Taylor Bennett is warm. Even the Chicago rapper’s steady work in the movement towards black, male liberation hasn’t stifled his humility. On a mild spring day, he walks into the office, ready for an interview but is revved up for a conversation. He’s light on security, coming in accompanied solely by his manager, who he treats more like a friend than anything. Once he spots his interviewer, he smiles and introduces himself even though he knows that you know who he is. And you can only wonder whether he’s aware of what he’s done.
Bennett has talked about being mistaken for his older brother, Chance the Rapper, quite a bit in the past, but the 22-year-old musician shouldn’t have any trouble with that in the future. After coming out in January of 2017, he’s gotten a significant amount of attention surrounding a single tweet. He doesn’t make it about himself, though. After exchanging niceties, he asks, “So what are y’all doing for pride month?” His ideas are a combination of celebration and awareness.
Over the last year, Bennett has lent his face to campaigns for companies like Pharrell and Nigo’s BBC, Urban Outfitters’ “UO Pride” collection, and most recently he worked with Express on their Spring 2018 “Express. Your Rules.” campaign, which urges consumers to take curated paths in addition to the brand expanding their size range. Bennett is interested in being a rep for all of his communities and he’s all about encouraging his fans to be who they need to be, which is well-aligned with the theme of his new project.
— “BE YOURSELF” OUT NOW! (@_TaylorBennett) June 6, 2018
Be Yourself, which drops today (June 6), lyrically and sonically explores everything that Taylor Bennett stands for. It’s his first album release since coming out as bisexual on Twitter, but he’s been busy. He’s come a long way from Chance’s shadows, establishing himself as a worthy artist and dedicating himself to the issues that don’t get enough and need more attention. “A music career is a platform,” Taylor says. And in moving that way, the young indie rapper has made a name for himself and come up without noticing.
“You spend so much of your life, especially as an independent artist, trying to be consistent. It’s not just the music: it’s the work, it’s the campaigns, it’s the publishing, it’s your distribution team, and it’s your management team. You’re doing that sh*t so constantly that you don’t even realize that you’re progressing,” he continues. Bennett recalls Broad Shoulders and Restoration and their contributions to his new self-awareness. Just about three years into his recognition, Bennett is already realizing his growth. “While I listen to my own project, I think, ‘Damn, I have come far.’ When I first started, with the moving around, I couldn’t afford to get a hotel.”
When he plays his album for the room, there is a tangible feeling that he gave it all he had. He sings along to his own crooning and nods to beats he’s already heard. He is proud but humbled by his mission.
Knowing that he has worked to get to this point surprises him more than anything because everything is about something larger. Taylor’s message is as consistent as he works to remain, supporting campaigns for love of self and truly hoping to promote it. “I’m in stores,” he says. “Everywhere I walk in New York, there’s a big a** photo of me; it’s crazy. But then you also have to just remember the message and remember why you’re doing this.”
If you ever feel like you’ve accomplished everything you needed to, you may be in need of a larger goal. There is always something bigger to reach for. Bennett is a big believer in this mantra. He dives into the way we tend to watch our idols from the sidelines, aspiring toward their goals with the belief that they’ve done everything possible to soothe the world. And there’s nothing wrong with exemplars, but there can never be full attainment of something, just victories inching toward it. Bennett touches on his “message” often and it’s easy to applaud him for sticking to it. But he’s not quite at the point of conquest yet. When asked whether the message is out and the goal is reached, Bennett says, “No. My fan base is growing but I mean, no. We’re far from it.”
“Ultimately,” he says, “the message is ‘Be Yourself’ and that doesn’t mean to be gay, be smart, be black, be white, or any of those things. It’s just ‘Be Yourself’ and I think that’s what’s really missing… There’s a bigger message behind the music than whatever the fans want to hear.” And Taylor Bennett is very much himself. In the end, he’ll have filled in the gap between the LGBTQ community and hip-hop. Be Yourself is an ode to connectivity and singularity all in one.