On Taylor Bennett’s newest album Coming of Age, which dropped in April, the Chicago artist weaves elements of pop, punk, rock and hip-hop while traversing themes like being an independent artist, mental health and dissecting how he wants to be remembered. He doesn’t want to be defined by any one thing. The 26-year-old wants to dismantle expectations of what a genre-bending artist from Chicago can be; although his musical roots started as a rapper in high school. 

“I wanted to make a positive album and I felt like it was hard for me to make a positive album in the rap space that will be respected,” Bennett told The TRiiBE about Coming of Age. It’s his fourth music project. “I f-ck with rap music because rap music is a part of Black culture, but Black culture is not rap music.”

Bennett plans to further that positive energy and showcase his wide-ranging sound during a free Chicago homecoming show at Lincoln Hall on Friday, July 22. It’s a part of his “Be Yourself, Be A Champion” tour that’s in partnership with Champion® Athleticwear.

The TRiiBE caught up with Bennett to talk about the upcoming concert, his new album and being an independent artist.  

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

How would you describe your sound?

Taylor Bennett: With hip-hop, there’s an expectation from it because hip-hop has been around for a long time. Or if it’s rock ‘n’ roll, there’s an expectation from it because it’s been around for a long time. And there’s also an idea of how it should be done. I don’t like that, and I’ve never liked that. 

As a kid, I’ve always listened to all kinds of genres of music being from the South Side, living off 79th Street. It’s just a thing where I’ve never felt like any one sound defined me as an artist, but it took me a long time to get comfortable enough to try out things that I didn’t know [if] my fan base would like or not.

Your latest album, Coming of Age, blends rap, punk and rock. Are there any other genres that you want to explore?

Taylor Bennett: I want to just keep going, like, I don’t know where this train stops, I don’t know if it’s going to take me into country music or [if]  it’s gonna take me into f-cking rock ‘n’ roll or if it’s gonna take me back into hip-hop. It can take me anywhere, and I want to do as much as I can. 

I also believe that the representation of me being Black, being from Chicago, being from the South Side, and then going out and making songs with [Brooklyn-based electronic duo] Matt and Kim and [U.K. singer and producer] Mr. Hudson and the [rock band] Plain White T’s is some shit that other kids see [as inspiring]. It’s just like I saw Kanye West work with Mr. Hudson and Jay-Z work with Mr. Hudson and it inspired me to go work with Mr. Hudson.

I’m a huge fan of [the rock band] Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I’m a huge fan of doo-wop groups, period. There’s been like a couple of different tracks that I’ve made that sound like the 1960s or 70s. There’s ventures and different things that I want to do. I think something that I’m getting more comfortable with is being myself and feeling like I’m gonna try this kind of music. I also don’t have that pressure [as] an independent artist. It’s not, like, ‘oh, shit, I might only sell 20,000 units, and then they’re going to shelve me.’ I’m, like, ‘okay, I still made the money if I sold 20,000 units as an independent artist, and I’ll just keep trying other stuff until I find something that I like and the fans like.’

Speaking of expectations of Black artists and considering that you identify as bisexual, what has your experience been like in hip-hop? The genre is often layered with homophobia.

Taylor Bennett: I think that’s also one of the big reasons why I did this project, because representation matters, right? And when you’re looking at the TV screen, and you’re only seeing these figures that are constantly portraying this, then I can understand why some people might come to the conclusion that this is what this culture is and what this community represents because there’s no other supply of positivity or any other resources kind of out there. For the LGBTQ community, I always say this: Young Thug was the only major feature I had on [my 2018 EP] Be Yourself, which was a project that came out right after I had openly came out as bisexual. 

It’s also a thing when [you have] LGBTQ artists like Lil Nas X, one of the most popular artists for the last two years. Of course there are old heads that have things to say, but I feel like that’s no different in hip-hop than it’s been where old heads would say, ‘why you got those timbs on?’ I don’t think [it’s any different than] if you were white and dealing with being gay, or you were Hispanic and dealing with being gay. I think our families and communities react in the same way, which is, I think, rooted in something way deeper than the color of our skin. I think a lot of it has to do with religion.

That's interesting because Lil Nas X has had trouble with getting support and being welcomed in hip-hop.

Taylor Bennett: I don’t want to just be a rapper or I don’t want to just be in hip-hop, because when I say, I’m a rapper, I’m in hip hop, there’s automatically an expectation or an understanding of what’s traditionally been allowed in this space.

What was going through your mind when creating Coming of Age?

Taylor Bennett: I wanted to make something that I enjoy. I wanted to fill my cup. For that to happen, I needed to take a creative risk because I’ve always loved all kinds of music. [U.K. singer and pianist] Elton John, [U.K. singer-songwriter] Paul McCartney, [British rock band] Queen, [American folk rock duo] Simon & Garfunkel, you name it. It was my stuff. 

When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I used to grab my skateboard and just ride around all the time. I put these headphones on, and it would take me to a whole different world.That’s really what I wanted to do with this project. I wanted to create something that I felt like people could value higher than just the fact that it’s a release.


What can people expect from your show in Chicago on Friday and what does homecoming mean to you?

Taylor Bennett: People don’t know how good I am. I don’t think Chicago knows. I know L.A. knows. New York knows. I’ve been on The Kelly Clarkson Show and Good Morning America and done all these shows. But for my city, I want them to see my growth. 

The thing about doing Chicago shows, for me and especially being independent, is I had my first big shows at Lincoln Hall. A lot of the people that came to those shows were friends and family before I had any fans, before I had people that didn’t know me and never met me. 

The four-piece band, the music, the vocals, the production level, the show, it’s crazy. It’s also a super dope feeling for me, because when I do it in Chicago, I’m like, I’m killing this shit. My friends love this. My family loves this. It’s a different level of performance [because] it’s my city.

I know there are supposed to be a couple of special guests at the homecoming show. Can you drop any hints for who might be performing?

Taylor Bennett: DJ Mike P. He’s my first DJ, and was Juice WRLD’s official DJ. He’s from Chicago. I’ve known him since I was a kid. 

I’ll say one other guest that’s going to be performing is Baha Bank$, an amazing female artist from Chicago. She’s doing her thing right now, and she said she will come out and rock the show with me. 

Then we have at least like five other special guests, so it’s gonna be a crazy night.

On “Outro,” the last song on Coming of Age, you say, “I’m a firm believer every artist should make a difference.” How does that apply to your artistry?

Taylor Bennett: I’m independent. I just did Good Morning America and The Kelly Clarkson Show. I’m outside, like, it’s not nothing. Without security, because I really do believe this. There’s a huge wave that has been building in Chicago for a long time and a lot of people feel or felt like it was just for music or it was just for the artists or it was just for the rappers. 

But the truth about it is there’s a whole business that has to be ran outside of that. That has to do with managers. That has to do with PR. That has to do with booking agents. That has to do with promoters. And those are all jobs that our community should be doing, because we do them the best. 

So when I do shows at Lincoln Hall, we promote them ourselves. When we do shows in Chicago and do appearances,  we do Whats The Word TV. We work with The TRiiBE, because we’re changing some shit

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.