excerpt from Lil Pump: An Auto-Fiction – Jacob Stovall
December 1, 2023
Lil Pump stood on the tarmac as the Saudi Arabian sun beat down on him. He had been intercepted by two white-robed Saudi officials soon as his plane touched down. He now watched, dazed, as they removed his luggage from the plane and searched through it. One of the men pulled out a plastic pill bottle from his backpack. The man opened the bottle and tipped a Xanax bar into his hand. He looked it over, rolling it between his fingers, studying it. He turned the bottle over, looking at the label. He called over Lil Pump’s guide. They conferred in Arabic. His guide seemed to be explaining the contents of the bottle to the official. Lil Pump, at his agent’s suggestion had not brought any drugs or alcohol on the flight, but he hadn’t considered Xanax, which after all came in orange bottles with legitimate prescription labels. He found it hard to determine how worried he should be from the neutral tones of the men.
The airport was on the outskirts of Riyadh. On one side was a vast expanse of desert. On the other was the city’s gleaming skyline, which, at this point in the day, was not so much giving off its own light as it was reflecting the sun. A car, a desert equipped Range Rover that was to take him into the city, was idling nearby. The driver was wearing the same robes as the officials but of a fabric that Lil Pump, finely attuned brand snob he was, somehow recognized as less prestigious. He was engaged in a phone call that seemed to have no bearing on Lil Pump’s situation. He spoke quickly and loudly in a deep voice that carried across the private conferrals of the officials. The jumble of voices, none of which Lil Pump could understand, made him anxious.
Exhaust leaked into the already glimmering desert air. Either the heat or the exhaust was beginning to make Lil Pump feel lightheaded. He instinctively reached for a Xanax. There were no shadows in the midday desert sun, but Lil Pump nevertheless still sensed a penumbral happening at the edges of vision. His dreadlocks felt like a knit hat he wanted to rip off, his jeans clung to his legs, and his crotch was swamped in sweat. Even the metal of his grill was beginning to heat up. He could feel it faintly burning his upper lip. He was sure it was shining now.
The holding room was climate-controlled and made Lil Pump forget he had ever been in the desert. It wasn’t a cell but it was locked. It wasn’t uncomfortable, exactly, just sparse. There was a small wooden table with a bottle of water, a single serving yogurt cup, and a candy bar, all with Arabic labels. Lil Pump opened the water but paused before drinking. He was thirsty but if he drank the water he would have to pee eventually, and he had no idea how much longer they would hold him for.
He was paralyzed by indecision.
His lips were cracked after standing in the sun for so long.
But it would be more uncomfortable having to piss.
Eventually, as a compromise, he took a small sip from the bottle and held it in his mouth as long as he could, savoring it, letting it wet his tongue and cheeks, threading it through teeth.
The water only whetted his appetite.
He considered eating the food left our for him. This only prompted more indecision.
On the one hand, he was hungry.
He felt a pang in his stomach, even.
He couldn’t remember the last time he ate.
On the other hand, it felt like some sort of test.
Will the American eat the candy bar?
If he did it might be used against him as further proof of his inabstemiousness.
Then again, running out of hands now, wouldn’t it be rude to turn down the food offered by his host?
Maybe that was the test.
They would come in and see he had not touched their food and be so offended that his guilt would be guaranteed.
His freedom might hinge on whether or not he passed.
Every time he felt as if he were about to reach a resolution it slipped just out of reach again like an escaped cat.
Dread was creeping up from behind him. He tried to remember the last time he had a Xanax.
In Cádiz, just before takeoff.
He had spent most of the flight in an uneasy hypnagogy.
He was coming up on the wrong side of twelve hours since his last dose.
He scratched at the burning skulls tattooed on his neck.
The overhead light seemed to cast no shadows. It was harsh and constant and bright enough that when Lil Pump closed his eyes the light still shone sickly red through his eyelids. There was no escaping it.
Maybe he should just turn it off.
