One of the biggest songs in the country right now is a slow-burning, hook-driven cut originally uploaded to SoundCloud by a 21-year-old rapper named Lil Xan, who only started taking music seriously a few months ago.
 
Lil Xan started out as a photographer, but he had his camera stolen while on stage. The economics of a $20 studio session versus a $1200 replacement camera made too much sense to pass up. He earned his nickname before he started making music due to his fondness for hip-hop’s drug of the moment, but he quit Xanax and wrote “Betrayed,” in which he makes his position quite clear: “Xans don’t make you / Xans gon’ take you / Xans gon’ fake you / And Xans gon’ betray you.”
 
Xan laid the groundwork with the successful single “Slingshot” and his Citgo EP, but “Betrayed” was a completely different beast. It caught fire on SoundCloud (currently at 25 million plays), and the Cole Bennett-directed video—with its Actavis-inspired color palette—brought Xan out of the shadows.

With all eyes on him, Xan has seized the opportunity. His collective Xanarchy became synonymous with the rapper’s music, and the group is also pushing Xan’s anti-Xanax message at a particularly critical time in hip-hop.

“Now it’s the national anti-Xan movement. The brand is unstoppable at this point and I’m just glad I’ve created something so positive and people can relate to it so well,” he says, noting that he’s heard from many fans about Xanarchy helping them reconsider their habit.
 
Xan’s decision to quit taking the drug that earned him his nickname was partially inspired by a friend’s death and a nasty personal experience with a fentanyl-laced dose. Then, the toxicology report for Lil Peep, who died on November 15, revealed that a combination of Xanax and fentanyl led to his overdose. Xan sees the impact Peep’s death is having on the rap community.
 
“Rest in peace, Peep. That was a tragedy. It was definitely a wake-up call to a lot of people,” Xan says. “There are still rappers that are doing what they’re doing. And they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do regardless, but it hit too close to home. I’m not saying it was the turning point of me deciding to be anti-Xan. I was anti-Xan months and month ago, but it was definitely a wake-up call and a reminder that this shit is real.”

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Photo by Jordan Page

Xan is aware that his rapid rise has led to some incongruity in his catalog. Fans who fall in love with the eerie melody and anti-Xanax message of “Betrayed” may be surprised by some of his older tracks like “Been Bout It” or “Who Are You,” which were released back when he was still taking bars. But Xan says that there’s a lot of value listeners can get from following his personal and musical progression.

“The whole thing is a journey. It’s not like, ‘Oh, Xan made a song a long time ago embracing Xanax, he’s a fucking liar.’ They can see my journey unfold,” he explains. “That many months ago I was going through that and that’s how things were up until ‘Betrayed.’ Now they can see where it started, what happened, and where I am now. I thought maybe I should delete those tracks, but then I was like, ‘I should leave them up for that purpose solely.’”

I always contemplated whether I’d have to change , but I learned you don’t have to if the formula is working—it’s great. It’s beautiful.

Musically, he’s moved away from typical trap and towards a murkier, dream-like sound akin to Playboi Carti or Trippie Redd, which gives him more room to experiment with his cadence and delivery.
 
One thing is unlikely to change, though: his name.
 
“I always wondered what the longevity of the name Lil Xan would be,” he says. “I always contemplated whether I’d have to change it, but I learned you don’t have to if the formula is working—it’s great. It’s beautiful. The only thing that might change is I might drop the ‘Lil.’” [Editor's note: a few days after this interview took place, Lil Xan opened up to the idea of going by the name Diego]

Continue for our full conversation with Lil Xan below.

You said in an interview with Real 92.3 that you thought of yourself as a meme in the beginning. When did that flip for you?
 
The longer I kept at it, I saw progress and everything kept going up. I started to realize that this was a possibility to be a career for me instead of a hobby. When I dropped “Slingshot,” I realized this could be my career. Then “Betrayed” came and it just got even more crazy.
 
In the last year, you’ve carved out a unique sound for yourself. “Xanny Montoya” and “Wolverine” sound different than everything you’ve done recently. How did you find and hone your sound?
 
“Wolverine” was from when I was trying to find my sound. I wasn’t taking it too seriously. I was more or less trying to find what worked best for me—as far as overall beat selection and what I wanted my engineers to throw on my vocals. That’s why all the old stuff sounds completely different. I think I found something pretty good.
 
