Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself

The Chicago rapper details his new album Restoration Of An American Idol, his definition of fame, and making music with his brother Chance The Rapper.

Photographer Lawrence Agyei
Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself Taylor Bennett in Chicago, on February 21 2017  

It’s been a long few months for Taylor Bennett. On the intro to his new album Restoration Of An American Idol, which is premiering on The FADER today, he reflects on the impact of that grind: “My shoulders got broader/ My music got smarter/ I’m working like this shit is a privilege.” Bennett’s maturation was the result of a combination of experiences: last summer he had a health scare in New York; he watched his brother Chance The Rapper ascend to the highest peaks of stardom; and then in January this year, he came out as a bisexual rapper to the world.

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All of that fed into the making of Restoration Of An American Idol, which features a mix of positive tracks with soulful beats and high aspirations. Plenty of friends pop up on the album: Jeremih, Kyle, Raury, Lil Yachty, and, of course, Chance. When The FADER caught up with Bennett earlier this week, he was skateboarding around town, and you could practically hear his smile over the phone. While running around his hometown and stopping in at a corner store, he spoke about the most important lesson he learned from his mom, his future approach to songwriting, and what people learn about him from this album.

There’s definitely a maturation of sound on this project. How did you make your music grow up along with you?

I like to think with all my music, and not just mine, but I think with all music writers in general, the best work comes from experience. You know, I went through a lot writing this project. I ended up getting really sick when I was in New York. I got a blood clot, but it was not just that. I went through different life changes and experiences. I had some friends pass away and all types of just crazy stuff.

On "Favorite Colors," you talk about "needing" a VMA and wanting to be on MTV and BET. Those kind of seem like old marks of making it. What does success look like for you?

I've talked to my brother about it before — I think he's kind of explained it best and we agree. Fame is such a strange thing. You can have it one second and then the next second it doesn't mean anything. But I think what matters more than that is what kind of person you are, what kind of character you have — who are you?

When it comes to fame, I think the way to handle it is to always be yourself. My mom always tells me three things: be sober, be humble, and be yourself. I think that if you stick to those three things, you don't have to worry about fame — because fame can change you.

People look at you different. I've like to ride my skateboard ‘cause I can't really walk around — that's why I'm riding my skateboard. I barely walk around anymore because there's people left and right stopping me. It's weird, man. It's definitely a weird thing.

Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself
Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself
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“I think there’s a lot of people — especially in the music community, especially in hip-hop — that don’t feel okay with being themselves, that feel like being different is to be wrong. I’ve never shared that belief.”

There's a track on the mixtape with your brother Chance, what is it like making music with him?

So Mike Will Made-It produced that beat and Jeremih's featured on it. It's an old song that he made about two years ago and I think it is my favorite Chance the Rapper song.

When I got sick and I was in New York, when I was on my hospital bed, I just called Chance and I was like, "You know, I can't stop thinking about this song. I need this song. Please give me this song, please send me this song so I can hear it." I don't even think I was asking for him to give it to me, I was just asking to hear it.

He sent the song to me, there was 15 seconds of, like, no beat at the end, which is not enough to write to. So I'm sitting in this hospital and constantly going back to these 15 seconds to the point where I'd almost wrote half the verse and the verse is really, really long. So I ended up calling him, and I was like, “Yo, can I get this song, I really want this song,” and he was like, “You know what, I got you.” And he gave it to me which was, like I said, a really big honor because I really loved that song.

Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself Taylor Bennett ordering at Jimmy John's, on February 21 2017  

At the top of the year, you came out on Twitter as bisexual. What was going through your head? Was there a specific moment that made you self-reflect and share your story?

I don't wanna just say specifically any moment but I think it was just the idea of how everything was turning. It wasn't about trying to make a statement, it was just about the idea that there's so many kids on the daily struggle with feeling like they're different because they might be attracted to a different sex or feeling different.

I think the whole idea of my music — and especially with this project — has always been to bring people together. My biggest dream that I've ever had was [when I was] 14. [In my dream,] I was performing at this huge concert. When I looked out into the crowd, everybody all looked so different and at one point I just said, “Everybody turn to each other and look at each other and realize that we're all the same.” I think that music has that power to bring people together and show people that no matter what, no matter who you like, no matter what race you are, no matter if you have money or don't have money, or you're black, white whatever, it's all about love. It's all about bringing people together. I think that's something that could stop so many different problems that we have in the world. I think that was the push for me — to help others, to let them realize that, you know, it's okay to be yourself.

I think there's a lot of people — especially in the music community, especially in hip-hop — that don't feel okay with being themselves, that feel like being different is to be wrong. I've never shared that belief. My parents and my brother and my friends and anybody that I've ever surrounded myself with, we've always accepted and respected each other for who we are. That's something that I want my music to reflect as well.

Have any rappers reached out to you with congratulations or well wishes?

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Yeah, a lot of my really close friends. SZA reached out to me, Kehlani reached out to me, Vic Mensa reached out to me, a lot of people. I think what's even bigger than people saying something and saying congrats is people not saying anything at all. It's people knowing and just saying, that doesn't change my view or my perspective of who you are as a person at all. I think that right there, I think that is what gives people the courage to be themselves and I wanna see more people be themselves — no matter if that means them coming out, no matter if that means them, I mean, doing anything. Just be yourself, you know?

“I hope my music brings memories and thoughts to people’s mind, so when they get older it’s not just a song. I want it to be a memory.”

There was a moment on "Play Your Part" where you were talking about being with a girl on a song. In the future, would your music include songs about being with guys?

I think in the future, possibly. I think my music is extremely versatile and I think one main thing that I always try to do is try to make my music and make the perspective okay for everybody to listen to and understand.

My music is very open. I like to think that there's endless possibilities and I think that Michael Jackson, if I'm not mistaken, was one of the artists that said one of my favorite quotes which is, "The worst thing you can do as an artist is not leave room for imagination to the listener." I mean songs like “Dirty Diana,” “Billie Jean,” and all types of music that people love. I think it's basically because you can create whatever idea or whatever meaning you wanna make from that song.

Something that I always try to do is leave very open perspectives for anybody. Like I said, when I write my music, I try to write it for everybody. In the future, who knows? I think it's all about experience and I try to write real-life situations, so if it happens, then of course. But if not, then I wouldn't do it, ‘cause it wouldn't be true. [Laughs.] But I mean, in the future, like I said, there's infinite possibilities, but you know when I wrote that song, I wrote it specifically about a girl and a relationship I was in.

What do you hope people get out of this project? What do you want them to know about you?

I hope people find out more about themselves. I hope that people share this music. I hope this music is an experience. I hope that this music makes more of an impression than being a song that they hear a couple times and they like. I hope it brings memories and thoughts to [people's] mind, so when they get older it's not just a song. I want it to be a memory.

Taylor Bennett Is Finally Ready To Be Himself