After praise by rap greats, Brooklyn’s Lil Dee is on the rise
As a fussy infant, Daniel James Rutstein was solely soothed by rap legends like Run-DMC and Ice-T while his father drove aimlessly along Brooklyn streets. Eighteen years later, the viral virtuoso is chasing big dreams of becoming New York’s next hip-hop icon.
The 18-year-old, better known as Lil Dee, has already racked up well over 1 million views on social media, all while attending Long Island University’s Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment in Brooklyn.
On Jan. 6, he’s paying homage to his hometown heroes with the new track “Set It Off,” name-checking Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, among others. (“You rappers JV ballers/ I’m Shaq, 8 feet taller/ You get JC Penneys/ I get Jay-Z dollars/ And I won’t stop rocking/ Till Jay-Z hollers,” he spits.) And Lil Dee’s effortless freestyle flow has already turned the well-versed heads of rap stars like Redman and Talib Kweli.
“Since the day I was born, I was just around the golden era of hip-hop,” Lil Dee told The Post in an exclusive interview, referring to those definitive car rides with his father, Darren, who works in advertising. “As time went on, I picked up the pen myself, just to mess around and see if I could do it.”
Rutstein, an only child, is a proud Coney Island native who often walks the neighborhood’s iconic boardwalk for inspiration. He’s well-known along Mermaid Avenue, where, as a young boy, he would rap for anyone willing to listen, and he still lives in his childhood apartment with his father and mother, Teresa, who works for New York City’s Department of Education.
Lil Dee penned his first rhymes at age nine — “I’m in your house, Jason Voorhees/ I’m coming to get you/ You know the stories/ Always a winner, just like Joe Torre” was an early lyric.
He later wowed his sixth-grade classmates during a holiday concert at Park Slope Collegiate, and a video shows the pint-sized emcee oozing confidence despite a cast on his right foot. At 12, Lil Dee morphed his part-time hobby into a dominant habit, posting verses on YouTube and Instagram.
Now, he boasts nearly 100,000 Instagram followers, including Brooklyn’s Kweli and Buffalo rapper Benny The Butcher, both of whom got glimpses of Lil Dee at a Lyricist Lounge show in Manhattan in 2019.
Earlier that year, as a freshman at Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood, Lil Dee performed at Radio City Music Hall alongside Vanilla Ice — a “dream come true” — in February after connecting with the 1990s hip-hop star years earlier online.
“I got a video from, like, his best friend, and they were eating Chinese food,” Lil Dee recalled. “And Vanilla Ice was like, ‘Yo, what’s up, Danny? I love your music, you’re doing your thing, the sky’s the limit, just keep going.’”
At that same show, he got to meet legends Slick Rick and Biz Markie.
“It was awesome, I love Biz,” Lil Dee said of Markie, who died in 2021. “I got to rap for him, he gave me all kinds of advice. It’s something I’ll hold with me forever.”
Another one of Lil Dee’s hip-hop heroes, Ice-T, praised him last month on Instagram, boosting the young rapper’s eclectic freestyle verse with multiple fire emojis.
“It means a lot coming from you, legend,” Lil Dee replied on Nov. 16. “I been looking up to you my entire life.”
Ice-T applauded Lil Dee’s intricate rhyme scheme rife with witty double entendres and eclectic pop culture references like retired NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski and Mike Wazowski, the green cyclops from “Monsters, Inc.”
“This the mafia, Capone/ Ain’t no Kevin Costner, no Pixar/ If I use the ink/ Then I’m a monster,” Lil Dee quips in a clip, posted on TikTok, that’s already been viewed more than 1.1 million times. “I grab the mic/ No Wazowski/ Y’all getting robbed like Gronkowski/ It’s my house/ It falls down without me.”
Lil Dee is now seeking the “right record deal” and hitting the books as a college freshman majoring in music production.
The rising independent star who will be ready when that industry executive inevitably comes calling.
“I would love to be mentioned one day as a New York legend — somebody that carried the culture for New York and Brooklyn hip-hop,” Lil Dee told The Post.
“I’m here for longevity. I don’t want my 15 seconds of fame … I just want to be here forever.”
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