Even Lil Pump Can’t Have It All

The 18-year-old rapper’s Instagram flexes about money, drugs, and women have earned him millions of fans. In person, things aren’t quite so fun.

Lil Pump can’t find his weed.

He’s stomping around a rented Airbnb in the middle of Los Angeles wearing four heavy diamond chains, two diamond bracelets with spikes, and two watches. (He estimates that the jewelry he’s wearing is, alone, worth $1 million.) “What the fuck, man?” he says, ripping through the kitchen looking for his drugs, which come in pull-tab cans like flaked tuna. His crew reminds him they’re in the Louis Vuitton backpack that also holds more of his jewelry, but he continues to sulk until someone walks over and helps him locate them.

Despite the missing cans, there are copious amounts of weed in this house — flecked on nearly every surface, in the dining room, on the kitchen table, and in the ash-covered sink. The gas stove that’s being used as a lighter makes me worry about everyone’s eyebrows because I am, among this crowd, more of a narc than a party girl.

Rappers like 18-year-old Lil Pump are, seemingly, produced in a lab with the sole purpose of horrifying your mother. His face and body are tatted up with the types of drawings you’d tag your eighth-grade locker with; he’s a high school dropout who raps about owning multiple overpriced watches and drinking lean (a soda and codeine cough syrup cocktail), who lives a consequence-free life in LA with little supervision and seemingly free reign to party at nightclubs and strip clubs despite not being old enough to drink. His Instagram Stories are full of flexes: piles of cash and diamond chains and Lamborghinis and all the markers of what fame is supposed to look like. What teen wouldn’t find him totally compelling?

In person he is, frankly, cute as hell. He’s all high cheekbones and coy smiles, small in stature and frame, and no taller than 5'6". His dreads, which in the past he’s dyed bright pink, turquoise, and purple, are currently a toned-down blonde with dark brown roots. He has perfectly straight white teeth and thick, angled eyebrows and expressive eyes that sometimes droop when he smokes too much weed or drinks too much lean. Based on the amount of attention he gets from women, both his age and much older, homeboy’s gonna, like, get it.

Yet for someone whose career is largely built on an image of a person who doesn’t give a fuck, who’s never sober, and who at a very raw age has all the money in the world and none of the responsibilities of it, he’s surprisingly static in real life. In late February, I meet him at his Airbnb on the day of his second album’s release and he spends it largely wandering from room to room, smoking joints, looking at one of his two phones, or posing for photos for a T-shirt company he’s partnering with. He records a few Apple and Alexa promos for the album and drinks lean. He’s hours late for our interview, hiding on the second floor, and when I check his Instagram I find he’s broadcasting live from the bathroom while our photographers and I wait for him to come back downstairs.

Pump, though technically a legal adult, still seems like a child among a gaggle of grown-up handlers: a manager; a publicist; a producer, two “friends” who are much, much older than him; two beefy bodyguards who carry that Louis Vuitton backpack filled with everything precious to him (his jewelry and weed); and an adorable, clumsy white puppy named “Esskeetit,” Pump’s tagline that, roughly translated, means “Let’s get it.” (The dog does not appear to respond to his near-unpronounceable name.)

His team seemingly does everything for him, including reminding him to eat. When they do, he angrily slams a steak and plastic cup of macaroni and cheese into the microwave, then sits next to his producer to half-heartedly pick at it. These adults also know how to keep him happy. To help him forget about the almost-misplaced weed, they play music at an ear-splitting volume — mostly his own songs at first, with lyrics like “Walk around with my side bitch on a leash” — until his mood finally lifts. He pours more cough syrup into his fluorescent Fanta and then onto his steak while someone records him. He hams it up for the camera while taking a big bite and the video is posted for his 17.9 million followers moments later.

“I’mma be 18 forever,” he says, waving a joint around. “I get to do whatever I want.” 

Pump’s first self-titled album was released in 2017, and included the super-viral, 889 million YouTube views and counting (yes, you read that number right), SNL-mocked, Billboard Hot 100 song “Gucci Gang,” which cemented Pump as a rapper who loves drugs and luxury clothes and hates school and was still young enough to wear braces. Harverd Dropout, his hotly anticipated follow-up, features assists from rappers like Kanye West, Lil Wayne, YG, Offset, and Quavo and debuted at No. 7 on the US Billboard 200. While this debut is lower than his first album, it’s still pretty successful for a guy who pours cold medicine on reheated steak.

