No, Lil Xan Isn’t Going Anywhere: Inside His Crazy Rise to Fame

The SoundCloud rapper, whose real name is Diego Leanos, has gone mainstream thanks to a public break-up with Noah Cyrus, but he's ready to become iconic in his own right

By Tierney Bricker Sep 11, 2018 7:35 PMTags

"I wanna be more of a pop public figure, iconic kinda dude."

At least Lil Xan is honest...and believe it or not, is on his way there and it happened like most crazy rises to fame do: seemingly overnight. 

The rapper, whose real name is Diego Leanos, has been unavoidable if you've been on any social media platform in the last two weeks, thanks to his very messy public break-up with Noah Cyrus, never-ending life updates via Instagram Stories and general aura of "who is his baby-faced 22-year-old whose face is covered in tattoos?!"

Stars Discovered on Social Media

If you are a millennial or older, chances are you hadn't heard of Lil Xan before he started dating Cyrus, younger sister of Miley Cyrus and daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus. And even then…well, chances were slim you knew who he was.

But if you are a member of Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010), you likely are also a devout believer in "Xanarchy," aka Lil Xan's movement/lifestyle/brand.

With almost 5 million followers on Instagram, over 225 million views on one of his music videos, 1.2 million YouTube subscribers, and his debut album, Total Xanarchy, peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, the SoundCloud rapper's rise to fame has been a rapid one that has been documented almost every step of the way on social media. 

Columbia Records

If the profession of "SoundCloud rapper" sounds a bit funny to you, that should make sense, seeing as how Lil Xan didn't even take it all that seriously at first, thinking of himself as more of a meme than a performer in the beginning after the Redlands, Calif. native dropped of high school in ninth grade though he was either tardy or just not showing up since sixth grade. ("School was never for me kinda," he nonchalantly explained.)

"The longer I kept at it, I saw progress and everything kept going up," he told Pigeons and Planes. "I started to realize that this was a possibility to be a career for me instead of a hobby."

The hobby turned into a career in August 2017, when his song "Betrayed" went viral, hitting 25 million plays on SoundCloud. 

Before that, "I was probably getting like 1,500 plays in four weeks [on SoundCloud]," he said. "So it wasn't going super crazy. That's why I considered it a hobby." 

Well, that and the fact that he didn't even really rap growing up, having more interest in photography before his camera was stolen...leading him to try rapping simply because it was cheaper to pay for time in the studio rather than replacing his $1,200 camera. "All my friends were rappers so I just thought I might as well take a shot at it," he told XXL.

"I wasn't rapping and freestyling in high school. I wasn't telling people I was gonna be a rapper when I was a little kid. It wasn't set in stone that it was my dream," he explained. 

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV

Lil Xan's fame went mainstream though as most do: with a public relationship. And his courtship of Cyrus, 18, is truly a meet-cute for the modern age: "I slid into her DMs and like four months later, she saw it, responded, we hung out, we just instantly clicked," he told Billboard

E! News confirmed their relationship in early August and their love played out on social media--as all young love does--and the couple, both nominated for Push Artist of the Year, made their red carpet debut at the 2018 MTV VMAs on Aug. 20, happily posing for photos and packing on the PDA just hours after releasing their duet, "Live or Die." They were young! They were in love! They were invincible!

But what happened just two weeks later no one saw coming.

On Sept. 2, the couple's messy break-up captured the attention of their respective fanbases as well as the media, with the dissolution playing out live for everyone to watch over the course of several days.

It began when Lil Xan posted "I feel like i'm probably being cheated on" to his Instagram Stories. He eventually deleted it, but it was too late. The rumor spread like wild-fire. Soon after, a crying Cyrus went on her own Stories, saying her BF had jumped to conclusions because she sent him a meme featuring a naked Charlie Puth. (2018, man.) 

Lil Xan then decided to go live, claiming their relationship was a PR stunt set up by their label, Columbia Records, to "boost" Cyrus' career. He continued to claim Cyrus may have been unfaithful, using a photo she posted publicly on her Instagram with as exhibit A in this court of public opinion.

Breaking Down Noah Cyrus and Lil Xan's Very Public Breakup

But two can go live, and Cyrus did just that, apologizing to her fans and trying to explain the complicated story while also sending a message of empowerment. 

"If you're in a relationship, never let a man make you feel like you're less of yourself—or you're the problem—when you were the one that sat around being there for somebody."

