Jesse Lirola Taylor Bennett
3.30.2017

Exclusive: Taylor Bennett Talks Coming Out, Brother Chance, & Staying True to Himself

Welcome to “The Taylor Bennett Show.”

For years, the 21-year-old was known as “Chance the Rapper’s little brother,” given his older sibling’s success. But now, he’s stepping out of his shadow. After releasing his EP Restoration of an American Idol in February, the Chicago spitter is heading out on the “Taylor Bennett Show Tour,” which kicks off April 3 in Cambridge, Mass.

All of this comes at a pivotal time for Bennett, who made headlines in January when he opened up about his sexuality. “I’d like to be more open about myself to help others that struggle with the same issues,” he tweeted. “I do recognize myself as a bisexual male & do & have always openly supported the gay community & will keep doing so in 2017.”

Before Bennett hits the road, he got on the line with Rap-Up to talk about his upbringing, his influences, and his recent declaration. He also opened up about his latest project, his growth, his plans, and whether he and Chance will ever team up on a joint project.

What role did music play in your household growing up?

We played all kinds of music, from Lenny Kravitz to Aretha Franklin, Queen, John Legend, Kanye West, Outkast. It was very diverse, growing up.

When did those hip-hop influences really start kicking in for you?

I think I was like nine years old. I was watching BET videos and there was a track on there by Twista and Faith Evans. It was called “Hope.” After hearing that and seeing how it affected me, I knew that I wanted to make music.

How long after that did you start writing raps?

I started writing music soon after that, around 10 or 11. Really young. I can’t say it was the best music, but that’s when I started…I started writing about what it was like growing up on the South Side of Chicago. There are songs that I started recording when I was 14, like “Dear Daddy.” Those were very, very early on.

Your older brother was establishing himself at around the same time. How did that help you?

It showed me how to do marketing. He showed me how to hustle, how to always put my best foot forward, and he showed me how to be myself.

“Chance showed me how to hustle, how to always put my best foot forward, and he showed me how to be myself”

Was there ever any pressure on your end, as he was making a name for himself?

No, not really. It’s never been about competing with Chance. It’s always been about being the best me I can possibly be. Any artist who competes with somebody else cuts themselves short because your best competition is yourself. Nobody will push you harder than you can.

Your father worked with President Obama. What was he like and what did you learn from him?

He’s a great guy. He has a great family. They’re amazing people. They’ve done great work for the Chicago community and for the United States, as well. He’s always been a very down-to-earth guy. He’s always very business savvy but also a very playful guy. Very cool. Anybody that comes in contact with President Obama says that’s the guy you want to be like when they get older. He’s an amazing guy.

You recently came out as bisexual, saying you wanted to be more open about yourself. What led you to make that public declaration?

I think it was just about being yourself. I have gay fans, straight fans, white fans, black fans, poor fans, rich fans. I think it’s always important to be yourself. My mom always taught me three things: be yourself, be humble, and stay sober, and you’ll be good. It wasn’t for blogs. It wasn’t for media. It was specifically to my fans who might have issues combatting those things and just being themselves. That’s one of the main things in my music, is being yourself.

You just released Restoration of an American Idol. What do you hope to achieve with the project? How do you feel it was taken by fans?

I think it was taken well. It’s only been out for about three weeks so I can’t really tell the full effect but I can tell people really like it. The numbers are doing crazy. Everybody’s talking about it. We were a hit at SXSW. What I wanted people to take from it, is I wanted people to understand that you can be yourself, and that with hard work and constant strides, you can achieve anything. That was basically the basis of the project. Restoration, means to restore, and I felt like I was restoring being yourself back to hip-hop. That’s what my music has always been about and that was the basis of that album.

You worked with Chance on your last two projects. Could you ever see yourselves working on a joint project?

Yeah, we talked about it before. I think we’re both, right now, doing our thing. But I mean, who knows? Someday, we may get there. Of course, we’ve talked about that a couple of times. I think that it would be an amazing project.

What have those collaborations been like? What are the vibes in the studio? What kind of advice goes back and forth?

