- This Week
From Berkeley to the World Wide Web, rapper and online innovator Lil B is taking over
09.07.10 - 12:58 pm | Willy Staley |
Lil B: "I'm not on TV right now. I don't have a single on the radio, but people know my songs word-for-word at shows."GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MATTHEW REAMER
A relatively recent video for Lil B's "The Worlds Ending" is a great example of this technique; the first two minutes present B smoking a joint with a gun to his head, listening to "Angeles" by Elliott Smith. Once he starts rapping, it's B at his darkest and most poignant. He touches on taxes, drugs, death, consumer culture, and tornado watches in Orange County — in his mind, a sign of the apocalypse — with a gun to his head the whole time. Sure, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and others have been doing something similar for more than a minute, but Lil B's lo-fi recordings, accompanied by his hastily-made, no-budget videos, result in a scrappier, less calculated, and ultimately more honest feel.
With all this variegated and prolific output, it's easy to forget where people first heard Lil B: on the lead-in verse of "Vans", the Pack's out-of-nowhere 2006 hit. The Berkeley foursome — of which Lil B is still a part — just released their third album, Wolfpack Party, on Aug. 24, while B was in Atlanta. "I'm still in The Pack 100 percent," he says, when asked about the new release. "You know, congratulations, and I'm happy The Pack album Wolfpack Party is out. It's been a while since we [put out] some new material."
It's hard not to sense B's detachment when he offers congratulations to a group he's a part of, and also difficult not to find it noteworthy that the first thing he says about The Pack is that he's still part of it. He knows what people are thinking, and that he was out of town with Soulja Boy when the album was released. Wolfpack Party is more self-consciously a party record than other work The Pack has done in the past, and it's a lot of fun to listen to. But Lil B is absent from a significant number of the tracks.
Needless to say, Lil B is a busy young man, even if one leaves out his most notorious facet: the prodigious way he uses his computer and phone to promote his music. He tells me he's capable of spending 20 consecutive hours online. "There's always somebody talking to me, hitting me up, uploading a video about me, watching me, you know, giving me comments," he says. "It's very addicting."
Life online is both a blessing and a curse for B, and he's made a song about that experience too. It's called "Age of Information." Toward the end of the track, B claims that the Internet is "destroying the human race," but in conversation he recognizes that his current trajectory would be impossible without it. "I'm not on TV right now," he points out. "I don't have a single on the radio, but people know my songs word-for-word at my shows."
I recently read in The New York Times that your early 20s are all about figuring out who you are and what you're going to do with your life, or something like that. It would seem to an outsider that 21-year-old Lil B has a lot to figure out, and that he might be at an artistic crossroads. But that's not how B sees it. When I ask him which direction he plans on taking his music, he responds, with confidence: "The direction I'm trying to take it in the future is making amazing music."
Everything that Lil B is working on now, he tells me, will culminate in a forthcoming album with a secret title. "The title is private," he insists. "I can't really tell right now." This from the man who tweets, like, 70 times a day. "I'm just creating and I'm definitely just being truthful and honest, so I'm glad people like me for me," he says, still waiting at the Oakland airport for a ride back to Berkeley, where he'll probably head straight to his computer. "That's the best feeling ever. It's amazing that I can do me and people are respecting it."