FLINT, Michigan—Flint native and hip-hop artist David Younger, 24, knows online fame isn’t always predictable, but having a platform at all can make all the difference in the world. Performing under his stage name Expen$ive, his song “Larry Bird” caught on as a Soundcloud sensation in 2015 and has been streamed more than 240,000 times.
“Hecks no!” he said, when asked if he expected that song to catch on. “I was really just playing around. I had other songs that I thought, ‘Oh, this’ll be the one.’ But ‘Larry Bird’ is catchy, people like it, and it’s still getting attention.”
The song's popularity helped launch Expen$ive’s young career as an independent artist on a platform that has propelled the early rapping careers of Post Malone, Chance the Rapper, 21 Savage, Migos, and Lil Peep, among others.
“Soundcloud, YouTube, and Instagram have all been huge for me as an independent artist,” said Expen$ive, 24. “It’s crazy that my music has been played by people in Europe, in Africa. We don’t even speak the same language, but they like my music.”
In the past four years, Expen$ive has recorded three albums and had three of his songs played on Shade 45, Eminem’s hip-hop station on Sirius XM Radio. He has been interviewed by DJ Kay Slay, a legendary New York-based hip-hop disc jockey, and even recalls getting in-person career advice from American producer and rapper Boosie.
Music wasn’t always Expen$ive’s main plan, though. He grew up on Flint’s Northside, and while attending Hamady and Bendle schools, he became a standout multi-sport athlete in high school. He went on to Tiffin University in Ohio to play football. He thought football and sports would be a career path, said Expen$ive, but playing on a college football team actually shifted his focus to music.
“I’ve been rapping since I was a little kid basically,” he said. “I always just kind of played around. But when I played college football, my teammates and even my coaches started noticing. My coaches found one of my videos and played it in front of the team, but they liked it. That’s when I started taking it more serious.”
Expen$ive has been happy with the success he’s found as a full-time independent artist and is pursuing a record deal. He credits growing up in Flint for helping equip him with the work ethic necessary to succeed.
“It’s very hard work,” he said. “I pay a lot out of my own pocket, for studio time, for videos. You’re just taking a chance. There were times I didn’t have enough money to eat, but I went and recorded just because I felt the dream. You gotta do what you gotta do sometimes.”
It’s the sort of determination he’s known since he was a kid. He grew up on DuPont Street and saw firsthand some of the struggles that exist in the city. But he also had the experience of going to college and has been able to travel, thanks to sports and music. He also likes fashion, hence his stage name. “I always like dressing nice, when I was in school I was like the first kid with Gucci shoes,” he says.
It’s those memories and experience he strives to incorporate on top of eclectic beats and rhythms he self-produces, said Expen$ive, so his listeners will always have a new sound to look forward to. As he continues to self-produce, he doesn’t see the point in sticking to the status quo.
“You’re limiting yourself if you’re just rapping about one thing,” Expen$ive said. “If you’re only rappin’ a certain type of way, about the streets, drugs, girls, all that stuff, out of 100 percent of the world, how many people are going to only want to listen to music about that? That’s why I don’t want to stick to one style, I want people to be able to listen and hear more kinds of music through me.”
With 17 tracks on his Soundcloud and nearly 12,000 Instagram followers, Expen$ive says he’s still weighing the benefits of remaining independent versus pursuing record deal options. The exposure and resources of having a record deal are appealing but his life in Flint has made him undaunted by the challenges of being an independent artist.
“I got this far by myself,” he said. “Flint means everything. If you can make it from here, you can make it from anywhere.”