It probably seems easy to treat Pump like a clown, but he isn’t some small-time Soundcloud rapper anymore; he’s a bona fide part of the zeitgeist, an artist signed to a multimillion-dollar major label recording contract, who has captured the hearts and minds of disaffected teenagers everywhere. He’s not someone to ignore anymore, regardless of whether you like his music or not. He’s young and reckless, sure, but he has also managed to release two successful studio albums and is about to embark on a 17-city US tour. He’s making people a lot of money.

Pump exists somewhere in between the heavily curated social media presence his fans can’t get enough of and the sleepy, bored kid who doesn’t seem to want to do the things necessary to fulfill the contractual obligations of being a star. Spending time with him makes it clear that there’s a disconnect between Pump as a person — a child whose understanding of fame is still undeveloped and largely focused on strippers — and the version of himself he puts online in videos which show him peeing on money and spanking women with his friend and fellow Soundcloud rapper Smokepurpp. With me, he veers between the character he’s playing in public, talking about the drugs he likes (mushrooms at the beach, acid in the studio, molly at a bowling alley) and the person he seems to be at least some of the time: a sulky teenager who can’t find his weed.

“I’mma be 18 forever,” he says, waving a joint around. “I get to do whatever I want.”

The Friday I arrive at Pump’s rental, it’s 4 p.m. and he’s only been awake for a few hours. The Warner Bros. and YouTube Music listening party for Harverd Dropout was the night before, and Pump spent the evening partying with Riley Reid, who, he likes to boast, is the #1-rated porn star on Pornhub. She looks to be about Pump’s age, with her big eyes and baby-doll bangs, but is actually 27. “We had a VERY good time,” Pump tells me, raising his eyebrows like Milhouse. He shows me a video of him and Reid in bed together, where she’s naked but mostly obscured by Pump’s foot, which is adorned with a few of his diamond rings, and has a joint wedged between his toes. She takes a few hits, and then sucks on his big toe. “Yo, that shit feels goooood,” he says to me. “I used to think that shit was gay, but then I was like, wait.”

You likely know a Lil Pump song even if you can’t name it. He’s among the young, face tattoo–bearing rappers that have exploded in the last few years, guys like XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, Lil Skies, Lil Xan, Tekashi 6ix9ine, and Smokepurpp. You probably heard “Gucci Gang” in 2017 or you may recognize Lil Pump’s signature dreads. Or you saw him perform on SNL with Kanye West, dressed up like an expensive bottle of water. If not, a 16-year-old in your life definitely knows him.

Most of these rappers who rose to fame via Soundcloud tend to be the human equivalent of a Xanax (which they rap about rather frequently). Their music is often called emorap, because their songs are about being depressed, dying, taking downers, and going to morose parties. But Pump’s brand is drastically different: He might pop pills and chain-smoke blunts like everyone else, but his music is upbeat, poppy, repetitive, loud, and fun. While Lil Uzi Vert sings lines like “all my friends are dead,” Pump is out there living his best life, as evidenced in his song “Drug Addicts,” where he raps, “I’m a drug addict, I’m richer than my professor (man, fuck school).”

Pump’s music isn’t necessarily as compelling as his image, but his songs are verifiable bops.

If you are an old person like me — I am a full decade older than Pump so he sort of treats me like a matronly aunt bothering him with questions about his grades — your first question about Pump is likely: Where is your mother? Pump, whose real name is Gazzy Garcia, was born to Colombian parents; his mother, along with his half brother, are still in Miami, Florida, where Pump was born and raised. (His birth year is 2000, by the way, a fact that you would be right to be stressed about.) He doesn’t divulge much about his family. “I got them a house,” he says. “I like to take care of them. Yeah. Hell yeah.” He also tells me his mom hates his tattoos: a green alien above one eyebrow, a UFO landing on his other eyebrow, a rocket ship shooting into his eye, a frowny face between his eyebrows, flaming skulls on his throat, and the latest addition of three Powerpuff Girls, gracing the side of his neck, among others. No one in his family does interviews. His management did, however, mention that his younger brother is currently in medical school working toward becoming a brain surgeon.

Pump, meanwhile, was kicked out of school in 10th grade (the last in a string of expulsions) for starting a riot with his friend. He doesn’t remember the specifics. “Girl, I took so much drugs,” he says. “I’ve been kicked out of so many schools.” It’s a monumental life event he circles back to time and time again in his songs: The first song on Harverd Dropout is, would you believe it, called “Drop Out.” He takes great joy in the fact that he’s been able to accumulate so much wealth and so much stuff (including a mansion in Calabasas, California, and another in Miami Beach) despite not finishing high school.

