Don’t Call Lil Dicky a Rapper
The unusual wordsmith discusses his Billboard success, collaboration with Snoop Dogg, and the “art of the joke.”
Lil Dicky is having a moment. The scrawny, Philadelphia-born white lyricist, known for his humorous music videos and impressive flow, jumped to #1 on Billboard’s Rap Albums chart with the debut of his first full-length album Professional Rapper earlier in August, thanks, in part, to the appearance of the legendary Snoop Dogg in the music video for the album’s title track.
“Professional Rapper” went viral after hitting the front page of Reddit, but this isn’t Dicky’s — aka David Burd’s — first trip to the viral rodeo. The hilarious music video for his first track “Ex-Boyfriend” racked up a million views in one day in 2013, and Dicky used his growing internet fame to slap together a Kickstarter campaign to fund Professional Rapper, raking in more than $110,000.
Maxim caught up with Lil Dicky to discuss his newfound success, his unique style, and why he wants to be on TV.
Your new album Professional Rapper was at the top of the Billboard charts the week after its debut. How do you feel?
I feel good. I feel like things are progressing in the right direction, like things are actually feeling “realer,” you know?
You’ve been hustling for a few years now, and Snoop’s appearance on the title track of Professional Rapper seems like the culmination of a few years of hard work. Tell me how you got here.
Growing up, the one thing I noticed was that everyone seemed to laugh at my jokes wherever I went. I got this message that I was funny, and I’ve always felt this pressure to somehow do something in life where I’m utilizing my sense of humor professionally. There’s nothing I love more in life than making people laugh. I always knew growing up that I would end up doing something related to comedy.
Anyway, I was a business major at the University of Richmond, and after I graduated I took a job at a corporate ad agency. I had a comedic dreams, but I also had a realistic look at what I had to do when I left school: maybe I’m funny, but maybe I’m one of a hundred thousand funny people, you know? After I moved out to San Francisco, I ended up in a job where I could be at least a little creative, but also immediately I thought “you’re 23, and at some point you need to take a serious stab at this comedy thing, otherwise you’re always going to live with regret.”
I wanted to do something to get noticed for being funny,. But I had no connections in that space. I wanted to do something for attention. I could always kind of rap pretty casually, so I thought about rapping as a manageable way in.
I spent two years making music in San Francisco for my first mixtape. Initially, I was not at all doing this to be a professional rapper, a touring rapper. I didn’t think I had that talent level in me. It ended up being like a sport: The most I did it, the better and better I got. And thank God I chose that as my comedic route.
Do you consider yourself a comedian first or a rapper first, then? In past interviews, you’ve said nobody’s really doing what you’re doing in Professional Rapper .
The thing is, I was never really a comedian — a comedian would scoff at the notion of me as a comedian because I’ve never done anything, really. I’ve always just been some guy who’s funny. But still see myself more as Dave Burd than Lil Dicky the rapper, for sure.
I worked really hard on my mixtape, the first video I put out for “Ex-Boyfriend” blew up on the first day and got like a million views on YouTube. I started working on my album right after. But I think deep down, I’m still more of the guy, the funny creative guy, I was five years ago than a “rapper.” The past two to four years have been me locked in a room playing a rapper. But it’s weird. I feel deep down I’m still just a normal funny guy. Like, I would never go up to someone and say “Oh, I’m a rapper.” If someone asked me what I do for a living, I’d probably say “Oh, I’m a rapper,” but that’s not everything I am. I guess for the past four years, there hasn’t been any other form of me but the rapper.
Do you think as Lil Dicky as a character separate from Dave Burd? How do you think about the performance you put on not just in your lyrics, but in your videos too, from “Ex-Boyfriend” to “Professional Rapper”?
It’s constantly evolving. I wouldn’t say it’s a character. At this point I would say that Lil Dicky is my inner rap spirit animal, a platform where I can literally say whatever I want to say. I can do whatever I want that I can’t do in my day to day life. He’s kind of like a hyperbolized version of me.
For example: I was at a festival this weekend, and I was talking to a girl fan, and she said to me “I thought you would be way more of an asshole after seeing your videos” because they come off as an edgy, douchey guy. I couldn’t be a nicer human being. I’m the sort of guy who wouldn’t sleep with a girl on the first night [Editor’s note: LOL]. So when I meet people, they’re often surprised by how I am because Lil Dicky seems so raunchy and how much he ruffles feathers.
