After weaving in and out of record labels, including British grime hotbed New Gen, Lil Berete is settling into life as an independent artist. The 20-year-old hailing from Regent Park is a standout from other acts in the 6ix—the dusky, lush sound typical of other local acts isn’t found in Lil Berete’s showstoppers from albums like Ride or Die or 1 Way Out, or even his deluxe take on Icebreaker 2, which dropped today. The young rapper spins tracks from a menagerie of influences—you can catch a dancehall riddim in “Time Flies,” or push your ear to pick up on leitmotifs paying homage to his mom’s love of Guinean praise music.
It’s easy to see how going against the grain pushed Lil Berete to strike out on his own.
“I’m an Aries, and I don’t like people telling me what to do,” he admits to Complex, laughing. “The label thinks they know what’s best for you, and they think they know how to make you look out there. So when I got signed they made me look like a rich kid living my life all lavish. I’d be shooting videos in Iceland and Spain and then the next week you’d catch me walking on the block. People would ask what I was doing back in the trenches if I was just out there living that crazy life. It’s an image that just wasn’t me.”
Nonetheless, Lil Berete never lost himself in suits and boardrooms being heavy-handed with his image. The second he went independent, the rapper went back to filming in his stomping ground of Regent Park, and held his own in a slew of collaborations including Nafe Smalls, Sada Baby, and 2K Baby. We caught up with Lil Berete to chat storytelling, jet setting, and what it’s really like to branch out on your own.
What made you want to work with Sada Baby on “Big Man”?
I made “Big Man” when I was signed with XL recordings, but when I was finally independent with my own A&R, I made it happen. I tried this type of flow a while ago, like in 2018. I knew I was going to get bigger and be able to get a hold of certain rappers to feature on it. That isn’t normally how I work though: I usually just record songs and then release them about two weeks later. But I kept this one in my back pocket.
I like to bring a different style on my music. You can feel that guy’s energy through the screen. My energy and his energy are unmatchable.
What’s it been like being independent?
When it’s time to shoot a video, I’d send my song to someone and they would come up with a storyline for me. Labels aren’t from the streets and don’t live what we live, so how are you gonna tell me how to make my video look to fans that I started off with?
I wanna show people that I can do anything… except for singing and shit. Any genre, count me in! French, African music, Afro music, hip-hop… I wanna get involved with everything. I wanna hit every genre and be No. 1 in every genre.
“They don’t like that I’m making a way for young people. Feds are trying to get me out of the picture so there aren’t other rappers coming out of Regent Park, but it’s not gonna work.”
How do you feel your sound has changed since you left XL?
I grow every year. If I see something, I could do it. My flow got easy when I went to Atlanta and I saw artists flow and record with our writing a single bar or looking at their flow. Making songs off the top, being creative, and putting what you really feel on the beat. Sometimes when I go into the studio I’ll record two or three bars that I didn’t write and it sounds better than the whole song. That’s how I find my sound, and seeing people.
What was it like Atlanta?
Atlanta is a vibe! They call it Black Hollywood. My first time there was when I was 16, I think. I went back two or three months ago. It felt different, and I came back with a new flow, and [learned] how to record a song without pulling out my phone.
Where do you get the inspiration for your music?
I’m from a place where I just got to wait until 10 o’clock in the night and then I got something to talk about in a song. Telling real stories and talking real facts. Once I step outside and enjoy myself, I got shit to talk about.
Your mom is from Guinea. Have you been?
That’s where I learned to make music to be honest. That’s where I learned to speak three other languages, maneuver through life, and the meaning of life. I have melodies stuck in my head from when I lived there when I was younger that make its way into my music.
What’s the craziest shit you’ve seen that’s made it into your songs?
To be honest, that question’s kinda sticky. I made four songs in one day once after spending more than 24 hours in the studio. I had a lot to talk about… so just say that whatever I saw, was enough for four songs.
What’s your favourite thing about living in Regent Park?
The love… and the hate! Both, honestly. Feds broke down the hood, though, so there’s nothing there that excites me anymore. They wanna kick us out of the hood. Rapping comes with negative things, even if you try to make it positive. I got arrested when I was younger and these guys are just trying to hold my childhood against me because they don’t like that I’m making a way for young people. Feds are trying to get me out of the picture so there aren’t other rappers coming out of Regent Park, but it’s not gonna work.
You collab with a lot of people! Anyone you’re dying to work with?
Not really, to be honest.
Damn! That’s cold!
No! Anyone deserving to work with an artist, you have to put in the work to attract attention. Even being in an interview and talking about who I want to work with… it doesn’t matter until I deserve to work with them, you know? I don’t wanna speak too early; I’m just going to do my thing and whenever the tops dogs of the city realize I deserve to work with them, they’ll reach out.