Sometimes moments are years in the making. From building an audience to growing a network to understanding how to navigate in the game, there are many steps that need to be taken before certain moments happen. That was the case with Lil Bad and his first headlining show at The Black Box, originally set for April 9, and while that has been postponed thanks to COVID-19, the Denver MC is no stranger to unforseen bumps in the road. With a history that includes being put on a blacklist and having to build connections across the country, Lil Bad’s story is one that many upcoming artists can learn from, and he’s grown as both an MC and businessman thanks to his journey.
The journey itself started in Kansas City, but Lil Bad only became Lil Bad when he arrived in Aurora as an adolescent. After making a name for himself thanks to his life in the streets, Bad began taking rap a little more seriously. While he always dabbled with the mic, things didn’t start to take form until 2010/2011 when Bad was on a road trip to Topeka where he got the chance to play a few of his songs to Baby Dip, a highly influential friend of his. Once the tracks started playing, it became clear Lil Bad had some skill, and after that Baby Dip helped him grow his audience in Denver, culminating in some solid videos that got his name buzzing, including getting recognized by DJ KTone. The city started paying attention, and Bad put in the necessary work to get his musical career going, dropping tape after tape and performing at live shows. At around this time, some other people started taking notice of Bad’s increased popularity, but not in a positive light.
Thanks to his gang affiliations, the Denver Police Department began keeping an eye on Bad and the vents he was attending. According to Bad, over the course of a few years, the police would show up to his shows to disrupt the event, or even tell promoters outright that he brought too many gang members to his shows and to not let him perform. This was an unwelcome dynamic, especially at such a pivotal point in his career, and it took Bad directly calling the Metro Gang Taskforce in order for the harassments to stop. By this time, years of Bad’s career had already been impacted by this situation, but he was lucky; he hadn’t been focusing 100% of his energy on the Mile High City. In fact, he had been making some big waves closer to the coast.
Bad’s gang affiliation ended up being a double edged sword. Yes, it created a problematic situation in Denver, but it also allowed him to grow a network beyond the city, particularly in Los Angeles. After making a connection with the legendary Nipsey Hussle, thanks to their shared affiliation, Bad released a track with the late MC in 2012, which served as tangible proof that Bad was growing his network into something much bigger. When asked if he could have the success he’s found today without his L.A. connections, Bad is brutally honest in his answer: “Hell no.”
History shows he is right. No hip hop artist has “made it” in Denver without having broader connections, and Bad has made the most of his wide network. An example of this is his business partner, Milk Chris, the creator of Sheesh! Apparel who’s originally from Long Beach and helped put together Bad’s (postponed) upcoming show. This isn’t to say that Denver didn’t show any support. In fact, Bad says that networking and traveling is simply part of growing as an artist. He recommends not to “hustle in circles” and getting outside of Denver has helped him achieve new heights, sometimes simply due to happenstance. Los Angeles is a hub for the music industry, to the point that an upcoming artist could bump into their next big opportunity just walking down the street. One thing that Bad emphasized is that networking is integral to being successful in the music industry. He learned how to navigate and network, but it took time and he feels like if he had developed these skills earlier in his career, he would be thriving even more than he already is. It’s a lesson he learned and wants to impart on the artists here in Denver that are just getting their feet wet in the industry.
From his high quality music to the lessons he can teach the rest of the class, Lil Bad brings a lot to the table for Denver hip hop. While his first headlining show may be postponed, it’s clear that he has the perseverance and demeanor to outlast whatever trying times this virus may impose as he continues to progress his art and his brand.