On Jan. 16, local rap artist Lil B launched his first corporate partnership. But rather than collect a check to represent a soda brand or fast-food chain, the Berkeley-raised rapper decided to take a step in a healthier direction by partnering with Follow Your Heart, the Los Angeles-based makers of the egg-free Vegenaise spread.
The app, called vegEMOJI, allows users to send vegan- and Vegenaise-themed emoji stickers through text or email. vegEMOJI also has a locator function, so users can find Vegenaise, and other Follow Your Heart products in their neighborhood.
Like other sticker apps, vegEMOJI is bright, colorful and a little silly. Stickers depict jars of Vegenaise wearing sunglasses or giving a thumbs up sign. Others carry Lil B-themed messages, like “Plant Based 4 Life” and “Cool People are Kind to Animals.”
The friendly and approachable design reflects Lil B’s insistence that his main motivation for building the app is to encourage his audience to make responsible food choices.
“I got behind [this project] to show my support for animals and to show awareness and humbleness about what we choose when we choose what we’re eating,” he told Nosh. “Eating plays a big part.”
Despite his strong support for a vegan brand, Lil B (real name Brandon McCartney) himself isn’t vegan.
“I definitely respect that lifestyle, though, and I’m trying to retrain my habits and the way that I eat” he said. “I really wish that I had been raised in a vegan household.”
Music fans and vegans alike might wonder why a young, non-vegan rapper would choose such a particular brand for partnership. But Lil B, an Albany High School grad, is nothing if not surprising. He got his start at age 16, rapping in the Berkeley group, The Pack, and broke out as a solo artist in 2009.
Lil B’s songs are often enigmatic; Slate columnist Jonah Weiner described him as a “weird-o emcee” and a “brilliantly warped, post-Lil Wayne deconstructionist.” He often refers to himself as the “Based God,” a self-made title that could mean anything from “swagging to the max” to being positive and “not being scared of what other people think of you.” Beyond his music, Lil B has become famous through social media — his Twitter page has over 1 million followers and is filled equally with retweets of selfies and aphorisms like the following:
The rapper also has a huge and loyal fan base. When he makes his fairly rare public appearances — such as an unscripted lecture he gave at New York University in 2012 — he draws sell-out, rapt crowds. More recently, he performed with the Pack at Memorial Glade on the UC Berkeley campus last month for a free spring Welcome Week concert.
Ultimately, though, Lil B is most concerned with spreading positivity. “I’m always thinking about how to do good things,” he said. That’s where Follow Your Heart fits in. “It took me a long time to partner with any brand because I was skeptical about what I put my name behind. I’m not trying to drink soda for a check. [Before I made a partnership], I needed to ask the question, “What can I really stand behind?’ ”
The partnership appears to have gone over well so far. “I’ve gotten lots of love and lots of shout-outs,” Lil B said, including a nod from the vice president of PETA. This success, he says, “shows that there’s a big demand for love and positivity.”
vegEMOJI is Lil B’s second foray into app design. His first, Basedmoji, was an independent sticker app that he developed with business partner Mat Held. Held wrote the code for the first app, as well as for vegEMOJI, and taught Lil B some of the process along the way. “It’s a mom and pop type operation,” said Lil B. “I made sure that the feeling was aesthetically what I wanted. I wanted it to feel good and look good, and to position it for my audience.”
As he tells us, Lil B is excited to learn more about the back end of app design. “I’m loving getting into the tech mix,” he said. “I have a new level of respect for what they’re doing [in the tech industry].”
vegEMOJI will not be the last fruit of the Lil B-Follow Your Heart partnership. “It was amazing to see the company for the first time and see how their products are made,” he said. “There’s lots of love and support there. I’m definitely really excited about new projects with them. They’ve all got good hearts.”