Pump’s music isn’t necessarily as compelling as his image, but his songs are verifiable bops. They’re all about being rich and young and dumb and high — in “Be Like Me,” he raps, “I’m a millionaire, but I don’t know how to read,” which is objectively hilarious. And try listening to “Racks on Racks” once or twice or maybe 700 times without starting to enjoy the mind-numbing repetitiveness of “racks on racks on racks on racks on racks on racks, bitch.”

His music has made him very rich, so he says, but the attendant fame has also made him a little uneasy. “I don’t want to get shot,” he tells me. “I try not to think about it. I always got security. People just hate ’cause I got what they want.” In early 2018, Pump was arrested for firing a gun in his home, reportedly because three men were trying to break into his house. Now, he becomes borderline angry when someone leaves the front door of the Airbnb open, even for a few minutes, and always demands that it be locked, nervous that at any time someone could just walk in. The house itself is modest (by LA standards), with a big living room and kitchen and a skinny pool in the backyard. (Pump’s Calabasas home is too far a drive to get him back and forth for his press engagements in Hollywood.)

Does he feel any pressure to perform? “No,” he says. “That’s why I take drugs.”

But the house’s most interesting feature is the endless stream of young women who seem to come out of nowhere. They all look strikingly different from Riley Reid — who has herself disappeared — with her baby face and slinky posture. These women also all look much older than they are, with big hair and big earrings and big, Instagram-ready butts (of all ethnicities, gotta give it to him there), that they show off in very tiny, very tight bike shorts. They walk in and out of the rental, or just apparate from the upper floor, casually walking into the kitchen to eat mashed potatoes or roll a blunt. Pump never seems to know who any of them are. “I don’t know how they got here,” he says. “They’re just some random thots that just walk in.”

And while Pump enjoys the trappings of fame, he’s clearly not enjoying the more obligatory parts of the publicity cycle. During our interview his publicist tells him he has to record an Instagram video to promote Harverd Dropout. When she tells him he can’t hold a bottle of codeine in it, he compromises by turning the label away from the camera. He also really hates interviews. “I love the fame but sometimes it comes with a lot of bullshit,” he says. “It’s just annoying, your whole life depends on music. I just want to have fun with it like when I wasn’t with a label. I was just freeballing, just dropping songs, doing whatever the fuck I want. Now I gotta do what I gotta do.” Does he feel any pressure to perform? “No,” he says. “That’s why I take drugs.”

The drugs, by the way, are plentiful, and that much about Pump’s image is undoubtedly true. He chain-smokes blunts the length and thickness of a good hot dog in constant succession. Empty bottles of codeine cough syrup with the labels ripped off are littered around the house, as are half empty bottles of alcohol (none of which are Pump’s, who never drinks and says he has no interest in it) and discarded weed containers. It’s unclear if the drugs make him less predictable or if that’s just who he is.

Maybe one day there will be room for insight on the inner workings of Lil Pump — after he’s gone through ups and downs in his career and enters a reflective period — but for now, he’s not exactly up to examining his own existence. It’s that which makes him such a tough interview — in a recent Vulture piece, he tells Dee Lockett he’s “not a good communicator with people.” It might be asking a lot of a proverbial child to contextualize his sudden and confusing career to a public that is simultaneously adoring and resentful. All he knows is that he’s successful, and that people resent him for having so much success at such a young age. “They know they can’t do it as fast,” he says. “They think, Pump this, Pump that. But I’m smart. I know what I’m doing.”

Near the end of our formal interview — one that sprawls over 10 hours because Pump has the attention span of an 18-year-old on cough syrup because he is an 18-year-old on cough syrup — he stands over me with a childlike smile on his face and puts a hand on my shoulder. Gently, he rocks my entire body back and forth and asks me shyly, like a child asking his mother to stop wasting time in the grocery store so he can go home and watch television, “When are we gonna be done with the interviewwwwww?”

These are not the words of a bratty celebrity who’s done with an interview and is demanding to be left alone; he’s sincerely asking me for permission to be done with a boring task that distracts him from the fun parts of being a famous person.

I submit to this child, letting him gently push me around.

