10 Years In, Cole Bennett’s Lyrical Lemonade Keeps Growing With New Def Jam Album (2024)

10 Years In, Cole Bennett’s Lyrical Lemonade Keeps Growing With New Def Jam Album (1)

Ten years ago, Cole Bennett was just another teenager with a blog who loved Chicago hip-hop, at a time when the city was bursting at the seams with rising talent. Chicago drill had taken over, with Chief Keef and Lil Durk leading a wave of young MCs; Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa were riding a different wave, but no less creative and influential; and music lovers (and the music industry) were focused in on the city intensely, making bets on who would be the next to emerge from the hotbed of creativity.

It was in that era that Lyrical Lemonade was initially born — with Bennett, 17 at the time and still in high school in Plano, Illinois, launching what he calls “truly just a passion project, something that I could do in my free time that allowed me to be creative.” A few years later Bennett was living in Chicago, with the kind of freedom that only a summer break between college semesters can offer, when he really began to focus in on what Lyrical Lemonade could be.

More from Billboard

Shortly after that he dropped out of college entirely, beginning the process of turning his blog and passion for hip-hop into a career as one of the go-to music video directors and creatives in the business. He shot videos for budding stars Juice WRLD, Lil Xan, Lil Pump, Ski Mask the Slump God and Jack Harlow, eventually working with luminaries like Eminem, Kanye West and J. Cole, all with his signature bright hues and lemonade-carton logo in the corner.

“When I started doing videos, it was really like the second layer of Lyrical Lemonade,” he says. “The first layer was the blog — I loved writing and covering new local talent that wasn’t being covered, and I thought I wanted to go to school for journalism and take that route. But I also loved film and shooting videos and that side of things. And then that started to catch its stride and became the forefront of it all.”

Since then, Lyrical Lemonade has continued to grow and evolve, encompassing a music festival that he launched in 2018, called Summer Smash, alongside festival partner Berto Solorio; working with brands like Jordan and the Minions; and, now, partnering with Def Jam for the first Lyrical Lemonade album, All Is Yellow, released on Jan. 26. The collaborative album is a kaleidoscope of features and cuts from the vast web of Bennett’s network, including Durk, Keef, JID, Kid Cudi, Lil Yachty, Lil B, Juicy J, Cordae, Latto, Joey Badass and Eminem. Bennett has shot a music video for each song, which he plans to stitch together into a visual album once they’re all released.

“It was really about breaking down that door and bringing people together,” he says about the album. “When there’s someone who can act as the glue within it all, people really put their egos down. I want rap music to be more unified, I want there to be more collaboration. Growing up, this is what I was into — I loved posse cuts, I loved left-field features that you wouldn’t expect, I loved seeing my favorite artists from two completely different sides of the spectrum in a photo together. These are all things that fed me, so I wanted to create a world where that was the theme.”

At this point, Lyrical Lemonade has grown into one of the most trusted brands in hip-hop, with a social following in the millions and more than 21 million subscribers on YouTube, where his 400-plus videos have racked up over 11 billion views. Bennett spoke to Billboard to reflect on the past decade of Lyrical Lemonade, the various avenues through which the company has expanded and where he plans to go from here — eventually.

“I’m gonna spend some time with my family and just take a second to see what I want to do next,” he says. “That’s never been the answer; I’ve always had some extravagant thing I wanted to tackle next, and I think right now I’m just going to give myself a breather to figure out what that is, but do it at my own pace.”

You just celebrated 10 years of Lyrical Lemonade last year. What’s the significance of that for you?

For me, it’s the idea of time. Ten years goes by quick, but I also feel like I lived 10 lives within those 10 years. So it’s really just trying to wrap my head around understanding how fast time can go, how slow time can go — and also understanding how many memories can be packed into a few years. It’s made me more aware of how I want to spend my time. Ten years ago I was 17; you’re starting to become an adult, and I started Lyrical Lemonade and stepped into my professional career. So it’s my first time fully understanding what 10 years feels like.

When you first started, what were you hoping to accomplish?

Nothing: It was solely, honestly, truly just a passion project, just something that I could do in my free time that allowed me to be creative and have an outlet for my creativity and my imagination and the things I was into. I just loved Chicago rap music. Then one thing led to the next, and I was like, “Wow, I’m also being productive — this isn’t just a form of entertainment for me, this is also something that I can do.”

In 2018 you launched your festival. Why did you want to get into that and what did you learn from that experience?

I’ve been throwing shows since 2013. The first Lyrical Lemonade show, we spent $150 that I had made from mowing lawns to rent this rehearsal room that fit 90 people, and it was a free show. The festival thing was one of those dreams that didn’t feel realistic; you grow up around Chicago and go to Lollapalooza every year and you just look at that as this heaven on earth, this thing that you look forward to all year round that feels bigger than life. It didn’t feel like a real, tangible thing, but it was this far-fetched dream that I would ponder on sometimes.

We kept doing shows, and the venues started getting bigger. I went to Chicago shows my whole life, and there were venues I dreamed of doing shows at: Reggie’s Rock Club, then Lincoln Hall, then the Metro. These were all on the bucket list. Then on the west side of Chicago, there was a local festival that was happening on a Saturday, one stage — and they weren’t doing it on the Sunday, but they already had the fencing, the stage, everything was prepared for it. So we got in contact with the city and asked if we could take it over and extend it one day and do our own show. And we got approved for it and we ran with it. Berto and I had already thrown a lot of shows together, I had built a lot of great relationships with artists through doing videos with them, so getting people on board was really easy, and we just went for it. It was one day, 11,000 people, sold out.

