Lil Tecca is floating above the noise. The day of our interview marks his first week in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, a fact belied by almost every aspect of his demeanor. His breakout record, “Ran$om,” is currently sitting at No. 8. Although the accolades are nice, Tecca, born Tyler Sharpe, cares little about the fanfare surrounding his come-up. The 16-year-old is making the music he wants to make, with the people he wants around him. Everything and everyone else is extra.
“[Doing me] is just how it should be,” Tecca declares at the start of our conversation. “If it’s not like that, there’s something wrong.”
Lil Tecca’s meteoric rise is easy to trace despite its almost fairy tale quality. In early 2018, after tiring of dissing his friends on Xbox Live, Tecca started uploading records to SoundCloud. That May, he dropped “Ran$om,” which less than two months later debuted at No. 93 on the Hot 100 and spawned a Cole Bennett-directed music video. A partnership with Republic Records and a remix with the SoundCloud Prince that was Promised, Juice WRLD, would follow.
Lil Tecca is growing more popular by the day—“Ran$om” has been the most-played song on streaming service and discovery platform Audiomack for the past six weeks—but his rising profile has so far only ushered in the unknown. “The way it’s going right now, one day I’m on a flight to LA, and the next I got a show,” Tecca says. “I never know what I’m gonna get.”
Uncertainty isn’t a big deal to the Queens-bred teenager. His family moved to Long Island when he was in the seventh grade. Currently, Tecca is being homeschooled by his parents, flexible enough to adapt to the sudden changes brought on by Internet stardom. It’s a good thing, too, because the pacing of his career would make Usain Bolt blush.
When he’s not keeping up with his schoolwork, Tecca is busy recording new material. Including the remixed version “Ran$om,” Tecca has released or re-released seven songs on streaming services since the beginning of July, with a debut project impending. Still, Tecca understands the value of spending time away from the studio. When he returns, it’s like he never left, picking his favorite beats and freestyling until he has enough material to captivate the Internet once again.
“My process of making songs is really like a one-two type of thing,” he explains. “I can go days without making music, and then come back to the studio and get right back into the zone.”
Lil Tecca’s braces immediately jump out on camera, a reminder he’s barely old enough to drive legally. This observation is a confusing one, too, given how mature and laid-back Tecca seems amidst his growing celebrity. While teenaged artists typically respond poorly to rising fame, Tecca seems genuinely unfazed by the constant attention. This summer, time outside the studio has given him the opportunity to pull up at festivals, as well as the Genius headquarters in Brooklyn, where he performed a live rendition of “Ran$om.” Tecca looks like a nervous teenager in front of a large crowd, but he gives off the impression he’s at least trying.
Due to his rising fame, many of Tecca’s social circles have closed, but the artist emphasizes that making new friends isn’t a priority at the moment.
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“When I’m out, I’m just doing shows, doing what I gotta do,” Tecca says. “And the people that I meet, I don’t want to be friends with, so I’m just sticking to the people that I was friends with from the beginning.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Tecca’s precocious mindset is how it runs contra to his lyrics. For as grounded as Tecca is over the phone, his music is erupting because of its joyful grandiosity. “Ran$om” is an avalanche of designer-fitted, Glock-strapped shit talk. Tecca’s other songs follow suit. Some are heavier on girls, others on cars or drugs or enemies, and always over bright, sped-up trap production to match his smooth delivery.
The open-air contrast between Tecca’s private life and musical persona positions him as a fascinating case. He’s a rare confluence of youth, talent, intelligence, and cap. When Tecca admitted to Genius that he doesn’t wear designer brands, nor drive a car, and that he has a girlfriend and never once has held a gun, the clip went viral. Over the phone, though, Tecca asserts his music represents parts of who he is—making the music he wants to hear, a form of representation unto itself.
“I’m just me,” he articulates. “However the people perceive me; it’s on them. I’m just being me and putting it out there. I can’t look at what someone else does and go, ‘Oh, I do this different, I created this, this is my style.’ No, [my music] is my style, and however the people want to look at it, they can look at it.”
Tecca’s brief success in music speaks for itself. The same week his face graced the cover of Spotify’s famed RapCaviar playlist, “Ran$om” entered the Hot 100 top 10. Tecca currently has 1.4 million Instagram followers and is generating nearly twice as many monthly streams as many household names (what’s up, Frank Ocean?).
People love Lil Tecca’s style, clearly—still, his lifestyle remains unchanged. As the money is beginning to pour in, Tecca is adamant that his priorities are constant. He is placing minimal emphasis on extravagance.
“I can do the things I’m rapping about, [but] I’m still not doing them,” Tecca clarifies. “It doesn’t matter if there’s fifty bitches that want me right now; I don’t want them. And if there’s fifty cars that I could buy right now, I don’t want them. And if there’s two hundred different guns that I could afford, I don’t want them. I’m just rapping and making the music that I like.”
It isn’t so much a lack of appeal to glitz and glamour for Tecca, but his lifestyle is for his enjoyment and happiness, never for show. “It ain’t even that I’m not the flashy dude,” he adds. “If I wanted a $50,000 chain, I would get one, you feel me? But I don’t want one. I’m just me. I like what I like. I like BAPE; I like things like that. I’m just chilling.”
When you don’t come from money, it’s natural to go crazy off the money—the clothes, the jewelry, the cars. But that’s not Lil Tecca. At least not right now. The artist may represent limitless possibility—a prototype for future teenagers blowing up off Internet fame, a pioneer of cap-rap, and talented enough to formulate hits despite never experiencing much of what he raps about—but he is nobody’s paradigm. He’s content with himself, his music, and his pointedly small circle. He doesn’t want to be a stereotypical rap star.
Lil Tecca is doing him; celebrity is just a side effect.
“I don’t believe in fame,” Tecca adds, almost offhand. “I’m just dropping music and n****s like it.”