California's Sweetheart: Lil Debbie Interview

Lil Debbie has been busy. The Oakland-raised rapper is best known for her countless singles and videos with the likes of Riff Raff and, of course, Kreayshawn. But Lil Debbie is more than just a rapper. She describes herself as a “key lifestyle influence,” a claim that certainly seems plausible based on her upwards of 300,000 devoted Instagram followers. Her Instagram game is on point, but that's just the tip of the iceberg: she has a lot of new and exciting projects on the horizon outside of music.

You'll be seeing more of her in the coming months: aside from her new California's Sweetheart EP, which is due out by the end of the summer, she's also continuing to collaborate with fashion lines and pursue her penchant for style. What's especially impressive about the 23-year old is that she's never signed to a label: unlike a lot of stars today, she is 100 percent self-made.

Lil Debbie took some time out while shopping at Goodwill in Los Angeles to talk to me about where she's from, and where she's going.

Your new EP is called California’s Sweetheart. You’re originally from the Bay Area, and now you live in Los Angeles. Have both of those places influenced your music?
I moved down to LA the first time with a boyfriend of mine that was also a producer. His name was Yung L. That was when Kreayshawn first started poppin’ off and we did all that. After I left the group, I decided to go back to Oakland. I moved back to Oakland, got really bored, and I was like, “I think I do still want to do the whole music thing,” and came back to LA.

But I’m a girl who always listens to Mac Dre. I am in the studio advocating for J.Stalin, MC Rich. Bay Area artists. So I would say the Bay is my biggest influence. LA has influenced my bougie side—I say this as I’m shopping in Goodwill—but it hasn’t really influenced my music. I’m forever a ratchet at heart. I forever love that ratchet shit. Especially the music.

I grew up with Too $hort and E-40 and stuff. The bay has a very hyphy, funky feel. If you listen to Too $hort’s shit, it’s very much funk-inspired. The Bay is a big part of the music industry, it’s just that not a lot of people acknowledge it or give credit to it. But it’s OK, we know we’re out there inspiring others.

Speaking of ratchet, I saw the video for your song, “Ratchets” you put out in April.
We actually shot that in January. I waited four months for a first cut back, so when I got my first cut I said let’s put it out before we lose any more time.

I’m sure you noticed the similarities between that and Miley’s new look
Miley loves a little Lil Debbie in her life. I was a little upset at first. It was a domino effect. The director who did “Ratchets” hit me up and said, “You know Miley Cyrus and Gwen Stefani pulled your video to show me for inspiration. They said they wanted to do their next music video ‘ghetto.’” He didn’t want to work with them because you can’t contrive ghetto. It is what it is.

After that, the person who helped style “Ratchets,” he was sending his boss, who styled Miley Cyrus’s music videos, pictures of everything I was wearing in the music video. I feel like people can easily look on my Instagram or look at my videos and look at things I’ve done in the past, and they rip off what I look like, but nobody wants to give me credit.

I make fun of Miley Cyrus all the time. I’m like, I can’t wait to see her ‘cause I need my check. But at the end of the day, I can’t do anything about it. But people can tell when you are something you’re not. People can tell when it doesn’t come natural. This society, and the population were in right now, especially in this music industry, people know and can tell what’s contrived. And that’s why I don’t really care about the Miley Cyruses and Ke$has and the Chanel West Coasts, because it’s all really contrived and you can tell.

When my mixtape comes out, it’s gonna be what it is. I’m about to shut shit down. You’re gonna be able to tell, this is in essence who she really is. Anything, any song I’ve done, I come up with the concept, I come up with everything. ‘Cause that’s what I’m here for. I’m here for the visuals. I’m not here to do some outlandish crazy shit.

Do you style your own videos?
Anything I do, because I cross so many lanes as a person within who I am, I feel like I’m not a rapper—I’m an artist. I’m a key lifestyle influencer. I’m a tastemaker… people want to smoke with me, people want to hang out with me, people want to go shopping in my closet, people want me to do personal shopping for them, people want me to give them ideas, brands want to do collabs with me… so its like, I don’t look at myself as a rapper.

It’s so much more than rapping. It’s not even me who’s saying that, it’s my fans. It’s what people notice from me. Everywhere I go, people are like, you’re hella different. And its not even like I’m trying, its literally who I am.

Have you always been into fashion?
Yeah, I was a child model for my mother who designed childrens’ clothing. She started making hats, and she ended up making childrens’ clothing. She doesn’t anymore, but my grandfather was a tailor, my family used to own Laundromats in New York, so it’s kind of like in my blood. My grandmother was an interior designer, so it was kind of inevitable. It’s literally in my bloodline.

Can we expect any collaborations with brands anytime soon?
I have stuff coming out with Alife. I’m a very visual person so I’ve been taking pictures with Pretty Puke and other up and coming photographers. I love working with people and I think it’s all about collaborating with the next artist, so I actually got this gig through Pretty Puke, we were taking pictures, and he said I’m gonna send this to the guy from Alife, and he likes my shit. I don’t wanna tell you who else he’s dropping, but I’m like the only new and upcoming artist he has. It’s a big thing. And it’s gonna drop in August.

Didn’t you sell some of the clothes out of your closet to your fans?
Yeah. I do that shit all the time. I love doing that shit. Cause I could bring it to Buffalo Exchange or whatever, some place that buys and resells, but my fans love what I wear, and why not be able to sell them something I’ve worn for an affordable price that’s also cute. They’ve already seen how to put it in an outfit, so why not be able to buy it.

In these sales you donate all proceeds to charity. How do you choose these charities?
I choose charities for things that I’ve been through. Bullying is a big thing to me, cause I wasn’t always the popular girl. I wasn’t always the prettiest girl. I don’t have the thickest body in the room. I’m very awkward. Bullying is a big thing for me.

To this day, I have Kreayshawn fans that bully me. And I got bullied a lot when I got kicked out of White Girl Mob, and when I was going through that phase without fucking with Kreayshawn or V-Nasty, there was a phase where I was getting bullied a lot. And I had people telling me like, I couldn’t be shit.

So, the fuel to my fire is this negativity. People don’t realize, you can hate on someone all fucking day, but for me, instead of me getting depressed, I’m gonna take that shit and I’m ‘bout to flip it, and I’m gonna shit on you. Like, dead ass. I don’t wanna sound like a bitch, but my mixtape, my shit is about to shit on Kreayshawn’s shit. Off top. And it’s sad, but it is what it is. So, I pick my charities for people that have been through the same thing as me. That’s what’s gonna get you by at the end of the day. Shit that you believe in.

Do you hope you can leave the music industry behind one day?
I mean, I was rapping when I was 15. I was in a girl group with Kreayshawn called Cupcake Princess Ponies, that was in the MySpace days, and I just, I have always, whether I was rapping or not, I’ve always been in the music industry. Somebody I’ve dated, somebody I’ve known, family members, we’ve always been in the music industry. I’m hoping that my music does lead me into the fashion industry. I’d love to creatively direct, that’s where my heart is, I’d love to be behind the scenes. I feel like before I’m behind the scenes, I need to be on the scene.

Photos by Rick Craft, makeup by Ashley Gomila

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