Pump is, frankly, still stuck in a high school mindset, his concept of fame an underdeveloped one at best: strippers, clubs, diamond chains, big houses, hanging out with other celebrities, Lamborghinis (of which there are two parked in the driveway, though Pump’s management tries to discourage him from driving), and doing whatever the fuck he wants. Remember being an 18-year-old guy and thinking the pinnacle of manhood was being able to fuck a porn star while a whole squad of people in the kitchen rolls joints for your pleasure? Here, that dream is alive.

“I’mma go invest in houses, strippers, and cars,” he tells me at one point while we sit in front of the fireplace in the living room. “And mushrooms. ’Cause mushrooms are healthy. They grow everywhere.” He stands up and peers at his face on the mirror above the mantle. He starts popping a pimple on his cheek until it breaks and bleeds, then tells me that people usually think he’s older than he is. “Everybody thinks I’m fucking 25 or some shit.”

Remember being an 18-year-old guy and thinking the pinnacle of manhood was being able to fuck a porn star while a whole squad of people in the kitchen roll joints for your pleasure? Here, that dream is alive. 

He eagerly answers questions about his sex life: At 12 he lost his virginity to a 17-year-old girl; he’s since slept with around 80 women; older women love him. “I got my dick sucked by a 40-year-old. I was 17,” he says. “I had a show somewhere — shorty came through to the hotel and they came with their auntie and the auntie was really thirsty. She was a cougar. So I was like, Fuck it. I want to get my dick sucked by a 40-year-old. It felt good but then after I was like, Fuck, I regret it. These are the stories to tell. Damn.”

Pump will also joyfully tell you about how the girls from high school who wouldn’t fuck with him are very interested in hopping on his dick now. Or about how he’s DMing with Paris Hilton (who is a full two decades older than him) and that he’d love to take her out for wings at Wingstop, his favorite.

Or, he’ll regale you with his latest sexual exploit. “Oh, yo, this bitch, she sucked my dick with an ice cube in the mouth. The craziest feeling.” Pump thinks this is a wild story, which if you’re young it is, but the ice cube–blow job trick is as old as time (or Cosmopolitan magazine) itself.

A lot of his bravado slips, though, when you ask him about anything controversial. Pump is, clearly, not a black person, but he uses the n-word gleefully, not just in his lyrics but also in conversation with me and in his discussions with his team. He claims he’s never received any blowback on it. He’s also reticent to discuss the controversy that got him in trouble last December, when he dropped a teaser of “Butterfly Doors” including racist lyrics and a video of him pulling his eyes into slits. “They call me Yao Ming ’cause my eyes real low,” he raps while belting out “ching chong” over the music. (The “ching chong” portion didn’t make it onto the album, imagine that.) When I ask about the response to this particular lyric, Pump just makes a cutting motion at his neck, indicating that he doesn’t really want to discuss it.

“I fuck with all Asian people, I have Asian friends myself. I didn’t mean to hurt nobody,” he says. “I felt bad about it. My main photographer’s Asian. I hang out with him all the time.”

When Pump finally leaves the rental at 1 a.m., it is to catch the last dregs of 1 OAK, a nightclub on Sunset Boulevard whose clientele is comprised of beautiful young women in strappy tops and older businessmen desperately trying to get those women to sleep with them. A black SUV pulls up at the back entrance and Pump rolls his window down; inside he’s flanked by two pretty girls, smoke so thick you can’t make out much more than their silhouettes.

He slips into the back of the club and takes his spot in the corner behind the DJ booth, standing on a seat so he’s now the tallest person in the room. It’s too crowded to really dance, so people are mostly bopping around while Pump refuses drinks, concentrating on smoking his weed instead. He takes the mic after an hour or so to perform briefly to an eager crowd who hold up a sea of phones to record their night with Pump.

If you wanted to watch a crush of white people gleefully sing the n-word along with Lil Pump, boy, do I ever have the nightmare nightclub for you.

Following Pump’s Instagram Stories you would see that he left 1 OAK after a few hours and took the party back to his Airbnb. The videos look a lot more fun than I suspect the afterparty actually was — Pump throwing dollar bills around, hanging out in the pool at 8 in the morning, smoking weed and listening to music and screaming unintelligibly. They match up what I had watched him film while we were together: raw bursts of energy for the camera before getting a bit crabby or sleepy or distracted and wandering away. Real life seems to be less glamorous than what he portrays for fans. Take, for example, his Instagram videos of him peeing on money. Turns out, he cleans that mess up himself. “I look back on it and I’m like, Fuck, I gotta pick it up.”

