Larry June: The Cabbages Interview
The San Francisco emcee/entrepreneur speaks on his come-up, his craft, and his latest album 'Orange Print.'
A lot of people think they know Larry June. From his entrepreneural ventures to his message of financial health and physical wellness, the Bay Area rapper and businessman leaves an impression with his musical and non-musical activities. But at the core of his independent hustle stands a limitless wellspring of motivation and creativity, resulting in something like a dozen records dropped over just the past three years. His latest project is Orange Print, released through his own The Freeminded imprint. Still forthcoming from June this year is a new project with producer Cardo, a follow-up to last year's collaborative Cruise USA.
You're in the midst of this prolific run of projects right now, at least since 2019. How do you keep up this aggressive pace of creation, especially when factoring in your other entrepreneurial ventures?
I work from home. I record at home. I've got partners that help me with a few things, to keep my stores going and all my other business ventures. But I just take two hours out the day to record, and I make sure I get enough stuff done. I do it consistently every day. So by the end of the month, I have seven songs or something and I just put them out. [laughs]
I got my son full-time. So it started when I was taking him to school in the morning. I knew I had a certain amount of time to get as much done as possible. So, I would wake up in the morning, make his lunch, and take him to school. As soon as I'd get back, I'd make sure I dedicate three hours to making music, every day for the whole year. Then I would pick them up and do my normal stuff, ride my bike. I just make it happen, man. We got 24 hours. I just have to make the best out of it. I don't go out too much. I enjoy doing what I do. It brings happiness to my life. It's not really hard for me to be disciplined and do it.
For a different person, a different artist on that kind of run, things could get pretty diluted over time. But your latest Orange Print is one of your strongest, even compared with your 2020 and other 2021 efforts. You're not going back to the same well over and over again.
I look at it like this. If you're practicing at something every day, you're gonna get better at it. And if you listen to my projects, they're not all the same. They've kinda got the same feel, but there's different ways I'm talking about it. I might be going through something different in my life, so it's kinda like my journal. What I'm going at that time, I write about it, I rap about it.
While you do return to certain producers that you've worked with and have good working relationships with, you also change things up. For example, my favorite tracks on this album happened to be the ones with DJ Mr. Rogers, "6am In Sausalito" and "Grand Nash Chronicles."
But you see, how I work with Mr. Rogers is a whole different field. Like the producer and the production brings a different me out of every track. So when I get on a trap record, I got a different way I'ma rap on there– but I'm going to give you the same me. I've just been doing it for so long that I can pretty much master every angle of the styles of rap, if that makes any sense. I gotta harmonize on one track and then get a little slower. I need to speed it up on this trap song or hop on a Cardo beat and get groovy. I've got my formulas to every kind of beat.
I just practice every day. I'm always listening to older music and playing beats. Everything I do, from the cars I buy, the juice I pick, the shoes I buy, I'm always thinking about music, man–even from my businesses. Opening up my shops, doing clothes lines, it all falls back into inspiring the music and the things I talk about. And the more stuff I do, the more I can talk about. Also, I've been through a lot in the past, so I can also incorporate that too. It's a book that just never ends for me. As long as I'm living, it's not going to end.
You talk about how you kind of approach working with these different producers and these different styles of beats. I'd love to get a little more insight into that.
I think it goes back to just the practicing thing. I've been doing this for so long. I dropped my first mixtape when I was 15. I was making beats when I was 10, 12 years old; I started off making beats. I got started off on the MPC, the FANTOM X8, the OG equipment that people don't even know about, before the Fruity Loops. I mastered how to sequence beats, making a beat and the structure of the beat. I get a lot of my inspiration from R&B music, structure-wise. So I can hop on a Cardo beat or a Mr. Rogers beat and it'll be sequenced exactly like an R&B record but be hip-hop. I don't know how I do it. It just happens when I'm in the studio. I never took a class. I never took piano lessons. It's something that's in me.
