For Lil Poppa, who recently dropped his Blessed I Guess album, rap began as a calling. Born Janarious Mykel Wheeler, he started writing rhymes in church as a child, trading spiritually themed bars with fellow Sunday school kids. By age 12, he was laying down tracks in his bedroom, using a RadioShack mic in a vocal booth he had set up in his closet.
As his writing evolved, he turned his perspective to secular concerns in songs informed by struggle, strife, and ambition. In 2018, he grappled with survivor’s guilt on his breakout hit “Purple Hearts,” in which he revisited the shooting that killed two of his friends but left him unscathed. The bittersweet Auto-Tune of his delivery — a signature of his style — only served to highlight the genuine trauma of the subject matter.
That song’s success got him signed to Interscope for his 2019 album Under Investigation 2, where, with assists from Polo G and Mozzy, he pushed further into his hard-luck street realism, balancing tales of violence and retribution with loyalty to his loved ones, regret for his missteps, and the desperation to create a better life for himself. Even with his days spent rapping on the pulpit in the rearview, Lil Poppa’s rhymes are still defined by their fiercely moral code.
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