Born in San Francisco to teenage parents, Larry June has been rapping since his early childhood, and dropped his first album - Cali Grown - in 2010. He became a dad soon after, and following in the footsteps of his own father, did his “thing” on the streets, risking his freedom and safety to ensure his son never knew the poverty that Larry experienced growing up.
Then, in 2018 Larry self-released Very Peaceful; the album served as a turning point in both his career and his life. His raps were as boastful as ever, but now they were bathed in a soulful serenity, as concerned with physical and spiritual wellness as they were material wealth. “That’s when I said, ‘fuck the game. I’m leaving the streets’. I was at peace in my mind, and I could create the life I wanted to live,” he tells me over Zoom, while out on a morning walk in the hills around Sausalito, California, framed by an immaculate blue sky.
When Larry was hustling, Sausalito is where he’d come to clear his head, visualising a different future for him and his son. Now it’s where they call home. His last two releases - Spaceships on the Blade and The Great Escape - were critically acclaimed successes. And the soothing positivity those albums exude is not a gimmick; it’s what defines his perspective, on his past, his present and his future.
What’s your earliest memory of your dad?
Just seeing him pull up down the street in the 5.0 [Mustang ASC McLaren]. Looking fly, looking fresh, looking like a superhero … man. He’d pull up, looking clean. Everybody would be showing him love. You know how it is in the hood.
I know that memory left its imprint on you because you own the same car now, right?
Yep, the exact same one. That was my dream car growing up. They only made twelve hundred of them.
It sounds like your dad was a real cool, smooth guy. Is that how you viewed him back then?
That’s exactly how I viewed him. I used to look up to him, definitely, the cars, the things he did. You know, it’s your father. You look at every little thing they do when your father’s around and you just think they’re a superhero. I looked up to him in every way when I was young.
I definitely viewed my dad as a superhero, but when I got a little bit older I realised he had a gambling problem. I still loved and respected him, but the superhero myth kind of crumbled.
I think that just comes with growth and learning and understanding people. Our parents are human as well. So I experienced that kind of stuff, but I still keep the same love. I see things for what it is. I’ve done shit and been in those positions too. I’m just so thankful to be here, and without my parents I wouldn’t be. I just put positive energy out there and understand that nobody is perfect. When you’re a kid, you don’t really see that side of things. You don’t really know how your parents operate under heat, or what they go through mentally. They try to keep all that away from you. But people are people. So I try to look at all the good too, not just the bad.
You moved to Atlanta with your mum when you were still a boy, and your dad stayed in San Francisco. What impact did that have on you?
That was hard for me. I’ll always love San Francisco. Having to leave and being away from my pops, and being around a whole other person was hard. With my mom being so young, she was learning life herself, and it was tough for me. I had to go through the motions with her as she was growing. I went through it all, from her being poor, to her being up. My mom had me at fifteen years old, so I had a different upbringing. My mom was my friend, but was still my mom at the same time. She was so young, we had to live in homeless shelters when she first had me. It was wild. But I’d be lying if I said my life was just horrible. I had a great life. But my parents were learning life and everything wasn’t perfect. So when I was on my own and independent, I knew what I didn’t want. That’s been my whole motivation. I don’t want my son to ever go through that. I always want us to feel secure, no matter what. And I want to be there, as much as possible. Because I’m a single father, so it’s a little different for me. I take on both roles. I gotta be the tough one, and show love. It’s a beautiful thing, but I always want to make sure he’s cool because he doesn’t have both dynamics. So I’m always checking in, like ‘you good?’ It’s crazy man. It's a non-stop job. But I’ve only got six more years and then he’s eighteen [laughs]!
And then he can take care of his own damn self!
Yeah, I've got him training for it. Like he went trick or treating by himself, came back at ten-thirty and made it to school on time this morning. I’m just trying to teach him responsibility.
I’m not there yet with my daughter. She’ll be three on Christmas Day. But giving your child that independence must be daunting, man.
But it’s real important. That’s something you can’t learn in school, man. We gotta make sure our kids are ready for the real world, when they go outside and see what’s going on. They need to know what they can and can’t do, how to talk to people, how to spot certain signs that a person’s not cool. If we don’t teach them, the streets are gonna teach them. And we don’t want that to happen. That’s trial and error with serious consequences. It’s crazy out there. As fathers we’ve got to really sit down and put that time in with them.
Thinking about my daughter out there terrifies me, if I’m being honest.
Putting myself in your shoes, if I had a daughter, I’d just apply the same things. I’d make sure she’s aware of everything and not hide anything. I think we build resentment in our kids when we say ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. Actually, they want to try things. So when we can give them some freedom, it takes away that resentment. It makes things seem less exciting too! But it’s crazy, man.
You were twenty when your son was born. What kind of life were you living at the time? Did you feel ready to be a dad?
