Chicago rapper Taylor Bennett is approaching the release of his upcoming Be Yourself EP at a crucial career juncture.

"I realize for the first time ever the community has been very accepting of me being openly bisexual," he tells XXL. "And not just the community as listeners, but major artists that I work with all the time that I worked with on this project."

In a conscious effort to "help others that struggle with the same issues," the Broad Shoulders' rapper announced that he identifies as bisexual on January 18, 2017, one day before his 21st birthday. He's since dropped the EP's titular track and cover art, which finds him zoning in on himself as he reflects on the year that's come to pass. Bennett has always stayed true to himself—it's what's grown his fan base and national acclaim since his musical debut, The Taylor Bennett Show, in 2013.

The younger brother of Chance The Rapper may share his looks, but the two's messages are at opposite ends of the rap spectrum. During Bennett's latest interview with XXL, he opens up about what led him to create the introspective Be Yourself—due out this month—and per usual, he's thinking of the effect that it will have on others. "The point is that it’s to show unity," he explains. "One of the biggest things that we gotta’ do first before we can go after a whole system is solve all the issues that we have inside first. That’s really why I made this. But it’s also really good."

Be Yourself includes features from Supa Bwe, Zxxk (pronounced: Zeek), Taylor Bennett Entertainment's Bianca Shaw and Young Thug, with whom Bennett spent two days while on tour and prepping the EP.

Read on to learn more about Be Yourself and Taylor Bennett's plan to invoke awareness in the hip-hop community.

XXL: Explain the concept behind your upcoming EP, Be Yourself.

Taylor Bennett: Well, one thing that I thought about when I was writing this music is I really wanted to get down to the deep roots of who I was. I wanted to know myself—and by knowing myself, eventually be myself. And one thing that I just kept thinking back to was when I was I was a kid I would get upset or I’d be in a bad mood or whatever, I just wouldn’t wanna be in my house because my parents be arguing or whatever be going on. I’d just grab my skateboard and ride around my neighborhood for like, three hours, listening to my iPod. And I remember when the music and the songs that I was listening to when I was skating around came on, it made me feel as if, temporarily, nothing else mattered. And I decided that’s the kind of music that I wanted to make.

I love music. I love hip-hop. I love making art. But you know, when you wake up and you’re on your grind and you’re like, “Man, today, I’ma go get that $60,000 chain,” that’s cool. You’re on the grind; you’re trying to work. But when you wake up and you feel like you have a purpose, when you feel like you’re changing people’s lives, when you feel like you’re making a difference in the world, that’s what gets me going. And one of the things that God definitely wants me to do, I believe, is to break down the divide between the LGBTQ community, the Black community and all communities.

That's awesome. Now onto the cover—it's definitely original. How did you come up with the idea, and what does everything represent?

The day before I turned 21 I came out as openly bisexual, so that’s the idea of the balloons and the birthday hat. But I’m also not smiling because I’m not happy. Because I’m the only person that I feel can be by myself and be myself. And that’s also kinda the point of the cover art. When I was thinking about this cover art, it was crazy. People could bash me, people could say just all types of crazy things. But what I realized is that leaders don’t think about that and if they do think about it, they don’t fear it. And if they do fear it, eventually they become brave. I wanted to do this for every single person in five years so that shit is just okay. Or in two years. I mean, I guess it’s OK now, because it’s happening.

And then there was this picture I remember seeing as a kid: It’s a sad clown sitting in the same pose. Something about that really struck me. I don’t even know what it was about it but I think it was how ironic the sad clown is.

And the thing about [the cover], too, the rainbow underwear. Clowns also wear rainbow, so it was a pretty deep context, but the biggest reason for picking the cover art was for a roundtable discussion. If you’re a homophobe and you see that picture, you gon’ be like “Ay man, this shit gay, bro.” But y’all talkin’ about it. And that’s the first start of it.

Tay Bennett Entertainment
Tay Bennett Entertainment

What topics do you cover on the project?

Something that I’m definitely going to be covering is me coming out. But not just me coming out but being African-American and also being bisexual. That’s something I definitely talk about. I talk about my childhood and how hard it was for me to really explore myself and let myself be out there and be the person that I wanted to be. I talk about relationship—growing up—with Chance [The Rapper], and how in the last, I don’t know, six years, everything has totally flipped. Also just talking about being from Chicago, being in relationships, love, breaking someone’s heart and also getting your heartbroken.

On the title track, you talk about having problems in school. What was it like being a student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program)?