We don’t really give each other advice. We let each other do our own thing. You never want to tell an artist how he should sound, or how she should sound. You let them do their thing and you build off of that. When we’re in the studio, as funny as it sounds, we never really talk about music. We talk about all kinds of other shit though. In the studio, we might say, “I like that lyric,” but I’ve never told my brother, “I don’t like that lyric.” Sometimes, we feed off each other and we might say, “Maybe you should retake that one more time to make it sound a little bit better.” But we try to let each other do our own thing because we’re both different people. If I was in the studio with Kanye West and he went in and recorded a verse, when he came back out, I wouldn’t be like, “You know what, Kanye? I think that you should say this in your song,” because you’re knocking that creative flow for that artist. You don’t ever want to be that way when you’re working with somebody else. People don’t want to hear deterred ideas. They want to hear straight forward, this is what they were thinking when they got to the studio, and this is what they said.

You dropped your film Broad Shoulders earlier this year. How do you envision your future in the movie world? Is that something you’ll continue to pursue?

Yeah, definitely. You know, you can’t be a rapper running around a stage for your whole life. I’ve always liked comedy, and I’ve always liked movies, and I’ve always liked acting, as well, so I’m sure that I’ll branch out. I want to start doing it so that when I get there, I already conquered all the basics. That’s definitely one of the options for the future, for sure.

Do you see yourself dropping more projects this year?

Yeah, I’m definitely going to have more projects soon. I like to give it as much time as I possibly can, for the fans. Nobody wants to hear the same level. People want to hear different [levels]. I’m working. I’m in the studio right now. I’ll continue working until I find something that’s great. I’m working with some artists, some big features right now, I can’t say names, but it should be very exciting in the future.

What has it been like to collaborate with these bigger artists?

It’s crazy. I was just hanging out with Wale the other day, at SXSW. He was pretty proud of my music. MadeinTYO is one of my new good friends and he’s a very talented artist. All of these different artists telling me they really rock with my music is a good feeling. It lets you know you’re making good music, so it’s been awesome, man. Months ago, I didn’t know any of these guys and I’m starting to meet more and more of them. It’s not like they come to me because they want me to work with their label or anything like that. It’s just, “I like your music.” That’s a good feeling, to know people care about your music.

“Lil Wayne knew who I was when I met him. And that was the coolest thing ever”

In the past, you’ve said that artists like Lil Wayne have mistaken you for Chance when they saw you. But they’re coming to you for you now. How does that feel?

It’s really cool. Just to clear the record with Lil Wayne, I don’t know if you were talking about Wayne specifically, but Lil Wayne knew who I was when I met him. And that was the coolest thing ever because I was way, way, way younger. I’m sure he heard of me somehow through Chance but I met him at SXSW and he definitely knew and recognized who I was and that was the first major artist that noticed me. I have met a lot of different people who’ve been confused about us, and I mean, I don’t know, I guess I would be confused too. I would instantly know that there’s some kind of relation or I would think, “That’s that guy.” It’s okay. I wouldn’t say it’s the worst thing in the world for people to think that you’re Chance the Rapper. It has its upsides and it has its downsides.

“There was a point that people just knew me as ‘Chance’s little brother.’ But now…I’m standing on my own two”

I think this is the difference since the project dropped. Now, I think people say, “Taylor Bennett is doing these things.” That’s awesome. I met Desiigner and other guys and it’s like, “Taylor Bennett.” It used to be like…There was a point, after I dropped Broad Shoulders, that people just knew me as “Chance’s little brother.” Everybody was talking about, “Chance’s little brother is a great rapper.” So, when people met me, they didn’t know my name. They just knew me as Chance’s little brother. I didn’t take it as a sign of disrespect. That’s just what it was. But now, it’s at a point where I have this music out with Jeremih, Mike WiLL Made-It, Lil Yachty, and Raury, and all these good tracks out, so now it’s like, “That’s Taylor Bennett.” I’m standing on my own two.

What’s next in your journey?

I’ve been working pretty hard, man. I’m in talks with some very big artists and I’m about to head out on my first headlining tour, “The Taylor Bennett Show.” We sold out a couple of dates already. And, you know, just constantly putting my best foot forward, to achieve something even better. This is only the beginning.

You mentioned the tour. What can fans expect from “The Taylor Bennett Show?”

Some very new material. I’m bringing my boy Brian Fresco from SaveMoney. He has a really big hit out right now. My artist from Tay Bennett Entertainment, Morocco Brown, is coming out on a couple of dates as well. It’ll be crazy. I’ll be doing some of the old school stuff and I’ll be doing a lot of the new school stuff. I know there’s a lot of people who haven’t gotten a chance to see me perform the new songs and a lot of people who haven’t gotten a chance to see me do Broad Shoulders yet. I think it’s going to be crazy. I can’t wait.

–Andres Tardio