Once you do something once, your idea of tackling the next step of that is so much more realistic. So it was like a slow build up. I won’t lie, going from the shows we were throwing to that festival was a big leap, but the opportunity presented itself and we took it. But it wouldn’t have been possible without Berto. Working with Berto on this whole journey is something that I’m thankful for and it wouldn’t have been possible without him.

How has that grown since? It’s now three days, over 100,000 people.

One thing led to the next and it was gradual. I think there was a need for it in Chicago and there was an audience for it that loves rap music and wanted a rap festival in the Midwest. We pay attention to detail, we’re very passionate about what we do and making it an experience for the audience. And I think that’s felt by the consumer and it’s allowed us to continue to grow.

You’re very intentional with your color schemes. How important is that to what you do?

I think storytelling can be done in so many different ways. I remember when I first started making music videos, it was a lot of point-and-shoot and then having fun in the edit; there was no storyline. I do want to eventually do films, that’s a dream of mine — but I didn’t love trying to create a narrative within a music video.

That then led me to realize that you can storytell in a lot of different ways. You can storytell with a strong color palette. You can do it with wardrobe, set design, shapes, all these different things. And when I started to understand that, I really became comfortable with the idea of how my eye reacts to color and having fun with what these different colors mean and how they make people feel, and how wardrobe and shapes make people feel, and how all these worlds can live together in a really profound and visually appealing way.

It also plays into the album — the title of the album, the videos for each song. When did you first decide that you wanted to do an album?

It was always something in the back of my head, an idea that was floating around for a long time, but I knew I wasn’t ready for it. A project of this size, you’re going to look back at for the rest of your life. I knew how much love and care and attention to detail it would take.

In 2018 and 2019, which a lot of people would consider a really big moment in time for Lyrical Lemonade, it would have been a perfect time to do it. But I think there would have been some collaborations and things that wouldn’t be true to who I am now. And some of the collaborations I worked on now probably won’t be true to me in three or four years, too. But I will be able to be thankful and appreciative of where I was at when I made this, because I know how much effort and care that went into it, whereas I don’t know if I would’ve been able to give this type of effort and care four or five years ago.

How did this partnership with Def Jam come about?

There’s been a part of me, for better or for worse, that was really anti-label for a long time, so doing an album I really thought I wanted to take the independent route. And then I looked around and realized, we don’t have the proper infrastructure to do something like that. The point of a label is to add that stability and infrastructure to make these things possible. For a lot of artists, you don’t need that, but for a compilation album and doing all these videos, with 30-plus artists, and all that goes into that, it’s such a mountain that I needed a team, someone in my ear giving me deadlines, structure that I didn’t have.

If I would’ve went into this trying the independent route, it probably wouldn’t have come out — you just keep making the album, and then it never gets finished because it never stops getting made. Working with a label, it gave me structure and deadlines. Not in a forceful or uncomfortable way, but in a way that they were keeping on me and I felt comfortable with it, like I was doing it properly.

What does this partnership entail? Are you forming a label, or is this a one-off thing?

It’s just a one-off project. I was never into the idea of doing a Lyrical Lemonade label and signing artists. I’ve never been interested in the business side of the music industry; it’s not a passion of mine, and anything I’m not passionate about I try to stay away from.

What was the process like for putting this together?

It was really about trying to bring different worlds together and throwing things at the wall that, for the most part — there’s maybe three songs that could have happened without this universe that was created — but these are pretty left-field collabs in terms of people coming together. That went for the music, and trying to create music that made me feel something, working with incredible people and just long, sleepless nights in the studio.

“Flyaway,” which is the intro to the album, was inspired by watching a movie; there was a scene in the movie and I was like, “I want to create a song that sounds like this.” A lot of these songs came together perfectly as I envisioned it. And the there were some songs where I was like, “Let me just try something here and let’s see how it starts to build.” And some of those songs didn’t end up making the album, but I learned so much from those songs and working on those ideas. “First Night” is a good example of a clusterf*ck of a song that was like, “I don’t even know what the f*ck this is, but it exists and it’s here and it’s going on the album.”

Any songs on there that you can’t believe you pulled off?

A lot of the songs, some of these artists didn’t even know the other people on the song — and those are some of my favorite stories. That lets me know that I’m trusted and that I’ve built solid, pure relationships, where an artist can literally not know who someone is that they’re getting on a song with. There’s probably six or seven songs on the album where that’s the case. And I don’t even mean they didn’t know each other like they hadn’t met; they didn’t even know this person existed.

But I mean, “Fly Away” is cool for me because it came out exactly how I envisioned from the beginning. “Hummingbird” is just beautiful; it’s a song that I truly feel is timeless. I feel like that about “Fallout” as well. The fact that Eminem is on the album; I could go on and on about how grateful and blown away I am by that. I still can’t believe it. And he said my name on the song; it just doesn’t feel like real life. There are so many things that I can’t believe actually happened.

Have you thought about the next 10 years of Lyrical Lemonade?

I always talk about how I think it would be cool to do an amusem*nt park one day, but we’ll see how that goes once I dive further into that; it may be something that excites me, or it may be something that I’m not as into as I thought it would be. I want to be doing movies, that’s a big goal of mine. But I don’t know. It’s gonna be interesting. I’m trying to just let it happen as it’s supposed to happen.

Best of Billboard

10 Years In, Cole Bennett’s Lyrical Lemonade Keeps Growing With New Def Jam Album (2024)

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jeremiah Abshire

Last Updated:

Views: 6134

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jeremiah Abshire

Birthday: 1993-09-14

Address: Apt. 425 92748 Jannie Centers, Port Nikitaville, VT 82110

Phone: +8096210939894

Job: Lead Healthcare Manager

Hobby: Watching movies, Watching movies, Knapping, LARPing, Coffee roasting, Lacemaking, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Jeremiah Abshire, I am a outstanding, kind, clever, hilarious, curious, hilarious, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.