If you’re into hip-hop that extends beyond the Top 40 radio playlists, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Lyrical Lemonade. The indie platform has become one of the most reliable methods for helping small name hip-hop talents get the attention of the public, and it’s been around for quite some time.
But the origin and scope of Lyrical Lemonade are interesting and could set the course for what the industry will look like in the years or even decades to come. Here’s everything you need to know about Lyrical Lemonade.
The Creator: Cole Bennett
You probably wouldn’t peg Cole Bennett as an important face in hip-hop just by looking at him. He just looks like any other underdressed young white dude, but what he represents is an innovative approach to success that offers a pathway to success for artists beyond appealing to the suits at record labels.
He started Lyrical Lemonade while he was still in high school, and it was initially just a blog meant to document the nearby Chicago hip-hop scene. Using a video camera given to him by his mother, Cole would drive an hour and a half to record the shows of then-budding artists like Chief Keef and Chance the Rapper.
The Lyrical Lemonade blog developed into a YouTube channel, and Bennett quickly became a well-known quantity in the Chicago scene. His videos started as recaps and recordings of shows, but he went on to develop into documentaries about up-and-comers in Chicago hip-hop and more intimate ciphers.
If you wanted to see what was going on in the hip-hop underground, Bennett’s channel became the place you wanted to go. The accessibility of the artists – along with Bennett’s personability and authenticity – created an approach to artists that was more personal than most.
Bennett’s integration into the scene led to friendships, and then collaborations, with some serious talent. Creating videos for rappers like Taylor Bennet and Vic Mensa drew the appreciation of larger names – and by 2016 and 2017, he was working with more recognized talents like Famous Dex and Lil Xan. And just a short time after that, he was enlisted to work with some of the biggest names in the business.
Everyone from Eminem to Kanye West to Wiz Khalifa has shelled out money and time to work with Bennett under the Lyrical Lemonade name.
Lyrical Lemonade: A Local Operation
Bennett’s close interpersonal relationship with much of the Chicago scene, along with his unique style of animation and understanding of the game, has transformed him into potentially the hottest rap video director in the game.
Bennett has built a fanbase all his own at just the age of 23, and those fans are passionate. He receives fan mail and even presents delivered to the Lyrical Lemonade office regularly.
It’s rare that you see the level of fan awareness surrounding a video director, and it’s rare for you to see such unconventional videography style in a hip-hop video, but that’s just how Bennett likes it. By taking authorial control and building out unique identities for some smaller name rappers, he now has the flexibility to do his own thing when it comes to working with the biggest stars around.
But there’s more than just Bennett’s skills as a director at work here. Lyrical Lemonade itself has become one of the most prominent tastemakers in hip-hop. It’s become a centralized hub for hip-hop videos from around the world, and a song being featured on Lyrical Lemonade often presages a rise to the top for an artist. But beyond that, Lyrical Lemonade is the beating heart for much of what’s happening in hip-hop.
Reviews, interviews, and artist spotlight all help to provide a unique identity for Lyrical Lemonade – a chill, virtual space where the fringe, the underground, and the not-made-for-mainstream can share their art and find exposure to new fans.
Part of fan trust in the Lyrical Lemonade name comes down to Bennett’s willingness to keep things real.
As his business started to grow, he found himself working with artists from around the world, and the next natural move would mean moving to a city with a booming recording industry. But Bennett rejected a move to Los Angeles or New York City in favor of staying in Chicago. There was even an offer by an unknown party to buy out Lyrical Lemonade for $30 million. Instead, he built the headquarters in Chicago.
One of the Lyrical Lemonade’s big missions is to put Chicago back on the map as a hip-hop hub, but it’s also to help the community at large. That means putting Chicago artists front and center in the public eye but also providing those artists with the resources they need to hone their skills and get their rhymes out on the open market.
Bennett continues to shoot and edit his own videos, and he still works closely with indie cats with a promise between his personal projects and works with larger entertainers.
As Bennett and Lyrical Lemonade were really coming into their own, the Chicago music scene seemed like it might be on its last legs. Threats of violence left many clubs and venues unwilling to host hip-hop shows, despite fervent attempts by Bennett and others to broadcast the local sound.
Lyrical Lemonade’s Summer Smash Festival was launched in 2018 and drew 11,000 guests in a single day. Those numbers nearly doubled in the second year. Summer Smash is produced in conjunction with local label SPKRBX, and it’s designed to always stay in Chicago to continue to shine a spotlight on the community. Lyrical Lemonade has even sponsored a monthly community cleanup day in Douglas Park – the westside park that’s home to the festival.
An Approach Driven by Personality
Lyrical Lemonade is growing at a rapid pace. What was once a blog and then a YouTube channel has transformed into a global name that’s shaping the face of what hip-hop is. And they’ve begun to get creative with their endeavors.
Separate collaborations with Jordan Brand and FTP have resulted in two distinct streetwear lines tied to Lyrical Lemonade. Bennett has even expressed his interest in starting a drink brand that sells actual lemonade and competes with major names like Tropicana.
But whatever shape Lyrical Lemonade takes, it’s always most directly influenced by Bennett’s own sense of identity. He’s passed down multiple deals to sell out, and for good reason. He’s clearly passionate about the music, passionate about artists, and passionate about Chicago. And the Lyrical Lemonade office itself is something of an odd beast. Largely populated by friends of Bennett’s from college, the office employs unconventional work hours that somehow manage to get the job done.
For the employees that work there, the fact that they feel like they’re making a difference makes it all worth it, and it helps provide a unique sense of identity to Lyrical Lemonade that’s rare to find. This is a situation where selling out could have entirely destroyed the aesthetic that has made it such a trusted and beloved brand for the past few years.
Whatever happens, it’s likely that hip-hop heads will be hearing a lot more about Lyrical Lemonade, and about Chase Bennett, in the years to come.