21-year-old artist Lil Xan is more than a SoundCloud rapper with a controversial drug moniker. Born Diego Leanos to parents of Mexican decent, the Redlands, California artist has become the mouthpiece for a generation of artists battling addiction by speaking out against substance abuse.
Late in November, a sold-out audience at New York’s iconic club, S.O.B.’s, welcomed Lil Xan. In unison, and to his surprise, the crowd recited lyrics to songs he believed were unreleased. The following day Lil Xan, accompanied by a plethora of MCM backpacks, joined us in the same room he inked his deal with Columbia Records to discuss topics ranging from his sudden success, his compulsive social media usage, to his plans for the future. “It’s all happening every day…every day is a blessing,” Lil Xan mumbled as he did his best to retreat into the couch.
If there is an artist that is an example of a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Lil Xan is just that. Through a series of unfortunate situations: a friend dying from laced-Xanax, his camera, which was his entry way into the entertainment industry, was stolen, and his personal battle with drug abuse, Lil Xan has claimed his place as an artist helping to heal a generation. As a former addict, he is carving a lane with the aim of using his lyrics to spread awareness about the dangers of becoming addicted.
He was at his lowest when he began recording music. From the ashes of his personal strife, his single, “Betrayed,” has given credence to an audience who shares a similar misery. On “Betrayed,” he raps, “Xans don’t make you / Xans gon’ take you / Xans gon’ fake you / Xans gon’ betray you.” The video has over 83 million views on YouTube and has cultivated a unique fan base known as the Xanarchy. One fan says, “His denouncing of Xanax I appreciated because I have some friends that had some tough times with them.”
When asked about what fictional character he could relate to Lil Xan chose Courage the Cowardly Dog. “He’s got such bad anxiety- he is always freaking out and I really resonate with that.” Although Lil Xan admits he is fearful, he embraces his responsibility for positively impacting peoples’ lives.
As “Betrayed” rose through the charts, substance abuse among artists and their followers continued to rise as well. This past November, Lil Peep overdosed on Xanax laced with Fentanyl, a cheaper, synthetic opioid significantly more powerful than morphine and the same drug that took Prince’s life in 2016. Peep’s sudden death created a truce among artists who willingly came forth admitting their own struggle with drug use, as well as their desire to change. These admissions are not conveyed in an auto-tuned couplet over high-hats and a rhythmic bass, where the message can be hidden. Instead, artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Pump, Famous Dex, and Smokepurpp, chose Twitter to speak honestly about their experiences. The impact their admittance has on fans is significant because many fans shape their lives based on an artist’s persona, performance, and lyrical content.
In the entertainment industry, consumers are numb to the idea that an artist performs best when in an altered state. For artists, this has been an unfortunate, unspoken formula for maintaining momentum and success. What makes this more challenging is that today’s artists start younger and rise faster. With rapid success comes an abundance of money, opportunity, exposure, and accumulation of things. The potential for destroying an individual’s psyche is immeasurable. What separates Lil Xan from other artists is his willingness to remain substance free, while using his musical platform to help others do the same.
This year is slated to be big for Lil Xan. Last week he released a new video, collaborating with the talented Chicago visionary that brought “Betrayed” to life, Cole Bennett of Lyrical Lemonade, for the single “Wake Up,” which has accumulated over 3 million views on YouTube. Additionally, Lil Xan will be featured on a track for Sonny Digital’s upcoming EP, releasing 1/26. He told us, “This next album is going to show…how I evolved my music from every aspect. It shows a level of maturity in my music in such a short period of time.”
Lil Xan is reaping the benefits of walking away from substance abuse and wants everyone to know that his best work is coming from a place of clarity and sobriety.