In a lot of ways, Lil Tecca is a normal 16-year-old.
Arriving at Complex’s office with his manager and parents on a Friday afternoon in late May, Tecca talks about his schemes to get out of class and admits that he can’t wake up early in the mornings.
Over the past few months, though, things have become a little less normal for the Queens native. A week after its release, his new song "Ransom" already has over 10 million plays, and his face is on a 12-story billboard in Times Square a couple blocks away from where we’re sitting.
Things are moving fast for Tecca. He first started rapping when he got tired of roasting his friend while playing Xbox, and wanted to diss him on a song instead. That led to him uploading songs to SoundCloud and Instagram, and eventually catching the attention of tastemakers like Lil Jake and Cole Bennett at Lyrical Lemonade (who in turn used their platform to give "Ransom" a major boost). Despite the sudden success, he's still taking classes and says he only has time to rap on the weekends.
Lil Tecca, who shows off his braces in the "Ransom" music video, says he thinks the success is coming because he's just focused on being himself and having fun. Describing a recent Instagram post, he confidently writes: "Not your average nerd." Speaking with Complex, he points out, "No one ever really called me a nerd until recently. This nerd persona and everyone calling me that is a new thing. So I was like... I don't really take it as an insult."
During our conversation, Tecca discusses how he's balancing music success with school, why he listens to so much Chicago rap, and his plans for the future. The interview, edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
You're still in school and you've said you only rap on the weekends. How are you balancing school with music?
Right now I'm in a situation where I get my work from school and then I do it at home. Before, I used to go to school and then just sleep. But then I had online school after school. So I never had time to do music until the weekends
So now you just do school from home?
Yeah, I just do all the schoolwork at home.
I ain't trying to stand out. I'm just doing me and people gravitate to it.
On "Count Me Out," you rap about how kids at school used to clown you. Now that you're seeing music success, what has the response been like from classmates?
People see what I do, but no one says anything. Before, anything that they would say would be negative. Now, the only things that they can say are positive things. So they just choose not to say anything at all, you know?
You started rapping while playing Xbox, right?
Yeah, it was through one of my first friends that I met on Xbox. I'm still friends with him today. I was like, "Yo, I'm done with this. I'm finna just record myself flaming you," because we would just always go back and forth through the Xbox.
Just talking shit?
Yeah, I was like, "All right, now it's real." Then I took my sister's laptop, downloaded Audacity, and I recorded myself over the beat. Then I uploaded it to SoundCloud.
So it all started from joking around and dissing your friend?
And then you liked the way your voice sounded on record?
It wasn't even like that, though, because I didn't really like it. I just did it because I was like, "Yo, I'm getting tight." And then I tried to make real songs and they was trash. I was just like, "This is not it."
Was there a point when you were finally like, "All right, I think I got this"?
Yeah, it was the song I made called "No More" with my friend Prod. People started listening to it. I was like, "What?" And then I just kept going after that.
Do you know how people found your stuff?
Yeah, randomly on Instagram and SoundCloud.
What artists were you listening to during that time?
I was listening to Speaker Knockerz and Chief Keef, SD, Lil Reese, Fredo...
So, lots of Chicago shit? What did you like about that sound?
That's what my brother was listening to. We used to listen to Waka Flocka, and Chief Keef came out of nowhere with "Don't Like." Then that was all I listened to after that.
You're getting a lot of buzz right now. What do you think is drawing so many people to you?
I don't really think anything's making me stand out. I ain't trying to stand out. I'm just doing me and people gravitate to it. I have real people that support me. It's not like no computers. These are real people. I don't know why people like me, just the same way that I don't know why people don't like me.
I just wanna have fun.
Have you always wanted to be a rapper?
I used to play basketball. But I was like, "I'm not going to the NBA. I'm not finna just waste my time doing this." I can't even wake up early in the morning, so I had to do something where I could be able to wake up at a certain time and function during the day. The only thing else I liked doing was rapping. So I was like, "Let's go for it." Then when I started influencing people in a good way, I was like, "All right, this is a good thing to do."
All of this started with you clowning your friend on Xbox, and you're always funny on social media. How much do you think humor plays into you as an artist?
I just go with the flow. It depends on the situation and how I'm feeling. So if someone comes at me in a certain way and I think it's funny, I'll be funny that day. It just depends.
You seem like the kind of artist who doesn't take things too seriously.
Yeah. I just wanna have fun.
I saw you posted a video on Instagram with the caption, "Not your average nerd." It's rare to see a rapper refer to themselves as a nerd. Do you identify as that?
No one every really called me a nerd until recently. This nerd persona and everyone calling me that is a new thing. So I was like... I don't really take it as an insult.
You seem really good at the internet. Do you think that's helped your success?
I think that has helped, in ways.
Some artists now are trying to force it and it's obvious they're trying really hard to go viral. But you're really natural.
I just be chilling on the internet, really. And I don't go to the internet to do the most. I try to not look at what anyone else does and just stay in my own lane. Like tunnel vision, you feel me? I'm not looking at everyone else. So yeah, everything you see from me on the internet, it's coming from me. It's not coming from no one else.
if someone comes at me in a certain way and I think it's funny, I'll be funny that day. It just depends.
You grew up in Queens, right?
Yeah, I grew up in Springfield Gardens. Then in seventh grade I moved to Nassau County, Long Island.
For a long time being a New York rapper meant a certain thing, and people expected a specific sound.
For me, I don't really have that pressure, because no one even knows I'm from New York. Everyone just sees me as...
On the internet?
Yeah, just some kid on the internet. I don't have the same pressure. Everyone else that's coming up in New York, you know they're from New York. Nobody knew I was from New York. People still don't even know.
Do you identify as a New York rapper? Or do you just think of yourself more as an artist on the internet?
I'm just whatever anyone thinks I am. I'm just whatever you see me as. It's all perception, you know?
There's a group of newer New York rappers like A Boogie and Lil Tjay who are more melodic, and there's more of a balance to their music. Do you listen to guys like that?
Yeah, I've listened to A Boogie.
But do you think of yourself as a part of that new NYC wave?
No, I'm in my own lane.
What are some goals you have for yourself?
I just achieve as I go. I just go with the flow.
Everyone else that's coming up in New York, you know they're from New York. Nobody knew I was from New York. People still don't even know.
What do you want people to know about Lil Tecca?
I want them to know that if they're gonna make assumptions, they shouldn't even know. If you're gonna make assumptions, there's no point in knowing. I really don't care. You're just bored. I don't got nothing to prove to nobody, because I'm just here to have fun and do what I wanna do. If you like me, then like me. If you don't like me, then don't like me. But if you don't like me, don't like me by yourself. Don't recruit other people to not like me with you.
What's next for you? Is there a project on the way?
Yeah, I'm working on a project right now. I'm just making new sounds, and trying to get better. None of my new music is even out. Like, "Ransom" is an old song.
When did you make that?
Is your sound changing at all on the new stuff?
I'm just trying different shit every time. Every song on my SoundCloud sounds different.