Lil Pump in 2023

What happens half a decade after a controversial teenage rapper goes viral and makes millions? We spent two days in Miami with Lil Pump to find out.

Lil Pump in 2023 interview

via Lil Pump

Lil Pump in 2023 interview

Lil Pump is sitting in his Miami mansion, contemplating his own mortality.

“I’ve got to take care of my body,” he says, leaning against the corner of his massive walk-in closet. “Shit, I could have all the money in the world, but if I’m sitting in a fucking hospital, what the fuck? You can’t do anything. You’re just going to fucking die in a hospital with all this money, and that’s it.”

He’s deep in thought as he reflects on the past five years of his career—a whirlwind ride that’s been marked by the heights of viral fame, tens of millions of dollars, and a fair share of controversy.

Clear from the drug-induced haze that defined his public image for years, a sobered-up Lil Pump is looking me directly in the eyes, confessing the mistakes of his past. Before addressing each question I ask, he pauses to gather his thoughts, articulating himself with a level of thoughtfulness that, to be frank, I had no idea he was capable of. 

The Pump that sits before me is barely recognizable from the cartoonish figure the world has seen on the internet since 2017: a wild, chaotic mascot of the SoundCloud rap era who spoke in short, barely intelligible bursts.

To make the whole interaction even more disorienting, a giant “drug addict” chain hangs from his neck as he tells me about his commitment to a healthier lifestyle. He’s a man in transition—caught somewhere between the reckless teenage persona that made him famous and the more mature person he’s striving to become.

Before arriving in Miami for this interview, I had braced myself for a much more bleak scenario. After all, this is a guy who was handed all the money, drugs, and hype in the world before he could even legally vote. Now that the spotlight has dimmed a bit since peak SoundCloud-era hysteria, what’s the aftermath? What happens half a decade after a 16-year-old rapper goes viral and makes millions? Is it possible to grow up and mature when your fans expect you to keep acting like a thoughtless teenager?

After years of shirking in-depth interviews and public self-reflection, Lil Pump is finally ready to talk about it all.

Lil Pump Getty image taken by Johnny Nunez

It’s 5:32 p.m. on a breezy Wednesday afternoon in late March, and I’m standing in a giant open field somewhere near Miami. Lil Pump, born Gazzy Garcia, just dropped his third studio album Lil Pump 2 a few days ago, and we’re here to celebrate in the most Lil Pump way possible: driving ATVs with reckless abandon.

His souped-up four-wheeler, complete with a custom “esskeetit” decal, isn’t here yet, so we have some time to kill. While we wait, he hatches a plan to buy a cheap car on the internet, trash it, and set it on fire in his yard. 

“What do you think?” he asks with a devious grin. “That’s good content, right?”

Pump is in the process of moving away from the antics of his teenage years, but Complex is in town so he can’t resist the urge to fall back on some of his old tricks while cameras are rolling. He’s always been just as much of a stuntman as a rapper, and his hijinks—crashing cars, waving guns, screaming “esskeetit” every few minutes—are a core part of his brand. He knows how to play to his audience. (Moments later, he asks, “Is Complex allowed to post me shooting AR-15s?”)

“When I was 17, I was wildling out, doing dumb sh*t, crashing cars, a whole bunch of drugs. Now I’m just more grown. I think about sh*t before I do it.”

Both plans fall apart just as quickly as they pop into his head, so he pulls some stunts on his ATV instead, driving straight into a large puddle until he gets stuck—completely covering his jewelry and Balmain jeans in mud. “Ahhhhhh, fuck!” he yells, staring straight into a trio of cameras.

When Pump knows he’s about to end up on the internet, he tends to turn up the dial of his own persona all the way to 10, and he’s aware that this exaggerated version of himself has contributed to the hate he receives.

“People see me doing crazy shit on the internet, and they’re like, ‘Alright, this guy’s fried out,’” he points out. “But when they meet me in-person, they’re like, ‘Damn, you’re actually smart.’ But I just let them think what they want to think. I’ve been hated on my whole life.”

