Comedian Lil Rel is making the most out his moment in the spotlight thanks to his breakout role in the Jordan Peele-directed film Get Out. For those who didn’t catch it, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut was a runaway hit in theaters and is due out on DVD, Blue Ray and Digital HD on May 9—this time with an alternate ending.
With a budget $4.5 million, Get Out has grossed $194 million worldwide to date and sparked a conversation about interracial relationships and lingering (and sometimes oblivious) racism in the U.S. The film achieves this by marrying awkwardly funny moments with Alfred Hitchcock-like melodrama into a story survival the fittest. As for Lil Rel, born Milton “Lil Rel” Howery, he plays Rod Williams, the ride-or-die best friend to main character Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya). Rel serves as the comedic relief and the inadvertent hero the flick.
“It’s funny that a film that intense would need a comedic element to that,” says Rel his character, TSA worker Rod. “Jordan Peele is a very talented guy. He’s coming from Key and Peele so he already had that comedic element anyway so he was able to write that We literally needed my character to break up most the tension most the time.”
Prior to the movie’s home release, the 37-year-old West Side, Chicago native chopped it up with XXL about first discovering hip-hop in his neighborhood, his love Kanye West and where he thinks rap is headed.
XXL: There’s some hip-hop elements in this movie in the soundtrack. How does hip-hop play into this movie?
A lot actually. And it’s funny that Jordan was able to get that song “Redbone” by Childish Gambino], which is one my favorite songs, in the film. It was funny when I was doing my ADR for the movie, I heard it in another room. I was like, Nah, don’t tell me we got “Redbone” in the movie.
And, also, there’s a just a group us in Hollywood that are hip-hop. We’re hip-hop comedians, writers, actors and I thought it was very important that he actually used the “Stay woke” at the opening the movie. Really, I’d say this is like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but a hip-hop version and as you know, only hip-hop tend to keep it 100. We don’t really try to impress everybody. We do it for the hip-hop culture and things like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and movies that nature it was always kind light. This one is like, Nah, this could happen. This is the worst that could happen laughs].
Being from Chicago, what kind hip-hop did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot. I was a huge Wu-Tang fan, along with Crucial Conflict, along with Do or Die along with Mobb Deep.
Who was your favorite rapper growing up?
I’d have to say Nas. For a lot reasons. His swag, the way he dressed, he was just always—even influencing how I dress now—he was just always a cool guy. Always seemed level-headed and smooth. He had like West Side Chicago vibes to me. Like, if I put on something growing up, I’d check like, “Yo, Esco wear this?” laughs].
I remember Illmatic. Illmatic was a classic, you know what I’m saying? He’s one those people who grows up in his lyrics. And as he gets older and learns things, he talks about it. Like, “Bye, Baby” is one my favorite songs ever. He’s talking about his divorce or breaking up, from a male perspective. Nobody’s really doing it like that and that’s just dope to me. That’s my vibe. He’s not trying to keep up with the kids, you know what I’m saying? He’s like, I’m a grown man. My daughter’s growing up now. You know what I mean? Straight up, I love Nas.
When you were growing up, who was the first person to turn you on to hip-hop?
That’s a great question. I feel like I’m in Brown Sugar right now laughs]. I guess you could say my neighborhood, you know? Like the first time you hear a dope song being played out the local drug dealer’s Malibu. I honestly just believe it was my whole neighborhood. And it’s funny how music is just in the neighborhood and defines the neighborhood. Cars, somebody on their porch with a stereo. And I’m a hip-hop head, but hip-hop actually introduced me to other genres music because I started to wonder where a lot these samples came from. So I fell in love with Bobby Womack or Willie Hutch because I wanted to know where those samples came from.
Did you listen to any rap to get into your character while filming?
Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny because most the time, you sitting in those trailers waiting for call time and for some reason, I don’t know why, but I was really pushing Project Pat while filming. It really had nothing to do with the character, nothing to do with the movie. I was just on a Three 6 Mafia vibe, I don’t know why.
Maybe he gave you the buck to get into your TSA job?
