Straight out of Jacksonville: Who is Lil Westside? An interview with the rising Floridian star

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

I’m not wearing nothing but white tees until I achieve my goals.

Meet Lil Westside, the versatile rapper-singer out of Jacksonville, Florida with big things in store for 2020. Everything about Westside, from her charm and work ethic to her infectious personality and pure talent, point to a star in the making. With a musical style all her own, Westside is her own favorite rapper; and after you hear ‘Tyler’, her first single of 2020, she’s going to be yours too.

We spoke about everything from the scandalous backstory of her moniker to her relationships with YK Osiris, Yungeen Ace and even T-Pain. Get to know Lil Westside below.

GRUNGECAKE: You once said your fans (and haters) don’t know how much it took for you to drop. So, my first question for you is, when did you get started making music, and how did you get started?

I been making music since I was five-years-old. It’s always been a thing. From elementary all the way til now, just freestyling. Taking it serious though, I was about 14-15-years-old, my next-door neighbor had a recording studio and he let me just come in and freestyle over Drake’s ‘I’m On One’. That was the first song I ever recreated. And Tyga’s ‘Well Done’, Meek Mill’s ‘Ima Boss’, songs like that, that whole era.

Does your name come from your hometown, Jacksonville, Florida?
Originally, I went by Westside Keke. It’s a Jacksonville thing: “westside this” and “westside that”, but my name now, Lil Westside, actually came from a girl I know; she used to call her girlfriend “lil westside” to be funny, cause she knew her girlfriend actually had a thing for me and was making fun of her for it.”

Describe your relationship with some artists that were in the same position you’re in now, just a few months ago; namely YK Osiris?
YK is my cousin’s cousin. We from the same area. We was window shopping before he signed his deal. We was with a big known drug dealer in Jacksonville watching him buy all this stuff, and YK said: “Just wait. We gonna be able to do that soon. We’re gonna make it.” Two weeks later, this man goes viral and is signed within a week. Being around YK motivates me in a lot of ways. It gives me that hope and helps me remain passionate about the fact that I will make it.

In fact, just a few weeks ago in February, he asked me to open for him in Jacksonville. We couldn’t get it together because of schedule conflicts, but it’s stuff like that. I toured with him back in 2018, I opened one of his shows in Chicago; that’s my relationship with him. Other people I know, who were just in my position and have blown up recently, are like Tokyo Jetz. Yungeen Ace, even BoonkGang I met; I’m actually on his album that he dropped under the name John Gabbana. And some more established people that have co-signed me are Famous Dex, Sauce Walka, 1800 Jackboy, Ralo, I even spoke to Frank Ocean and he co-signed me.

It’s so important that YK is also from the same city as you. We all know how important coast/city solidarity is in Hip-Hop.
Forreal! And there are people here that only mess with you to a certain extent. Besides YK, there’s still no one here that’s done anything big for Jacksonville, and I’m going to be the one to change that.

I only wanna make it so I can help, so I can give back. Of course, I wanna make it to be in a better position, take care of my family and myself, but I’m also just a very giving person and one of my priorities, when I’m on, will be my community back here.

Speaking of artists like these, I noticed you are also very motivated by Famous Dex. What about Famous Dex inspires you?
So Dex started, before ‘Drip From My Walk’, he was breakdancing in the background of the videos from this rapper Billionaire Black from Chicago. I watched that and I was like, “Who the hell is this nigga dancing to some Drill music?!” So, I been following him since then, just from someone else’s music video and just listening to his story about where we came from, how his mother passed away, everything it took for him to break through, and it just motivated me tremendously; Dex really gave me hope that I could make it. You know Chicago’s the deadliest city, so watching this man blow up from the hood, I really feel like we’re the same people. We got the same energy, he just don’t know it yet. Dex real deal inspired me to keep going.

What and who, besides Dex, inspires you?
Oh, uhh, I would have to say New York! New York inspires me, in general. New York and Louisiana, and my uncle Trey. He used to listen to Master P and Hot Boyz. I used to watch MTV Cribs with him, and I saw Big Tigga in the basement and all that. I’m the only girl in the family, and all I used to be around was my uncle. He used to have me freestyling around his homeboys for money around five or six years old. He didn’t even do music. It was just what he was always around and that inspired me.

