Lamb$ stands in the back corner of The Mockbee’s makeshift greenroom while a flurry of people flow in and out of the room. He’s wearing a giant diamond-filled chain with “Insomniac Lamb$” written out in all-caps. Nearly everyone in the greenroom falls under the “Insomniac” umbrella.
It’s late August and the West End venue is hosting “Lamb$ and Friends,” a homecoming of sorts for the 24-year-old Cincinnatian rapper who’s spent the past couple years primarily in Los Angeles. The event is being headlined by Lamb$ and the Insomniacs, his collective.
“It’s all the people that’s been around me since I was like 14,” Lamb$ says about the Insomniacs.
According to Lamb$’s manager, Wes Herron, Insomniacs’ membership numbers fluctuate.
“On a good day there’s about 18 of us; on a bad day there’s nine,” he says. “We usually have around 12 to 13 though, including rappers, photographers, producers, everything.”
The Insomniac name comes from Insomniac with Dave Attell, a Comedy Central show in the early 2000s. Lamb$ says he got kicked out of his mom’s house when he was in his early teens and when he moved in with his grandma for the summer, he latched onto the show, in which the comedian explored the after-hours scenes of various (mostly) U.S. cities.
“We was broke as hell, we ain’t even have cable, but my grandma had cable,” Lamb$ says. “I used to be up on some weird little kid shit watching the show and that name just stuck with me for some reason.”
“I got cool with (fellow Insomniac Midwest) Millz when I was like 16 and we was like trying to find out what to do. Just a way out,” Lamb$ continues.
The common descriptor from all the Insomniacs is that the group feels like a family. From the interactions at The Mockbee and the group’s stage presence, they certainly give off that aura. There’s constant banter within the group and a clear familiarity and comfort, not so different from a family reunion.
Millz, who met Lamb$ through a mutual friend, says most of the Insomniacs have known each other for over 10 years.
“It’s been crazy because I been with him the whole time, from when he was recording music in his closet,” Millz says. “It’s deep, I seen him do all of this stuff firsthand.”
The Insomniacs is a sort of central hub connecting Cincinnati’s Rap scene. Cook LaFlare grew up with the Insomniacs and has known Lamb$ since high school. Suicide Rascal, who kicks off the Lamb$ and Friends show, was in a similar Rap collective that had a couple songs with Lamb$.
While the Insomniacs claim Cincinnati and Ohio, the group’s biggest acts — Lamb$ and Crash Rarri — operate out of Los Angeles, where they’ve been in search of better opportunities.
“You can’t walk into no motherfucking label office (in Cincinnati), you can’t walk into no radio station here. You can’t do that shit here,” Lamb$ says. “So you gotta leave, and then make sure when you go to these spots, you tell them about Cincinnati. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Millz says the plan from the beginning was for Lamb$ and Insomniacs to grow beyond the city.
“Our whole idea behind everything was to be bigger than our city,” he says, “to do something totally different than everything that was going on here, so that when the light did get shined on us, that we really did start a wave.”
Lamb$ says he felt like he had to get out of the city to really grow, but also that he wants to help the scene in Cincinnati thrive, which is why when he returns to his hometown and has events like Lamb$ and Friends to bring everyone together.
In addition to opportunities for growth, Los Angeles also offers a different culture and connections to higher profile rappers.
“It’s way more fast paced. It’s like here, a week go past so slow. So it be like dry patch here, dry patch here, there might be something to do, like a party,” Lamb$ says. “In L.A., every night — Rae Sremmurd mansion party, 21 Savage mansion party. We were just at Fetty Wap’s crib a couple weeks ago.”
“It’s way easier than trying to talk to someone over the internet or call them,” he says of having face-time with other artists. “I picked up Playboi Carti from Chinatown.”
But internet connections have led Lamb$ to a lot of creative collaborations. A Twitter direct message set him up with Lil Uzi Vert for a session and Lamb$ says another song with Uzi is about to come out.
“I had this song a couple years ago called ‘Digi Scale,’ ” he says. “Uzi was like, ‘I should’ve got on that Digi Scale remix,’ and I was like, nah, fuck that, let’s just do something new. Ever since then, me and him just be building a relationship.”
Lamb$’s rundown of collaborations reads like a list of Soundcloud Rap’s elite: Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Maxo Kream.
It makes sense. Lamb$ has made the long-list for XXL’s “Freshman Class” (spotlighting the year’s most promising new talent) for the past two years. And he came up near the beginning of the Soundcloud Rap wave.
“When this all started, it was so fresh they didn’t even know the name, the style, the type of Rap Lamb$ was doing,” Rarri says. “Now they’ll say ‘Soundcloud Rap,’ but back then there wasn’t even a name for it.”
Recently, Lamb$’s sound has stayed in a more melodic lane, with a lot more singing, similar to the style Future pushed out early in his career.
“It’s just about growth. When I first came out, I feel like I got a lot of criticism about being one dimensional,” Lamb$ says. “I’m not about to stay in one box.”
Aside from a possible Insomniac Festival event in the future, Lamb$ says he’s currently talking to record labels to find the right fit to put out the mixtape he’s been working on for the past four months.
“When I go to labels and play that Trap shit for them, they be like, ‘Ah, this hard, this cool.’ But when I play that singing shit, that melodic shit they be like, ‘Wow,’” Lamb$ says. “So at this point in my life, I’m about to be 25, I need to get to a real bag.”