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Lil Dicky Has ‘Fallen Back in Love With Music’

David Andrew Burd, better known by his rap name Lil Dicky, co-created, writes, and stars in the FX series Dave, which is partly based on his own life. His transition from viral meme to bonafide rapper to television star capable of attracting cameos from Brad Pitt, Drake, and Rachel McAdams is either an anomaly or a sign of the uniquely transferable skills seen in today’s rap music. Whatever the case, Burd has solidified himself as an artist who takes his work seriously, dick jokes and all.

Burd sees his new album, Penith — also the title of the project his fictional character is working on in the show — as an opportunity to show how much he’s grown as an artist since his last project came out eight years ago. “I put out Professional Rapper, and I really love the ideas and where my head was at, but a lot of it, I listen to it now and I think it kind of isn’t good,” he says over Zoom. “If Jay-Z had never heard of me, and he was like, ‘Who is Lil Dicky?’, and he goes to Spotify and goes to Professional Rapper, I would honestly be like, ‘Jay, no, don’t do it!’ Because it’s just not a representation of where I’ve evolved to as an artist.”

The actors’ and writers’ strikes last year opened up free time for Burd to work on his music, which normally takes a back seat to his work as the central force in writing, directing, and acting on Dave. “When you hear any of the stuff in the show, you’re hearing my Pro Tools demos,” he says. “It’s not mixed, it’s not finished. What happened during the strike was I had the opportunity to finish this stuff —mix it and master it and add the final post-production touches on everything. It was such an unbelievable feeling to be able to, for the first time in five-plus years, focus on music.”

When Lil Dicky first came on the scene in 2013, thanks to a viral music video for his song “Ex-Boyfriend,” he joined the pantheon of internet-born joke-rappers whose schtick seemed to mock rather than embrace rap culture. Quickly, though, he proved to be more than a gimmick. Over the course of two studio albums, two mixtapes, an EP, and a smattering of singles and features, he’s grown a fanbase through the same grit and determination you see on Dave. He’s still got the crude sense of humor you’d expect from a rapper named Lil Dicky, but there’s something real beneath the jokes. All of which is to say, he’s paid his dues. Now, Burd says, the goal of going viral is a concern of the past.

“I did come into it trying to get noticed for being funny, and every music video I made was like, ‘How do I go viral for being funny?’ And ‘Maybe I can get a TV show one day,’” he admits. “Then I got all that. It’s very satisfying to me to be at a place now musically where I’m able to invest so much in a song and a video and a concept that is just my favorite kind of music and my favorite kind of music video, and not something that is designed to be a splashy, funny hit that can get a hundred million views.”

Burd says he designed this project in a way where fans of Dave could connect with it just as much as the casual listener who’s never seen the show. That’s in part thanks to the new territory he allows his music to explore. “I don’t think prior to this moment, there’s even songs with me singing. I haven’t even put out a singing-driven song. I feel like I’ve been singing for eight years, but no one knows it. And even the style of beats. It’s all more present with where I’m at and what my taste level is.” 

The production on Penith ranges from blitzed-out trap sounds to pop-punk-leaning ballads. Lyrically, Burd is nimble in the balance between rapping as a joke and rapping with jokes. “Harrison Ave” has a nostalgic feel, evoking Burd’s adolescence in the early internet age, replete with AIM messages to a teenage crush. Penith is most compelling in these moments of storytelling. Much like in the series, Burd has a knack for clear-eyed self-reflection that connects to something more universal. “As far as people who grew up at the time I grew up and the way I grew up, I don’t know that there’s a more relatable rap song that exists,” he says. “Pretty much all of the stuff that happened in that song is literally true. I literally went to a dance thinking I was going with a girl, and her date showed up. I was the 33rd person there. The older guys at Macaroni Grill told the waitstaff that it was my birthday. To make it even worse for me, at Macaroni Grill, they literally make you stand on the table and wave a napkin. It’s truly all real.”

That story makes its way into the second episode of the latest season of Dave, when Burd’s character returns to his hometown to shoot a music video. “It’s one of the best episodes of the series in my opinion,” he says. “You would think that I wrote the song for the episode, but I really wrote the episode for the song, and I wrote the song from my heart.”

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This is a familiar theme in Burd’s work. While the genre of white comedian-rapper is a uniquely cursed subset of American culture, Lil Dicky manages to sidestep the obvious first impressions by presenting something that at its core feels honest.  “I think with both of these things, whether it’s music or screenwriting, I really entered both venues with no experience, but I guess I just am a natural writer,” he says. “I don’t think to myself differently when I’m writing a screenplay or when I’m writing a song. It takes totally different skill sets, but I just kind of let my instincts take over in either case.”

For now, he says, those instincts are more focused on music than anything else. While Dave ended Season Three on an ambiguous note, it’s unclear when, or if, fans can expect a fourth season. “We’re still figuring everything out,” he says. “And the true reality is, I’m not kidding when I say I’ve fallen back in love with music to the point where it’s like I have the same obsessive hunger that I had at the beginning of my career. Because of the show, I’ve been one foot in, one foot out, and now that I’ve gotten a scent of what it feels like to be both feet in on music, I’m really attached to the premise of taking my time right now and focusing on music. The only reason that the show even exists is because I had this music career.”

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