties and stuff like that these days,

You levelled up.
Yeah, but it’s fun though. The cars are cool. I just never have time to use them. I’m always traveling these days.

Keeping on financial freedom. In previous interviews, you’ve said doing music to pay bills is an uncomfortable situation. Can you tell me how you were able to switch it up? How were you able to get into a position of making music as art and expression, rather than a means of getting by?
It’s definitely difficult paying the bills with it. So, you know, you gotta have ‘meantime money’, you know what I mean? What you gonna do in the meantime while you’re pushing the brand and building something real where it’s gonna generate some money to pay the bills.

So, you know, that’s gonna take a lot of groundwork. It’s gonna take a lot of discipline, passion, a whole lot. I’ve been making music 16, 17 years. And I didn’t really break through until 2018.

It just takes time, man. You know, you either want to do it or not. It’s not easy. To have a real legacy behind the music. Instead of having like, a hit song, then that go away, then you go away. 

The song 4Deep, that, that’s the first time I heard Larry June, right?
Oh, man, okay, you been around then, sure.

I’ve been around. But I feel like when I go back to the older music, it feels like it’s kind of around that 2015/2016 time when you kind of switched up your style a little bit. If I go back to the earlier releases, your vocal tone is different. The beats that you’re rapping over are different; everything’s different. And then it just kind of switched.
So what happened was, I was making the music that I make now around like 2010, 2011, but it wasn’t getting no light on it.

So, I did an album with TM88. He gave me these trap beats. I really didn’t even know what to do with the trap beats, but he gave me some crazy trap beats. And I was like, fuck, it’s the only beats I got. And you know, he 808 Mafia, big producer, doing stuff for like all the big artists.

And he kind of transitioned my trap sound, you know what I mean? People gravitated towards it so much and I got Complex for the first time and all these blogs and stuff and people was liking the music so I had to force myself to change to that sound for a minute because that’s what they wanted to hear. When you’ve got an opportunity, you gotta do something with it, you know what I mean?

So I switched it up and I started enjoying making that kind of music and then, when I finally got buzz for myself, I went back to the style that I actually wanted to do. Because if you go to my album before the trap stuff, like if you go to like Cali Grown, it’s the same kind of music I’m making now, pretty much, but people overlooked it.

It was to the point where the trap music was like, they didn’t want to hear nothing but that. Then I did a whole tape with Cookin Soul. They didn’t even want to hear that. And then like, eventually, they started wanting it more than the trap.

It’s kind of crazy. It was a weird transition, man. People don’t know what they want until you give it to them, you know what I mean?

That’s interesting, because it’s two ends of the scale too. From trap to what you do now, which is very cool and chill.
It’s funny. Also my life was a little different when I was on the trap music too. We was really in it at the time and lived in a certain way. So it just kind of made a little more sense. Like, people felt it and people from where I’m from saw it. 

Now, my life completely changed. I’m like, I’m on a whole different wave of life. You know what I mean? 

So regardless of which style you were pushing, there was a truth and an authenticity to everything you did.
For sure. Everything was 100. We really had to get it out the streets. Like, it ain’t no rap gimmick or trying to be acting tough or none of that. Like, we really was living that life for years.

You’ve got this love of the outdoors and taking the time to appreciate slow living. Where would you say that that comes from?
I played sports growing up, basketball and shit. I ran cross country for a year when I was with the school at Vallejo. So I was used to exercising and when I did it, I felt good afterwards.

So whenever I used to be stressed or going through things, I’d take walks or ride my bike or just take the time to isolate myself. It made me feel better, got rid of my anxiety and helped me stop thinking so much about things.

So do you think that your anxiety was something that you were born with or is it something that you acquired because of the environment that you’re in?
I was in the environment I was in, the lifestyle that I was in, the things I had to do to make money, having a kid at an earlier age, you know, I was 18, 19 having my kid and having to change my whole life around it. I never had a job before, I was always hustling, making things happen and trying to stay safe and still set a good example for my kid and still trying to do the music. 