I’ve noticed a Drill/Rage element to your music in addition to traditional rapping and lyricism. Florida’s not very known for that kind of music, so what inspired that for you or where does that element come from?
Honestly, it comes from me. It comes from my energy. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, so I handle my anger very differently; people who know me will tell you I have ADHD. I don’t sleep. I have so much energy. I don’t get tired. Literally, when I used to play basketball, they called me Jumping Bean. All this energy I have, especially if it happens to be anger, I channel it through my music.

What’s funny is at one point, I actually had to make a decision between rapping and playing ball, but God made that decision for me when I started getting bad grades. But when it comes to ball, I was the shit and still am!

With a start like ‘Tyler’, what do you have in store for the rest of 2020? And is there anything not set in stone yet, but that you really want to do?
I like to plan. But with ‘Tyler’, I didn’t even want to go with ‘Tyler’ actually, but Yams (Richardine) said we’re gonna do that as the first single for the year. If you look at my story on Instagram right now actually, the last story, the song playing is ‘G-Thang’. I was originally going to drop that first, but we went with ‘Tyler’. So I have something for the ladies coming, but it’s hard for me, because of how I identify, to figure out what will go for the women and what won’t.

That actually segues perfectly into my next question. As you get bigger and bigger, how do you plan to navigate being an LGBTQ+ rapper?
Great question, yeah. So, like take Young MA with ‘Ooouuu’, when she said: “Damn she make me weak when she deep throat!” It’s like marketing genius, cause whether people “agree” with it or not, whether they support who she is or not, when they first heard that they said “did you hear what she said? Wait, wait, run that back.” Which equaled more streams. And I’m glad she just said it straight up, put it out there from the jump, and said “take it or leave it.”

Now for me, I’m trying to make it to where the gender of the artist doesn’t matter when you’re listening to me; it’s just fire. It’s just good music. Especially because I know it’s still hard for some people to hear me, a woman, speak about what I do with other women. But if they relate and like the music before they slap a gender on me, then at the very least, they’ll know I make good music and be less likely to judge me solely on the fact that I’m LGBTQ.

That’s incredible. Having them recognize the talent and skill in the music before anything else is a good tactic. Speaking of that, what’s your favorite song that you’ve made?
‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’, for sure. What’s crazy is, I did not like that song at first. But the reason that I love that song now is because at that point in time, everything in my life was going horribly. I freestyled this and went in the studio and recorded it, and then, a month later my whole life changed behind that song. I met Yams (Richardine) behind that song. Complex wrote about me because of it. That’s how I met Frank Ocean, that’s how I spoke to T-Pain and his manager. It was on the radio. I spoke with Alamo Records, Atlantic, and Sony behind that song!

I had asked my closest friends which song I should shoot a video for, and my best friend immediately said ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’. I asked two more people and they said the same thing. No hesitation. So, I did. And nowadays, if more than 3 people say the same thing about something, I’ll go with it. Because it’s so hard as an artist to know what will go and what won’t. So, sometimes you’ve just gotta listen to others, if there are enough people saying the same thing. I really hated that song at first, as the creator of it, and look what it did!

That’s so real. The company you keep is vital! Are you looking to get signed or stay independent?
My ideal scenario is to let the world hear me, whether I sign, whether I don’t sign. The goal is to touch as many people as possible. I would love to get signed, but whatever happens, happens. I do need help with marketing and stuff, so I’d like to have a team for that, which getting signed can help with. But I just want to be a rapper, be an artist. I want to be able to invest and open up a record label, but my main goal right now is to be heard and to be able to give back – and of course, being signed would help with that but again, whatever happens, happens.

How do you decide who you want to feature on your music, or whose music you agree to be featured on?
They have to have the same vibe as me. I don’t care if you can rap your ass off if you not humble. If you don’t have a plan, or a real reason for having me on the song, I’m not doing that. I take my craft very seriously, and something that has my name on it is permanent. Also, a plus if the person asking me to feature has taken the time to learn the industry, like copywriting and rights, etc.

Some people just want to use your name and put it on their music for the clout, so when it comes to this kind of decision, I feel energy too. I’m very alert; I think that’s why I don’t smoke, cause I don’t want anything to impair me in this stage that I’m in right now. You know what, candy is my drug if anything.

I saw a great snippet of a song and music video you seem to have been working on, called ‘Hoochie Mama’. It was hilarious and the song was great, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Will that be another song for the ladies?
Nah, ‘Hoochie Mama’ isn’t out yet because I am not getting sued – I can’t clear that sample.

