Unless your name is Lil Wayne, it’s a struggle to be “Lil” in Hip Hop once you’ve reached an age where you’re old enough to have literally fathered your own lil’ rapper. Regardless of how far you continue your career into adulthood, and how far you personally mature past the Lil’ prefix in your name, fans forever see you as the immature kid you entered the game as. And for one of Wayne’s “Hardball” collaborators, Zane Copeland, Jr., a/k/a Lil’ Zane, that struggle to be seen as a serious artist has now lasted a decade into his adulthood.
Although the now 29-year-old’s contemporary music is more representative of actual adult experiences than the then idealistic rhymes about making his “Money Stretch” that he spewed out on the two albums he recorded as a teenager, 2000’s Young World: The Future and 2003’s The Big Zane Theory, (and his delivery is sans the amateurish 2Pac-inspired flow that drew the ire of Hip Hop heads), Zane is viewed by many listeners and artist peers alike to still be a lil’ in over his head when it comes to rhyming.
Two of those self-appointed critics of Zane’s mic skills, Game and Tyler, The Creator, have recently taken it upon themselves to let the world know just how wack they think Lil’ Zane is. The “Martians vs. Goblins” collaborators were each captured on camera either slandering or mocking a man who they probably haven’t listened to in almost a decade, let alone any of his recent recordings , like Zane’s surprisingly solid The Missing Link mixtape (which was notably released the same week Game decided to throw his “friend” under a bus driven by DJ Vlad).
But while the Goblin has long taken to his Twitter account to make fun of the Lil’ rapper he strangely stalked online before Zane responded back to the Odd Future front-man he mistook as an overzealous fan, the Atlanta resident (who was ironically born in the same city in New York that Tyler’s breakthrough single was named after) is trying to take a stand for himself against his attackers without stirring the toxic mix of beef and tweets that has sadly already claimed lives.
On Wednesday (January 4th), Zane spoke to HipHopDX to explain his reasoning for responding to Tyler and Game via song and not in kind with his own series of stinging tweets or on-camera commentary. And a few weeks removed from the Valentine’s Day release of his newest mixtape, the rapper so many seem to love to hate explained why the obsession with Lil’ Zane is still going strong a dozen years after his debut.
HipHopDX: Let’s just get right to it, why did you record your “Paris” diss aimed at Game and Tyler, The Creator?
Lil’ Zane: First of all I wanna say I never did a diss record in my life. It was a response record. And the reason why I recorded it was basically just standing up for myself. … But, really, there is no beef. I did what any other man would’ve done. I’m not a troublemaker; I don’t go around starting things. But, I do defend myself. And if somebody tries to degrade my character or my craft, the way I was raised up, my pops taught me if someone hits you, you hit ‘em back. If someone talks about you, you talk about ‘em back. You stand up for yourself. So that’s what it was.
DX: What spurred the song finally being recorded though? Because I understand you and Tyler have been tweeting back and forth at each other for almost a year now, right?
Lil’ Zane: What happened was, I had just opened up my Twitter account [@LilZanesWorld], and I kept seeing this @FuckTyler [and] he was saying my name. So a couple people was calling me like, “Who is this guy that keeps saying ‘I’m trying to get a co-sign,’" or whatever he was doing. He was basically [like], “I’m looking for Lil’ Zane. I’m looking for Lil’ Zane.” So I didn’t know if he was a fan, I didn’t know - Like, keep in mind, I had just signed up with Twitter, so I’m not familiar with the lingo on Twitter yet. So when he was like, “I’m looking for Lil’ Zane,” I’m not running or hiding from nobody so I hit ‘em like, “What’s Gucci?” That’s all I said was “What’s Gucci?” And it was like a big thing on Twitter like, “Aw, Lil’ Zane responded back!” And I felt like, people was laughing at me ‘cause I responded back to some dude that was basically making a joke. So, that’s the one mistake I made: responding back. [But] I didn’t know what that was about. And then when I heard about him and the Chris Brown beef, I was like, “Okay, that’s just what he does. He goes around starting beef on Twitter or whatever.”
So the next thing was I started seeing videos and stuff coming out, stuff on YouTube with him saying, “Hey, I’m Lil’ Zane” and “You can catch a fade with Lil’ Zane.” Whatever he would say he would like always bring [my name into it]. Whatever he was talking about, it had nothing to do with me. It had nothing to do with me at all, and he would just find a way to put my name in there, say “I’m Lil’ Zane” or whatever. [But] it’s like, basically if you saying you Lil’ Zane then you saying fuck yourself. So when I said [on the “Paris” freestyle] “I’m the creator, fuck Ty,” it’s like, why are you mad at that? You basically telling people you Lil’ Zane anyway, so basically like, “Fuck myself, I’m not who I really am, I wanna be Lil’ Zane.”
