In this exclusive interview and editorial, Taylor Bennett rocks next season’s Billionaire Boys Club EU and drops some serious knowledge on his hugely-anticipated upcoming album.
If Taylor Bennett truly is as nervous as he claims, he’s hiding it well. The acclaimed musician is laughing, joking and posing for pictures on the rooftop garden of Omeara, a London venue he has tonight sold out with his first ever UK headline show. “I pulled up at 5pm, I got out of the car and saw three people,” he says, smiling. “I knew I wasn’t about to go home, but I knew this shit was sold out. The first thing that came to my mind was: ‘Oh no, these people bought all the tickets!’”
Luckily, the crowd has since expanded, snaking down the road and buzzing with anticipation. “I’ve been outside twice just to personally greet them – it’s so cool to meet them,” he enthuses, visibly excited by his growing British fanbase.
“As a person that does anything, you just want to be able to see that you’re getting that reaction, you know? So when you get a reaction of love, and you see that people have traveled hours to come and see you in a country you’ve never been to, that’s when you start asking: is this a dream, or is it actually happening?”
Despite being bewildered by his success, Bennett has undeniably worked hard to lay the foundations. He may be just 22-years old but he already has a slew of self-released EPs and mixtapes to his name; he’s consistently polished his skills and earned high-profile cosigns, as well as a few collaborations with brother, Chance the Rapper. But now he’s commanding stages on his own terms and simultaneously polishing up a new project, Be Yourself, whose title he accidentally reveals mid-interview. “Oh shit,” he laughs. “I don’t know if that was meant to come out, but it feels like the right time. Make sure you put that shit in bold!”
Sonically, lead single “Minimum Wage” sees Bennett spit rapid-fire raps over a bouncy, trap-laced beat. The accompanying video – which sees him try out careers as a janitor and a fast-food server – has already racked up close to a million views, demonstrating that public hunger for new music is still as high as ever.
He might flex and joke about fast cars and infinity pools, but life hasn’t always been so easy. He cites this as one of the reasons he accepted an offer to become a face of Billionaire Boys Club, the fashion brainchild of Pharrell and BAPE founder Nigo and a brand he himself loved as a kid.
“There was a store in Chicago called Leaders 1354 – I swear they were the first store to do a graphic tee, it’s crazy! Anyway, we used to shop there all the time, and the most expensive clothing they had was BBC and Ice Cream,” he recalls. “We could never afford it, but we could buy the little wallets; we bought the smallest shit because it would be cheap.” Years later, he’s a regular face of the brand, starring in ad campaigns and mini-docs decked head to toe in the clothes he used to lust after.
The brand is still aspirational, but Bennett also points out that it’s a company he felt happy buying into: “I have a lot of respect for BBC, because something that’s a big deal in the African-American community is that we don’t really support our local streetwear and art. Once we start making money – you see me!” He laughs, pointing out his various Gucci accessories before explaining: “We do it because we want to buy into a class of people that we’re not accepted into. In America that’s how we feel. So BBC was the first thing that was expensive, but you weren’t buying into a class or a race outside of your own: you were buying into a lifestyle.”
These tangential shifts in tone happen often throughout the interview; Bennett is a man who can make you laugh before drawing you into more serious topics – and then let you go again. This clever ability to subtly introduce difficult conversations is one he looks set to utilize to the fullest extent on Be Yourself, which will be his first release since he openly came out as bisexual early last year.
“I always say that it was easier for me, because I’m a rapper and I have fans,” he sighs before confirming that his own sexuality is a theme he intends to explore lyrically. “I’m doing it for that kid that sits in the classroom, the one that has nobody to talk to and has no friends – that’s who it’s hard for. That’s why I did it, so all those kids can have someone to look into.”
Although he was simply sharing his personal experiences, admissions like these always spark wider conversations which are ultimately beneficial. “We’re just now addressing these problems,” he says of society’s growing willingness to at least engage in dialogue. “It’s not just in the hip-hop community, it’s in the African-American community and it’s worldwide. I do think a lot of it is coming from the little fires that I’m starting to burn, and from artists like Migos and how they dress, and what they do. That is what’s inspiring the world to be themselves, because that’s what I’m going to do: I’m just going to be myself.”
Although thousands of miles of away, he talks often of his home city Chicago – one which he admits he never thought he’d leave. “I thought, realistically, by the time I was 18 I would either be dead or in jail. Trouble seemed to follow me as a kid, and I could just never really find my niche. That was when I started writing music – to create that niche for people that don’t have a place to call their own.”
This desire to create connections through music is written all across “Happy Place”, one of his biggest hits. “When I was a teenager, I felt like there was no place for me, and that’s how a lot of people just feel, period. So I just wanted to create a place people could feel comfortable and do that in the form of a song. I wanted to say you can come with me, feel protected and be who you need to be.”
It’s a touching message and one which, unfortunately, is still desperately necessary in the world’s current political climate. Music can be more than just lyrics, rhymes and melodies; for some, it’s a lifeline.
“It’s like that P!nk song, ‘So What’,” he says while singing its anthemic chorus and chuckling happily. “There are so many people that listened to that song and felt like it was about them, but in reality I’m pretty sure P!nk was just really fucking mad at someone! But ‘I’m still a rockstar, I got my rock moves’, that meant different things to different people. That’s what I’m trying to do with my music and it’s why I’m writing honestly about my sexuality for the first time. Sure, this music is about me as a person. But it’s also so, so much bigger than just me.”
Stay tuned for further info on Taylor Bennett’s ‘Be Yourself’. For more of our features, check out our editorial and interview with Waka Flocka Flame right here.