According to Pump, the simplicity of his music, as well as his own reckless and carefree attitude, is what rubs many people the wrong way. “People have hated me ever since ‘Gucci Gang’ came out,” he says. “They were like, ‘Oh, what the fuck is this?’ People just didn’t understand what was going on with the music. But I feel like we shifted music, and brought fun to it instead of everybody taking it so seriously. I’m just making music to have fun, and if I piss you off, I piss you off. Oh, well. But I just enjoy it, man.”

Pump emerged from the SoundCloud rap era at a time when social media was just starting to turn into the beast it is today, and he figured out how to use these new algorithms to his advantage. His hyperactive public image—colorful hair, loud catchphrases, drug use, and impulsive antics—almost seemed custom-designed to stand out from cluttered social media timelines, getting people to stop scrolling and pay attention to him.

Pump’s loud internet presence was rewarded with millions of dollars and global fame, but it also led to problems. He was a teenager at the time, and he succumbed to some of the pitfalls of his own rebellious persona, getting arrested on multiple occasions for charges of discharging a weapon in an inhabited place, driving without a license, possessing marijuana, and disorderly conduct at an airport.

“When I was young, I was just doing a lot of dumb ass ignorant shit,” he reflects. “I admit that. I’ve done a lot of dumb shit. When I was 17, I was just wildling out, doing dumb shit, crashing cars, doing this and that, a whole bunch of drugs. Now I’m just more grown. I think about shit before I do it. You might see me on the internet as an ignorant fuck, but I’m just a chill guy who likes to have fun and enjoy life.”

According to Pump, the decision to leave some of his self-indulgent tendencies behind was made out of necessity. It was an act of self-preservation. “If you want the old Pump back, I’ll be in fucking jail right now, I’ll tell you that,” he says, directly addressing any fans who aren’t happy with the changes he’s making. “You guys don’t want the old Pump back.”

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Illustrating the dangerous path he was heading down, he tells me the story of “the dumbest thing he’s ever done”: the time he crashed a Porsche in the Hollywood hills while he was in a less than safe state of mind. On the way home, he remembers having a realization: “I’m like, ‘What the fuck did I just do? I shouldn’t be driving right now. I shouldn’t be doing none of this shit.’ I was like, ‘All right, that was a dumb move.”

Pump says he isn’t the kind of guy who has regrets (“If you’re going to live your life every day and be like, ‘Oh, I regret this, I regret that,’ you’re just going to be fucking with your head the whole time,” he explains) but he does view his mistakes as learning experiences. He knows that some of the “dumb ass ignorant shit” he did in the past has had damaging effects on his public image today, and he admits that he hopes people start to perceive him differently in the future.

One way to do this, it seems, is sitting down to do candid interviews like the one he’s doing right now—something he’s largely avoided throughout his career. “My first interview was with J. Cole,” he reminds me, referencing the infamous cross-generational conversation that shocked the hip-hop world back in 2018. “I just never did interviews at all. I was always to myself. But I feel like that’s what made me bigger, because I was just exclusive. I was just like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, I don’t want to do interviews.”

His interview with J. Cole took place in the middle of a generational clash in rap. Not long before, Lil Yachty had been crucified for admitting that he “couldn’t name five songs” by Tupac or Biggie, and tensions were rising between the SoundCloud rap generation and older, more traditional rappers. To stoke the flames, Pump and his peers started yelling “Fuck J. Cole” any chance they got. 

Looking back on those times now, Pump brushes it off as harmless trolling, clarifying, “I don’t have no hate against Cole. I got respect for him. I was just trolling at the time.” Shortly before their sit-down, Cole and Pump met backstage at Rolling Loud and had an hour-long conversation. “He was talking to me, and he was like, ‘Damn, you’re actually smart,’” Pump recalls. “He was like, ‘I thought you were going to be fried out walking over here, falling and shit, drugged out.’ I was just having a regular conversation with him, and he was like, ‘Yo, you’re a smart kid. You just play dumb on the internet, but you know what you’re doing.’”

