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INTERVIEW: Taylor Bennett on Soundset, Fatherhood, Chicago, and His Upcoming Project

Hip-hop artist Taylor Bennett (center) in the music video for his single “Roof Gone”.

Taylor Bennett took the stage at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Sunday at 12:30 pm. The occasion? The Soundset Music Festival. The artist? Only 23. The young and always energetic Bennett commanded the stage from start to finish of his 30 minute set, covering many of his major hits, including “Streaming Services” and “Broad Shoulders”.

Taylor’s brief set encapsulated what he’s known so well for: energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and originality. Like his brother Chance the Rapper, Bennett’s music embraces a diversity of moods, tones, and vibes – all while consistently remaining positive and strikingly sincere. Like Chance, Bennett is an outspoken member of the rap profession, often proclaiming his support of the LGBTQ community, advocating for his hometown of Chicago, and stressing the necessity of being yourself (shown further by entitling his Summer 2018 EP, Be Yourself).

Bennet’s advocacy and unique energy have gained him a huge fan base that continues to grow with each additional project. Today, he is one of the more recognizable names in Chicago rap, prompting thousands to come to Soundset early in the day to see his set.

In addition to performances around the country and ongoing advocacy for improved education and safety in Chicago, Bennett has been working on an upcoming album, The American Reject, which drops today. With featured artists like Chance, Ty Dolla $ign, and Mr. Hudson, the album seems poised to continue Taylor’s rising popularity and increasing impact on rap. David Bix spoke with Taylor Bennet about Chicago hip-hop, songs going big, and more.

Is this your first performance at the Soundset Music Festival? Are you especially close with any of the other artists performing at Soundset?

I have a strong relationship with Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert, and have become really good friends with G-eazy.

What to you is special about performing at outdoor venues and music festivals?

Being inside the environment. In music, it’s so important to have really dope venues.

One of the really cool things about music festivals is you get to hear the music travel. It’s also a great time to really connect with fans. Minnesota is a 45-minute plane ride from Chicago, so Soundset has been something all my friends have gone to.

How has growing up in the city of Chicago shaped you as both a musician and an individual?

Growing up in Chicago has made me different as a person. Chicago is one of the most violent, but also one of the most cultured cities – especially in terms of the art and education – as well as in terms of being leaders. Working with mental health, donating millions of dollars to education, [this] really grabs the concept of what we really wanted to learn.

I wouldn’t be myself as a musician or an artist without Chicago. As somebody who was also given an individual educational plan, you can see the flaws in the system. I do lots of work trying to help the LGBT community. Chicago shaped us to be the people we are.

The cover image for Taylor Bennett’s new album The American Reject, which drops today.

How have Chicago rappers of the previous generation inspired you?

Kanye West clearly has inspired me, in terms of my always speaking my mind. “Talk to people in your true tone.” Furthermore, he’s taught me to always stand up for what you believe is right, instead of worrying about saying something. For Kanye, instead of worrying about saying something, he’s really worried about not saying enough. Kanye clearly is a star: he’s so versatile as a multiple-brand ambassador while also staying true to his music and to his city and to himself. My brother and I got a lot about what it means to be a successful African American man from Chicago from Kanye West.

Lupe Fiasco…he was the first person to make nerds cool, not trying to be a thug or something he wasn’t in his songs. These are all doors that have been opened by these figures for people like me today… They’ve taught me that nothing’s impossible.

How has becoming both an uncle as well as a father changed your perspective on music, and life in general?

A ton. I now go to the gym every day, I changed my eating habits (I don’t eat red meat or chicken now). It makes you grow up, think about things differently, how you speak and present yourself.

As a kid, you are used to simply caring about yourself, thinking you are the most important factor. When you have a kid, that changes. It changes the perspective of how you view other people knowing their priorities and how they carry the weight of someone else.

We all came from the same place at the end of the day, I think that that’s the thing that my eyes have been opened to for sure.

What does love mean to you?

Love is clearly a word that we use to label lust, peace, caring, cheer, happiness. I think we equate love to everything in the world. The beautiful thing about love is that love hurts… but it’s important to also know that you don’t always need or want love.

If you could collaborate with any artists in the game right now, who would they be?

Taylor: Juice WRLD. Shoutout to Juice WRLD!  That’s my guy, we just haven’t had a chance to collaborate yet. He’s from Chicago; there aren’t any others who can conceptualize the future of music the way that he can. Everyone’s following him right now. I’ve also always been a fan of Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Kanye West … people who have created the blueprint of what music should be at that time period. Right now, to me, that person is Juice WRLD.

When you make a song in the studio, do you ever get a sense of how popular it would be…?  For instance, when you made some of your bigger songs, whether they be “Broad Shoulders”, “Dancing in the Rain”, or “Neon Lights”, did you realize how big they’d become?

I knew “Broad Shoulders” was gonna be huge, I knew many songs had potential or were everything people wanted to hear.

Are there any songs that you released that you expected to be bigger?

That song for me was “Roof Gone”. It’s gotten millions of plays and whatnot, but wasn’t as big as I thought it would be.