Lil Crank writes how he talks: straightforward, succinct, and without artifice. The 19-year-old’s debut project Crank Mode is a triumph of concision, a 26-minute wind sprint of a record that makes every syllable count. His gift for catchy, compact cadences has taken him from a detention center in Cobb County, Georgia to studio sessions with Future and a working relationship with mixtape legend DJ Holiday in less than six months. His ascent in the Atlanta rap scene has been rapid, but as Crank is quick to point out, it didn’t happen overnight.
Lil Crank was raised by his mom in Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta just north of the city’s major music hubs. As a 9th grader, he recorded his first song (“Last Night”) with his younger brother Tayman and their friends Justoo and Brazy. The charming, Migos-lite single was well-received, racking up 80 thousand plays on SoundCloud and earning the group a devoted following at school. From then on, Crank, Tayman, and Justoo were focused on music, recording tape after tape as a trio under the name LBAF (Lil Bad Ass Fuckers).
Listening to LBAF’s mixtapes in chronological order, you can hear the three young rappers shedding their influences and inching towards something singular. On recent tracks like “Free Agency” and “Hard Times”, the group’s creative camaraderie is in full force, each verse propelled forward by an unspoken bond forged over countless Backwoods and studio sessions.
Before his first official solo release earlier this year, Crank did multiple stints in jail. Most recently, he served a nine month sentence for gang charges. For two of those months, Crank was only permitted to leave his cell for 15 minutes per day. During this torturous period, one of the few things that gave him solace was fan mail. “In jail my fans sent me mail, n***a that just let me know / The love out here is real, they just waiting on me to blow,” he recalls on Crank Mode cut “When I’m Gone”.
Since his 18th birthday, Crank has also lost two close friends - Meko and Lil Jay - to gun violence. Their memories hang heavily over his music. Crank’s writing about grief has an undercurrent of survivor’s guilt, like he can’t believe he wasn’t able to save his comrades.
Crank Mode, released in September, is anchored in this painful subtext. In a flurry of razor-sharp quips, Lil Crank traces his journey from evictions and unpaid electric bills to label meetings and billboards. His melodies are vibrant, but his lyrics consistently gravitate toward the damage he and his friends sustained along the way. The only mentions of luxury brands come in grim punchlines about struggle (“These ain’t no Robin Jeans, but I still go robbing in these jeans.”; “Don’t own no Rollie, but I got n***as facing real time”). The justice system’s disproportionately cruel treatment of Black kids, especially those with limited means, is not lost on him either. “My dawg behind the walls, he doing time, he say his days long / Judge gave him ten, he was just a kid, them n***as hated on him,” he warbles on “Brainstorm”.
I spoke to Lil Crank over the phone about loyalty, resilience, and his first time meeting Future. These excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity. You can stream Crank Mode via the links below.
Your style is super melodic. When did it click for you to rap in your singing voice?
I just like switching up my flows a lot. One thing I learned about songs and how to make people like your songs, is you can’t have the same flow for the whole song. You gotta switch it up. I be playing with it. I just found my voice like last year. So I just be playing with it a lot.
What’s the origin of the name Lil Crank?
It comes from my last name. My last name’s Crankfield. My older brother, they call him Crank, and that’s my older brother, so I’m Lil Crank.
Do you have a favorite song on Crank Mode?
My favorite song is “Collect Calls”. That was just the realest song I got on there. I relate to that song a lot.
One theme that comes through on Crank Mode is your strong sense of loyalty to your loved ones. Why is loyalty so important to you?
Loyalty is everything. Without loyalty, it’s really nothing. Loyalty is...everything. Loyalty is everything.
As someone who’s 19 but works like an adult, do you still get opportunities to be a kid and have fun?
Man, it’s grind mode, but this is fun to me. Like, this is fun, I love this shit. I don’t even consider it a job. It is, but it’s fun as hell.
Do you feel any pressure to always be strong for the people who are counting on you?
Pressure? Hmm, not really. It just makes me go harder. It just makes me know, I can’t be doing certain stuff no more. I got a lot on my mind, but I got business to take care of now.
You talk about going hard through adversity in your music too. Where does that resilience come from?
When I was locked up, we was on lockdown. We were coming out of our cells for 15 minutes a day, for two months straight. I had got a letter from my mom, and in the letter she said, “what don’t kill you makes you stronger”. And I just kept that going on in my head. What don’t kill you makes you stronger.
What was your motivation to keep pushing when success wasn’t so certain?
When I went to jail. When I went to jail, that’s when I found out that a lot of people really fuck with me. Like they really mess with me. I told my brother to post my mailing address on Instagram, and I started getting hella letters. I was surprised. I swear I was surprised. I was rapping for the people in the dorms too. They were like, ‘you got it man. You outta here.’
Do you feel like writing songs helps you process your emotions?
Yeah, because this is just how I vent. It helps me vent. The same thing I’m going through, my brothers around me and everybody who listens to my music, they’re going through it too. So when they hear it, it kinda makes them feel a little better. I don’t know, it makes me feel a little better too. Sometimes you just gotta talk about it.
I’ve been working with these two producers, and they’re signed to Danny Wolf. So I met Danny Wolf at their studio, and that same day I met him, he was like “I’m tryna shoot the video”. I was like hell yeah. We shot the video at his crib, and we’ve been locked in ever since. I still talk to him to this day.
Aw man it was crazy (laughs). It was crazy... I met Future too! That was probably the most crazy. Even though Durk’s my favorite rapper, when I met Future, that was different.
How did that come together?
I've been hanging out with Lil Freaky a lot. He’s a rapper out in Atlanta. I did a song with him, he sent it to Future, and Future was like, ‘man, bring that kid to the studio’. We went to the studio, played Future and Young Scooter some tracks, they were like ‘we rocking with you’, and that was that.
What was it like to hear yourself on the radio for the first time?
(Laughs). I ain’t even catch it! Somebody had sent it to me. It was two different stations. I know V103 was one of ‘em. My mom was happy. She was very excited.