Yeah, ain’t that funny though? Because he’s simple. He’s a TSA agent. They have such a crazy hard job but they play it real cool. And Project Pat to me is one the most simple, hilarious lyricists all time. He don’t even like write the stuff. I could see Project Pat being a TSA agent actually. He’s relatable like Rod is.
During advanced screenings, Chance The Rapper hosted one the screenings and since you’re both from Chicago, what’s your relationship with him? How long have you known him?
Probably a few years now. Hannibal Buress initially introduced me to Chance. It’s so surreal to see his climb because I saw when he was just a lightweight, basically still in school. To see where he is now, it’s insane. I was telling him this the other day—and it’s so weird—but it’s so dope when you can tell each other you’re proud each other. Our conversation was like, “I’m proud you.” “Naw, I’m proud you.” And I just love people who stick to who they are.
Chicago cats, the greatest thing about us in a career like this, is we know who we are. We don’t apologize for it. We know who we are and we know how to bring it. I know I’m being biased about Chicago, but I think Chicago got the most talented people in the world. You know, with all the things going on, to get out there, you know how talented you gotta be? Which is why when you do make it out, you go back. That’s why I’m proud Chance. There’s ways to give back where you are a real example.
Has anyone else in hip-hop reached out to you about the movie?
Snoop Dogg. Ludacris sent me a shout-out on Instagram. It’s a bunch them. It’s kind weird. Lil Yachty was at a screening, said he loved the movie. It’s a very interesting transition from being on television to being on big screen, you know? And I’m in a classic movie.
Are you a fan Lil Yachty? What do you think these new school class rappers?
I think it’s dope. You got some people who love to complain about it and it’s like, they starting to sound like how your parents sounded when hip-hop first started and everybody thought it wasn’t going to last. And it’s lasted so long because there’s no one format to it. As generations change, different things the lyrical content changes. And that’s the thing, we’re starting to see a resurgence in what we missed. We got the Kendrick Lamars, the J. Coles, so I think hip-hop just got a great balance representation right now. That’s why I hate when I hear old heads like, “Oh, they doing this and that.” Why not though?
What are some songs in your current rotation on your iPhone right now?
Let’s see. I know it’s hard to call Childish Gambino’s last album a hip-hop album. It’s more a soul album, but I love it. And man, I’ve been bumping Jeezy like crazy. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like pulling up to Fox Studios bumping Jeezy in your Mercedes.
That’s cool! What Jeezy album?
It was his last one that just came out, Trap or Die 3. It’s motivation. And then Yo Gotti’s new album, Art the Hustle]. Like, “I got my hand on my gun and my bible.” Laughs]. That’s me. That’s my song.
Could you name your top three hip-hop albums all time?
That’s really, that’s a tough one. We gotta go with Jay Z’s] The Blueprint, man. I don’t want to say it’s a perfect album because you know, you saw him coming, but The Blueprint just stamped him. You know that video for “Hard Knock Life” where he was just walking? It was like he was walking into his greatness. He was walking into himself.
And then Kanye West’s] The College Dropout. One favorite albums all time. All time. I represents Chicago. Chicago! I remember when that album came out, that’s when I knew I could make it. Me and my homies, we all bought that CD and we just rolled in the car and just cruised around Chicago. I went to the concert he did at House Blues that year and I was in there with my CD in my hand still going crazy. It really felt good for Chicago and to be from Chicago. That gave me the feeling like, “You’ll be aight.”
The last one. I don’t know this is crazy hard. It’s gotta be Dr. Dre’s] The Chronic. It was just so fun. When I think about skits on albums that made me laugh for real, it was The Chronic. Plus, it was our introduction to Snoop Dogg. When you heard The Chronic you really just wanted to go to a picnic or a cookout and chill (laughs). Just kick it. Dre has a gift where even though it was representing West Coast], it felt like it was for all us, you know what I’m saying? Every time I think The Chronic, the production was crazy and like I said, it introduced Snoop. We were like, “Who is that? Who is this voice?”
Cool. Who are some rappers you think are funny? Or who would you want to do a skit with?
50 Cent. If I ever get a chance to really talk to him, I’d pitch a show to him. Like imagine his version Curb Your Enthusiasm. He’s great. It’s just, he’s an asshole and it’s funny laughs].
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