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The Organic Rise of Larry June, the Rap Game Jack LaLanne

The San Francisco MC, who returns with ‘The Orange Print’ on Friday, is becoming Bay Area royalty, the healthy way

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s 4 p.m. at a Safeway parking lot in Ocean Beach, and Larry June still hasn’t shown up. His latest project, Orange Print, is two weeks from release, which means more unexpected studio time, and by consequence, delaying an interview for four hours. During the delays, San Francisco transforms from a foggy, gloomy slab of concrete and Victorian houses to a spectacular sunny utopia. After I spend about 20 minutes making small talk with his label reps, a black Mercedes-AMG sedan pulls up just as the clouds finish parting. Even when June’s late, he’s right on time. But even with the certainty of his presence, there’s still the question of where the interview will take place. Across the street lies the Western entrance of Golden Gate Park, and down the road is the beach itself, but neither seems to align with Larry’s vision. Finally, we settle on the Lands End parking lot, around the corner. I drove behind June, down Fulton Street onto Point Lobos Avenue while playing “Smoothies in 1991,” June’s signature hit, in a scene that would make a suitable stand-in for the Amalfi Coast.

For the past decade, June has curated a similar vibe on wax, releasing 19 underground projects, including a four-album run during COVID-19–ravaged 2020. He raps about smoothies, financial freedom, and cars. In a genre where jewelry and cars are symbols of luxury, he stunts with expensive blenders, Dyson fans, and tuck spots in Mission Bay. If E-40 is rap’s model of independence, June is hip-hop’s Jack LaLanne, and he’s primed to transform Bay Area rap. He has a mouthpiece like Mac Dre and the soul of RBL Posse, with a mission to make it on his terms, even if celebrity doesn’t necessarily follow.

“Me being super famous and shit, that’s cool. That’s tight, but that’s not really my goal,” he says. “I just want to be me. And they know me, and it was only one me. My goal is to be a legend. To be a legend from here. I am thinking bigger because numbers add up the same to the motherfuckers that’s on the TV.”

Larry June was born Larry Eugene Hendricks III to teenage parents at St. Luke’s Hospital eight miles away from the parking lot where we’re speaking. His father, Larry Jr., was affectionately called “Big June,” making his boy “Little June,” birthing a rap name two decades later. His family settled in the predominantly Black Hunters Point neighborhood. When he was 5, his mother decided to move to Atlanta, and Lil’ June followed. He’d split time between the two cities, coming back to the West Coast on holidays. His childhood was similar to Kobe Bryant’s, in that he’d live the majority of his young life in one place while claiming another. Each trip home created a yearning to come back full time. At age 14, he got his wish, moving back to Hunters Point briefly before settling in Vallejo and attending Jesse Bethel High School. He could always get money. One time when he was in Georgia, he bought a Dickies shirt and pants and rolled around in the grass to make the appearance he was a landscaper so he could look legit when he knocked on his neighbors’ doors to rake their leaves. All the while, he was hustling, on both ends of the law.

“It was active, man,” the 30-year-old June remembers. “It was a whole different ball game. We was fucking with anything we can get our hands on and make some money.”

He brought the same mindset to music. His dad dabbled in rapping and would always have some extra CD-Rs laying around. June would take the extra CDs, put music on them, then travel to high schools around Vallejo, San Francisco, and beyond. Then he found out he could sell them to record stores, so he went to Rasputin’s in Berkeley and sold his remaining stock. He wasn’t going to school much, so he eventually dropped out of high school. The music was jumping a tad—Complex posted his 2014 mixtape Route 80 with TM88—but money was still hard to come by, so he kept hustling. Following the Complex piece, he signed a contract with Warner, in which he got a $20,000 advance (“spent that in a day,” he said) in exchange for two extended plays with a mutual option for more records.

“I see that shit in movies and shit,” he said. “I didn’t really know nothing about it so I said fuck it. Do a couple EPs. Get a little $20,000.”

It seemed like a great opportunity, but June soon found himself in label purgatory. He says Warner stopped showing interest in his projects, so he stopped recording altogether for two years, opting to tour the country as an opening act for rappers like Post Malone and Smokepurpp. But the $500 show fee wasn’t enough, so he hustled a bit more on the side to support his newborn son.

“I dive head in the game,” he says. “Never had a job. I was just hustling and shit. I wasn’t doing nothing too crazy. But when that happened, I felt like I had real responsibilities.”

Eventually, Warner released him, so he got an account on DistroKid and released music again, including You’re Doing Good; Sock it to Me, Pt. 2; and Very Peaceful. By dropping projects independently, he kept nearly all of the profits. He says he rarely checked his DistroKid account balance, and after a few months, he accumulated $60,000 from his first few album streams. “That was the most revenue I ever made in my life,” he said. It was time to go fully legit.