The switch was right there, by the door, exactly where it should be.
He worried though, how the Saudis would feel if they came in and found him sitting in the dark.
Would they take it as as a sign of disrespect, or worse, aggression?
How would he look to them, looming in the dark, his grill and piercings gleaming, perhaps menacingly, in whatever light remained, with his candy colored dreads and— he hadn’t considered this until now— a giant cross tattooed on his forehead?
They would probably take the tattoo as some sort of hostile religious gesture.
They would probably arrest him as some sort of political prisoner.
Lil Pump felt a cold rush of what was, by now, becoming fear.
I’m fucked, he thought.
What are Saudi Arabian prisons like?
Did they even have prisons in Saudi Arabia?
Maybe they would just execute him, as an example.
Lil Pump had hooked up a few times with one of those girls who read about the news. She had kept going on about some journalist the Saudis had killed.
How it was some egregious human rights violation.
They had chopped him up and smuggled his body out in suitcases.
It had happened in some sort of Embassy, if Lil Pump remembered correctly.
He hadn’t really been paying attention.
But the chopping into pieces he remembered.
The relationship, if it could even be called that, had ended because Lil Pump had gotten tired of that sort of conversation. She was always talking about one cause or another. Maybe he should have paid attention.
Maybe he could petition the US government. Become some sort of cause cèlébre. Get FreeLilPump trending.
Donald Trump had gotten A$AP Rocky freed from a Swedish prison and A$AP had been arrested for gun possession, which was worse than Xanax possession.
Lil Pump had endorsed Trump in the last presidential election, at a rally in some cold midwest winter town.
Sure, Trump had called him Lil Pimp when introducing him, but still.
Trump wasn’t president anymore though, and Sleepy Joe Biden had thus far shown little interest in freeing rappers from foreign prisons.
No, he was going to die in a Saudi Arabian prison, he was sure of it. And over something as stupid as Xanax.
What the fuck was he even doing there?
Why had he been invited to perform in Saudi Arabia if they were going to be such hardasses about drugs.
He wasn’t exactly secretive about his drug use.
That was pretty much the whole point of his music.
He hated his music in that moment.
He had always been great at ignoring his haters/critics, but for whatever reason in that moment their voices decided to sound all at once.
The last show, in Cádiz, had not exactly been packed.
Why was he even doing this, traveling from country to godforsaken country, playing to indifferent crowds.
He was supposed to be playing in Mongolia next week.
No offense to Mongolia but that was not a tour stop made by artists with thriving careers.
If he was being honest with himself, he had not felt inspired, artistically, in years.
He had just been going through the motions.
He was young, only 22, but he felt already washed up, burnt out.
He was at this point now, in this holding cell on the outskirts of Riyadh, not just because of one mistake but a series of mistakes that had guided his career.
He sat thinking in silent senescent agitation.
The air-conditioner hummed flatly, without the tonal or rhythmic variance that suggests a thing like past or future. He shivered, cold and anxious. The light itself, still shadowless, was beginning to take on a certain auditory quality. It felt hateful. In absence of shadows Lil Pump made his own. The fear felt wider and deeper than his own current situation, as if the fear he was feeling did not belong to him but was rather some larger fear being conducted through him and, even if the worst came to pass and he was executed, he would continue to feel after his death.
He had never been going to turn off that light.
The official addressed Lil Pump in crisp, disdainful English. Lil Pump recognized him from the tarmac. Up close, the man was younger than Lil Pump had thought. The beard, though neatly trimmed, made him seem older. Up close he had a hungry, striving, look in his eyes.
“Sorry for the inconvenience”, he said in a tone that implied that not only was he not sorry but if he could he would go out of his way to inconvenience the rapper again out of personal distaste. He had not sat down. Beneath his robes he was wearing navy pants and buffed brown oxford shoes.
Lil Pump tried to avoid eye contact.
“After we found those pills we had to make sure to give your belongings a thorough inspection to ensure you weren’t carrying anymore contraband.”
