It’s hard to imagine Destroy Lonely before his induction to fame. Now, the quiet, perceptive artist is kind of a famous person. But, as a preteen with an ear for music, he remembers downloading his favorite songs onto his iPod, listening to his dad turn up Lil Wayne on the radio, and asking his mom for new CDs. Back then, he was a fan—now, he’s a star.

When the 21-year-old Atlanta native posted his first songs to SoundCloud as a teenager, he set something major in motion. Soon enough he’d need a disguise to go into any Target in America, as young fans began to trail his every move. Lonely will tell you that this kind of mega-influence was intentional, it was the plan all along, but that honesty sits at the core of his artistry no matter how many hundreds of millions of streams his music has earned to date.

Destroy Lonely wears shirt and coat BALENCIAGA / Pants, shoes, jewelry talent’s own

“When I started making music I knew: This will be my life,” he says, straight off his first headlining tour for his newest album, 2023’s If Looks Could Kill. While social media isn’t exactly in his comfort zone, the instrumental hook of Lonely’s hit single “Bane” sent waves through TikTok in 2021—as would his most-streamed song, the lyrical, synth-filled track “NOSTYLIST” one year later—amplifying his eccentric stylings on an international scale.

Around that same time, in early 2021, Lonely caught the attention of Playboi Carti, who signed the young rapper to his label, Opium. “I was inspired by a bunch of things I was seeing and I thought I could do the same, if not better,” Lonely says of the SoundCloud drops that attracted his celebrity audience. “I felt, ‘If I’m going to do anything, I’m gonna go as hard as I can at it.’”

For Lonely, authenticity is crucial; each new chapter is an extension of his past. “I let my music grow with me,” he explains, writing how he feels without fear of disapproval. Of the 100-plus songs he recorded for If Looks Could Kill, only 26 made the cut. His method of selection? Picking the ones that best portrayed his headspace when he wrote the album one year before.

All that insistence on sincerity and staying rooted to his earliest forms of inspiration have only expanded his reach into music and beyond. This year, Lonely’s artistry has taken him from Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza to the Marc Jacobs 2023 Pre-Fall campaign, all while growing his cult following among rap enthusiasts who are drawn to the confidence in his beats.

Sometimes, Lonely finds himself doubting the candor: “Is it weird, is it crazy, is it stupid?” he wonders. But he isn’t selling out shows by holding back. “I love every song I make,” he says. “Once you jump past those feelings and do exactly what you want, you automatically make the right decision.”

This story appears in the pages of VMAN 51: now available for purchase!

Photography Tyre Thwaites

Fashion Altorrin 

Grooming Riad Azar

Photo assistants Tyra Dixon, Sydney Peterson

Stylist assistants Roderick Reyes, Sionan Murtage

Location Blanc Studios 

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