I got into Lil B the same way I’ve gotten into most of artists that have really influenced me throughout my life. I was feeling very alone. I was living in this shitty studio apartment with bars on the windows and a stove that was leaking gas. I’d had a brutal breakup. My best friends were in foreign countries. I was just listening to music all the time to keep from losing my mind. I needed certain artists and songs to be on in the background while I went through all the brooding and philosophizing that comes along with periods of feeling intensely alone.
He was weird too and there was this hurdle to get into him. I like hurdles. I’m a masochist. But yeah Lil B really forces you to listen to the music on his terms. Each song is filtered through his whole persona as an artist. I love this about him. For all of my favorite artists, it’s taken a little bit of time to realize how much I appreciate their work. Sun Ra. The Boredoms. The Mountain Goats. Jeffrey Lewis. It doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t heard of them. These are just names off the top of my head. But they’re all artists who offer a challenging first listen. The nasal voices, the audio quality, the synth-heavy space jazz, the complex but raw noise music. So many of my favorite artists are like this. They require investments into their world. And while I’d like to put a lot of value into that very first listen because it is important, I also realize that the real obsession probably came with the two hundredth listen. By that point, I was invested.
So anyway I entered the Based World headstrong. I spent way too much time with Lil B’s MySpace pages listening to his freestyles. It’s impossible to listen to those digital artifacts without feeling intrusively close to another person’s thoughts and emotions. It’s voyeuristic. They channel his subconscious in a way that’s sublime—it’s surrealism, expressionism, the fragmented self of postmodernism. It’s Charlie Kaufman and reality TV. It’s the shifting focal point of pop culture from TV to the internet. And it’s still experimental and avant-garde. It’s all over the place. I don’t think I or anyone else at the time really understood how to even talk about what he was doing and why it was so good and why it seemed so important.
Lil B became very special to me. It wasn’t just his music. It was his life. It was his bizarre revelations and in-jokes and videos and twitter feeds and memes and photos. After a while, listening to his music was sharing a more intimate connection than checking the feed of a facebook page. That shit seemed dumb. The relentless pace found on the rest of the internet had fallen behind the pace of Lil B the Based God.
I watched him get bigger and bigger. And I’ve read so many of the articles and blogs and message board comments. I’ve followed the phenomenon with enthusiasm for a long while and it’s been a rewarding experience for me to see this artist who I really care about find an increasingly larger amount of grass roots success. I wrote him this long song and I’m making this long video because I want even more people to give him a chance. So many people in the world like to say that they don’t care what people think, but there’s certainly not as many people who actually live those words like Lil B does. There aren’t enough people who make their own opportunities. People who truly are different and pursue art in a way that’s outside the normal scope of the modern music industry.
I’ve been into rap music more or less my whole life. When I was a kid, I’d steal my older brother’s CDs pretty regularly. One of the 1st CDs I received as a birthday gift was the Busta Rhyme’s “Dangerous” single. My brother told me to not play it around my mom and dad. But I was really into 501 and Park, MTV jams, the Box. I’d get these 8 hour blank VHS tapes and just wait by the TV for some new Foxy Brown song to come on. And when I wasn’t doing that I was sitting on the floor by my dual cassette deck boombox taping songs off Philly rap radio. Finding new hip hop music was a specific obsession that led me to an even madder and more wide-reaching obsession with music in general.
I think in some ways the internet got rid of this explorative mentality—at least to a degree for me and for many others. Sure now we can explore music through new websites and blogs and whatever. Yes there’s whole worlds of lesser known music that became instantly available. Just the other day I read a really great article in Salon about how the monoculture was always a myth and the internet is obviously a really democratic medium for smaller artists and genres. I think that’s true. I like that.
Still for music discovery the internet has always seemed kind of stale to me. It already seems bound to become a bunch of online music tastemaker magazines filled with ads for vodka companies and American Apparel T-shirts. There’s a balance of making money without losing sight of the fact there should always be a solid foundation of great writing and thinking behind that cheap/dumb money. It just seems like a lot less fun finding new music this way. So the glory of services like MySpace and YouTube for me is that they both re-equipped the internet for more spontaneous music exploration. More random surprises and recommendations and divergent paths—instead of ad-generated hype mongering.
I used to read a bunch of content aggregator blogs. Ironically these are blogs that care more about page views and clicks than content. The blog 2DopeBoyz in particular was one I liked. It was basically lots of backpacker rap from all areas of the country posted every 30 minutes. There were lots of really good lesser known artists that I got into because of the site. But after I came across some of the less content-heavy blogs like Southern Hospitality and Cocaine Blunts, I was pretty much done with 2DopeBoyz and the other blogs like them. I wanted music with attachments and myths and stories. A link to stream something and a link to download something can’t be the only reason you consume music. It can’t be the only way to discover music.
