By late 2010 to early 2011, it became really hard to ignore Lil B. Even you were unaware of his Hyphy on Skateboards crew, The Pack, or you were blissfully ignorant of the weird torrent of “Based” videos on Youtube it was apparent that Lil B was not just some weird, little man you watched during the lamest late night get-togethers. He was going to be a conversation piece in almost every discussion about Hip Hop in the first year of the second decade of twenty first century.
Still, it’s not like Lil B’s weird version of Hip Hop isn’t based in precedent (pardon the pun). A decade before Lil B’s first video was posted; I, like a lot of teenagers my age, was obsessed with the insanely prolific run of releases by Kool Keith. In his heyday, Keith was exactly like Lil B. He was surreal, he didn’t conform to Hip Hop’s typical rhyme structures, and most importantly, his greatest strength was his lack of quality control. Because Keith failed to actually critique any of his work before he put it out, his work became a frustrating and yet exhilarating mess of retarded genius. For every brilliant observation or truly hilarious line, Keith put out a million cryptic, nonsensical pieces that simply marched in one ear and out of the other. Eventually, like Kool Keith, Lil B’s brand of Hip Hop will wear on its audience, but for now, people are still going want to draw a line in the sand and sit on the side of either dismissive or enraptured. Me? I’m still on the fence.
On his newest tape, I Forgive You*, a possible response to the recently squashed beef with suspiciously homophobic rapper, The Game, Lil B produces pretty much what you would expect from him: too stupid to be serious party raps, downtrodden introspection, and real positivity. Tracks like “Can I Live 4Real” and “I’m 2 Real” and “Heard Her Cry” are easily evidence for the defense. Lines like, “I ain’t talking gay bash, but I’ll kill you Faggots/ Long range tiny Jeans conceal the ratchet.” Actually provide an argument that not only can Lil B can rap, but there is a depth to his rhymes. ‘Heard Her Cry” could have easily been a schmaltzy Lifetime TV- like condemnation of domestic violence, but through Lil B’s lenses it makes for a pretty compelling listen. If I Forgive You does anything, it provides more fuel for Lil B’s fans. It’s potentially his most coherent, least iconoclastic tape.
Still there is a lot of material here that serves as an example against Lil B. “I’m in the Streets” has some good “weirdness for the sake of weirdness” lines, but is weighed down by a spectacularly lame beat, and a plodding flow. And a track like “Durty Pop” is only going to appeal to the Based God’s evangelists- a weird little shitty party track with African accents that get old and annoying really quickly. It’s this kind of track that spotlights his lack of quality control. But much like the lo-fi production, even by mixtape standard, that lack of quality is the appeal for many of his most ardent fans. Lil B might not be the brilliant genius that some of his faithful proselytize, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t talented. Lil B is smart enough, but also so full of his own bullshit, that it’s hard not only to find an entry point, much less a reason to listen to a full project. Still, I can see the appeal of a weirdo rapper like Lil B as much as I can still see the appeal of Kool Keith. I can’t help but think that 16 to 21 year old me would have love this guy’s work.
*Shortly after this was written, Lil B released another tape Silent President.