As social apps continue to play a crucial role in how we interact with one another and the world around us, rapper Lil Gray is still trying to focus on the things that matter: personal development, overcoming self-doubt, staying true to a loyal fanbase, and keeping his mask over his nose.
A Landover, Maryland native, the 23-year-old has taken the spirit of his hood, the spirit of the go-gos he used to frequent as a youngin’, and began to hit his stride. In just a few years’ time, he’s gone from not even wanting to have a public profile, largely because of his intention to put the music first, to becoming a definitive voice in the ever-intoxicating Maryland rap scene.
For those outside the DMV area, the surrounding neighborhoods of Maryland and Virginia might seem overshadowed by the central connecting tissue of Washington DC when it comes to musical notability. But Maryland—specifically Prince George’s County—is just as influential in the region’s modern-day rap culture and sound. Lil Gray’s slang and style can be attributed to his PG County home, a home he was quite literally confined to for the majority of 2020 as a result of house arrest. Though the lockdown stunted his video output, Lil Gray was able to work on his newest project, 10B410, an elevation of his versatile sound.
10B410 is Lil Gray’s most inventive project yet, though Lil Gray admits to struggling with adjusting to the positive attention he receives from his art. “Doubted Myself” touches on time alone with his thoughts, while “Walk Ina Bank” comes to terms with the many things associated with success. “You work for the attention but do you have what it takes?” he asks during our interview. While he searches for answers, the music begs for more listeners.
It’s easy for people to get confused and lump in areas like PG County with DC because of the whole DMV “scene,” though it’s a different experience. What was your experience like growing up in PG?
I lived the complete PG County life. The Maryland lifestyle is different than DC. A lot of the PG kids start getting on the bus around 11 or 12 to congregate in the same areas. Personally, I was [an] outside all night, street lights, playing football at the bus stops kind of kid. Growing up was go-gos, The Boulevard every weekend, places over by the Verizon Center, and hanging out at the McDonald’s.
Was there anything you devoted time to when you were young that became fruitful when you got older?
Growing up, I was really smart. I would get suspended and be out of school three days a week. But I would pass the test on Friday on a high level.
Rapping was something that also came easy to me then. That boy Cordae was in middle school with me. We used to rap in the gym every morning. Now, I’m embracing and using all of the talent I had growing up. I was in gifted classes, and they used to tell me I was gifted. So, I know nothing is an accident.
With everything that’s happened the past year, how has getting through 2020 and coming into 2021 been for you?
I was on house arrest in 2020. For the most part, I wasn’t even outside. At the end of 2020, I got off of house arrest. But when I came off of that, the world was kind of closed. I haven’t been able to readjust to moving the way I want to move. Being restricted is cool because I’ve already been restricted. I’ve just been learning you have to keep the mask over your nose.
10B410 is a full body of work. With 16 tracks, someone like me sees that as you having a lot to say at this time or hitting a creative stride. What is one theme you wanted to communicate in this project?
The potential I present as an artist. I still haven’t put out a lot of stuff because I don’t want to alienate my fans or devalue any expectations they have of me. I try to put music out that resonates with my people in the area.
This tape, I wanted to try my best to blend some sounds but not make it too unfamiliar. I’m spoon-feeding for the next level.
In “Doubted Myself,” you say, “I fucked up when I doubted myself.” What did that doubt do to you?
It was everything. It’s what stagnated me last year. I was on house arrest stuck in my thoughts, not dropping music, not shooting as much as I probably could have. There was a lot on my part where I dropped the ball. I feel like it was all stemming from self-doubt. Just doubting what the people want from me. The doubt crippled me a little bit.
Overcoming the doubt is a process as well, but we’re still working. I’m dropping more videos than I ever have in this span of time. I’m looking past the doubt now and moving forward.
On “Walk Ina Bank,” you say, “Getting all this money, and taking all that’s coming with it.” At this point in your career, what does that mean?
Last year, I got in trouble for making a lot of money. In a sense, I’m speaking to that. If you want to take it the other way, where you’re getting paid from the music, you get all of this attention, and then you’re like, “Is it worth it?” Because you’re still a human. It’s hard to explain. You work for the attention but do you have what it takes?
That’s one of the more interesting things about this game. You work to get to this point that new attention can be a lot to handle.
I was getting all of this good attention. I was so used to getting negative attention I didn’t know how to act. It can be overwhelming. It’s about mental wherewithal and knowing who you are. Who you are will shine through when they get to know you as an artist and as a person. That’s what I have to internalize to keep me level-headed.
By TE P. for Audiomack.