Lil B: testament of the decline of western society or a very naughty boy? You decide.Is Lil B, as the New York Times
claims, “a folk hero of the rap
counterculture”? Is he, as Vice Magazine
put it, “the most revolutionary MC of the last 15 years”? Or is he, as one YouTube commentator reckons, “a grotesque testament not only to the current state of rap music but also to the steady, inevitable decline of western society”?
If splitting an audience can be a by-product of creative risk-taking, Lil B is out there on the edge. Born Brandon McCartney, he debuted as part of teenage San Franciscan crew The Pack, who scored a 2006 US hit with their sneaker anthem Vans. But it’s as a solo artist that McCartney found his niche. Over the past 18 months, he’s marked himself out as an inexhaustible online presence, releasing a never-ending stream of songs and homemade videos, collaborating with ringtone rap merchant Soulja Boy and comedian Andy Milonakis, all the while extolling his hippyish, think-positive “Based” philosophy.
Being “Based”, for Lil B, appears to mean saying whatever’s on his mind at any given time. Indeed, hyper-prolificacy would seem to be an aim in itself. The latter half of 2010 saw him drop three mixtapes in as many months while, two weeks ago, he uploaded an archive collection that ran to a staggering 676 tracks. Quality, as you might expect, varies wildly: for every track like The World’s Ending, with genuine musings on consumerism and society, there’s a handful of deliberately moronic club bangers called things like Violate That Bitch or Ellen DeGeneres (sample lyric: “Ellen DeGeneres! Swag! Ellen DeGeneres!”). Meanwhile, his debut album proper, last year’s Rain In England, transcended familiar notions of good and bad, being one of the most peculiar rap albums ever pressed: a beatless, Beat poetry-style set where Lil B, voice a-quiver with earnestness, ponders love, beauty and all the bad things in the world over naïf new-age synth washes.
A handful of New York shows to date have pulled sell-out crowds but, right now, Lil B’s real home remains the internet, where he maintains around 100 MySpace pages, constantly retweets his 135,000 mostly female followers, and spawns memes aplenty. Fans post homemade Jpegs declaring “Thank You Based God!” or videos of themselves doing the Cooking Dance (dance like you’re whipping cream or flipping burgers). They turn up to concerts with spatulas and chef hats, and the best dancers are crowned “master chefs”. He even boasts a catchphrase, an oft-repeated and somewhat questionable line that goes “Hos on my dick cuz I look like …”, with look-alikes apparently numbering Bill Clinton, JK Rowling, Mel Gibson, Jesus and “a Frenchman”.
Lil B is far from the first rapper to toy with persona, but this slippery nature makes him an unknown quantity: will he remain a cult figure, or can he take “Based” style into the mainstream? An attempt to court Kanye West by suggesting he’d fuck the eminent rap celebrity of our generation “in the ass” if he didn’t acknowledge him on Twitter came to naught, but rumours linking him to G-Unit Records seem to have some credence, with 50 Cent and Lil B pictured together in New York earlier this month. Meanwhile, for his next album, Glass Face, B told MTV he’s working with Prince. Sounds unlikely – but then, as with everything in the realm of the Based God, you wouldn’t rule it out.