I get bored doing the same kind of stuff over and over. So I try things and I sit there and I do it as many times as I can. I might work on one song for three days, so them two hours a day might be for one song. But I made it so I'm constantly putting time into doing it, like in anything you do. It just worked out for me, man. And I'm not the best writer out there. I don't consider myself as the greatest or whatever. I'm the greatest me.
You spent some time in the major label system, but now you operate as a successful independent artist. With that perspective, how have you been able to navigate this business? Is there anything you learned from your experience with the majors that you apply to the way you work today?
Well, I looked at it like college. You go into a situation, you get as much knowledge as you can, and you take it and you apply it to your situation. And signing to Warner Bros. for those two years, I learned so much about the business side in general. I was trying to get out of my deal and understand like, I can be doing this to make money, I need to be focusing on digital marketing, showing my face more, dropping here, not being out too much. I kinda learned how to move. I became friends with a lot of people who worked at those labels. I'm a cool dude, [but] at the time I wasn't so popular. I would do normal things with these people. We'd talk about certain things. We became good friends. I learned a lot just from being at the label, and I feel like it was needed for me. It was needed for me, to be successful and know what I was doing, because you can't do nothing without knowledge.
It could have been worse. I could have been stuck in a crazy 360 deal where my whole life was signed away. It was cool; I did a couple of EPs. And then I was working with my bro [then-Warner Bros. A&R] Quinn Coleman, R.I.P. I was actually the first artist he signed. We just worked together. He was like my real good friend. We was actually learning a lot together, so when he would find out certain things, he'd tell me. When I found out things. I'd tell him. We worked together collectively. I never went to college or nothing, but I feel like that was my college for what I'm doing now, understanding that a lot of what people would think matters doesn't matter. It's really all about what you will make happen yourself for other people to believe in you, because nobody will believe in you until you make it happen yourself. That's a big thing. You can go sign to a label, get millions of dollars, but these people don't understand your brand. And what you're trying to do is not going to really fully work.
When I got out of my deal, my main goal was to let people know what I'm doing without having to go sell myself to nobody. Like, this is what I'm trying to do, I made it happen myself. I dropped multiple tapes and I broke every rule in the game. I dropped on random days. I dropped six tapes in one year. I went outside. I went on tour independently, sold out every show. And I worked with the people. I spoke with the people, daily, from social media. If I see somebody on the streets, here, take this CD, I'll sign this for you. I was on a lot of hand to hand, groundwork, on my own for years, probably five to six years. A lot of people are just now getting to know me, like from the previous work, working with Cardo, stuff with Curren$y. But before that, there was a time where I was actually a kid selling my CDs at the mall, handing out flyers, going to shows, and sleeping in vans.
It's important that people consider your overall experience. You're not some fly-by-night or overnight success. This comes from years of working, trying a number of different strategies.
Years of work. A lot of people think it just happened in 2019. It took a lot of time and it created what I'm doing today.
Motivation is a long running part of hip-hop, thematically, culturally. How has music been a motivator to you as an artist and a listener?
Man, I went through a lot of stages. When you come into the game so early, you're finding yourself. I was living in the ATL for awhile, so I was drawn to a Southern sound, to the point that I started as a Southern artist when I first came out. I spent a lot of time out there and I had to find myself. I lean on the internet for one reason: to let people know that it's a process. You're not gonna always make the greatest music, not gonna look the coolest, not always go have all the nights and shit. But if you keep going, it's gonna happen, man. I try to give that positive message to the people, to keep going, no matter what. People gonna say you're trash at first, but I done been in situations, I get my feet in, go pick up my CD and keep it pushing. It's all about keeping it rocking, man, and not letting it get in the way. No matter what, if you really want it, you gotta fight. If you've got passion for something, a real passion, you can make anything happen.
For people who are familiar, one of the things that plays into this is the frequent appearance by Herm Lewis. How important has he been to you in your life?