That Saturday afternoon a sleepy Pump is set to arrive at a soundstage to rehearse his performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He shows up two hours late, wearing a silver Louis Vuitton raincoat and matching shoes, with a toothbrush in his pocket. Riley Reid makes another appearance with a mystery woman in tow. Reid is wearing a bodysuit with “VIXEN” emblazoned over her butt, baggy black pants, fingerless gloves studded with rhinestones, and a gold leash. (Remember that Pump lyric about having a side bitch on a leash? Wish fulfillment if it ever existed.) She dotes on Pump like you would a new boyfriend, tending to him when he asks for a vessel for his lean, or making sure he has napkins for the chicken wings that are waiting for him at the soundstage when he arrives. Now and then he takes hold of her leash and tugs on it; she looks up at him and smiles patiently.

Turns out, he cleans that mess up himself. “I look back on it and I’m like, Fuck, I gotta pick it up.”

He goes through the routine for “Be Like Me” with his dancers twice, mugging in the mirror and hitting his mark when needed. It’s a perfect song for a guy like Pump, someone who really does want people to admire him enough to mimic him. Yet he himself is just an iteration of an iteration of an iteration of rappers past. He’s hardly the first artist to sell records on the back of being reckless, young, rich, and goofy, but he is undoubtedly charismatic and charming when he wants to turn it on. He insists upon holding a joint and his mug of lean while rehearsing “Be Like Me,” accidentally ashing on one of the dancers’ arms. His publicist reminds him not to curse on live television. “They let me say ‘bitch’ on Jimmy Fallon,” he whines.

When he returns to his seat and his wings and Reid, watching the dancers go through the routine another time, Reid tells him she forgot her phone in the car. “I was distracted by your dick,” she tells him. He is utterly delighted, and I am once again reminded that I am watching a teenage boy live out his fantasy of celebrity.

When I rejoin him for his live show the next day, he’s actually on time, the only event he shows up promptly for, possibly because it’s a free show in partnership with Tidal at the Roxy in Hollywood. This partnership is even more proof that Pump isn’t just some internet oddity, but a real moneymaker for more than his record label alone. That’s a lot of weight for a teenager to carry, and it’s not especially fun.

The venue is half full, a hundred and some attendees maybe, watching Pump along with special guests Lil Skies (who is touring with Pump this spring) and YG. It’s not as hectic as shows in the past, where he’s jumped off of rafters, hucked a microphone at a rude fan which prompted a fistfight in the crowd, or climbed onto a member of his security team to ride out to perform in the middle of a sea of youths. It’s just a 40-minute set, and the crowd thins out promptly.

Outside the Roxy, after Pump’s set, a group of young men approach the doors and are completely taken aback that his show is already finished. “It’s fucking 9:30!” one of them yells. For these boys — white, all around 21, living in LA and working in the arts — Pump’s appeal is clear. “I’m not in love with his music. It’s just very fun and, like, it’s not too complicated,” says one guy named Chris. “His personality and persona, he’s a young kid. He doesn’t give a fuck.”

“He embodies a lot of that shit that people long for. Total freedom, being crazy and doing weird shit.” 

“He embodies a lot of that shit that people long for. Total freedom,” his friend adds. “Being crazy and doing weird shit.”

But for all the stress he’s under to be a 24-hour celebrity content machine, Pump is looking toward his future. He tells me he plans to live a very long life. “I hope I can reach at least like 95 ’cause in a song I said I’mma sip lean ’til I’m 95,” he says.

He just wants to die of natural causes, he tells me. Nothing traumatic. And preferably, no gunshot wounds. Can you blame him? Among his contemporaries, Lil Peep died of an overdose, XXXTentacion was shot and killed, and Tekashi 6ix9ine might end up in prison for years. Longevity for these particular artists is an anomaly. So there’s also something almost refreshing about a joyous, reckless teen with still relatively minor legal woes amid all this dread, a celebrity who isn’t being accused of using a child in a sexual performance or domestic abuse of his pregnant girlfriend. He might be anxious about dying, but at least he’s trying to have fun while he’s here.

Pump claims to be a free agent now, saying his contract with Warner Bros. was a one-record deal. He doesn’t yet know where he might go next or what label he might sign with, but he does behave as if the world is at his feet. “Who knows?” he says with a big grin when I ask him what’s next. “Who knows what’s going to happen? I’m talking to God. I’m talking to God.” ●

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