Regional rap was all of a sudden much more exciting for me. People who built their popularity from the ground up. Local hustle. Mixtapes sold on the street or at shows. Lower budget YouTube videos. I wanted stories that appealed to me as a human being, not as a clicking entity on a popular rap site.
I found out about Lil B’s MySpace experiment back in 2009 through Andrew Noz writing about him on Cocaine Blunts. Noz is my favorite rap critic and really one of my favorite critics for any genre. He approaches his subjects from the perspective of a nerdy fan as well as from the perspective of a witty, intelligent writer who’s really trying to engage with the artist’s influences/themes/methods. All in the context of the shitty awful rap blog internet mess.
I didn’t really like what I first heard from Lil B on that blog but I googled him nonetheless. Most of the other songs back then I downloaded off DigitalDripped, an mp3 free-for-all blog that was a more-populist parallel distribution method for artists who didn’t get covered at sites like 2DopeBoyz. The site just had lists of low quality MP3s where the volume level was off or the samples were blasted too high in the mix. It was an actual content aggregator blog, without the bloated bullshit of scenester politics. My immediate response was that most of the songs on the website were amateurish. There were more and more great songs that went unnoticed though. I just wasn’t that open or receptive to the songs on DigitalDripped in the same way I’d just download anything off of 2DopeBoyz if it had a sample of a soul song. I’m not the only one who’s weirdly more accepting of the commercialized “conscious rap” sites on the internet instead of the ones that are more analogous to poorly organized/labeled record stores with boxes all over the place.
Little did I know that DigitalDripped was my first experience of discovering that Lil B wasn’t just using the internet to release his music, he was embodying the internet—absorbing the medium into his entire artistic aesthetic. It’s hard to differentiate Lil B from DigitalDripped. How often can you not differentiate the philosophy of an artist and a DIY free mp3 website?
I think Lil B represents in a lot of ways why so many big record labels are essentially irrelevant. I have a lot of respect for record labels. Punk, metal, indie record labels. I love that there’s a whole batch of vinyl and cassette labels that have popped up in the last decade. At this point, so many labels are just a handful of good people struggling to make ends meet. It’s the hip-hop and pop labels that seem like the worst to me. They’ve always been the labels associated with one hit wonders and “creating” stars off buzz and hype to ditch them whenever their career enters a slight lull. It doesn’t really seem like Lil B has an interest in being tied down to a label after the whole nonsense with the Pack.
I found it really funny when there were a lot of articles written about Lil B’s success with social media and how his strategies could be leveraged for corporations or other brands. I mean yeah it’s interesting. But I just think it’s the most short-sighted observation to make and the most boring direction to take the conversation.
The real conversation should be about grass roots. Punk. DIY. Lil B had the major label machine behind him and he watched them fuck up his career and not give a fuck afterwards. Lil B gained his fans through engaging with them directly. By releasing everything for free. But he also gained fans because he’s one of the most endearing, interesting and appreciative human beings on the planet. You find me one fucking business that can replicate Lil B’s personality and approach to life and maybe I’d buy all their shit. It still wouldn’t be the same. Because B doesn’t ask you to buy him—he asks you to believe in him.
It’s pretty strange that B rarely tries to sell anything related to his “brand.” It’s against a typical rap trope of getting lots and lots of money. From when I first started listening to Lil B, there was a song called “Thrift Store” about how he bought his clothes from a thrift store and they looked better than all the people repping Gucci. It was a glimpse into something integral to his personality. In another song (“Unchain Me”), he says the Devil is money. The God’s Father mixtape has a song called “Fuck Ya Money.” His priorities are clear.
I get a certain amount of joy out of how the backlash to Lil B can be especially dumb coming from “independent” hip-hop fans. In general, rap blog comments are probably some of the saddest displays of humanity you can find on the internet. There will always be plenty of LIL B IS A FAGGOT comments. But there’s just as many pseudo-intelligent “conscious” hip-hop fans out there posting THIS ISNT MUSIC comments.
My favorite comments from this group of detractors are the ones that try to assert that Lil B is playing a game with people, tricking them into listening to his music by putting out songs about celebrities or whatever. I will say again: Lil B doesn’t sell his shit. He doesn’t have a partnership with YouTube. He’s not on VEVO. When you go to his tumblr or his official site, there’s no ads all over the fucking page. He could be making soooo much money off all this stuff if he wanted to.
