The Confusing but Important Influence of Lil B “The BasedGod”

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There are over 100 songs on the six-hour long mixtape “05 [Eff] ‘Em” (all censorship of titles of albums and songs handled by yours truly), and all of them slap. They don’t slap in the bumpin'-in-your-whip post-Drake Migos-drenched era we live in now; rather, they slap in a “this reeks of insanity and I’m really scared of what’s going on” manner similar to listening to, say, Captain Beefheart (papa avant-garde of the rock music) or The Shaggs (with their proto-punk inability to play instruments after receiving word they would become famous musicians from a psychic in 1968). Lil B’s songs slap and it sort of hurts but you sort of like it.

Lil B is the unsung hero of DIY rap. Since his initial burst on the scene at the age of sixteen with the one-hit-wonder “Vans” by his group The Pack in 2007, Lil B has remained an important figure in the underground rap-scene. Since 2010 he has released 50 mixtapes at a once prolific rate (16 mixtapes in 2012 alone, for instance). All of which feature stream-of-consciousness nonsense rap which sounds like Lewis Carroll met up with Soulja Boy and Kool Keith and recorded an album.

Mixtapes like “05” only scratch the surface of Lil B’s musical capabilities. Perhaps he is most famous for his Flame series. Mixtapes like “Pink Flame,”“Red Flame,” “Evil Red Flame,” “Red Flame (Devil Music Edition),” “Green Flame,” etc… all feature Lil B at his most nonsensical and braggadocious. Other albums like “Hoop Life” or “Based Jam” are basketball themed. Perhaps 2 hours of Basketball themed freestyles are your thing? I highly recommend the mixtape “Hoop Life” as an intro to the BasedGod.

“The BasedGod” Lil B is a cult item. He is religiously followed by fans who call him the greatest of all time, an actual god, a man of intense positivity whose sole purpose is, like Jesus, to spread good news throughout the Earth (he’s traveled to many college campuses to give self-help positivity talks). Most of his followers, however, and arguably he himself, are completely ironic. It’s hard to know who actually listens to Lil B. It’s extremely disruptive to listen to songs where Lil B proclaims the importance of positivity and love, such as on “No Black Person Is Ugly” which was widely regarded by music critics as one of the best songs of 2014, and then listen to a song like “Child Support Me” (from the same Mixtape titled “ULTIMATE B----”) a song about the importance of murdering girlfriends who want Lil B to pay for child support. Lil B wants to provoke, bother, confuse, and create disruption. Lil B is simultaneously part parody of rap culture, part self-aware deconstruction of what it means to be a rapper, and of course, part-rapper.

In the world of pop-culture, Lil B occasionally shows up in news articles because of his NBA curses. He cursed both James Harden and Kevin Durant, which is directly responsible for the Thunder and subsequently Durant’s loss in the 2016 NBA Finals. Lil B’s songs are also parodies of pop-culture, with some of his most famous songs simply featuring hooks where Lil B compares himself to a certain celebrity (songs like “Katy Perry” “Paris Hilton” “Rick Ross” and “Ellen Degeneres” for instance).

Lil B’s self-release platforming, his refusal to sign to a label, his part in the creation of what is now known as cloud rap (which is now a mainstream movement championed by the likes of ASAP Rocky, Denzel Curry and Earl Sweatshirt, just to name a few), have made him an important underground figurehead in rap. Recently, famous figures such as Chance the Rapper have credited Lil B as an influence (Chance even recorded a Christmas Freestyle EP with The BasedGod). And with Pitchfork Media giving Lil B’s 2017 mixtape “Black Ken” a glowing review, Lil B’s popularity is beginning to subtly rise.

Lil B is difficult to listen to, if only because, like many DIY artists, he almost isn’t meant to be listened to. He is an object of fascination, an enigma. I have no idea how many Lil B followers actually sit through all six hours of a mixtape like “05,” or delve the depths of a mixtape like “Glassface” or “Illusions of Grandeur 2.” That said, there is an entrancing element of Lil B’s music, which, like the aforementioned Shaggs or Captain Beefheart, are unnerving and frightening, naive, possibly idiotic, but fun. Listening to Lil B begins as a joke, and ends as genuine enjoyment. For an artist who's had such a large and unique impact on hip hop since before the 2010s, Lil B is perhaps the most underappreciated.

Turning to the Russian critic and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, we can see that Lil B’s “outsider” appeal is really an example of pop-culture carnivalization. Lil B, in an encyclopedic, comedic, and purposefully blasphemous and idiotic manner destroys all that our popular culture finds sacred through making it absurd. Through amplifying the positivity of rappers like Lupe Fiasco or Chance the Rapper (songs like “I Love You” or “No Black Person is Ugly”, mixing it with the frightening misogyny of rappers like Migos, Eminem, or Lil Wayne, songs like “Eat” and “Flex 36”) Lil B creates an anti-aesthetic more punk than hip-hop, where everything sacred is destroyed. When listening to Lil B, nothing our culture finds important or sacred remains so, and everything we detest is blown up in our faces to an uncomfortable degree, forcing us to face the things we claim to detest but really propagate.