He had declined the other chair and was standing over Lil Pump. He was at least 6 feet tall and solidly built. Lil Pump felt abruptly aware of his own body, which was small and growing even thinner as the tour wore him down.
“It must be hard for you, I imagine, being away from your drugs for so long.”
Go fuck yourself Lil Pump thought but did not say.
“I’ve learned that Americans sometimes have a hard time appreciating our laws. Musicians especially. Big rockstars. It’s all a party. I know your reputation.”
The man paused.
“Well, not you. But your type, I’m familiar with. You understand.”
Lil Pump felt small not only in his body but in his essence. This Saudi official knew him better than he knew himself. He was nothing. The official knew it. So Lil Pump had introduced a president once. It’s not like Donald Trump would remember who he was. It’s not like Donald Trump would lift a finger to rescue him even if he could.
“Now, personally, I think we can tend to be a little…”
The official paused, pretending to look or maybe actually looking for the right word.
“overzealous with some of of our laws.”
Lil Pump was barely listening, distracted by the voices of self-doubt running through his head.
“The uncles, you know, are very set in their ways,” the official was continuing. “If I were in charge I might suggest some reforms. I think it’s the harshness of our laws and our blind adherence to doctrine that are keeping us from being taken seriously on the world stage. It’s time to modernize. I’m always saying that.”
Lil Pump nodded and tried to make his smartest face.
“I think, for example, most people, normal people, are capable of having an alcoholic beverage every now and then without turning into total degenerates,” the official said.
“That was before I met you, though.”
The official laughed, pretending he was joking.
“No, no, you’re a good kid, I’m sure. Between you and me, I may have even had a pint or two when I studied at Oxford.”
Lil Pump was not sure what to make of this sudden change in tone. The official was performing a one-man good cop bad cop routine. The friendliness only made Lil Pump more uncomfortable. It felt like another test and as far Lil Pump could tell he was bombing it.
“But even if they aren’t the laws that I would like to enforce, they are the laws, and it is my job to enforce them. It’s important that I enforce them the same for everyone, even an American rockstar.”
“Yes sir,” said Lil Pump, trying not to mumble.
“You shouldn’t have brought those pills with you, you know.”
Lil Pump apologized, enunciating as clearly as he could.
“Its a common mistake. You’re not the first to bring a bottle of pills on the plane with them. People don’t think about the things their doctors prescribe them. But it’s a legal prescription and we are not going to arrest you over that.”
Which was great to hear except that the man kept talking.
“Frankly, we expected to find more on you when we began our search. Hard drugs, some were expecting. Cocaine, heroin. Marijuana— you have to forgive, but I only assumed. Alcohol, at the very least. That’s an easy one for visitors to slip up on. Some, not me, some, were even hoping to find these. It would look good to our bosses, making a big bust like that. Not me, I’m happy that you will not be in trouble. I’m only saying that some are a little disappointed.”
Am I free to go or not, thought Lil Pump.
“You let us down, man!” said the official, suddenly jocular again.
The colloquial man seemed especially unnatural in the mouth of the official, as if he had never used it before.
“I’m only joking. You must have gotten some good advice somewhere along the way. You were clean. We’re going to keep the pills, but otherwise you’re free to go.”
Lil Pump felt a null surge of something that was not quite able to coalesce into relief as the official walked him to the Range Rover. He felt exposed beneath the sun like a rabbit in open field. It burned his eyes. The Xanax seemed like a fair enough trade for his freedom but the effects of withdrawal were beginning to become more pronounced.
Back at the car, the driver was still on the telephone. He continued his conversation throughout the ride. As they drove toward the city its neon lights began to assert themselves against the sky. They drove through the suburbs and the ex-patriot compounds. The sun, positioned four hours later than the last time he had seen it, was beginning to cast shadows across the dunes. Would it be so bad to slip inside one he wondered as he squinted into the reddening just-not-quite-evening sun shining through the windshield of the Range Rover.