I was probably getting like 1,500 plays in four weeks [on SoundCloud]. So it wasn’t going super crazy. That’s why I considered it a hobby. The numbers weren’t crazy. “Slingshot” was the first track that did very well. It got a million views in about a month on YouTube. That’s when people started to really notice me in the hip-hop scene, so I think at that point they started to go back and find “Wolverine” and all that old stuff.

Were there any specific artists, both in rap and other genres, that inspired you growing up?
 
Definitely early Pharrell and N.E.R.D. That was the real big shit to me when I was a kid. I was also listening to a lot of alt rock. It honestly has a big effect even on hip-hop as far as inspiration. Bands like early Arctic Monkeys, Cage the Elephant, and Queens of the Stone Age. It inspires me even to this day. I don’t think I’m alone in that sense and I think a lot of artists had a similar way of coming up.

I was also listening to a lot of alt rock [GROWING UP]. It honestly has a big effect even on hip-hop as far as inspiration. Bands like early Arctic Monkeys, Cage the Elephant, and Queens of the Stone Age.

You came up as a photographer and you worked with Steven Cannon. Did that help you get a leg up in any way when you started making your own music?
 
Definitely. I wasn’t rapping and freestyling in high school. I wasn’t telling people I was gonna be a rapper when I was a little kid. It wasn’t set in stone that it was my dream. So being around Steven and Aris and all of them showed me the ropes. It showed me how to rap and how to structure a rap song, because I was completely oblivious early on. It sounds corny, but it taught me how to be somewhat of a rapper.

A lot of these new rappers who blow up quickly don’t have the guidance of a veteran rapper the way that younger artists used to. It seems like you have a solid support system and team in place. Do you think you get that guidance from people like Fu and Stat?
 
I tell people that all the time. I’m blessed to have the people I have around me. The knowledge they can bestow upon me and what they’ve seen through personal experiences definitely gives me a leg up on people.

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Photo by Jordan Page

Any particular piece of wisdom they’ve given you?
 
Everything, honestly. It’s crazy because everything they’ve taught me, I’ve seen come to life. It’s truly incredible. If I had a different team or anything different, I would be pretty lost and pretty clueless in this whole rap career. They’ve taught me everything.

You’ve said that you were “finessing the rap game” with your name. Could you explain that a little?

I always wondered what the longevity of the name Lil Xan would be. I always contemplated whether I’d have to change it, but I learned you don’t have to if the formula is working. It’s great. It’s beautiful. The only thing that might change is I might drop the ‘Lil.’

Rest in peace Peep. That was a tragedy. It was definitely a wake up call to a lot of people but, to be honest, I was getting the positive outreach –“[You] helped change my life, you helped me get off drugs” since the beginning. 

Do you see yourself as part of the California rap scene or the SoundCloud scene? Or do you see yourself as your own entity?
 
I do think Xanarchy is its own thing, but at the same time a lot of new artists came up on the internet. The internet is the reason a lot of artists are going crazy right now. The internet is a big reason I’ve been successful so far. It’s working for a lot of new wave artists, which I consider myself a part of. Xanarchy is its own thing, the brand is exploding onto the scene.
 
That’s been around for a little while, right?
 
Actually, it’s funny, because Xanarchy was already around. I created that way before I started to pop. I built it and it’s grown with me, and it’s crazy to see that it’s a lifestyle at this point. The way the fans treat it, it’s just insane the amount of love it gets. The clothes sell out in a couple days. Now it’s the national anti-Xan movement. The brand is unstoppable at this point and I’m just glad I’ve created something so positive and people can relate to it.

Watching your Power 106 interview, you talk about being shocked by Peep’s death. You obviously weren’t taking Xanax anymore and were vocal about that well before then. But has his passing and the subsequent reaction to it made you reevaluate how hard you want to push the message or the right way to warn people about Xanax?
 
Rest in peace Peep. That was a tragedy. It was definitely a wake up call to a lot of people but, to be honest, I was getting the positive outreach –“[You] helped change my life, you helped me get off drugs” since the beginning. 