It’s interesting that you say that, because when “White Dude” first came out, it seemed to ruffle a lot of feathers: VICE accused you of writing a song “indulging in the minutiae of white male privilege?” How do you respond to those critics who accuse you of parading around your white rapper status?
At the end of the day, I believe in the art of the joke. If something is capable of making someone laugh, that’s an art. A lot of comedy is insensitive, a lot of comedians get in trouble for satire. The issue I’m running into is that a lot of people aren’t used to this sort of joke and critique in the context of hip-hop. If that song was simply a digital short, or in the format of South Park or something, nobody would really bat an eye. But that’s the landscape where comedy lives.
What’s different about my situation, I think, is that people aren’t used to comedy and satire in hip-hop. I’m taking an art form that I love, comedy, and applying it within another medium, rapping, the same way that I’m sure comedy was used in film the first time. All I can really tell you is that I don’t have any ill intentions. “White Dude” made a lot of people laugh because it’s an obvious joke about the silly stupid stuff white people take for granted. When you make jokes, a lot of people get offended along the way, but at the end of the day I’m doing this because I believe in the art of the joke.
So the “art of the joke” is behind your rise?
I think my authenticity is a big thing. You can tell that I’m pouring my heart and soul into what I’m doing. I think some rap stars feel the need to act a certain way in terms of being cool, of being the man. I don’t think I do that at all.
Musically, I think the way I can rap is evolving. A lot of it, at the end of the day, is that I’m wrapping about the most mundane day to day elements of daily life that are glossed over in most rap. Like, say, a conversation in a Chipotle. It’s the shit that might make for a good TV scene, but it won’t make for a whole verse. Relatability probably helps me.
How did the Snoop collaboration come about? Having him in that video, to an outside observer, looks like a stamp of approval.
Honestly? Because a lot of what I was doing was focused on comedy, and a lot of comedic elements don’t get taken seriously in hip-hop, I felt the need to somehow make some sort of statement that just because my raps are full of jokes doesn’t mean you don’t have to take it seriously. So I wanted some sort of validating song on my album, and I thought, what better theme is there than to do an actual job interview, for me to prove why I should be a rapper? Coming out of corporate America, everything in my life has been built around my resume from 15 onwards. My resume is the first entry point into every job. It really fit with my whole vibe, to have my first son be a job interview to become a rapper and set that tone early.
I was thinking about who could interview me, and I wanted it to be a legend. You really can’t get more legendary than Snoop Dogg. He has a great sense of human and sensibility that fit well with this whole thing. It was really a perfect marriage.
Lil Dicky (L) and Snoop Dogg participate in the Sprite celebrity basketball game during the 2015 BET Experience at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Who are your biggest influences?
Musically, I would say Nas’s flow has always been my favorite. Drake’s been my favorite rapper for the past five years. Jay-Z is my favorite wordsmith of all time, although I don’t think he’s influenced my style that much, but he’s the one who inspired to really fall in love with rap.
Then there are a whole other set of influences comedically. Guys like Will Smith: I don’t think I would’ve ever thought of myself as the kinda guy who could be a rapper if I hadn’t grown up and seen Will Smith as my definition of cool. He set the bar for what I aspire to be in life. Fresh Prince was huge for me. Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld was huge for me. Even Kevin Hart!
So what’s next for Lil Dicky? Do you see yourself as continuing on as a “white rapper” for the rest of your career? You’ve been compared to Eminem a fair amount.
Well this is what people do: they compare white rappers. But I don’t compare myself to anyone. And that’s the key to hip-hop: being true to yourself and being real. I don’t think there are a lot of people who can do what I do, the way I do it.
I’m working on a music video for a song off the album that’s going to be my absolute best work in terms of a music video. It’s starting to feel real, but there’s a difference between where I’m at now and being on a mainstream level, and I think it’s this video that’s going to put me over the top.
I’m always going to be making more music and I want to get into the studio with great producers and more rappers. But at the same time, I’m working on developing a TV show. It’s in the infant stages, but like I said: I got into rapping to be a comedic presence. As much as I’ve fallen in love with rap, this is why I got into it, for this TV thing. Imagine Curb Your Enthusiasm, but instead of being centered around the 76-year-old co-creator of Seinfeld, it’s centered around a 26-year-old rapper.
I’m going to continue to make music, that’s for sure. Like I said, I can’t remember a moment when making people laugh, through rap or jokes or whatever, wasn’t who I was. I even ran into my first grade teacher the other day and she was telling me how funny I was in her class. In 8th grade I was winning class clown. That’s always been the feedback for me. I don’t enjoy doing anything more than making someone laugh.
Photos by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images