Photo credit: Anthony Norkus
There aren’t many movements in music anymore. There are fan bases, of course, but that isn’t the same thing. A movement pushes for more than fame and success; it wants to change the world to better reflect the ideas of those involved, for better or worse.
Xanarchy is a movement. Lead by an audacious 5’6” young man named Diego Leanos, otherwise known as Lil Xan, the message of Xanarchy is one of taking responsibility for your actions and not giving a fuck what others (haters) think because this life is too short for that type of bullshit. The delivery of this idea can come across a bit muddy, especially when preached through songs released before Leanos got a handle on the drug problem that inspired his stage name, but it has nonetheless connected with thousands of young people around the world in the eighteen months since the California native began releasing material online.
On October 6, Lil Xan brought his Monster Energy sponsored North American tour to 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids, MI. He was accompanied by his mentor and friend, Steve Cannon, who taught him to rap and gave him his first shot in music. Other support came from up and coming rappers Eliozie and Phem, both of whom claim to be part of Xanarchy. Though their flows differed, themes of partying, excess, and the belief mentioned above that one should not give a single fuck to anything that tries to bring them down were a constant throughout the night.
“This is my first time in Grand Rapids,” shouted Lil Xan after opening with his Lil Skies collaboration “Lies” shortly after his 9:30 PM set time. “Y’all are now a part of my family. You’ll never meet a less egotistical rapper than me. My boy Eli and I suffer severe anxiety, so the fact we made it here, that’s all because of you. Now — Y’all ready for some more?”
The set continued with “Wake Up,” one of the first singles released from Lil Xan’s debut album, Total Xanarchy, that arrived in March of this year. The song finds Leanos mixing melancholy bars about the sickness his feels from his excess lifestyle (”I wake up, I throw up, I feel like I’m dead”) with braggadocios talk of fucking bitches and being considered the man. In a way, this perfectly represents everything Lil Xan is and what he delivers through his live show. Though his focus is always on keeping the crowd engaged through his high energy performance, he also makes time to address the darker side of fame, as well as what separates him from other artists.
Roughly twenty-five minutes into his hour-long set, Leanos caught his breath while asking for the lights to be turned off. Not some of the lights, but all of them. When his wish was granted, he sat on the edge of the stage and addressed the hundreds of young music fans in attendance with a potent sadness in his voice.
“Too many legends died this year,” he said. “Too many legends, man. Three of my favorite rappers died this year. I’m gonna play their songs in my set, so their legacy lives on, and if you got a problem with that meet me in back later.”
A video screen that had been projecting creative visuals involving Leanos throughout the night lit up with an image of XXXtentacion, a rapper who was fatally shot over the summer. The crowd went wild at the sight of the fallen rap star, and they grew louder still when his breakout hit “Sad!” began to boom throughout the venue. The house lights remained off for a moment, but then returned as Leanos and his crew sang along while encouraging the crowd to do the same. A second XXX song followed, along with mentions of fallen rappers Mac Miller and Lil Peep (whose name Leanos has tattooed on his knuckles). “We miss you,” Leanos eventually said. “We’ll always miss you.”
As the night carried on, Lil Xan returned to his catalog with a collection of viral hits that spanned the entirety of his admittedly short career. Fan demands for tracks such as “Slingshot” and Betrayed” were met with those songs being played, even if they were intended to appear later in the night. Most tracks ran less than three minutes in length, but Leanos filled time in between by engaging the crowd with positive reinforcement that went beyond the typical “I fuck with y’all” commentary many artists deliver (though there was plenty of that as well).
“I just need everyone in here to know there is no reason to get caught up in the bullshit,” he said at one point while sweat poured down his face. “If you ever find yourself feeling weighed down by the world and the shit people say, just go outside. You’ll find out it’s a really nice day to be alive.”
Few would claim Leanos to be any kind of philosopher, but one has to admire his dedication to positivity. Many artists in his position would allow their level of fame to go to their heads, but Leanos seems to take another approach entirely. To him, it seems that celebrity is the worst fate of all. Many songs even say as much, and those that don’t highlight a life of excess to the point of depravity that is only made possible by his position in the spotlight. As much as music may have saved him, the success from his songs has challenged him in ways he didn’t anticipate. Thankfully, his fans have his back, just as he has theirs, and together they are hopeful that tomorrow will provide another chance to make better decisions.
Photographer Anthony Norkus was on hand to capture Lil Xan’s Grand Rapids performance. You can view a selection of his work below: