Have you heard that new song by Lil Something featuring Lil Something Else? Don’t you miss when rappers’ names began with ‘Big’? Rest in peace Biggie Smalls, Big Pun, Big L and co., but we have lost our Bigs and, birthed our Lils. With some seeing the recent surge of SoundCloud trap rappers as indicating the death of hip-hop, we might be better to see it as an era of rebirth. Where did the prefix come from, and when will the Lils grow?
Everyone knows someone who’s a little bit… little. The name is clearly common in a myriad of cultures, much like ‘Young’ or ‘Kid’. But juxtaposed with a large hip-hop ego, calling yourself ‘Lil’ implies that you are lacking, or at least learning. The name is nothing that new, but you can’t be ‘Lil’ forever…
In nationally recognised hip-hop, the name can be traced back to Lil Troy in 1988. Best known for his single ‘Wanna Be A Baller‘, the Houston rapper led the charge of the early ‘Lil’ craze. In fact, the name popped up all over America pretty simultaneously as states naturally developed their respective hip-hop scenes. Then Lil Kim and Lil Cease joined Junior M.A.F.I.A. in 1995, bringing the name to the forefront of East coast hip-hop. Interestingly, they were brought in by The Notorious B.I.G., who was perhaps the biggest of the Bigs.
Can you even name a ‘Big’ rapper nowadays? Big Sean I suppose, and Big K.R.I.T., but that seems about it. There’s Big Shaq, but as a parody road rapper his use of the name is somewhat satirical. Lampooning the London drill scene built on masculine assertion and violence, Shaq uses ‘Big’ as an ironic inflation of his inoffensive reality. Interestingly, it was America’s drill scene that contributed most to the recent rise in Lils. Drill rappers such as Lil Reese, Lil Bibby, Lil Durk, Lil Mouse and Lil Herb all carry the meek moniker despite their gritty music. That being said, Lil Herb has now grown up. Not into a fully grown plant, but into G Herbo.
Some rappers use the prefix’s juvenile connotations to create their persona. Lil Dicky uses the irony to create a character based on self-deprecation, whereas Lil Pump uses it to reflect his immature and playful character. Lil Peep wore his feelings of inferiority on his sleeve, so ‘Lil’ was used for endearing purposes especially as the name was given to him by his mother. Much like its original use, rapper and HIV activist Lil Eazy-E uses the name to straight up declare his juniority to his hip-hop predecessors and as well as his father. People are attracted to underdogs so it works. Who doesn’t want to see the little guys make it big?
Can Lil Jon still be ‘Lil’ at 47? Can Lil Flip still be ‘Lil’ at 6’1″? What we do know is that while you can’t be little forever, you also can’t always be big. Big Daddy Kane might have a huge legacy, but how does his fan base compare to that of Lil Uzi Vert? Quiet Lil.
The tall will fall, then the small will be tall. If you’re little or large, keep yourself growing. Just please choose a unique rap name, like Average Height or $tandard $ize.
Written by: James Wijesinghe