Interview: Lil Dicky
Fame and success has come to Lil Dicky so quickly that he’s made it look a little too easy. The 27-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dave Burd, carved out some fresh territory in the crowded world of rap a mere two years ago by head-faking the entire rap culture and taking it to the hoop the opposite way. (He’s a huge basketball fan and a serious three-point specialist.) He’s amassed a huge fan base with his comical, raunchy raps that espouse self-deprecation, hard work, thrift and authenticity, speaking the “truth” of his life, which is white, upper-middle class, well-educated and Jewish. Yet, he doesn’t neglect weaving in familiar rap themes like weed, sports and sex.
If he didn’t have an impressive “flow,” no one would really care how unique he was. But his most recent single, “$ave Dat Money” with Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan (and a cameo by NBA MVP Kevin Durant), has nearly 12 million views on YouTube in only one month. Let that sink in a moment, because there are so many reasons why that sentence should make your jaw drop.
In only two years, he went from being a guy making songs in his bedroom with GarageBand on his laptop to releasing a crowd-funded studio album, Professional Rapper, this summer featuring A-list talents such as Snoop Dogg, Fetty Wap, Rich Homie Quan and T-Pain. It all started when he put his video, “Ex Boyfriend” on YouTube, showing that this former ad-man knows how to put out polished product and produce results. Professional Rapper debuted at No. 7 this summer on the BillBoard Hot 200 and No. 1 on both the comedy and rap charts.
We caught up with him by telephone while he was on tour and talked with him about his journey into the heady world of fame, creative success and recognition.
Why the name “Lil Dicky”?
I thought it was funny. It encapsulates what I’m doing. It’s the opposite of what you see today in rap with all the braggadocio. You literally hear rappers rap about how big their dicks are. I wanted to embody the exact opposite of that.
Growing up, where did you go to hear music?
I don’t enjoy going to concerts. It’s extremely ironic. It’s too loud, too many people, everything sounds a lot worse. I’m very in to music but not in the live form. If I go to a concert I’m never the guy that’s moving. I’m just kinda standing there observing … So that inspires me at my concerts to get that guy who’s just standing there. My ideal conditions for listening to music are in my headphones as I walk around my neighborhood at night.
How did you learn how to rap?
I don’t remember the first time I wrote a rap but it dates back early. I remember in sixth grade or seventh, I did a history paper on [Russian writer] Alexander Pushkin, all via rap form. And I got an “A.” Everyone else turned in a paper and I turned in a CD. I’ve always been a good poet … I’m probably a writer at heart, that’s where I excel. I played the drums starting in ninth grade so maybe I got my sense of rhythm from there. Not until 2012 when I sat down and started this whole video thing, did I even think I’d be a rapper. I thought this would be the way I’d break into the comedy stage.
You left a marketing job to commit yourself to music. You were doing marketing for the NBA playoffs. Was it hard to leave that work behind?
In terms of a normal job, it’s one of the better jobs you could have. I produced commercials but certainly worked for somebody doing what they told me to, certainly not creating what I wanted to create. I didn’t quit and go for it. I put all this stuff online while I worked there. I didn’t really feel like it was a huge risk. But it felt like one when I put the stuff online for the first time … Would people I work with catch wind of it and say “What the fuck is this shit? It’s crazy.” From the first day I put anything online, I was validated quickly.
Are you using marketing skills from that job to craft your rap identity?
The one thing working there did show me was the production thing. I was around videos enough to see how feasible it was to get polished working product for very little money and in a short amount of time. I think working there showed me how easy it was to churn out content.
You’re a huge sports fan, wear sports jerseys in most of your videos and your song “Sports” has about 42 sports references in two verses. So who’s your favorite Sixer?
Nerlens Noel. He would be anyway from a talent perspective, but beyond that, he’s a fan and a friend. I really enjoy hanging out with him.
What was the process like working with Snoop Dogg— the actual session — to make Professional Rapper?
It was all digital, all handled via email back and forth — so not as exciting of a story as you’d hope for. But I met him afterwards and he was great and really complimentary and into the song we created.
What did you think of the animated version of yourself from that video?
I was like, “Wow, that does seem a lot like me. Well done.”
You haven’t had much on-stage experience. What’s the biggest surprise for you about performing?
I am surprised at how naturally it comes to me. The first show ever was very scary, I went from not having really rapped in front of anyone before to rapping in front of over a thousand people in my hometown. Once I got up there though, I learned quickly how naturally it came to me, and it’s honestly clear that it was what I was born to do. I think I’m a natural up there, and thank goodness for that.
Anything special planned for your Philly show? Will your family be there? Does that change things — make it weird?
Nothing special planned, but the Eagles do play during the same time as my show so I’m considering streaming the game behind me. Some family will be there, and it makes it a bit weird but not enough for me to let it impact the fun level of the hundreds of other people in attendance. I just go with it regardless, and deal with their reactions after. They tend to know what they’re getting themselves into at this point though.
Finally, what are Lil Dicky’s words to live by?
You only get one life. Don’t go with Plan B until Plan A fails. I can live with failure, but I could never live with any semblance of a “what if.”
Lil Dicky performs on October 25th at Underground Arts. The show is sold out.