Pump says this kind of interaction happens all the time. For how much hate he gets online, he says no one has ever actually criticized him to his face. “To everybody who talks shit in my comments: I have never seen one person walk up to me and say that shit to my face,” he says. “Everything is on the internet. Nobody has ever walked to my face and said nothing crazy. So it’s like, shit’s not even real. It’s fake to me. Because it’s like, I see thousands of comments, everybody talking shit, but you see me in-person, and the first thing everybody says is, ‘Oh, Pump, let me get a picture.’ It’s all love. They don’t ever say crazy shit to my face.”

I see this exact scenario play out countless times throughout my two days with Pump: Every fan that walks up to him has nothing but nice things to say, and they all ask for photos. Having fun with this dynamic, he came up with a game that he plays with fans. Before taking any photos, he asks them to open Instagram on their phones and type in his name. If he finds out they were bold enough to ask him for a photo but aren’t actually following him, he calls them out and slyly clicks the “follow” button.

“If you unfollow, I’ll tell Mark Zuckerberg to shut down your account,” he jokes after taking each photo. “We’re friends.” 

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It’s 2:23 p.m. the following day, and Lil Pump just walked into his gym with a box of donuts in his hands. Taking an exaggerated bite out of a glazed Krispy Kreme, he tilts his head back and yells, “Esskeetit!” 

He’s playing for the cameras again, but his commitment to getting healthy isn’t a joke. “I stopped smoking, I stopped sipping lean, and I started focusing on myself, because I was tired of looking at myself, chubby as fuck,” he says. “I was just looking at myself and I looked pregnant and I just hated that shit. I was like, ‘Fuck this bro.’ One day I just decided: ‘I’m going to start going to the gym, so I started going to the gym every day and I felt way better.’”

The gym membership came with a new push toward sobriety. Pump’s version of “sober” strays a bit from the standard definition—he still drinks and smokes a little weed here and there—but he’s cut back drastically from the heavy drug use of his past. 

“I was on a lot of drugs back then,” he remembers. “I used to smoke at least four ounces a day. Now I’m not even smoking a blunt a day. Now I’m sober. I’m just chilling. I’m not doing shit. So I just feel way better and more energized. I’m on a way better path—mentally and everything.”

To say the past six years of his life have been a “blur” would be an understatement. “I didn’t notice how fast I was blowing when it started happening,” he says now, noting that he didn’t sit down and process those early life-changing events until very recently. 

Attempting to recap his career so far, he gives a hilariously short summary, saying, “The first song I dropped which was getting hype was ‘Lil Pump,’ and after that I was like, OK, maybe I could take this somewhere. And now we’re here.”

The SoundCloud rap era opened the doors for any kid with an internet connection to make a song on a shitty laptop and immediately reach millions, without any gatekeepers in the way, and Pump took advantage of this in a major way.

“[J. Cole] was like, ‘Yo, you’re a smart kid. You just play dumb on the internet, but you know what you’re doing.’”

“My first song was recorded on headphones—no label, no anything,” he says, revealing he made his first songs with the built-in microphone in iPhone headphones, at the urging of close friend Smokepurpp. “I was in a shitty ass room in a garage, with a laptop and headphones, making music. I’m telling you, you don’t need no fucking $30,000 mic, a fucking $10,000 computer to be recording good music. I’ve made my best songs on $300 mics. It doesn’t matter what type of equipment you use, if it’s in you, it’s in you. I made ‘I Love It’ on a $200 mic.”

Since then, many artists have followed the Lil Pump formula, emulating everything from the blown-out DIY sound to the social media antics, and he sees it all as a form of flattery. “I’ve seen a lot of people trying to be like me, and I don’t get mad at it,” he says. “I see it as a good thing. I inspired a lot of shit, and I just stay quiet about it.”

One person who doesn’t want to follow the old Lil Pump formula is the man himself. “I’m done with that shit, to be honest,” he says of his old persona. “That shit, that’s the past. You got to elevate.” After all, the world has changed a lot since then. The so-called “clout era” ended, people became less interested in his internet stunts, and social media backlash intensified.

