I discovered Lil B the way, I imagine, most of us have. You’re talking to a friend, the subject of rappers comes up, and your friend suddenly pauses, leans close and whispers, “Yo, have you heard Lil B?” You mumble something about seeing his name around, prompting your friend to throw open his laptop, excitedly search YouTube and then, with a half-apologetic, half-frenzied look (it’s the same look a crack fiend gives a newbie before handing them their first rock) he stands back, presses play on I Cook, or Wonton Soup or Ellen Degeneres and …
DJBooth Album Review
I’ve been doing these reviews for a long time and, other than perhaps the post-assault Chris Brown, I’ve never seen an artist simultaneously inspire such intense hatred and love as Lil B. Most of B’s detractors are hip-hop “heads” angry that such an un-lyrical rapper - and he’s not just un-lyrical, he’s often anti-lyrical – is getting such attention, but the irony is that, underneath his swagged out surface, Lil B is everything they claim to value. With little more than an internet connection and incredible work ethic, Lil B has built a rabidly loyal fan base who loves him for his unique style, refusal to change for the mainstream and unapologetic positivity. Sounds like an underground rapper to me.
Personally I’ve gone through the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief with Lil B: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and now, finally, an acceptance that borders on admiration for his brand of ultra-deconstructionist hip-hop. And then he dropped his new album I’m Gay (I’m Happy) and I’m back to a state of confusion. If B wanted to prove that he wasn’t a mindless swag robot he’s done it with I’m Gay. The album’s unceasingly serious (seriously), a socially conscious, personally uplifting work that (almost) never even contains the word “swag”. It’s a brave move, and one I have to respect B for making, but…the thing is…without the b**tch f**king, without the cooking and booming bass and schizophrenic lyrics, the Based God is just another not-very-good rapper.
When lead single Trapped in Prison dropped I assumed it would be the exception to I’m Gay’s rule. Nope. The soul guitars and organic percussion on Prison form the basis of most of the album’s production and B’s message of an escape from political, social and mental tyranny are echoed throughout. Of course, that message can sometimes be as quasi-nonsensical as Wonton Soup, Prison’s “You see me, I got ice like Ice / Serving them ice the same color small mice,” comes to mind, but thematically I’m Gay will serve up no shortage of surprises for those who know Lil B primarily through his culinary adventures. Gon Be Okay begins with a completely un-ironic clip of President Obama, and The Wilderness dips into fair trade economies and sweatshop labor. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.
This is usually the point in the review where I’d provide some counter examples, in this case some instances where Lil B reverts to his swagiliciousness, but there just aren’t any. I Hate Myself is an emotional, honest reflection on racism and self-hate and Game easily incorporates a classic soul sample. Get It While Its Good may come the closest, but it’s still a far cry from Justin Bieber/Charlie Sheen/whatever celebrity Lil B is rapping about now.
And therein lies the paradox that is I’m Gay. If this was the first music you ever heard from Lil B I find it hard to believe you’d want to hear more. Taken out of context this is an album with an admirable message, but that message isn’t delivered with any extraordinary skill or depth. Pharoahe Monch could be decapitated and still write more complex political commentary. But taken in context, when placed next to the cultural and musical phenomenon that is Lil B, it’s an album that can’t be ignored. Maybe as he grows he’ll be able to more naturally blend the swag and serious sides of himself, but for now we’ll simply have to look at I’m Gay as a sign that B might not prove to be the flash in the pan that so many haters hope he is. So in closing I really only have one thing to say; swag.
Listen to More: Lil B Written by Nathan S.
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