For whatever reason, 2012 has been a big year for the critical reassessment of Lil B, and it’s not necessarily because of the music. In February, he was on the cover of Wire, probably the world’s most discerning music mag. In April, he gave a lecture at NYU, which is one of the nation’s most fertile campuses for young media types. National publications like VIBE, who weren’t covering B around the time when his best record (2010’s 6 Kiss) was making noise on the Internet, gave him a recent full profile. Our Deconstructing column, too, addressed the phenomenon of the BasedGod. He had a goofy Twitter spat with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. At some indeterminate point, Lil B got popular enough that everyone got into “explainer” mode; how do you explain Lil B to someone who is unfamiliar? Why is he so popular? In a basically infinite sea of MP3s — he famously once put out a mixtape with over 600 songs on it — where do you start?
In any case, it wouldn’t be with Lil B’s new Green Flame tape. It’s not even the best thing he’s put out in 2012 — that would be the epic God’s Father, a release that could have gotten a MOTW nod if not for Action Bronson & Party Supplies’ Blue Chips. Like many of his mixtapes, particulary the ones in the Flame series, it’s borderline unlistenable — tracks like “Where Ya From Gurl” and “I Tot Iann” rely on gratingly cheap-sounding production and are filled with throwaway rhymes that are jarringly tone-def and misogynisitc. But, the forgettable front half of Green Flame finally opens up to the textures where Lil B thrives the most, jazzy, open things where his improvisational flow isn’t stressed or forced. “Green Flame,” “Junes Confessions” and his NYC anthem “My Arms Are The Brooklyn Bridge” salvage this collection, tracks that allow Lil B to work into his rosy free-association recently evidenced on songs like the Titanic soundtrack-sampling “3 Stacks” or God’s Father standout “Flowers Rise“. Though he can sometimes excel on a driven, uptempo slice of production — case in point, the David Banner diss “I Own Swag” — it’s in this space where Lil B’s creativity is most visible, musically.
As you’ve probably surmised, it’s been a little bit slow on the mixtape front. But, if nothing else, Green Flame is further evidence that Brandon McCartney is the “most creative rapper breathing” His sometimes-on (I’m Gay, I’m Happy), sometimes-off grip on the muse and inability to hear himself has, after all, given way to frustrating straits and spurts of erratic MP3s. But moments like those found on the home stretch of the record remind you that there’s something captivating going on. In the video for “My Arms Are The Brooklyn Bridge,” Lil B rhapsodizes about a New York City landmark while underneath a California overpass. You have to wonder if he knows where he is.
Download it at DatPiff.