Deconstructing

Deconstructing: Lil B

By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd / April 4, 2012 - 10:58 am

As a rule, Lil B’s name is usually orbiting somewhere in the blogosphere thanks to sheer output: arguably the most prolific rapper ever, he seems to have tapped into the subconscious brainzone where most humans supposedly never venture. (Has anyone given dude a positron emission tomography scan lately?) Not to perpetuate B’s own ever-expanding repertoire of similes,but it’s well established that he’s something like rap’s Grateful Dead, with apologies to Hov — constant creativity, constant improvisation. He’s a one-man jam band. A grip of people feel obsessive love about his LSD-free-Kesey mic romps, and/or find him inspirational for his based positivity. But he undeniably stays in our timelines in part because there’s simply so much for people to write about.

Last week’s Lil B saturation was exceptional, however: New York University announced they had employed him to give students a speech/lecture, and the music internet went insane. A “Lil B NYU” Google search yields 50 blog posts and news stories, ranging from the auspicious (MTV! Fuse!) to the left-field (New York socialite website Guest of a Guest?). According to Max Mellman, Chair of the Lectures Committee at NYU’s Program Board (and Tisch junior studying film), tickets to the event sold out in around 17 hours (“or something”).  “There was a really crazy email day when it first broke,” he says. “We figured it would probably sell out, but it kind of exploded.” Suddenly, NYU’s events program designation of Lil B as a “cultural icon” materialized from #based tweets to the physical universe. (And yes, everybody, the programmers obviously knew what they were doing when they called his appearance “rare.”)

It was interesting reading the reactions of 50 music sites at once publishing pieces about NYU, and the reason they were doing so wasn’t just SEO: it was about the internet’s Lil B obsession, yes, both as musician and as meme, but it was also about perception. Some media outlets seemed to be incredulous that this rapper, who basically puts his entire self online, bad spelling and all, could possibly speak at one of the most prestigious and pricey universities in America. The incredulity was otherizing, disturbingly so, as though Lil B is a savant or a performance artist, as opposed to an extremely enthusiastic person and rapper with an unorthodox (cough) sense of timing whose catalog is bound to be hit or miss considering he Pollocks his work and puts everything he makes out for public consumption. (His most recent tape, #1 Bitch, includes some gems like “Whodie,” and the early LL-homage “Yee Yee Dreams,” along with some misses.)  En masse, the reportage became a sort of clusterfuck, and much of the media was reporting about him in essence the way that media treated Daniel Johnston or Wesley Willis: a curio.

That’s exactly what he’s not. For Mellman, he was enthusiastic about booking Lil B to speak in part for his power to make people feel great. “Every morning, I wake up and go on Facebook to see his messages, and it makes me smile in the morning,” says Mellman. “We just thought he would have some kind of motivational inspirational stuff to say to us. He has this really interesting perspective on the world.” (And with looming loan debts and a tiny job pool on the post-grad horizon, one thing that college kids desperately need right now is a dude around their age to inspire positivity, no?) I interviewed Lil B in 2009 and, aside from being exceptionally optimistic and kind, he was remarkably ordinary and chill. It’s uncomfortable to imagine people looking at him as a kind of Sideshow Bob.

Enter Tracy Garraud’s excellent Lil B profile in the latest issue of VIBE (disclosure: I wrote about 150 words in that issue on raving internationally, which was obviously unrelated to Garraud’s Lil B piece). In her piece, she approaches him as one should — a human dude! — yet tries to mine the spot that makes B such a font. And she might have found his center. He tells her:

I like that I’m weird. ‘Cause I have nothing to hide. I guess I’m weird. So really I’m not weird. I’m just normal. Everybody else is, like, picking and choosing what they show. I’m just like, ‘Well, you do this? I do this, too.’

Hopefully the reason we love Based G is cause there’s a bit of him in all of us.

Lil B’s NYU appearance is sold out. The school is still working out how and whether to make video of the lecture available.