Hip-Hop Junkie: Lil Duval Learned Life Lessons From Tupac Shakur’s Music
Lil Duval’s "Smile (Living My Best Life)" became an unexpected positivity anthem in 2018. With lyrics like “You got a lot to be smilin' for” and “If you breathin', you achievin,'” the upbeat single offers a reason for everyone from the neighborhood scammer to Oprah to not only sing along, but also be grateful. The song, which samples Midnight Star’s old-school hit “Curious” and features Snoop Dogg and Ball Greezy, peaked at No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100.
According to Duval, the rules to living your best life are quite simple. “Shit, just being happy,” he tells XXL. “Just being happy within yourself and not looking for happiness from the outside world. Being at peace with yourself, because if you are at peace with yourself and happy with yourself, everything else is a bonus.”
A current king of comedy, the multifaceted entertainer has been picking up bonus points for more than a decade. Appearing on shows like Coming to the Stage and ComicView in the mid 2000s, the comedian has stayed true to himself throughout his successful career.
“I can be myself and still make a good living in this business,” Duval says, as he reflects on the benefits of his profession. “A lot of people can’t do that. A lot of people have to do what they can. I get to do what I want.”
During a recent visit to XXL, Lil Duval spoke on his Living My Best Life Tour, learning from Tupac Shakur’s music and the origins of his feel-good vibes.
XXL: How does your Living My Best Life Tour differ from previous outings?
Lil Duval: Not that much. It’s just a continuation of it, because I’ve always incorporated music into my comedy. This is just another step. It’s me taking it to the next level, incorporating everything in entertainment as a whole. That’s where entertainment is going. People aren’t just doing one thing any more. They’re doing music, comedy, acting, rapping—everything in one. If you look at the new young people, they all are doing everything. I’ve always did it. I guess now I’m at the forefront because that’s what entertainment was at first. In the '80s, it broke off to where somebody just sings or somebody just does this or does that. But before, it was everything. Frank Santana did everything. Most people did, so I’m just taking it back to that element.
Has the success of "Smile (Living My Best Life)" created additional pressure for you?
I don’t know where pressure comes from. Like where? I keep hearing people ask me that, but I’m like, "Who is pressuring me?" Let’s say it’s the worst-case scenario and it flops—who cares? I’ve already won. I’m still going to have my fans that support and I’m still going to entertain them. So nah, there ain’t no pressure.
How was it performing "Smile (Living My Best Life)" during The Carters' On The Run II tour?
It was cool. I’ve been doing it for so long that it was just another stage. But the moment was big. I understood the moment and they gave me that platform. Actually DJ Khaled, he let me come out and do my thing. It was a huge platform. It wasn’t so much the venue. It wasn’t so much the stage. It was the moment. I guess that opened the eyes of a lot of people.
How did you link with Ty Dolla $ign for “Pull Up?”
I just heard him on the song when I was making it. I felt he’d be perfect for it, so I just hit him up. Anything I do is about the vibe. If I feel like they got the vibe, I’ll fuck with them.
Where do you think your connection to hip-hop began?
Being born. Just like everybody else. I guess I grew up in the hip-hop boom when people were really making money and it got really popular. I grew up in the '90s. It’s embedded in me. Hip-hop has evolved to where it’s not just rap music. It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle. We all have it in us—everybody, not just Black people, but everybody.
What was your favorite hip-hop album growing up?
When we grew up in the ‘90s we learned through hip-hop—good and bad. It’s not like now where people listen to music to feel good or for a vibe. Back then we learned a lot. So it wasn’t just one artist. It was everybody. I might love this person for this. I might love this person for that. Tupac, he’s like my favorite of all time. But for the most part, I learned from hip-hop in general.
What made you connect with Tupac and his music?
He felt like a leader. I feel like I learned more about life from him than the Bible. I felt like he spoke to a generation that couldn’t speak that was feeling the same type of way. I feel like I’m one of his disciples coming under that. That’s what I try to instill.
Would you say that he’s the artist you've identified with the most?
Yeah, I can still listen to him 20 years later. Of course I’m listening to it because it takes me back to a certain time, but at the same time everything he’s saying is relevant now.
Do you still find yourself learning from his music?
Yeah, it’s like the Bible. When you see yourself get to a certain place in life, the Bible makes sense more. Same thing with his music. Staring at the world in my rear view—that’s the space I’m at now. Now I get what he’s saying and I understand it. At the level I’m at in life, there are certain things I identify with more. It’s amazing that he was only 25 and figured it out. I always had a good sense of understanding but through my friend dying I think I know more than 'Pac now. I just understand life. That’s the key to all of this.
What have been your keys to longevity?
Consistency, actually being talented and God.
You’ve been able to spread happiness throughout your career. What does that mean to you?
It means everything to me. It means more to me than anything else. That’s why I do it in the first place. I do it to touch people, not to get rich. I was even doing it before “Smile.” “Smile” just kind of gave me the recognition of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been touching people’s lives through comedy, music and social media. I always did it to put that soul and good energy out there.
Being happy is one of your keys to living your best life. What inspired that outlook?
It was a continuation. We all are programmed. I just programmed myself. It wasn’t like one defining moment. It’s a continuation of staying on that path. Also, a consistency over the years of seeing things and just life in general. That’s what made me look at it like, you got to live your best life, because we’re here for a good time, but not a long time.
Read 10 Wild Stories That Took Place During Hip-Hop Tours