Herm Lewis is a big inspiration for me. My father, as well. When I was a kid, we lived in the projects in San Francisco and Herm was a big advocate for the community. I was always good at his house. We'd go to a certain room at the studio, set up, doing albums, working on stuff. And I just seen him as I grew up, RBL Posse too. It was something I wanted to do as a kid. I've been in studio sessions with someone else when I was a kid. I watched them, I done seen my dad, an artist, it wasn't on a crazy big level, but he was like, in the neighborhood. Back in the nineties, it was a big independent world when it came to music in the Bay Area. Everybody was doing other things to get money. They wanted to put their money into music. That was their way–I'm going to be a producer, I'm gonna put out this album.
I watched that independent grind pretty much my whole life. I was selling CDs. They'd give me the product, I go sit on the corner, I'm selling their CDs. Then I figured out a way to sell them into the stores. I was like 11 years old. I found out about a store called Rasputin. They'd give me the CDs and I got tired of selling them myself. I was getting my little cheese, but I had a certain amount I'd need to sell before I'd go link back up with him. So I walked into Rasputin one day like, I got these CDs, how much would you give me for them? And they started buying them from me. Then I showed them that they could bring the CDs to Rasputin. And I was like 10, 11 years old, expanding distribution.
I made Sock It To Me, me and Sledgren of Taylor Gang. Me and him already did a series of projects before my deal. That brought a lot of spotlight to what I was doing at the time. So when I got out of my deal, the first thing I did was give the people what they wanted again. So I did a tape with Sledgren. After that, I dropped a tape called Out The Trunk, to let them know I'm back independent, going to do what I used to do back in the day. I would meet up with my fans, meet me here. I'd pop my trunk, I got orange juice, I got CDs, I got merch. And I would go everywhere. I jumped in my little red Prius, drive everywhere around from Vegas to L.A. If I got to fly out to the east coast to do it, I would make it happen. At the same time, we were pushing digitally, constantly promoting online. We were actually popping up in different cities to pop the trunk. It wasn't about no flashy cars. It wasn't about who got the biggest watch on. It was about grinding and making it out the streets. 'Cause I didn't make no money at Warner Bros. I signed, I got $20,000, and that was supposed to last me two years? [laughs] My BMW was more than that.
When did you really begin to notice that you were leveling up? From an outsider's perspective, Out The Trunk and "Smoothies In 1991," those feel like big breakout moments. But, to you, when did it feel like you were getting the response that you've been waiting for?
I seen it online. I think money coming in, that was a sign. But I still couldn't really see what was going on. I was always working. I didn't really see if people knew who I was. I was just always recording and taking care of my son. I didn't know what was going on outside of that. Much of my life was just so normal. But then in 2019, before the pandemic, I went on tour and did like 20 shows–and they all sold out. The whole east coast, like thousand cap venues. This was before I really knew what was going on. I would just go outside, make a few more dollars, and go pop the trunk in each city at each show now. I'm still thinking like, let's pop this truck and get this when it's bag up real quick. Then I started seeing the response from the people going to the shows.
I remember in San Diego, running late to a show, had run to the mall, I had messed my hoodie up, I had to go buy a hoodie. And I got to the show and it was like crazy. And I'm like, it's California, cool. We get to the east coast, New York, Yams Day, sold out. Crazy. Chicago. Crazy. We had a random Monday or Tuesday in Ohio, walking in sold out. Crazy. That's when I started noticing like, this shit might be a little bigger than what I thought. That didn't really do nothing for me, but that was just learning the inspiration for me to just keep going and, and keep building because it was actually working.
When you put in years behind something, years trying to make it happen, for years and years, and you see it actually work? You don't get comfortable, because you know how I feel being at the bottom. So you keep smashing, a hundred percent, like, fuck it,let me just keep going. 'Cause we all know it can get ugly. So I made sure I put a lot of time into my craft. I didn't let none of that get to my head, because this is all new for me still to this day. Like, I was cool in school, you know what I'm saying? I wasn't always getting recognition for my music, so I just take advantage of the opportunity that I got. I just stay myself and try to treat everybody equally, always be a good person, no matter what. No matter how much love I get on the streets or on the internet, I just stay me. I keep rocking, man. That's what I do.
Larry June's 'Orange Print' is out now and available wherever music is streamed or sold. To pre-order a copy on vinyl or CD, please visit his website.