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Lil B - Etching His Own Line
In the three hours I spent with Lil B at his spacious private studio in Gardena, CA, I immediately noticed one thing: Unlike the majority of tattoo artists-and no disrespect to them- Lil B thinks on a grand scale, like a seasoned entrepreneur readying his next business move. His talent is shocking for many, considering hes been tattooing for a little over three years and had joined the world famous Lowrider Tattoo Studio at the age of 18.
During our chat, he praises Rob Dyrdek for his ability to combine skate and business and take it to a whole new level, something Lil B plans on gravitating toward. Walking into his studio, you sense a little bit of "Fantasy Factory" in it, evidenced by the large graffiti walls, a bevy of skaters riding freely around the enormous open space, endless merchandise of D9 Reserve clothing ready to ship, and a private tattoo studio located in the corner of the warehouse where Lil B is sitting down at his table stenciling out a half-sleeve Jesus piece.

In the past, he's collaborated with the marijuana-influenced clothing label, D9 Reserve, but ever since their first successful collection, they've become family. No pun intended, but these guys are living the high life. They seem tired after coming back from a weekend trip to Vegas, where they partied hard and worked even harder, with Lil B tattooing rap superstar Future.

While Lil B sits and eats a bowl of Pho at a table surrounded by his D9 affiliates, he speaks about his goal of becoming more than just a great tattoo artist. "I think tattooing is probably 30 percent of what I do. I design clothes, draw, and skate," said the 22-year-old who was originally born and raised in France before making his way to California. "With the energy we have out here, I just want to show it off and don't want people to take me as just a tattoo artist. I can be an entertainer, too. I can start a reality show on YouTube. Rob Dyrdek was a skater, but he touched on other stuff, too. That's how I want to be. I think it's really expected with what tattoo artists do to brand themselves."

You can easily tell the young artist and skate die-hard wants to live life and have fun while doing it with his brothers. Gravitating to the next level of tattooingwhich includes him experimenting fine line black and grey with a neo-traditional twistwhile keeping up with the fast-paced fashion world and evolving in today's culture alongside D9 is number one on his list of priorities. And what better way to do it than inside the gigantic walls of his very own fantasy factory?

URBAN INK: You grew up in France. How long were you there for?
Lil B: I was there for 18 years. I was born and raised in France. My background is Hispanic from my dad's side and my mom is French. I came [to LA] when I turned 18.

Why did you choose Cali?
I felt like all my life, even in school, I felt like I didn't fit. I couldn't find a job. Then I went to school for graphic design but it didn't really work for me. It was working, but I got tired of it. I don't want to sit all my life in front of a computer. I didn't know what to do, so the best thing I could do was run away and go somewhere else where there's more opportunities. I came to the US with no idea what I was going to do. I was like, "All right, let's go to California. F*ck it."

You came by yourself?

Nah, I came with one of my homeboys that I grew up with. He's still with me today; we live in the same house. I live with my girl and my friend.

How was the first month in Cali?

First, it was a mission because we didn't have money. At first, we took the cheapest room we found. It was in the ghetto. There's like guys who would hit us up, asking where we're from, throwing their sets. To us, it's like, "F*ck." We're just eating ramen noodles and sleeping on the floor. We were lost.

Where was that?
It was a place called Palmdale, 45 minutes away from LA. It's a very cheap area. I was paying $300 rent per month.

What was your hustle?
When I got there, I didn't make money; I just spent. We were trying to watch our money and eventually I started to get into tattoos. I was making a name for $10; just little money. I was tattooing in apartments; it was ghetto as sh*t. I was boiling the tubes with my homie. At first, I wasn't hustling as much but was more surviving.

You made your own machines?
The thing is, we were trying to get jobs. Nobody was giving us the opportunity to work, so what happened was we were trying to work construction, but it would never work. I would always be at home drawing all day because I was bored. My friend, who I came with, was skating with a group of guys and one of them was doing tattoos at his house. He said, "Yo, I'll hook you up for $30." I was like, "Damn, let's do it up. Thirty dollars is cheap as f*ck." We didn't really know. We went to the garage and he tatted my homie, Sergio, and he f*cked him up. I looked at it and saw what he did and was like, "Whoa, it's not looking right." It hit me like, "I gotta start tattooing. I love this." The same night, I talked to Sergio and we took all the money we had and bought my first tattoo kit. I got burned, too. The guy hustled me, but it's cool.

You learned from it, though.
Yeah, the day after, I tattooed my friend.

What was that tattoo?
I drew some letters on his leg. I was stupid because I tattooed him while sitting on the table in the kitchen. He was sitting down while I was drawing the letters and after I tattooed him, he stood up and the letters got all small. It's memories.

What was your first introduction to art?
I've been drawing since I was a kid. It's been like this in my family. My uncle and dad drew. I was drawing like every other kid, but going to school, I remember seeing all the tags they threw up in the streets. Back in the day in France, the streets were f*cked up. Throw-ups and letters were everywhere. I was seeing this as a kid and I loved it. Everybody was in soccer back home but I loved letters. When I was 12, I did my first tag in the streets and that's it. I was all about throwing letters. I wasn't into realistic sh*t at first; I was more into letters.