I always had a lot on my plate and I never was a deadbeat father. I always had my kid from day one, so my whole life was just like, I had a lot going on, and I mean, while trying to make the rap thing work, like you said, paying bills, but in the meantime, we was in the streets. Those BMWs and Mercedes and Rolexes and shit didn’t come out of nowhere, you know, we was really having to take chances and it made me stressed out a lot.

I was always having anxiety. I was always stressed out. I was always worrying about shit. And the things that I was doing, like trying to get cars, it just made me feel better. It made me feel like, I’m getting there, I’m becoming successful. I bought this, I bought that, but I was always in the back of my mind. I was always stressing.

I never had that freedom. I’d take my girl to Hawaii and I’d be worrying about if something’s gonna happen back home. So I never was, like, mentally free for years and years. That’s why I pushed to very peaceful, that’s why I dropped Very Peaceful. I was like, man, I finally got a rap check. It’s very peaceful, changing everything. I don’t want to ever think about having to watch my back or anything like that. I want to have a very peaceful lifestyle.

When I wake up in the morning, I want to ride a bike. I don’t want to have to worry about where my next dollar gonna come from. Cause I can get it from music. I can get it from selling merchandise. I can get it from building more brands and doing shows. My life became very peaceful and from there a lot of the stress went away, a lot of the anxiety went away. 

It’s levels, like, no matter where you get in life, there’s always going to be hiccups and you always going to have some times where you don’t feel the best, but you don’t give up, you just do things that’s going to make you feel better.

Being outdoors and doing cool shit always made me feel better. 

You’re on a long tour right now, how are you able to maintain your mental health with a tight schedule and less time to exercise?
I take walks and I try to get nice hotel rooms. I’m on the road doing things like making sure my clothes clean and my socks fresh and, you know, hair cut and anything that’s gonna make me feel good. It make me feel better when everything is already put together and going smooth. I like making sure my socks clean and shit, and staying fresh at all times. That make me feel good.

That’s like equivalent to taking a walk or going biking or something. Check into a nice room, order me some fresh fruit, a little smoothie or something. 

Go meet good people, man. Go connect with people. It’s cool, man. See the world. It’s beautiful. It’s different right now. I can’t compare it to back then, because, like, I’m literally just trying to wash clothes in Paris right now. That’s like … it’s not that stressful.

Trying to wash clothes in Paris. That’s a great quote, man.
It’s incredible, this shit. I’m sitting in the back of this motherfucking Mercedes Benz. It’s just a different level, but it take a lot of work and grind and passion.

None of this stuff happened overnight. You gotta put that work in. I dropped my first mixtape when I was 15. You know, hand to hand, passing out CDs, selling other people music. Getting my music thrown in my face, telling me it’s trash.

It takes time, man. So like, one thing I say about the rap grind is that it definitely made me feel like no sympathy for a lot of people, I’ll tell you that much. There’s always a way. I don’t want to hear none about how life is hard. Step it up.

You gotta just push and make it happen. And see where it’s gonna happen. You gotta really be passionate about it. You can’t be afraid to lose. We win some and lose some, especially being independent, man. We make a lot of investments. You know, we don’t always win on everything, but when we do win, we win big.

We were talking about the paranoia and the fear in the old lifestyle. Looking at the present, your star is rising, you’re definitely becoming more and more popular every year. Do you feel like a little bit of that fear or paranoia creeping in because your profile keeps increasing?
Sure. It’s a lot of eyes on me. Gotta do things a certain way.

It’s a different kind of fear. Can’t trust everybody no more. Everybody not genuine. Everybody don’t got good intentions. Everybody not around you for the right reasons. You know what I mean? So it’s kind of like, you gotta keep a smaller circle. You gotta move correctly and you gotta understand that people are looking at you differently.

You know, if I farted in the interview and it’s like, I just did some crazy shit, like, “Ooh, he farted!”. But if I did that shit, like 15 years ago, I’m just a nigga that farted. You know what I’m sayin?

I do think about it, but. I just keep going, man. Like, whatever happens, man, it’s gonna happen. What God got in store for me is what he got in store for me. I just stay positive, be a good person, and I keep going. And, you know, try to give as much as I can to the people.

Follow Larry June here for more and catch him in Australia and New Zealand as part of his ‘LARRY’S MARKET RUN’ tour:
Tickets are available via Live Nation

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