It’s the other way around though. Many of the websites that post Lil B stories to drive clicks to their own web site—those music magazines and hip hop aggregator sites—they’re the ones that make a bunch of ad money off B’s “virality.” Lil B doesn’t see shit from that.
But there’s still this idea out there that somehow rap fans are getting manipulated. Which is crazy. B’s good at marketing himself but it doesn’t seem like he has a proclivity for manipulation. The fact that he is an internet star and hero and doesn’t really cash in on that aspect of his music really shows how much he loves his fans. There’s so much love involved in his music — the distribution, the youtube comments, the retweets, the concert clips, the interviews with college rap DJs. He loves his fans in a way your favorite artist doesn’t love their fans. He loves them in a way that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to love my fans.
I still have a lot of respect for indie record labels and punk and metal record labels. But as a whole, labels to me are just like every other company in the U.S. right now. They’re scrambling to figure out a way to reach young people and get them to buy things. They don’t know how to utilize the internet to their advantage. They don’t quite understand yet how my generation doesn’t have the money or the inclination to buy shit as much as the generations before us. We need to be engaged. Our attention and affection both need to be won and fought for.
Spreading positivity is a hard thing. I don’t think there are a lot of ways left to do it. I’m certain that bluntly-stated hit-you-over-the-head “conscious” rap is not working. Or at least it doesn’t seem that way to me.
B has taught us that through the internet you can spread really positive messages and reach a whole lot of fucking people.
There was this critical lag where all the websites couldn’t help but talk about his “Bitch suck my dick” songs and his “Miley Cyrus” celebrity songs. Yet there were still 50,000 views for his “conscious” freestyle over Nas’ One Mic.
When “Age of Information” came out, it gave a lot of websites a chance to claim “B actually can rap” as if he hadn’t been putting out conscious raps over soul samples for years. There’s a great post by Noz on the 9th Wonder song that came out, where it criticizes this line of conservatism in hip-hop criticism and listening habits.
Instead of trying to grasp Lil B on his own terms (which is the whole point of B’s hypercreative mindfucking world) people were just saying “Oh look at that, he actually can be a good rapper.” They refused to see that maybe “good” doesn’t just mean rapping fast over soul samples.
The positivity of B’s movement though is that he spreads awareness of his complex musical persona through his legion of fans. He doesn’t need the cosign from whatever music blog. His fans will be there regardless because they don’t need a middleman. They spread his positivity regardless of what some music writer thinks.
The Lil B lecture at NYU really inspired me before I went into the studio to record the tribute song. I remember checking on Fader a few hours after it was over and the whole fucking thing was transcribed word for word. That was a truly based moment for me.
There were these articles that came after. Village Voice. NY times. Vulture. Noz. Talking about how there was a mixed vibe in the air at the lecture. Because there were clearly a lot of people at the lecture who treated Lil B like a joke. A minstrel.
What was brilliant though is that these commentators all kind of hinted at the fact that B could not have been any more earnest in his responses to the people who tried to ridicule him.
I think this reaction brought Lil B more fans. People who said: yeah, why are we laughing at this kid for lecturing students at NYU about being yourself and loving everyone? What is so funny about that?
After reading that, I really knew that I had to release my Never Wanted to Be Cool album at the same time as my Lil B song. Because I felt connected to B through this whole ordeal especially. You see I’ve played this one song a lot in Austin about me and a fight I had in recess during elementary. It kind of gained me a reputation as a funny singer. To the point that some people told me I should try going to a comedy open mic. It upset me because the song isn’t really just about a fight. It’s not a joke about elementary school recess. It’s just about me choosing to be myself when I was young, not worrying about others’ expectations, and standing up for my friends then and now. This message is supposed to be pretty sincere.
So instead of shying away from the songs that could potentially pigeonhole me as some “funny” singer, I’m going to personally thank and interact with the people who care enough to listen to that last verse of the song. I even ended my album with a song that kinda speaks to this whole phenomenon. It seems like it’s going to be a funny song. But it’s more of a challenging song that’s just me being me.
You know part of what makes Lil B such an interesting artist is that he’s always thinking bigger than hip hop. He’s always thinking outside his genre. And in that sense, there are some shared artistic aesthetic qualities between B and me. I don’t really see myself as a folk musician. I see myself as a writer who right now is just using folk music as a backdrop. Maybe next year it will be noise or spoken word jazz. I don’t know. Being an artist is more complicated when you realize that it’s a good thing to wander down paths of creative cliffdiving. Maybe I won’t put out 170 MySpace pages but I hope to bring something earnest to the table. If there’s anything to take away from listening to B, it’s that he is still hungry. Those of us who are different, those of us who might not really make a dent in the musical landscape for years and years, we need to stay hungry.