Lil Iceberg captures the essence of conventional New Orleans rap in a bottle – he uncorks it and watches a swarm of nostalgia captivate his audience. With a soulja rag perpetually tied around his neck, the 28-year-old rapper unleashes a local flow – heavily seasoned with gritty, vivid imagery and local landmarks – behind a mix of production styles. It’s a recipe the city needs, blending part Cash Money with a pinch of chic imported spices that delivers a dynamic sound emanating from where you’d expect it most.
“Big Ballin’ Freestyle” is a classic ode to Lil Iceberg’s upbringing. The track finds him relentlessly firing boastful street raps from the hip behind the Big Tymers’ instrumental “Big Ballin”. The track “Average” represents a complete tonal shift unrelated to a single regional sound – shimmering piano chords, standard top hat rolls and concrete-crunching bass. Here, Ice Biggity gently delivers lines on systemic issues, gentrification, and the people who rely on his success. Whatever end of the musical spectrum Iceberg decides to give that day is all unique to him.
Iceberg admits Playboi Carti can inspire him as much as BG or fellow New Orleans rapper BMG Pound. The 13th Ward rapper – who takes his rapping name from the character Lil Wayne in the Cash Money indie film “Baller Blockin” – was initially focused on his clothing line and saw a potential rap career as another source of income. Before he started recording songs, he focused on learning the craft. Once he started releasing tracks and spreading his music, his popularity grew in the bubbling underground rap corner of New Orleans. His once sideways hustle swelled into his brightest path to national fame.
With a classic-yet-contemporary take on New Orleans rap, Iceberg sparked a major buzz across the city. The attention culminated in a spot on glbl’s collaborative project wrmng, glbl wrmng vol. 1, and the first live sets of Curren$y and Fredo Bang. Record deals have landed at Iceberg’s feet, but he admits he’s not ready to ink a deal just yet. He understands his roots and his culture, but it’s clear that Lil Iceberg wants to master the business side of the music industry. His goal is to be a regional boss like his ancestors. Iceberg still has a lot to learn, but with the blueprint and inspiration from his ancestors like Master P and Birdman, he’ll be back in the game in no time.
Looks like Iceberg just woke up from a nap when he answers the phone for our interview. The numbness in his voice quickly subsides as the conversation focuses on the early days of his rap career, his influences, his progression as an artist, the current NOLA rap landscape, and how he sees himself in his breast. Towards the end of the interview, it looks like he could talk all day about what he sees and imagines for his rap career.
What were your interests before you had the idea to start rapping?
I would have liked to be an inventor. But if I wasn’t rapping, I’d probably still be working.
What would you like to invent?
I know it’s long but I would like to be able to make a time machine so I can help the slaves. [Laughs]. No, I would just like to invent something that people need in the world. Correct [something] to help people.
What were some of those early recording sessions like when you started rapping? Did it come naturally to you or was it hard to find your sound?
Yes, it was definitely a fight. I had to learn what would sell. When I first started rapping I was writing like normal doll raps trying to sound like hip hop. Then I learned what it took to get by. It’s still me, but I know what it takes to make money and what it takes to make me a better rapper.
You know, just normal hip hop stuff. Something that’s just good for the ears and not – I’m not going to say good for the ears, but something that’s just normal hip hop and doesn’t go up in hip hop.
When you were still trying to find your style, who were some of your earliest supporters?
Oh good? Person?
It’s crazy how the shoe fits on the other foot. I came in with no intention of being the best rapper or anything like that, so I didn’t expect people to gravitate towards me. And then it turns out that when I start rapping, I end up making the city start gravitating around me. It’s crazy how you don’t even think you’d like what you’re doing and all the time it works. No one in my family started liking him until other people in town started liking him. The city didn’t start loving me until I got on the internet and all the blogs.
I know it was just your mother who raised you. Did she rap a lot around you growing up?
No. With my mother, that’s where I learned my R&B side. I kind of listened to Erykah Badu and Sade because of her. She wasn’t against me rapping, she just never took it seriously.