You pursued graphic design afterward, though.
What happened was, back in school in France, everybody goes to college, but I didn't go through the regular school. When I was 16, they said, "Check this out. This is your opportunity to go to a school where they teach you the right way, then you get out of school and work." My parents wanted me to continue school. It's different from here. It was either I do this or go to work at 16-years-old.

But it didn't work out?
I did graphic design for four years. School is free out there. I did really good for the first time in my life, but after four years, I was like, "This isnt what I want to do." I was done with it and wanted to jump to something else.

So when it comes to drawing, do you think that in order to be a great tattoo artist, the foundation has to be set in terms of your drawing abilities?
To me, it's very important. You gotta know how to draw, but mostly, you have to see a way of things. Your vision; your touch; your twist; the way you put things together is also important. You gotta know a bit of both, but definitely have to know your drawing and know what's behind things. Sometimes, it's not enough to copy a picture. With us doing statues and realistic stuff, you gotta understand the body structure; the way things move and flow.

How did you learn?
I read books. I was always able to copy things growing up but never really understood. Then I started to read books and eventually, it started to make sense. I understood structure.

And then you joined Lowrider Tattoos.
I joined Lowrider after I'd been tattooing for seven months. I was already doing portraits because I like to push myself. I've seen Jose Lopez' work and it changed everything. It was a different ball game, bro.

How did you get into the shop?

I was going to Ink-N-Iron. It's a funny story. It was one of the first shows I was going to. I went with my friends and I was walking by, seeing all these tattoo artists, like, "Wow, this is dope." I tried to talk to one or two famous artists that I won't say, but they were very rude.

They shut you down?
Yeah, they shut me down. In my mind, I was like, "F*ck that." I was just a kid trying to talk and they weren't going to have it. I don't like that attitude because I'm always down to talk to anybody. At the end of the day, we only do tattoos. I walk in front of the Lowrider booth, and I see Abbey Alvarez. He's a member of Lowrider and a very good artist. My friend was walking around in shortsI did portraits on his legand Abbey saw it and was like, "Hey homie, who did your leg?" He said, "It was this kid over here." Abbey was like, "Nah, shut the f*ck up." I was just a little kid, looking even younger. My homie said, "He was only tatting for six months." Abbey gave me his email, and told me to hit him up and come to his house the following week. The week after, I went to his house and a week or so later, Abbey tells me Jose wants me to work at his shop. I was like, "Yeah! We out of this b*tch!" We were in the ghetto, sleeping on the floor at the time. I took everything and bounced to Orange County to work for Jose.

Today, you have your own studio. What was your reason for leaving Lowrider?
I wasn't burning any bridges; I'm really cool with Jose. He's my mentor and friend. I go there to visit every week and I live two streets away. I had opportunitiessometimes in life you gotta take chances. For what I felt, I was really influenced by the skate culture, graffitiI love Hip-Hop. To be a part of D9, to me, it's more what I'm about. This is what I feel represents me. Also, I love to see people come in and out; everybody's happy. As soon as I get tired, I can just skate, take a spray can. It's like playing around and working at the same time.

Were you scared when you took that risk to leave Lowrider?
Hell yeah, bro. I was stressed; I couldn't eat for a couple days. To me, when it comes to tattooing, Lowrider Tattoos is the top notch. It's the style I like the most. It was big to be a part of it. To think that I came from France and I got this opportunity after six months of tattooing. Most likely, when you work with Lowrider, you gotta do well in the tattoo world. Like I said, I like to take risks. I felt it was a new opportunity for me and so far, it's working for me.

What are some cool pieces you like to do?
I guess it's all in cycles. When I started, it was portraits. I was obsessed with portraits. Now, I'm doing a lot of statues, a lot of Renaissance. Slowly, you get tired of doing the same things. I'm starting to do a lot of neo-traditional. I'm doing very realistic, fine line black and grey and incorporating it with neo-traditional. So a lot of bold lines, neo-traditional roses; stuff like that. You gotta try new stuff because after a while, you get tired of doing the same things.

In a previous issue, we discussed the topic of tattooing on darker skin in relation to a tattoo documentary on black tattoo artists. What's your take on tattooing on darker skin?
To me, it's all the same. It doesn't matter. I know there are people who don't like to do it. If you're black, Asianwhatever--it doesn't matter. It's my job to make it look badass. If it's a dark skin, then it'll be a little different, but I'll do my best to make it look good.

You're 22 with your own private studio, this huge space, and you have clients coming from all over the world to get tatted by you. How humbling is that?

It feels good. Thankfully, I've got a strong team around me that keep my feet on the ground. When I get too crazy, my team keeps me grounded. I've had the same people and I've been living with my best friend since day one. I feel blessed. The hard work is paying off and I feel its only the beginning.
 
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