“I just really put my eggs into the music,” he said. “I said, “Fuck it. Now I am really cold turkey. Not fucking with nothing. I am going to put my 100 percent into this music shit.”

Larry’s brand is health, both for mind and body. His first chain was of his name stylized in Whole Foods–style font and he considers buying a Vitamix blender a flex (it is). When promoting anything online, he’ll end a sentence with an orange. He raps about taking women on dates to a hiking trail and buying them bikes. June says this mindset came from his father, who frequented Whole Foods during his son’s adolescence. His father also gave him books like The Secret, which explains the law of attraction. He also consumes books on financial literacy. Each day, he listens to an audiobook between recording sessions. He lists Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Unshakeable by Tony Robbins as his favorites. He raps about passive income and has song titles like “You Can Get Rich,” “Lifetime Income,” and “Six Hustles.” But he doesn’t necessarily want to come across like he’s on a soapbox.

“I’m not going to say I’m just the lifetime health coach,” he said. “But I’m just a street nigga, helping healthy street niggas, who trying to do numbers.”

Larry frequently speaks in code, with a vernacular that has been used on merch and in his music and other business ventures. When we parked at Lands End, he told the assembled crew we should go on an “organic walk.” He calls his shoes “Bus Daniels.” His go-to ad-libs are even more creative. “Yee-hee” is born from Michael Jackson’s iconic “Hee-hee.” However, he didn’t know how to say it the way Mike did, so he put his spin on it, then periodically said it in class to get other students to laugh. “Real class clowns,” he admits. His most popular ad-lib, “Good job, Larry,” has a bit more meaning: It’s what he told himself when “making it” didn’t necessarily seem possible—when going legit wasn’t an option and when it seemed like his dream wouldn’t be realized. It was his way of giving himself grace during the ascent. “At the time I did not have a lot of supporters and shit,” he said. “All I had was myself to support. So, before anybody else tells me, I say, “You know what? Good job, Larry.”

Similar mindsets got him through the toughest year in modern memory. With the pandemic cutting off show money, he retreated into his home studio and rapped. The output spawned six releases in 2020, including Adjust to the Game, Cruise USA, Numbers, and Keep Going. It was his way of coping while telling his listeners “everything is going to be OK.”

“People are dying and then, you know, the racial politics going on. I had to really block all that out,” he said. “You say, we make this music to uplift everybody right now, even though I am not feeling 100 percent great. Let me just keep going and pushing”

His latest project displays every bit of his persona. On Orange Print, he’s serious in a laid-back way—focused, but not on edge. Uncle Herm, formerly of RBL Posse, provides a soothing intro reminding Lil’ June that his ascent will show him who his real friends are and to keep drinking his alkaline water. The next track, “Tangible Assets,” tells the beginning parts of June’s autobiography—how he had to leave the game behind when his son was born to “make a way” despite being broke, and how he was stressed trying to figure out how to make his dreams come true. On “6am In Sausalito,” he takes his boo across the Golden Gate Bridge and professes his love to her. “You know I fuck with you the looooonnnng wayyyyy,” he raps. It’s a track suitable for San Francisco’s quiet storm radio station KBLX, and an ode to the Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo, and Musiq Soulchild his mother played every weekend cleaning up the crib when he was a kid. He demands “Organic Respect” on the album’s sixth track, and preaches patience from his queen on “Wait on Me.” It’s vulnerable and tells his story without being preachy. In short, it’s Larry June.

Sitting on some steps facing the Pacific Ocean, June is in a reflective space. Though still in the Bay, he’s a world away from the lifestyle he used to live. His hustles are now music and business ventures. Earlier this year, he opened Honeybear Boba in San Francisco. Recently, he stopped putting out his music independently through DistroKid and signed a distribution deal with Empire. And as the world continues to open up, more concert dates are soon to follow. But fame seems to scare Lil’ Larry from the Point. He says he’d consider a major-label deal if it comes, but isn’t pressed. While at Lands End, he got a couple of stares and an “Oh shit, wassup, Larry” when he parked, but nothing near what E-40 or Too Short get when they’re in public. “I’m paranoid,” he admits. About 30 minutes into the interview, a group of folks hopped out of a car and broke into one next to Larry’s Mercedes, causing even more paranoia. The fame is cool, but money, health, and peace of mind are on June’s agenda as he ascends.

“I like being able to still go to Whole Foods though, take my son on a walk, chill over here and out here,” he says of fame. “It’s not my dream. I want to continue to grow. I liked the slow pace. And if I am not worried about missing my shot, because I feel like I built a following organically over the years and they can tell they kids about it. I need more income, more real estate. I just want to be able to live free of fear, man.”