Lil Xan photographed on Jan. 10, 2018 at Golden Gopher in Los Angeles.
Lil Xan photographed on Jan. 10, 2018 at Golden Gopher in Los Angeles.
Christopher Patey

Chartbreaker: Lil Xan on Face Tattoos and Overcoming Addiction

by Rebecca Haithcoat
January 22, 2018, 12:57pm EST

Chartbreaker is Billboard's monthly series spotlighting an artist making their introduction to the charts.

How “Betrayed” rapper Lil Xan turned a prescription addiction into a hit.

Bittersweet symphony

Growing up in Redlands, Calif., the 21-year-old rapper, born Diego Leanos, says his family lived out of motels and was “dirt poor.” But he prized his father’s vinyl collection, which exposed him to all genres of music. “He had everything, from early jazz records to Black Flag,” he says. “I grew up loving symphonies. Beethoven is beautiful.”

Down and (Xan’d) out...

A shy kid who preferred doodling and video games to homework, Xan dropped out of high school when he was a freshman. He knew he would never work a 9-to-5 job -- and at 18 he got his first face tattoo of his mother’s name to prove it. “Rapping was a joke, but the music helped me break out of my shell,” he says. He had also developed an addiction to the anti-anxiety drug Xanax -- hence the nickname “Lil Xan.”

...but he rose above

“The last time I took a Xannie was six months ago, in the ‘Betrayed’ session,” he says of the anti-drug song that launched his career. The woozy track was recorded and mastered in 30 minutes, says Xan: “I never was like, ‘Yeah, this is the fucking one.’” But when the “Betrayed” video was released in August, the clip logged 1 million views in 12 hours, and has since notched almost 90 million.


Causing ‘Xanarchy’

Lil Xan’s first tour sold out in five hours, and Total Xanarchy, his Columbia Records debut out March 17, features guests like Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee and Diplo. “I know there are people who are praying for my downfall, but they’re going to be like, ‘Wow, Xan’s actually an artist,’ ” he says. Meanwhile, he has maintained his Xanax sobriety. “I don’t think I could be here if I were abusing all those substances,” he says. “I’m in a way better place now.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of Billboard.