So it wasn’t really going back and forth on Twitter, it was more like I responded to a joke he was making and I felt like I looked like the joke responding, when I really thought he was just a fan or whatever. And once I saw the videos I’m like, “Okay, this guy seems like he’s having fun with it, but I’m the subject of his funniness.” So as far as Tyler, I just felt like he was being real disrespectful. It got to a point where I felt like he was being disrespectful, so I had to put him in his place.
I been in the game for awhile. So me feeling like an O.G. in the game, I felt I was telling the little homie like, “Look, I know you doing ya thing, I know you getting a little money now, probably fucking a little more bitches, but nigga, respect your elders.” I been doing this shit, I been fucking bitches, I been getting money. So don’t come around here being disrespectful. And basically, I said something for everybody in the game that he been going off on. ‘Cause, it just seems like he’s real young and just don’t give a fuck, out there just saying [whatever] comes to mind. So I’m just like, “Okay, do that to them other niggas, but don’t do that to me. Don’t do that to a real nigga.” ‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s real niggas out here too that – that shit ain’t cool. But it wasn’t like no “I’ma kill you” or nothing like that, ‘cause I didn’t feel like that [type of energy] was coming from him. It was more just like, “Okay, you wanna be funny, I’ma be funny.”
DX: Someone who’s about your age who you also responded to on that track is Game. I mean, do you know where that’s coming from? Or was that just him responding to the [DJ] Vlad question and -
Lil’ Zane: It’s like this, me and Game is cool. If you watch the interview he said that, “Yo, Z’s cool, he helped me out a little bit in the beginning of my career.” So, there’s no bad blood between me and Game. We cool as far as I’m concerned.
It’s just like this, if you playing basketball with your friend and he tells you, “Oh, I can beat you at ball. I think you suck.” But y’all both play ball. But he like, “Nigga, my [skills are] better than yours. You suck.” The next time you see a court, what you gonna do? You gon’ take him to the court, right? So, the Rap game is my basketball court. Rap is my sport. So when I heard the track I saw a basketball court. The “Niggas In Paris” track was my basketball court. I saw a court and I’m like, “Fuck it, I’ma go in on these niggas right now to show ‘em I still got it and they can’t see me in the booth.”
My friend, my homie said that. [And], you entitled to your opinion. I’m sure you got a homie that was like, “Yo, growing up I got more chicks than you, dog.” So you like, “Alright, well I’ma show you, next time I’m coming through I’ma have the baddest one you ain’t never seen.” So it’s like that. It’s like trying to keep it competitive. We keeping it on record. It was cool, I felt like people are entitled to their opinion. We cool, but my friend felt like I wasn’t a good rapper to him. So I felt like, “Alright, well, I’ma show my friend that I’m a better rapper than him – or just as good.”
So it was just like that, man. It was really just on some “I gotta stand up for myself.” If I don’t stand up for myself, who else will? And I got fans out here too, so I felt like I had to respond. And I took so long to respond – ‘cause a lot of people said, “Why it take you four months to respond?” It’s like, I was going through a lot of stuff in my life at that point. I was dealing with a new baby, my mom and my pops was going through some stuff, so I had family issues at the time. So, I cared [about the shots they took at me], but I didn’t have the time to address it. It wasn’t the priority on my list of things I was going through at that time. But once I got my head cleared, and once things cleared up a little bit for me and I got my life in order and I can focus on that now, then it’s like, “Okay, I’m coming out with a new project.” But, you can’t go into something new with past issues, so I still owed it to my fans, and to myself, to address the people that were kicking me while I was down.
DX: Speaking of people that have been kicking you while you’re down, I noticed that on the chorus to “Stay On My Grind” from your Missing Link mixtape you noted that folks are hatin’ on you all of the time. Why do you think that is; why do you think a guy who hasn’t had a major-label release in nearly nine years is still on the minds of these other artists?
Lil’ Zane: You know what, man? I think that it’s because you can’t deny good music. Sometimes you gotta take the pressure as a challenge, and not take it as they hate me. Sometimes it might come off like people hatin’ on Lil’ Zane, but maybe it’s them – I’m very optimistic; I’m a very positive type of person. So I took the negativity and people saying “you been gone, you fell off” [as] they just wanted me to show ‘em I still had it. … I felt like people kicking me while I was down was really God’s way of putting it to me like, “Nah, don’t feel like they hatin’ on you” – I feel like they hatin’ on me, but don’t get discouraged by the hate. Take that as inspiration to get out here and show ‘em what time it is, show people that you still got it.
And to answer your question, to be specific, I’m amazed too [that] 10 years down the line and people still got my name in they mouth. People still talk about me on the Internet. And when you go on Twitter and you search my name, the search never ends. People are like, “Where Lil’ Zane?” “I saw him working at this place.” “Oh, I thought he did this.” “I got a song with Lil’ Zane.” It’s like, people still asking, man. That’s a good thing. I never knock that. I appreciate it. I’m very humble. I think everybody asking about me, talking about me, even if it’s in a negative way, you talking about me, and as long as you talking about me I’m cool with that.