But yeah, after that tragic passing it definitely got more real. It was something I knew I had to help change. There are still rappers that are doing what they’re doing and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do regardless, but it hit too close to home. I’m not saying it was the turning point for me deciding to be anti-Xan. I was anti-Xan months ago but it was definitely a reminder that this shit is real.

Did you know that you had a hit with “Betrayed?”
 
Everybody who was in the room when it was recorded knew it was a great song. I thought it was some of my better work, but no one ever really knows when they have a hit. When you say you have a hit, that’s never a hit usually. We didn’t throw that out thinking that this is the one that’d take me over the edge, but we definitely knew it was a good song. I was just happy with how it was received by the fans and everything. The fans are everything. 
 
One of your early tattoos was No-Face from Spirited Away. Does that sort of stuff inspire your music in any way? I know you’ve said you were big into Studio Ghibli.
 
Not even just anime... normal movies, all of that. All forms of art inspire me, in terms of music too. Anime is something I loved to watch as a kid. Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Looming Castle, those are just golden for me. And then animes like Bleach, Deadman Wonderland. But I never really got super into it, something always came up.

People can change. Look at my old stuff, I was embracing [DRUGS], and look at how far I came.

You’re obviously anti-Xan, but on a track like “Slingshot” you open it with “I like lean, I like drugs / I like beans, I got plugs.” Is it weird to have that shit out there now?
 
Yeah it’s insane. It’s way different than it was a year ago. Everything has changed and I’m watching it get crazier and crazier. I can’t relate it to anything, because I’ve never experienced anything like this. Growing up, I was pretty unlucky. I wouldn’t even win a two-dollar scratch off lottery ticket, but to achieve what I’m achieving right now, it’s blessings. Every day is something new and I’m still trying to figure out how to process this and take it all in.
 
Hopefully people that are looking it up are diehards and fans because the whole thing is like a journey. It’s not like, ‘Oh, Xan made a song a long time ago embracing Xanax, he’s a fucking liar.’ They can see my journey unfold. That many months ago I was going through that and that’s how things were up until “Betrayed.’ Now they can see where it started, what happened, and where I am now. I thought maybe I should delete those tracks, but then I was like, “I should leave them up for that purpose solely.”
 
It’s perfect. People can change. Look at my old stuff, I was embracing all of it, and look at how far I came.

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Photo by Jordan Page

You’ve talked about having a big Latino and Hispanic audience. Where do you want to go with that?
 
We’re gonna go wherever the fans are—whether it’s Santiago, Chile or Prague, or Russia. But we’re definitely focused on South America. There’s definitely gonna be a tour after the first tour: The Total Xanarchy US tour. We’re gonna tour everywhere, but I’m excited for the South American dates.

One of my biggest influences is Mac Miller, so to follow in his footsteps would be incredible.

How does a typical Lil Xan track come together?
 
I definitely have to be in the studio. I have to go there and I’ll play beats I’ve been listening to. I can write when I’m at home, but nothing beats the vibe of the studio and hearing it that loud.
 
You have a lot of things going on creatively besides rapping. Do you see yourself rapping in 10 years? Or do you see yourself being creative in some other capacity?
 
Oh yeah, of course. I think in 10 years I’ll still be doing the same thing. One of my biggest influences is Mac Miller, so to follow in his footsteps would be incredible. He’s definitely a big inspiration to me. 

I want to hear some more about this new record. You’ve said it’s really mature. Sonically, is it similar to what you and Bobby Johnson have done in the past or is it a whole new sound?
 
I’d say it’s an upgrade to anything I’ve ever done. It’s a big evolution of Lil Xan’s music, as funny as that sounds. There’s more maturity and you can expect more Bobby Johnson production on it. But all I can say is it’s better than anything I’ve put out in the past. It’s just like, I leveled up on everything. It sounds so good. Not that what I did in the past didn’t, but this album sounds amazing in every aspect and I just can’t wait for the fans to hear it.

Was all the material written after “Betrayed” came out?
 
Yeah. None of it was from before that. We’ve been working on it since then and crafting it, making sure it’s good for the listeners. That’s why we’re releasing it in March, to make sure it’s the best project we can put out. There’s a lot of artists that get caught in that pattern, but with me, we’re holding back and dropping shit strategically.