By Robert Stephens
For people who have spent any amount of time with me over the past 6 months or so you all know I love the rap artist “Lil B”. Whether it’s the random “swag” adlibs or doing the cooking dance, The Based God has definitely made 2011 a lot more fun.
Lil B the Based God produces music that is anchored by two extremes.
First, is the party music, which could easily be described as nothing more than Waka Flocka Flame-like ignorance. This type of music is delivered in what Lil B describes as the “based” flow, and is a combination of free-association non sequiturs with an almost reckless disregard for context.
The second type of music is what Lil B refers to as his positive music in which he delivers uplifting and critical messages about happiness, structures of inequality, and the general human condition. This style can be rapped over traditional hip-hop beats with a more conventional flow than the based style, or more interestingly, the songs are sometimes expressed in a spoken-word like flow over ambient instrumentals.
LIL B as the Absurdist
My first exposure to Lil B’s music was the song “Pretty Boy,” and it definitely fits into the party-rap extreme. Here, Lil B created a character that is outlandishly promiscuous, “Young Based God had too many threesomes,” and is the only man in a club surrounded by scores of hyper-sexualized women. It is easy to dismiss this song, and Lil B’s career, when assuming that “Pretty Boy” represents the full extent of Lil B’s artistic vision.
On its face, the song appears to be a misogynist fantasy of sexual domination. However, within the song there are some unusual lyrics that are inconsistent with typical male-centered misogyny. Lil B says, “Every girl want me/ niggas on my dick cause every bitch on me.” This inclusion of men (niggas) in a sexual relationship with the protagonist is a curious development in the song. In the age of “no homo,” this homo-erotic phrase was a daring lyrical shot that struck at the core of mainstream hip-hop and its message of hyper-masculine heterosexuality.
His songs “Paris Hilton” and especially the Princess Freestyle have caused quite a stir for their gender-bending lyrics. In “Paris Hilton” Lil B exclaims, “I dress like Paris Hilton/ tiny shirts, tiny jeans,” and in the “Princess Freestyle” he raps “Niggas on my dick cause I look like a princess.”
The juxtaposition between the hyper-masculine protagonist that sexually dominates women, and the same character that claims to look like Paris Hilton and a Princess allows us to begin to make sense of Lil B’s music.
Lil B’s music is not just strange, but more accurately, it is absurd. If viewed using the lens of absurdism, we can see the music’s subversive impact and potential. Absurdism states that there is no inherent meaning or truth but only the absurd human experience, which is the dissonance between the human condition’s search for meaning and a meaningless universe. In this philosophy, an individual creates personal meaning by embracing the meaningless nature of the universe while continuing to strive for subjective meaning. Lil B’s non sequitur lyricism, the homo-erotic and gender-bending phrases, and the irony of men cookin’ (which many describe as women’s work), demonstrates Lil B’s absurdist quality.
These songs do not recognize our society’s gender and sexual norms as inherent truths, and by ignoring them he subverts these ideas and reveals their socially constructed nature. After deconstructing these ideas he is free to create his own meaning or simply treat their disassembly as an end in itself. In the case of the title of his forth-coming album, “I’m Gay” (CNN, NPR), it is clear that his purpose is to “show that words don’t mean anything,” which is consistent with absurdism.
Lil B’s Fully Realized Artistic Vision
Beyond just absurdist rap lyrics, Lil B has an artistic vision that is fully revealed through what he calls the based lifestyle. After listening to his songs as well as a number of interviews, I would say that being “based” is to exist in total personal happiness, while also resisting forces of conformity and negativity in whatever form. Lil B embodies his Based God persona to promote his positive messages through conventional hip hop (“Strive for personal excellence/no success/ success is what they see/excellence in yourself”) and his ambient rap. Through this music, Lil B promotes being yourself, that it’s okay to be different, and that people need to find their own voices. He shares these uplifting messages along with critiques of social inequality, violence and the drug industry.
I’m not the only person that sees Lil B as being consequential. Following the controversy surrounding Lil B’s “I’m Gay” album, fellow rapper Lupe Fiasco recently defended Lil b’s art. Lupe, in a post on his blog, argued that [pullquote]“The vulgar lyrics, happy go lucky cooking dances and sometimes pointless stream of conscious style rambling started to give way to hints of a deadly serious revolutionary mentality lurking underneath.” [/pullquote]Lupe was quick to point out that the Based God had not yet reached the vanguard of Dead Prez or Immortal Technique, but that Lil B’s art is deserving of acknowledgment.
Personally, I find Lil B’s work to be very earnest, which is refreshing. After all I have said to explain how I see his music, I also strongly believe that his music should not escape critique. Is absurdity a legitimate method of subversion? Does Lil B’s earlier work diminish his more recent, more positive messages? Is Lil B’s absurdist critique even registering with most people?