Does any of his music influence your music?
Yeah, you could say that. In one of my songs, I talk about gentrification. In [another] song I say something about my third eye. But listening to people like [Badu and Sade], they influenced my personality. Who really influenced my music [was] BMG book.
Yeah, I know Pound.
Once he quit rapping and went to jail, that’s where I started rapping because he was my favorite rapper in town.
What about BMG Pound that influenced you as opposed to what you would get from Birdman or BG?
It was the new New Orleans; after Katrina New Orleans. It was my generation of teenagers growing up. He spoke mainly for the [people] in my age group. It was a different authenticity than what New Orleans regularly received.
Some of the first records I found from you were “Say When” and “Paperchaser”. Even though you’re so New Orleans with your style, the production of these songs doesn’t feel like New Orleans at all.
How do you juggle to stay true to your style when making records that may seem alien at first?
These beats aren’t from New Orleans, but they have a little bop. I can’t really do a song unless I can give it the Beenie Weenie. That’s what it takes for me to get the New Orleans flow. If it’s not a New Orleans-sounding beat, it’s gonna be a bop for me to get into it.
As long as it has that little bit you need, you can make a New Orleans record out of it whenever you want.
Yeah! As long as he has the right drums. He must have the rhythm. It’s really the rhythm of Magnolia Clap. That’s how I catch these beats.
You already said that rapping was more of a side hustle for you and clothes were always the first thing. But now that you’ve been rapping for about four years now, have you learned more music theory and song structure?
Yeah. I played in the band when I was young, so I always had a passion for music. I just started hustling when it first came to the clothing industry. All [I make] needs to be in sync, and the beat needs to be in sync with my stream. And I’m learning to write better songs. I become more of an artist, and [music] the bustle took more of my attention than the bustle of the clothes.
Have you noticed your progression as an artist?
If I had the same kind of money I had, I could have earned it now. I feel like the journey I’m on is shaping me to be the person I think I want to be. I’m smart enough to run my own label, so I feel like the time I’m taking is just preparing me for my entry into the game, to own myself properly and be a top artist. I’m learning to put my personal life into music [and] make good music.
You clearly tap into Nola’s nostalgia in your music while incorporating your own style into it. Are you ever concerned about your style being boxed as a New Orleans rapper and reaching a wider audience?
Certainly. The Playboi Carti type beats are my favorite. But I love rapping in New Orleans. I’m just myself on these records. What I’m not afraid of is the outside world. I’m afraid of New Orleans no [liking] this. [I’m] fear that some generations are not [liking it] – young people no [liking it]. But the outside world [like me] facho! I don’t even worry about that. I already know that I can do it right next to the outside world.
What gives you so much confidence that everyone would embrace it?
Nobody big from New Orleans talked to me first. All the greats who reached out were from other cities; they showed me they appreciated it and told me I had a chance. I could have already been on a label. Coming into the game on my own, I didn’t know what I needed. I had to let things go because I didn’t know what I was doing.
A lot of your work so far has been singles and feature films. You are currently working on your first album. Was it hard to go from just focusing on singles to now working on a full project?
Only because of my regular life. If my usual life wasn’t so hectic, maybe I would have more time to work on my body of work. But I’m learning that pushing a single around the world will also blow you away. A lot of the music that I have, I feel like it’s good music, and I feel like it’s timeless music. i can push [singles] around the world and throw it, it’ll boost me If I can explode on this song and then let them explode my other songs.
New Orleans rap is still a big influence for outside artists. Do you think the New Orleans rap scene has been able to evolve the sound enough to capture its essence while remaining fresh and relevant?
We having a good mix of gumbo artists now, we can keep up with all the big cities. You have [Stone Cold] Jzzle with his booty. You have Rob49 with his loot. You have Kenneth Brother with his swag. I don’t know too many people who sound like them or Neno [Calvin] or me. I feel like all of us together is a threat.
To keep up with Lil Iceberg, follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Check out his Spotify and Youtube for more music.