“Lil Yee is dope. He’s from Filmore, and has a song called ‘Hopeless’ that I have on repeat right now. I’m a little late on that record, but it’s still on that repeat. When I heard him, I thought that he was making some music that wasn’t just local-sounding. It sounds like it could be played everywhere.” – Clyde Carson in an interview with The BoomBox
San Francisco native Stacey Antonio Gilton, better known as Lil Yee, long suspected music was a natural talent of his, but only recently realized that he could make it a career–lifting up not only himself, but his neighborhood as well. Growing up in SF’s Fillmore District, the home of Mob Music, Lil Yee admired the music of local heroes like Messy Marv and The Jacka, as well as East Coast legends like Mobb Deep, Biggie Smalls, and Nas. Combining a gritty East Coast-influenced sensibility with the bouncy nature of his hometown sound, Lil Yee quickly found an audience, earning millions of YouTube views on songs like “We Livin Hopeless,” “War,” and “Designer Baby.” Though he’s collaborated with a host of Bay Area artists, including Philthy Rich, Prezi, SOB x RBE, Nasty Nate, and many others, and rhymed over beats from the likes of Zaytoven and Cassius Jay, Lil Yee grounds his motivations in the neighborhood he grew up in, hoping to inspire his fellow Bay Area residents with his music. “I make music for people going through the struggle,” says Lil Yee. “I talk about the ups and downs of the life experiences I’ve been through. The best part of making music is the love and passion and inspiration from my fans. People hit me in my DM’s and say, ‘man, that song is helping me get through life.’ Helping people is the best feeling.”Read more
“I respect artists who talk about it and then show it—rappers who live their punchlines,” says Lil Yee, who does just that. The 25-year-old from San Francisco’s Fillmore District grew up around street figures. “I come from a legendary background,” he notes. Big Yee, the rapper’s father, and his brothers were second generation musicians, in the renowned local band, G Affair. They would play personalized funeral songs. Family tradition coupled with being raised on local stars like Rappin’ 4-Tay, San Quinn, Messy Marv, and JT The Bigga Figga gave Lil Yee a blueprint. He has carried that real and raw foundation into the late 2010s with a melodic style all of his own. March 22’s Live For It, Die For It honors that tradition. Working with hit-making producer Zaytoven (Future, Usher, Gucci Mane), the release also features Mozzy, E-40, and FMB DZ.
Despite belonging to a musical family, the artist born Stacey Gilton never set out to be a rapper. The skill came as second nature to the former teen who carried the pride and bluntness of his mother, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, New York named Mercita. Despite encouragement from local Rap figures and a few early features, it was not until back-to-back gun charges shifted Lil Yee’s priorities. At 22, facing felony time, Yee accepted a plea deal that allowed him to stay on the streets. In doing so, he risked major time if he ever was caught with a weapon again. Having just learned that he was soon to be the father of twin daughters, he accepted. No longer able to earn his living hustling in the streets, Rap became an opportunity to turn Yee’s life around.
In creating his first solo song, Yee looked back to 2006, when his older cousin died. “That was a touchy situation for me; it was my first time really experiencing death,” he says, remembering the empty bedroom of the man who was like a brother. That memory became “So Lost.” As the record started making its rounds, Yee’s brother Kid Red played it for Chris Brown. “He was like ‘Bruh, this the one. Chris Brown listens to this every day!’” Breezy soon tweeted the video, catapulting it towards 850,000 views. Yee stuck to his heartfelt formula. 2016’s “We Livin Hopeless” followed, breaking the million-mark. The third song, “War” achieved more than 7 million views and streams. “Those three songs made me a fulltime rapper,” Yee says of the turning point. “I get into a mode, where I just pour my heart out.”
Sadly, there would be more need for healing. In a short period, Lil Yee lost his mother to cancer as well as another maternal figure who stepped in after. Meanwhile, the rapper mourned several additional loved ones. 2017’s Cita Son is a culminating dedication to his mom and others.
Live For It, Die For It is the next reminder to treat this life seriously. While “Designer Baby” celebrates the wealth of a successful Rap career, something Yee admits he could not speak about in days past, video single “Red Eagle” is the next dose of gripping realness. Co-produced by Zaytoven, it compares the reflective and resilient Yee to the bird of prey that flies alone.
“E-40 is the ambassador of the Bay. I want to be the spokesman,” says Lil Yee of his rising stock. For a region known for its bounce, he aims to add depth. “I want to give you the gritty of my city. From the outside looking in, San Francisco is beautiful, but it’s quite treacherous.”