First off, I direct all my own music videos, so thank you so much for that, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Here’s the thing that ‘Hoochie Mama’ taught me though. Ever since I posted that and people heard it, bigger names than me have bit off it, recreated it, or reached out to me to tell me they love the concept, the song, everything. But nothing comes of it. And I realized that’s what’s so frustrating to me sometimes about labels and the music industry; I’m an up-and-coming artist whose work you really like, but instead of picking me up and working with me, they give it to someone already established or already signed. So, I’m still gonna do what I gotta do, but I can’t lie like what happened with ‘Hoochie Mama’, for everyone but me, didn’t bother me. But it just puts another fire under me to keep going and make sure the next thing isn’t given to someone else, it’s mine.

Man, I feel that. I was hoping you were going to say it’d be dropping soon or something because I really loved that snippet and it made me wonder if there’s anything outside of music that you want to venture into – there was acting and comedy in it as well.
That’s the thing. I can do anything, and I wanna do everything. I can act. I’m really good at teaching and speaking – I wanna be in all those arenas, not just music.

What about fashion?
Facts! I have a clothing line, ready to be launched actually. I just need to get a few more logos, but I definitely wanna do something with fashion as well.

Back in the day, I actually wanted to be a model for Ralph Lauren, man! Before I cleaned my Facebook up, I was all over that thing in Polo, Rugbies, Ralph, everything. I even got a letter about being some sort of representative/model for them, but I was young and didn’t know what the hell was going on so I ignored it.

Describe your fashion.
I’m… weird. One minute I like to look casual, then spiffy, and then, one minute I like the football jersey look. Next minute, I’m on some rockstar shit, skinny jeans – but at the end of the day, the one consistent thing is that the kicks always gotta be on point. I can wear anything, as long as my kicks on point. But yeah, I told myself at the beginning of this year, I’m only wearing white tees until I accomplish my goals.

Who are your dream collaborations?
My top three right now would have to be: Rico Nasty, Stunna4Vegas, and I’d say the last one is Young Dolph.

I can see your energy mixing well with all of theirs. What about your favorite artists? Are they different from your dream collaborations?
Favorite artists… Rico Nasty, K Camp, and (A$AP) Rocky actually used to be my favorite rapper too. But right now, most of all, my favorite artist? Mainly myself! I don’t have many current favorite artists because I listen to a lot of older music, like I was just listening to the SOS Band – sings “No one’s gonna love you, the way I dooo.”

That’s one of the best answers I’ve gotten to that question. What about your favorite albums of 2019?

Yungeen Ace’s ‘Step Harder’, Fabolous’ ‘Summertime Shootout 3’, and Tory Lanez’s ‘Chixtape 5’. ‘Chixtape 5’ is probably my number one—flipping all those songs and then getting the original people on those songs?! Incredible.

That’s great that you mentioned that because I want to ask you about your songmaking process. What comes first, the beat or the lyrics, the melody?
Oh the beat comes first definitely, melody comes second, lyrics come last. I can’t just rap man, where’s the melody?! Unless I’m freestyling. But if I’m writing and making a song? That’s my process. It’s easy to remember your own lyrics without writing them down, especially when you got a melody. It’s all based off of the beat for me.

Describe yourself and your music in one sentence:
One sentence! Man, okay. So, I’m a lyricist – Wait, I got it. Weird combination, but listen: If Famous Dex and Da Brat had a child, it’d be me. I would be the seed. That’s the sentence. Because Da Brat was lyrical and had that swag and energy, and then, Dex is just an inspiration in grinding for me.

Amazing. And how would you describe yourself?
Helping people is my main goal, in all of this. I want to give back, help other artists, educate people, and help.

From ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’ to ‘Tyler’, it’s clear Lil Westside is only heating up. She’s as funny as she is impressive and is hellbent on experimenting, taking time with her music and remaining positive. The dedication to her craft was apparent throughout our entire conversation. Her passion shone through as she spoke about other artists getting opportunities for their music to be heard, her connection to Jacksonville, giving back and being able to separate the real from the fake. Westside won’t disappoint any audience; she has the skill and the bars to sway any old head, the melodies and catchiness for the newer generation, the versatility to be a rapper and create songs for the ladies, and a personality for everyone. Plus, she just got a fresh line up and another crisp white tee, so she’s in attack mode for the rest of this year – get on her before you’re late to the party. Check her out on Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL, YouTube, SoundCloud, and even DatPiff. She won’t disappoint.

Lil Westside is also very active on social media. Get to know her even further by staying updated via her Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Manny King John

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