Latin Music Week

Lil Duval on the Success of 'Smile' & The Importance of Living Your Best Life

Justin Totten
Lil Duval

After ruling the comedy world for over a decade, Lil Duval is now stepping into the music industry at full speed. The Jacksonville, Fla. native released his debut solo single “Smile (Living My Best Life)” earlier this summer, which led to his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100. The track features Florida rapper Ball Greezy and previous collaborator Snoop Dogg, and its summery, feel-good vibes has sparked a viral challenge that Future and Kevin Hart have participated in.

Following the celebratory milestone, Lil Duval spoke to Billboard about working with Snoop Dogg, the positive message behind the song and what it actually means to live your best life.

What was your reaction when you heard you entered the Billboard Hot 100?
I celebrated by smoking good. [Laughs.] It was surreal because I never did it to get to the Hot 100, so the fact that we did it organically was just amazing to me.

Where did the inspiration for “Smile (Living My Best Life)” come from?
It just came from me being who I am. Living my best life as far as just being happy and trying to put that energy out there for everybody else. At this time, there’s a lot of music that’s drug-inspired, depressing and sad. So, it’s a good time for something like this. 

Do you think there’s a reason why the culture has been so negative nowadays?
Just following what everybody else is doing. The kids see people being depressed, so they’re going to want to make depressed music. They see [rappers] with earrings in their nose. They’re going want to do that. The kids follow what they see cool. So, in order to make them see positive things, you gotta make it cool. That’s what I try to do.

What was the recording process like?
It was real organic. I had the idea in my head, and sent it over to Snoop [Dogg] and Ball Greezy, and voila! I really just have fun [in the studio]. That’s my format with everything. If I can’t have fun, I don’t want to do it.

You last collab'd with Snoop on "Hit 'Em Wit The Shoulders" in 2016. Why were Snoop and Ball Greezy a good fit for this song?
Just that old school vibe. Snoop is the OG. He’s like the favorite uncle that everybody want to hang with. And that’s how he is with me. He’s the most down to earth entertainer-celebrity that you’ll ever meet. Ball Greezy bring[s] that Florida appeal and down-South feel to it.

Did you expect the song to go viral?
I knew it was going to go viral because most of the stuff that I put out is viral. I didn't know that it was going to be a hit as far as the radio airwaves. It’s just a feel-good song. You can’t deny it. 

Who do you think did the “Living My Best Life” challenge the best?
Lil Boosie. He was living ghetto fabulous. He had a gold toilet, he had neon lights in his shower. It was just ghetto fabulous. Living his best life, and he was happy. A lady sent me [a video] where a child had Down syndrome, and the only time they listen is when they play “Smile.” And that was the whole purpose of the song in the first place. To reach people like that. I wanted to give everybody my spirit because I’m a happy person, and I don’t trip off of stuff that I can’t control.

Did you come up with the video’s concept and all the memes included?
Yeah, I came up with it. Instead of going to the [2018] BET Awards, I just went out and shot it on Venice Beach. Venice Beach has that happy, feel-good vibe that I wanted. I got all those [memes] in there just to show everybody having a good time. We all do silly stuff, like I was showing [comedian] Jess Hilarious with her hair out. I was showing me getting crossed up by [Washington Wizards point guard] John Wall. 

What is your definition of living your best life?
Just living in your means. Living with whatever you have at that point. Being happy with it -- and when you’re happy where you are, you can grow even more. You’re not chasing somebody else’s perception.

You’ve been mixing music in your comedy sketches for a while now. Why do you think the relationship between comedy and music works so well?
Because I think those are two things that really move the culture. So, if you intertwine that together, you can’t wrong.

I’ve been watching your music videos growing up. I think your presence is so funny, but do you have any favorite ones?
Probably T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” That was fun. I just remember having a good time, and seeing how it came out, and the character I played.

Can we expect more music from you soon?
Definitely. As soon as this goes No. 1, I’m dropping another one. We about to go No. 1 on urban. And then, we’re like top 10 in rhythmic. So, hopefully it pushes everything up even more on the Hot 100 as well. I got an EP I’m doing EMPIRE. So be looking out for that.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 29 issue of Billboard.