Me and Chance had IEPs, and actually, a lot of kids had IEPs. The thing about this whole Chicago school system—or really the United States school system—is that they think every student learns one way. There’s one history book, there’s one math book. Unfortunately I wasn’t like that and because of that I got an IEP, but that really just gave me extended time and I still had to do the same materials. I didn’t really ever learn any differently. But it felt weird. I’ll tell you what, to be labeled with something like that as a kid and then to not receive the help that you really need from that program because of the lack of funds or because of the lack of government support or general city support, I didn’t learn anything. And me having an IEP actually never made me feel smarter; it always made me feel slower.

My friends used to talk to me about it, everybody knew I had an IEP, my teachers used to talk about it. And there’s a lot of kids that are still out here that do have these IEPs, and they do have these labels and they do have these names, and the reason why I mentioned it is I wanted them to know that I’m also somebody that had a disability. I’m also somebody that sat in the back of the class and then eventually had to sit in the front permanently. I’m also somebody that had one of those cushy seat things that you sat on. I was popular, but I had an IEP. It was such a big part of my life.

Me and Chance never took Spanish—how crazy is that? Like, we never took Spanish to learn more math. So sometimes you get substituted out of other classes to go there. Sometimes you’re in a whole different class.

Thanks for sharing that. Which song are you excited for fans to hear most?

That’s a hard question. They’re all really, really good. I think “Better Than You Ever Been” featuring Young Thug, produced by [A-Yo]. It’s such a dream collaboration for me, but I think it’s also just a very fun song and it’s very energetic. The way that Thug really lays himself on the track, he really channeled his inner spirit. I don’t know about a lot of people, but when I think about Thug and I hear his music, it’s so young. It’s lifelike; it’s always kid. There’s joy in his voice. Almost to the point where, well, he does sing. I’m so astounded at the work that he did on it. I’m ready for people to see the work that I’ve been putting in.

How instrumental was he in the studio?

It was dope. He doesn’t stop working. He’s one of the hardest workers in this entertainment business and it’s inspiring to see somebody like that in a work zone. People tell me, “Man, you come in and you write…” Nah. This nigga, he’s a genius. You can tell it’s what he loves to do; it’s what he was meant to do and he knows that. And he knows that he’s making music for a reason. You can see the passion in his eyes when he’s in the studio. There’s nothing really like that. That’s also why I’m very excited for that track.

What other track are you ready for fans to experience?

[On “Rock 'N' Roll"], I think I took my music abilities to a different level in terms of using Auto-Tune, challenging my voice range, in terms of bringing an actual guitarist in with an electric guitar—I’ve never done that before. And overall I think how much I love the song. I already know it’s a festival song.

Have you received a lot of support from the hip-hop community since coming out last year?

Yeah, I’ve received a lot of support. Nobody that loves me or cares about me or shared a friendship with me has turned on me in the hip-hop community. If anything I’ve gotten a lot of support. Instantly, Kehlani hit me up, Vic [Mensa] hit me up. Just a lot of different people that are in the industry that are supporters. But I’m also still really good friends with Lil Yachty; he’s never changed. Actually, he’s helped promote for our community with his last project, Teenage Emotions. So there’s artists like that that media tries to portray as these aggressive, savage, misunderstood, ignorant rappers and that’s not what they are at all. A lot of them are very conscious.

I’m really good friends with Offset, I just did this track with Thug, Uzi’s my homie. I’ve never, ever felt uncomfortable. And the things that they’re doing right now, especially in the Atlanta scene—no matter if it’s how you’re dressing or the colors that you wear—they’re really saying be yourself. Do your thing. And that’s one thing that I respect about Atlanta fo’ sho’. It’s their style, and I love that about them.

What is your message for those who struggle with their identity, especially in this industry?

Not specifically to just artists, or anybody, but I would say the most important thing is you gotta be happy. Nobody else is going to push you to come out; nobody else is gonna force you to come out. Nobody else is going to be able to give you the comfortability and the satisfaction that you feel when you’re open and you’re actually living your truth. And if you’re worried about friends, if you’re worried about family, if you’re worried about any of those things, those people will love you for who you are. And if they don’t it’s a tough world, but you gotta be yourself. You gotta’ be who you are in this world. That’s word to Denzel Washington.

How exactly did you come out to your family and friends?

I came out to everybody at the same time.

Oh, okay. That day on Twitter.

I didn’t tell my parents separately. I was in Malibu with my family when I came out, and I sent the tweet out, and then right after I went and spoke to them about it.

How do you plan on finishing the last half of 2018?

Damn, there’s only six more months left in 2018 already?

Right! Gotta’ finish out strong.

That’s crazy. Well yeah, more tour life, bigger dates. I’m working on the album now. The EP is done, I’m getting ready to do a lot of these big-name shows. I can’t say yet but I am so excited right now, and I am really just truly blessed to be able to make the music and have the support that I do from my fans and be able to inspire people, as well as be inspired by my fans at the same time. And, be inspired by XXL, so thank you.

See New Music Releases for July 2018