April 29, 2011

Doc Zeus would like everyone to know that he did not select the picture above.

“In 100 years, people will look back and appreciate it.” – Lil B

“Not Fucking Likely.” – Doc Zeus

I suppose there’s something slightly charming about the growing cult of personality surrounding Bay Area rapper, Lil B. His grand sense of self importance has inspired legions of impressionable young fans and a few (of our more unfortunate) music critics to believe the hype. And why not — nearly every aspect of his carefully cultivated persona is designed to perpetuate the notion that his music is Homeric, voice-of-the-heavens stuff that will “CHANGE YOUR LIFE” if you just take the time to listen to it. All of it.

His bio on Twitter informs us that “he’s the first rapper to write and publish a book at 19” as if there was some heated competition with Diggy Simmons and Lil Twist to publish their thoughts on socialism before they could legally drink Michelob Ultra. He makes songs where he claims he’s “God” followed by songs in which he claims he’s “the devil.” He releases thousands of independently produced songs and videos each year. He takes care to label his nearly endless freestyles on YouTube with declarations that this particular song, above all others, is the profoundly vital piece of art that will redefine the genre through its austere brilliance. His entire act is an elaborate shell game designed to confuse the audience through sheer force of mind-numbing charisma into believing any of it means anything at all. Lil B doesn’t just want to matter, but fucking needs to matter. There shall be no Based God before him.

It was during his performance at Coachella last weekend that he announced his latest plans to explore the realms of Bono-like self-reverence. The earth stood still, as Brandon McCartney descended from the mountaintop, to proclaim his next album shall be called… “I’m Gay.” Before Pierce Hawthorne could finish reading his oddly supportive prepared statements, Lil B was quick to announce that he is not, in fact, a homosexual as such a title might imply. In fact, he quickly reminded us all that he still preferred having sex with women and that he was the straightest man on straight street to have ever have straight sex with straight women straightly. “I’m Gay” was not to be tacit admission of his homosexuality but rather the title was to prove words like “gay” or straight” were meaningless… or to show support for gay people… or some convoluted way to prove how straight he really was… or something. Over the next week, Lil B quickly backtracked, downplayed and artfully dodged questions on his true intention behind the title. It was as if what he wanted us to gleam from the title the most was that he assuredly not gay. Cue firestorm.

The clouds of carnival-barking rectitude descended upon the lands and covered the internet in a thick layer of think-piece. Twitter made jokes. Hardcore homophobes threatened his life. Meanwhile, cultural academics pontificated if this were the moment where that bastion of backwards-thinking hate-mongers known as hip hop would finally shed its coat of homophobia and warm up to the idea that gay people are not so icky after-all. Could it be a real life, honest-to-goodness rapper was extending an olive branch to a segment of society that most right-thinking people would consider absolutely normal, decent human beings? Shock horror! Assuredly, this was akin to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier or Hattie McDaniel winning an Oscar. Lil B was doing the perhaps most important thing to ever happen to hip hop and he wanted all of us to know how transcendentally important this all was.

Of course, this is ludicrous. I’d say that the hysteria surrounding the announcement of “I’m Gay” is much ado about nothing, but I feel that would be disparaging the noble name of “Ado.” To start, there hasn’t been any music released from “I’m Gay,” so it seems premature to speculate on any potential impact the record could have on the greater public. The long-term merit of any album regardless of intention will ultimately based on the quality of the album. There has been no greater cliché over the last decade than when a rapper triumphantly declares his upcoming album will be a modern-day classic, only to find that album’s MP3s rotting in the desktop’s recycle bin next to week old porn AVIs. Until Lil B releases some music for “I’m Gay,” the hysteria surrounding the album shall remain speculative nonsense.

Secondly, the ridiculousness of “I’m Gay” fever reveals itself when you realize Lil B’s ventures into sober, self-seriousness are often both musically anemic and unintentionally comedic. There is a certain contrarian streak within critics and fans who contend that Lil B is actually quite the profound thinker when he ventures away from the calculated absurdism of songs like “Ellen DeGeneres” and “I’m Miley Cyrus” and into his more “serious” material. The accepted notion being that to truly appreciate his genius you have to absorb yourself within his massive catalog.

Unfortunately, when removed from the cocoon of goofy gibberish, Lil B proves to be remarkably shallow and incoherent. His “deep” songs are often clumsily rapped and are rife with lyrical banalities. In fact, the entire philosophy of “based music,” with its “The Secret” like belief in positivity, comes off as the type of simplicity that Sesame Street would teach a group of mildly dim toddlers. Even his endless supply of music videos are packaged in the soft-focus glow of film student amateurism, from their over-usage of cheesy in-camera effects to their poor editing and cinematography. An issue with such deep-seated complexities as homosexuality in hip hop deserves an artist whose crowning musical achievement is more than the buffoonery of “Wonton Soup.” It deserves an artist who will deal with the issue of gays in hip hop with a certain grace and intelligence. To paraphrase the warrior-philosopher, Mark Zuckerberg, Lil B does not have the intellectual or creative capabilities to write a record that could possibly do justice to such an issue.

Ultimately, the motive behind his new album’s title strikes me as nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt designed by an artist whose entire modus operandi is based upon relentless self-promotion. GLAAD has been hesitant to declare support for the album and one assumes that a large part of that hesitance is because they can sense the stench of publicity stunt from a mile away. There is a telling moment during the album’s announcement speech at Coachella where Lil B declares that he wants to do “the most controversial thing in hip hop” which is ostensibly admitting his homosexuality even if only in proxy. This is indicative of Lil B’s true motivations behind the controversial title.

Despite his limitations as an artist, Lil B is a born promoter and seems to intrinsically understand the power of social media in connecting with his fans. If there is a genius living within him, it is that Lil B has figured out the key to growing an audience in an age where the internet connects us all is to form or, at least, fake a genuine connection with your entire audience. Its why he relentlessly tweets and takes the time to greet his audience at shows. He knows that his audience’s traditional hangups with homosexuality will ignite the media’s cynical think-piece and coverage industry. In turn, this will hopefully expose him to a larger audience and continue to grow his already sizable cult. In a way, it’s as cynical and manipulative as Donald Trump stoking deep-seated racial fears by denying President Obama’s citizenship. To his credit, the difference is that Lil B is stoking the fires by being inclusive of a group that hip hop has unfortunately disparaged over the years. Even if its a cynical ploy, it errs on the side of equality which means “I’m Gay” should not be totally dismissed.

If Lil B is truly serious about bridging the gap between the hip hop and gay communities, he’d be well served to stop being so self-congratulatory about his “brave” stance and let the music simply talk for him. One strongly assumes that the reason for his endless self-promotion is that he’s deeply insecure about the quality of his own music and feels the need to overcompensate by constantly declaring how “important” it is. The irony is that “I’m Gay” can be the great, life-changing album that Lil B desperately wants it to be, but it has to come from a place of genuine empathy and truth. The ugliness of homophobia has been allowed to exist within the fabric of hip hop for far too long. It’s time that shit got erased

Unless, of course, he’s actually gay at which point, I take back everything I said…

MP3: Lil B-“Pretty Bitch”
MP3: Lil B-“Wonton Soup”

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