“In 2017, there wasn’t no cancel culture,” he argues. “Back then, you could just do whatever the fuck you want on Twitter. But now if I do that, I’m getting canceled in two seconds. I can’t be acting the way I was acting when I was younger, because people are way too sensitive now. And it’s just not a good look. Sometimes I’d rather keep my mouth quiet on the internet because I don’t want to say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and then get canceled.” 

Then Lil Pump utters a sentence I never thought I’d hear him say: “I just think about shit before I do it now.”

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Later that night, at Papi Steak Restaurant in Miami, Lil Pump runs into a group of New York Knicks basketball players. He wants to drop several thousand dollars on courtside tickets to their next game against the Miami Heat, but one of his close friends suggests that he take a minute to think about it before spending all that money. “Don’t be impulsive,” he warns.

Pump’s inner circle gives him little nudges like this constantly. His manager Andy Vidal has known him since they were little (Andy compares Pump’s surreal rise in 2017 to “an episode of South Park or some shit”) and the two started working together in an official capacity within the past year. As they both explain, though, Pump hasn’t always been surrounded by people who have his best interests in mind.

“I’ve got genuine people that actually care about me and care for my best interests, but back then, when I was young, I had a different group of people around me that genuinely just didn’t care what I did,” Pump says. “I’m in a way better position now, with a way better circle.”

As we settle in for dinner, Pump orders a sex on the beach from the waiter (that’s what he always orders) and while he waits for the drink to arrive, he catches my eye, asking, “Did you see what happened?”

“I see thousands of comments, everybody talking sh*t, but you see me in-person, and the first thing everybody says is, ‘Oh, Pump, let me get a picture.’ It’s all love.”

News just broke that Tekashi 6ix9ine was jumped in the bathroom of an LA Fitness, and it’s all anyone can talk about. That is, until Pump’s face pops up on his friend’s Instagram timeline. “Did you see DJ Akademiks posted you?” he asks, handing the phone to Pump, who watches a clip of himself going on a rant about how “T.I. is a snitch.” The expression on his face is neutral, but he seems to be happy with the attention. All press is good press, as they say.

Pump has had his share of controversial moments over the years, but none have been as big as what took place on Nov. 3, 2020 when he joined Donald Trump onstage at a Michigan rally on the eve of the presidential election. 

He takes a few minutes to pause and carefully choose his words before speaking about that day, having clearly felt the heavy blowback from outraged fans. It’ll come as a surprise to no one that he wasn’t as well-versed in the politics behind the moment as he could have been (he wasn’t even registered to vote) and he made the decision quickly. “I just got invited over there—I pulled up and we met,” he says, hinting at the impulsiveness of that day. He’s hesitant to talk about it in much detail, but from what he does say, it’s apparent that he viewed it as an opportunity to flex. “I’m not going to lie, name another rapper who’s been onstage with the president, speaking onstage,” he says. “It’s never been done.”

In moments like these, I’m reminded that Lil Pump is still very much in the process of growing up. He has a long way to go, and more stumbles are likely. But if he is able to successfully chart a path toward health and maturity, it’ll have a lot to do with the woman sitting just a few feet to his right throughout this interview: his mother. 

Pump proudly calls himself “a mama’s boy,” giving her credit for helping him out with “everything.” And as you might expect from the mother of Lil Pump, she’s an extremely patient woman, putting up with the chaos of his music career while also providing a much-needed sensible perspective in his life. In turn, he makes his biggest decisions with her in mind.

“The best feeling is going up to your parents and telling them, ‘You don’t got to work no more.’”

“I’m not going to die with all these clothes,” he says, motioning to the designer jackets hanging around him in his closet. “I’m not going to die with all these shoes. I’m not going to die with all this material shit—none of these chains. So I’d rather just put all my money into real estate. Because let’s say, God forbid, I pass, all that shit’s going to my mom. I’m not going to stay with none of this. I’d rather give it to my family.”

As four large diamond chains dangle from his neck, he adds, “Jewelry and all that shit, yeah it’s cool for image or whatever, but who cares? People are going to love you anyways, if you have this shit on or not. I see a lot of rappers get in the rap game, buy a shitload of jewelry, buy this, that, but they don’t have no houses. And that’s the number one thing I did. I bought myself a house, I bought mama house, got her brother right, and got the family right. The best feeling is going up to your parents and telling them, ‘You don’t got to work no more.’ That’s life-changing for me.”

