December 6, 2012 23 comments
In this day and age it feels like everyone is a rapper. There are numerous types of rap music, from super conscious to super silly and everything inbetween. With such a broad range of hip hop, it’s understandable that people will have a very wide list of influences. From Eminem to Lil Wayne to Jay-Z, there are some pretty big artists that have come and gone and have left their mark on the game as well as the artists that followed them. However, there are some artists out there who aren’t receiving the acclaim and just due that their craft deserves.
Lil B, The BasedGod, first rose to notoriety (infamy?) with his “Look Like Jesus” video. The video was less about the song and more about someone saying they looked like Jesus and using profanity inside the confines of a church. “Look Like Jesus” carried plenty of shock value and everyone ate it up. Lil B followed this video up with countless others, but the ones that stuck out the most were “Violate That Bitch” and “Wanton Soup”. Those songs instantly sparked memes, which would soon begin to leave chat rooms and invade the Tumblr/Twitter/Pinterest area of the Internet. Rapping about paying for sex and having “hoes on your dick” was seemingly less and less taboo with every subsequent outlandish song Lil B would make and release to the masses. Lil B even went as far as to name his 2012 official album “I’m Gay”. When you have someone who so clearly represents the outlier, it makes everyone else seem tame in comparison, and that’s where a meme-subculture of rappers was birthed.
It’s important for me to point out that Lil B is completely self aware of what he’s doing, and this is where he distances himself from a lot of other artists. He is a competent rapper who has embraced his gimmicky role as The BasedGod in order to reinvent himself in the music industry. As a member of The Pack he has released 2 albums which are standard rap fodder, and as a solo artist he released 2 albums in 2009 that featured fully-composed rap songs. He has chosen to combine the competent rapping and the outlandish Based freestyles with this hopelessly positive ideology that birthed this BasedGod character, and he’s run with it. He is creating the sort of branding that marketing firms spend millions trying to recreate, all of this while openly challenging the formal constructs of what a rapper should be. All of this combines into one package which is extremely unpredictable, and one that has music record executives unsure of how to make him work on a larger scale. Although he has admiration from fellow rappers and some major cosigns, it would be so much easier – and marketable – if an artist were able to replicate his style without any of the challenging aspects of his persona.
I remember earlier this year right after A$AP Rocky signed his record deal, he released a song called “Pretty Flacko”. It was only one verse, but it had an intro before Rocky’s rap that sounded eerily familiar. It sounded exactly like something Lil B would say in a song. Every ‘pretty motherfucker’, ‘swag swag’, and every other boast or claim sounded like something the BasedGod had spent years creating back when he was trying to reinvent himself as something other than the guy from that “Vans” song. And it seems like all of Lil B’s work was in vain because one new rapper after another steals his style, adlibs (Rick Ross anyone?) and sometimes catch phrases in order to boost their careers, without giving him any credit.
The first time I saw the video for Trinidad James “All Gold Everything” I was confused as to whether it was a serious rap song or a parody. Trinidad James looks like a meme-rapper version of Big Gipp, complete with his own Tumblr-ready “Popped a molly I’m sweatin” catchphrase. The video looked like a Key & Peele skit where they do a horrible cliché portrayal of a southern rap song. But almost as quickly as the song was released it was being played everywhere, even leading to James getting an Interscope record deal and mainstream radio play. If not for Lil B blurring the line between real and parody I wonder if “All Gold Everything” would have reached such a fever pitch as it has.
This is not tied strictly to rap music either. Acclaimed singer/songwriter Brian McKnight was all but forgotten until he decided to release a clip called “If You’re Ready To Learn”. The song was basically a step-by-step guide on sexuality and a woman’s anatomy that I’ll link to so that I don’t have to talk about it in detail in this piece (and the tongue-in-cheek video). In several interviews McKnight admitted that he was going for shock value and that using that type of grassroots marketing was way more efficient than trying to capture a listener’s attention with an album’s worth of material. Lil B wrote the manual on shock value and now an entire wave of artists are using this in order to regain some of their glory or blaze new trails. No idea is original.
There have been quite a few blatant attempts at copying what Lil B has done from a musical standpoint but they all fall short once you realize they don’t have the work ethic that separates Lil B from all of his counterparts. David Banner made a song dissing so-called “swag rappers” by making a song that borrows their entire style. Soulja Boy has dabbled heavily in Lil B-type music, even pairing up with the BasedGod and another BasedGod disciple – Riff Raff. Riff Raff owes his entire rap style of random references to the Based Freestyle. The Based Freestyle has also gone mainstream recently, as evidenced by the attempts of Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar. You could also point out how Clams Casino has become the go-to producer of the new style termed “cloud rap” after producing many of the early bigger Lil B songs. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but at what point will people appreciate Lil B as a trail blazer?
Most artists who create their own path to stardom and fame aren’t appreciated until after they’re no longer creating art, and it seems like the BasedGod is no different. Instead, Lil B is met with constant hatred and ridicule, even being punched in the face during an interview. Some out there understand the connection that Lil B has generated all on his own but even events like his lecture at New York University are met with a “circus freak” approach. As he is still making music it’s impossible to know how this will all play out but it doesn’t appear that things will swing in Lil B’s favor. However it’s safe to assume that this new spawning of meme-rappers is here to stay. Don’t believe me just watch.