Oh, and then she posted her own evidence that Lil Xan had possibly cheated on her. "I've been there for you during your dark times Diego. When you felt like you were alone and no one was there for you, I was," she then wrote to her ex.


It was a wild, emotional ride that ended with Cyrus releasing a few new songs, aptly titled "Good Cry" and "Mad At You," and Lil Xan spoke about the messy public split on a podcast, No Jumper.

Claiming Cyrus used him to "get more popping in the music industry," he also blamed her famous family for turning people against him. 

"They're always going to believe the f--king girl and of course they're going to believe the Cyrus family… what I'm saying is the truth, believe what you want."

Of course, aside from his split from Cyrus, you can't really do a deep-dive on Lil Xan without taking a closer look at those face tattoos. He revealed he got his first one when he was 18, which is "Candy," his mother's name. "A lot of people though it was for eye candy, but I did not do that in anyway. My mom's name is Candy. I did it because I wanted a face tattoo and I was like, my mom's gonna kill me ,but if it's her name she might not be too harsh about it."

(Her reaction? "I had called her an hour before and told her I was getting a face tattoo…but she was pretty shook. But she's very supportive and she said, ‘Do whatever you think works best.'")

While the face tattoos may seem extreme to some, Lil Xan just sees them as another outlet for his drive.

"I wanted to do it on my face because I just like to go all f—king out," he explained. "Like, if I'm going to do something I'm going to fully commit to something."

Recently, Lil Xan got another face tattoo, his, in memory of rapper Mac Miller, his "hero," who passed away on Sept. 7 due to an apparent overdose at the age of 26.

After posting the tribute, he defended his decision to tattoos his face in an Instagram caption, writing, "I do this for me,I could care less if this makes me ugly because that's what I was going for, Ugly is the new Beautiful,well not really but there's some truth to that,I love you guys."

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Billboard

Miller's tragic death wasn't the only one to hit Lil Xan hard, as his friend Lil Peep's 2017 death proved to be a reminder 

"That tragic passing it definitely got more real. It was something I knew I had to help change," said of his Anti-Xan movement. "There are still rappers that are doing what they're doing and they're gonna do what they're gonna do regardless, but it hit too close to home. I'm not saying it was the turning point for me deciding to be anti-Xan. I was anti-Xan months ago but it was definitely a reminder that this shit is real."


Once "painfully addicted...for two years," Lil Xan stopped abusing Xanax before Lil Peep's passing, and said on the Genius series Verified, "Anyone trying to tell me I'm a poser can shut the f--k up. I know what it's like to be addicted to that. I was lucky enough to get off that s--t."

He went on to reveal his addictions (which also included Norcos, opiates and Benzos) landed him "in the hospital too many times. And one day, I was just like, 'This ain't fun, I can't live this life.' A lot of rappers don't really be talking about not doing drugs. You know, it's like the opposite way, so it's refreshing, I think."


Following Miller's death, he told Adam22 in a recent interview that he wants to take his sobriety even further, saying, "I want to get sober now, completely sober, but its so hard. I just want to be off everything. I want to be like a normal person.... if I didn't have a tour coming up I would be in rehab right now."

His addiction to Xanax, however, is how he got his stage name, with a friend giving it to him because he was always "off the Xan."

As for what's next for the rapper? Possible a name-change...but not because he's "off that s--t." 

"I always wondered what the longevity of the name Lil Xan would be. I always contemplated whether I'd have to change it, but I learned you don't have to if the formula is working," he once said. "It's great. It's beautiful. The only thing that might change is I might drop the ‘Lil.'"

But Miller's recent passing now has him even questioning his future in music, saying on Adam22's podcast that he is "retiring after this contract."

And on Sept. 9, he updated his followers on Instagram Stories about his future, writing, "I got two more albums left, done with music, on to fashion, everything else I want to do in life. I love my fans, and I want you all to continue following me on my journey."

"Everything else I want to do in life" may also include a project with Netflix, which Lil Xan posted about on Sept. 11. 

"I'm doing a Netflix original series you guys will see air probably early next year...I'm not going anywhere just going to focus on other arms of art." (Netflix has yet to respond to request for comment.) 

Regardless of whether or not he continues to make music or team up with Netflix, Lil Xan has big plans for himself.

"I would say, and I don't want to sound cocky, but star or legend," he answered the question of "I'm going to be the next" for XXL. It's just what I get called a lot."