Lil Pump Getty image taken by Rodin Eckenroth

On March 17, 2023, Lil Pump released his first full-length solo album in four years, Lil Pump 2, through a partnership deal with SoundCloud. It has a mix of Pump’s typically reckless turn-up songs (including two collabs with his “best friend” Smokepurpp) and slower, more melodic records like “I Don’t Mind” with NBA YoungBoy and “She Know” with Ty Dolla $ign.

“I just wanted to show people that I don’t only make just one type of music, one style of music,” he says. “I can do everything. I can sing, I can do some rock shit, I can do some club shit, I can do some turnt shit. I can do everything.” And as he reveals, his first rock song “Pump Rock x Heavy Metal,” may be a sign of more to come: “I’ve got a couple more rock songs. Maybe I’ll come out with a rock album soon. Who knows?” 

The album’s lyrics—a mix of defiant one-liners, over-the-top catchphrases, and more than a few drug references—fall in line with his previous work and don’t reflect any of the themes of self-improvement that we discuss during our conversation. (Don’t expect to hear an inward-gazing Lil Pump album about newfound maturity.) It’s unclear how long ago these songs were recorded, but he says he held onto the project for a while before finally releasing it, explaining, “I took so long to drop this album because ​​I wasn’t in a good state of mind. I wasn’t clear-minded. But now my mind is clear, and I’m actually thinking about what I’m doing. I think mental health is a big thing. You’ve got to be clear-minded.”

“I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do. If I die today, I could die happy. But I still want to do more.”

Lil Pump 2 failed to chart on the Billboard 200 albums chart upon its release, and if you go by the numbers, there’s considerably less interest in his music than there used to be. From his perspective, though, his career prospects remain positive. The Lil Pump brand is a global phenomenon, and he has a large international fanbase that routinely sells out shows everywhere from Brazil to Dubai. “I just did a whole tour in Asia and it was insane,” he notes. “People show mad love to me, and I’m blessed to be global. Most artists can’t go to fucking Hong Kong and do a show. They can’t go to Bali or Slovenia or Romania and do a show. I go over there and people go crazy. They won’t even know English, but they’ll know the lyrics of my song.”

Lil Pump finds himself at an interesting juncture in life. Nothing is promised, and it’s yet to be seen if he’ll be able to stay on a positive path while navigating the future of his music career in a landscape that’s drastically changed since 2017. But at this specific moment in time, anyway, he appears to be in a good headspace.

“Life is good,” he says, hitting me with his life motto: “I’m just always laughing and having fun with it. I don’t care what anybody says. Everybody takes shit too seriously. I even make jokes about serious shit. People who take shit too seriously are always depressed and bullshit. I don’t care. I just have fun.”

As he says this, he’s wearing a wig that looks like it came straight from Anderson .Paak’s costume closet. Knowing the interview is being filmed, Pump impulsively put it on his head a few minutes before our conversation started, laughing at the thought of people seeing him in a ridiculous wig while talking about serious topics. “It’ll make it go viral,” he says. 

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Hours later, I get a firsthand glimpse at the way he approaches life these days. We’re at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and he’s celebrating a successful show at a local club. At around 3 a.m., he walks up to a blackjack table and sits down next to a guy who has a blank expression on his face. Within minutes, Pump picks up on bad vibes and leaves the table, exclaiming, “That guy was too serious!” Moments later, he comes across a table full of people who are laughing and high-fiving each other. This is the energy he’s looking for, so he takes a seat and is immediately rewarded by winning six hands in a row. 

As our 48 hours together come to an end, he gets philosophical in his own (extremely Lil Pump) way: “The meaning of life is living life however the fuck you want to live it. You just got to do whatever you want to do, man, and don’t give a fuck what anybody says. Have fun with it.” 

With an optimistic glint in his eye, he adds, “I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do. If I die today, I could die happy. But I still want to do more. I still want to keep going. So it’s only going up from here.”

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