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Lil B is pretty much the most exciting thing happening in hip hop right now. Yes, you could make a case for a number of new school up-and-comers: Kendrick Lamar, Jay Electronica, Das Racist. But no one is more exciting than Lil Boss. No one is challenging the very form of rap like Lil B. He’s breaking all the rules, all the conventions, asking his listeners to question the most basic foundational principles of rap music. And yet he’s blowing up.
And I can’t explain it. I can’t quite explain why I like Lil B.
To friends I’m all like, you gotta hear that Lil B!
They’re like, “What’s he sound like?”
I’m like, “Well, he doesn’t rhyme very often and—”
“Wait, he doesn’t rhyme? I thought rapping was called ‘rhyming’? Like ‘drop some rhymes’?”
“…and he doesn’t really rap on beat all the time.”
“What? So, rhyming and rhythm are not his strong suits? Isn’t rapping only rhyming words in rhythm? So, he’s bad at both of those? Isn’t that like being short and slow and playing basketball?”
“Nah, you just gotta hear it.”
“I’m not going to listen to whatever bad rapper you just described. Peace.”
Seriously, are we all in agreement that Lil B, when he’s described, sounds like a bad rapper? Fellow West Coaster Game famously called Lil B “the wackest rapper of all time.” Many others have echoed Game’s sentiment.
Listen to this song. It’s like he’s only marginally concerned with rhyming, and when he is rhyming he’s talking about being Kristi Yamaguchi. What the fuck? Are we talking about the same Kristi Yamaguchi? Is there a based Kristi Yamaguchi I don’t know about?
But I really like that song. I fucks with that song.
Another B joint “Wonton Soup” is already a 2010s classic.
Lil B’s gotten 5 million YouTube hits on that song. That’s no joke. Lil B is something to be reckoned with, whatever Game, Freddie Gibbs and his other detractors say.
But let’s consider another already-classic song, Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” (1.1 million YouTube hits) or “Exhibit A” (431,000), which I find to be the better of the two.
Jay Electronica is, like, already legendary and shit. He’s rapping in the Himalayas, weaving dense metaphors over beat-less orchestral tracks. He’s writing mini rap operas over movie scores and shit. Jay Elec is the guy who sparked a bidding war among Puff and Jay-Z and them (with Jay-Z winning the rapper for his Roc Nation enterprise). His talent is dizzying.
But Lil B is getting played way more. Men lie, women lie and all that. Lil B is getting more attention. Shouldn’t they be listening to Jay Electronica? It’s a head scratcher.
How does this Lil B song get more Youtube plays than “Exhibit A”?
“Hoes on my dick cos I look like Jesus?” ”Niggas gettin’ mad cos I dress like Jesus Christ” What the hell is going on here? Jesus did not wear tiny jeans.
But the kids are into that shit. And it’s not just kids, it’s old heads like me. There’s something pure about Lil B that people feel. An honesty, even though we don’t know what he’s saying most of the time.
And he’s breaking every rule. He only rhymes when he feels like it. He can rap very well on beat, but he doesn’t choose to do that all the time either. When B was chosen to be one of the very few guest spitters on Weezy’s last mixtape, he offered his new audience an exceptionally Lil B-style verse:
Listen to how he comes in (2:31). It’s sort of frantic and hurried. So hurried, in fact, that it’s not precisely on beat. Some might say it’s a little clumsy. And check the lyrics. This is how he goes in:
Yeah, I do my my thing bitch, wassup
Young Based God came in with the ballers
Iced out chain, bitch, I’m rich on that same shit
Sixty-five hoes on my dick, bitch, it’s Christmas.
He’s not even trying to rhyme! And what the shit happens starting at about 3:04? The verse almost falls apart. But that’s standard Lil B. He can rap really well in a conventional way, but he doesn’t want to.
Then comes the familiar “Bbrrrdangdangdang!” cry that he’s so fond of. Lil B will straight just make up words, like the well-known “based.” This sets him apart from other rappers, too. When Jay-Z was cutting his teeth he famously read the dictionary to bolster his verbal repertoire. Lil B is content to make up words to suit himself. Like, fuck a dictionary. Lil B doesn’t really care what words mean, saying in a recent interview:
“Less words! Less trying to put words on something. Why do we have to put words on something? Why can’t it just be what it is? Just because the words have been there for the last hundred years or whatever—words mean what they mean to whoever. Like, you define your life, and you define what words mean.”
For Lil B, to manipulate words and their meanings is to manipulate the meaning of life. It’s like words and their meanings are a sort of prison, and the only way to break out is to remake the words, assault their meaning. In “Trapped in Prison” (off the perfectly titled I’m Gay album), Lil B reflects on “mental slavery,” on being trapped in a world of “clones.”
They’re clones because they all believe the same thing—and what is a word’s meaning but a common belief? Words don’t mean anything by themselves, but only because we all agree what they mean—a shared belief. The word “based,” for instance, is a word that Lil B created and we all believe to have a certain meaning. The word “based” didn’t exist before Lil B—or, it existed with other meanings, and Lil B said, “Let’s all believe it has another meaning.”
He’s like a Lewis Carrol character, who with an iced-grilled Cheshire grin invites listeners on an adventure. “I just speak, you connect the dots.” Lil B is inviting listeners and fans to challenge authority in a strange way: to challenge the authority of language.
For it is the powerful who determine meaning in language, and thus it is a sort of rebellion to invent one’s own. “Nigger” is perhaps the most awful word in the American lexicon, as it represents the brutality of white power and nearly 500 years of slavery, violence and oppression. But to take that word and determine a new meaning—one of camaraderie and friendship, rather than hatred and violence—is to fight on a terrain of language. It is to take some of the power. The power of that word has been removed from the mouths of the oppressor. The word “bitch,” too, has been the scene of a similar battle. And, as Lil B’s I’m Gay album attests, the same sort of struggle goes on with pejorative terms for LGBT folks.
Following the attacks of September 11, the Bush administration announced a “War on Terror,” which targeted anyone Washington called a “terror suspect.” Once the word “terror” or “terrorist” was used in describing you, you were a potential enemy of the United States and its military could be used against you. In many cases, those accused of terrorism and killed, imprisoned or tortured were guilty of the charge. But in a great many others, innocent people were killed or tortured because a single word “terror” was used by the government. Even American citizens were targeted for assassination, with no trial. Cue Jay-Z: “I thought this was America, people!” There is no jury trial, only the sentence of being named a “terrorist.” You do not get to plead your case to a missile strike. Similarly, the term “gang member” has been used by as an excuse for unnecessary aggression. A young black man called a “gang member” by the PD is potentially targeted by the well-armed police.
Immortal Technique probably puts it best:
And you’re now in the state of guerrilla warfare
It has been spread by the superpowers of the industry
To the 3rd World underground of the streets
This is for all those who’ve been labeled extremists, maniacs, terrorists
It can all hinge on a single word.
So, while it may sound like Lil B isn’t making sense when he raps, he’s possibly being more profound than anyone, with each flipped word or phrase being a small revolutionary act, a bold challenge of belief and power. He’s a bit like Tec’s guerrilla, attacking the fortress of meaning. He’ll take your words and use them the way he wants to. He’ll invite you to do the same.
- Matt Pulver