Since signing to ATL legend Gucci Mane’s label, Li Rye has made a name for himself in the music industry. We caught up with him to chat about why he’d be in the Air Force now if it wasn’t for COVID…

What five words define your sound?

I would say emotional, relatable, deep, passionate and thought-provoking. I say stuff that will make you go back 10 seconds and replay the song so you can hear what I said again. My lyrics make people think.

Tell me something unique about your creative process.

When I make music, I don’t listen to beats until I get to the studio. I don’t write, either. So I think my creative process is different because I just go straight into making the music. As soon as they play a beat, I’ll load it up. I don’t do too much. I just go with the first beat that’s played, and I’m going to rap on it. Then, I’ll rap on the second beat you play and the third one. I go in and get it done. Especially if I really feel the beat off the rip. 

Which song of yours would you like people to hear first?

The first song I’d want people to hear is ‘Clear Da Air’. I feel like it’s a relatable song.

What inspired you to make that song?

I felt like I was holding my tongue for too long. I wasn’t expressing myself and I was holding back from saying certain things. On ‘Clear Da Air’, I didn’t hold back at all. I was tired of holding back. I wanted to get everything off my chest. That’s why I said, “Let me clear the air.” That day, 13 of my friends went to jail. I also felt like people were coming at me. I was already hurt and my best songs come when I have a reason. A lot of times when I make music, I have a purpose. That was one of those songs, I had a reason.

What’s the most vulnerable you’ve allowed yourself to be when writing/making music? 

I was the most vulnerable when I made, ‘Proud of Me’. I was trying to speak for everyone who can’t speak for themselves because that was me at one point in time. There were days when I sat alone and I couldn’t stop crying. In one of my lyrics I say, “I miss my granddad, I hate the only way that we can talk is if I go visit his headstone.”

I was able to feel vulnerable when I made that song because of the environment I was in at the time. It was my first trip to California. Being in a different environment encouraged me to make the best music. While I was there, I met some members of Internet Money, too. And they were cool as hell. I was really in a comfort zone, everything felt like it was in place. I was really in Cali at a studio that cost like, $100 an hour for free because they wanted me to get in there and get on their beats. Everything felt like it was in place and I felt like I could really dig a little deeper.

What’s the best/worst experience you’ve had on stage?

My best experience was opening for Young Dolph. He’ll never be forgotten because he did everything he had to do and he showed a lot of people how to make money in different ways. I respect everything he did. 

What is your favourite song to perform?

‘Face Shot’ featuring Sett is my favourite song to perform; we performed at SXSW. When we perform that song, we feed off each other’s energy and go hard.

Which artist/song/album made you want to make music?

Rylo Rodriguez and NoCap made me want to make music. When they started to release music, I listened to them like, “Damn, they’re hard.” And they’re doing real numbers. They really inspired me. Then, all the young rappers that started rapping when I did too. They inspire me and I inspire them, I got rappers who were rapping before me calling me like, “I ain’t going to cap, brother, you’re the reason I’m still going.” If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be helping the people I’m helping.

What’s the meaning behind your name?

That’s what my family calls me because my dad’s is named Rye. I’ve been Li’ Rye my whole life. My mom doesn’t call me by my real name unless I’m in trouble. My little cousins don’t even know my real name. I took the second “L” out because I’m still “Lil”, but at the same time I’m my own person. If I would’ve kept the “Lil,” I feel like that would’ve kept my name tied to his. So I took the extra “L” off, so my name is unique, not like everybody else. I don’t know no other rappers name Li other than me.

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing instead?

I wanted to be a computer technician. When I was in elementary school, I got skipped up in the second grade for being smart. They skipped me. From third to 12th grade, there was a star next to my name saying I was gifted. At eight years old, I took my grandmother’s laptop apart and put it back together. In the 6th grade, I was reading on the college level. 

You know what’s crazy? Before the pandemic, like, right before the pandemic, I signed up for the Air Force because I had the second highest score on the ASVAB and the third highest SAT score in my school. I was going to go to the Air Force, I was signed up and everything. Then when the Coronavirus hit, they stopped answering the phone, so I went and got a face tattoo. I would’ve been in the Air Force right now. I would’ve skipped a lot of training because my score was so high.

I also had academic scholarship for the University of Alabama, UAB. I didn’t want to go to college. People that go to that school, these people got money. All I had was three shirts, two pair of pants and one pair of shoes that I’ve been wearing that whole school year. So, I was like, “I can’t go to college like that.” I didn’t have a support system. I can’t say they didn’t support me, but they couldn’t support me. That’s why I didn’t go, I was too broke. 

What’s success to you?

When I finally get to the point where no one has to call me for money anymore. I would’ve put everyone on their feet. Once I get to that point where my friends start calling me and saying, “You need something?” that means I put everyone in position. That’s what I’m waiting on. When I get to that point where everyone is straight, I’ve made it.

What moment in your life/career forced you to change direction?

At one point in my life, I was going down the wrong path. But, one day my friend introduced me to my old engineer, his name is Street. Once I was introduced to him, I got behind the mic and I made two songs. Everyone was like, “Boy, you the one.” Once I got a free studio and everybody baited my head up to where I felt like I was a good rapper, that was it for me. Once I found out I was actually good and I could go somewhere with my music, I decided to change my life and take rap seriously.

Where can people keep in touch with you? 

Fans can reach me on Instagram: @lirye26 and Youtube: @LiRyeMusic. 

Photo by Jimmy Fontaine.

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