It was wild, man. I was in a really wild situation. I’d just lost all my money. I lost everything. I went to ATL [Atlanta] to recuperate with my mom. Her water was off so I had to shower at the gym. And then I get the phone call - “I’m pregnant”. I couldn’t even buy myself a baloney sandwich at the time, so I didn’t know what the fuck was gonna happen. I went to Barnes and Noble and read all the fatherhood books that were on the shelves there, just to prepare myself. I was like, ‘I’ve got nine months to make something happen’. In those nine months I was forced to do my thing on the streets, but I made it happen. I made sure my son was provided for. So he’s never seen that struggle. Like we said before, that boost is real, man. When you’re put under that heat, what you gonna do? At that time I was young and wild, doing all kinds of wild shit. I’d just gotten my face tatted. I wasn’t getting no job! So I did what I had to do. I’m just thankful I get to do something positive now. I’ve got a different kind of stress … It's the kind of stress I’ve always wanted.
I don’t think you should be judged negatively for doing what you had to do, but how did you maintain your sense of self when you were on the streets? Because those experiences can leave their mark on a person.
No matter what I did, I can always say I stayed genuine. I never fucked nobody over or got a bad reputation for myself. I was the same exact person. I was just doing something different at the time, you know?
And ultimately, you were able to find a way of living and providing that wasn’t risking your freedom and your safety. Was that a slow process? Or was there a single moment of clarity that set you on your way?
It was 2018. I remember I went to bust a little move, and I was thinking to myself, ‘damn, this is really my life, and nothing’s gonna change unless I do something about it’. I set myself a five month plan. I didn’t spend no money, not a dime. No driving flashy cars, I was driving a Nissan Versa! I racked up fifty-thousand dollars. That gave me some space, so I could leave all that other shit alone and focus on making this music. I wrote about everything I was going through. It was like a journal for me, it was therapeutic. I was dropping them tapes. One day I checked my distribution and I was up fifty bands [$50,000] independently, from streaming. And then I turned that fifty to a hundred. All I had to do was keep making music. So I kept writing, working out in-between, and doing shit to keep me inspired and motivated. I kept going and it kept happening. But it’s an ever-going mission, man. I’ve still got a way to go, but I’ve come a long way from those times.
There’s a really beautiful serenity to your music. Are you able to bring that sense of serenity to your relationship with your son too?
Yeah. But to do so, you gotta spend time alone. Like right now I’m taking a walk in the hills. It’s hard when I’m giving so much of myself to the world for a couple of months, and then I come home and need to be a dad. I make sure he’s good and cater to all his needs, but I tell him I’m gonna need a couple of days to readjust, and he understands. I think communication is very important. So our children know why we’re not around. My son understands I’m working hard. I’ve brought him on tour with me a couple of times, so he sees exactly what I’m doing too. And he hates that shit! He’s like, ‘ahh no, I can’t do the tour shit’. But like I said, that communication builds a solid foundation. Sacrificing that time is investing into our lives. I’m investing into our lives. I’ve got a plan. I’m not doing this to go and buy a flashy car. I’m doing this to build a legacy.
I hear you, man. I think the one thing I truly wasn’t prepared for when my daughter was born was the lack of time you get to yourself when you’re a parent. I’ve really struggled with that. Sometimes I feel like I just need to take myself away.
You have to, man. And honestly, you can’t feel bad about that. They’re gonna be ok, because that’s gonna help you be a better parent. If you think you can sit in a room with a kid 24/7 and be in a great mood, good luck! I learnt that. Like, right now, I took my son to school and now I’ve got a few hours to myself. I’m gonna take this walk, take it all in. I’m gonna get me a juice. I’m chilling. Whatever makes you happy, you gotta find the time to do it.
What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve taught your son? What do you hope resonates with him the most as he moves through life?
Self control. That’s what determines if you’re a man or not. Because you’re gonna be in certain situations where you’re gonna be tested. It’s about the decisions we make. Self control is really what makes you powerful. And learning how and when to say no. I’ve had to work on this myself, because I’m a very giving person. I’m teaching my son that it’s okay to say no. You don’t want to go through situations where you feel like you have to do everything, or do something you don’t want to.
Growing up, I would rush to anger and conflict. I didn’t have much self-control until I started boxing.
So you get what I’m saying. I didn’t have it. I had to take anger management classes and all kinds of crazy shit. I feel like you probably came up the way I came up. Our whole lives, we were taught to attack. It was never like, ‘wait, let’s think this through, let’s talk’. I wasn’t taught to control my emotions. I watched my dad go through the same thing. So it’s very important to start learning that early. You start young, you get it young.
To wrap things up, how special does it feel to be able to teach your son these lessons, and show him a way of life that’s far removed from the struggles you experienced?
It’s everything to me, man. I prayed for this. I dreamed about this. I manifested it. It’s a great feeling to be able to provide, and be a good role model to my kid. And just to be able to be there, without worrying about the possibility of having to go away for a few years because of some drama. It’s the best feeling ever. You feel free, you know what I mean? Very peaceful.
The Night Shift is out now.
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