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Lil' B Biography

Last updated: 09/09/2012 02:01:51 PM

Twenty-one-year-old Brandon McCartney stands on stage at New York's Highline Ballroom in a tighter-than-skin-tight v-neck T-shirt. Below him, a sold out crowd split roughly down the middle along multiple demographic lines – street fashionable kids of all races stand next to aging bespectacled bearded types — thunder a chant of "Ellen / Degeneres / Ellen / Degeneres!" in deadpan unison. Some fans are adorned in chef's caps and wave spatulas in the air. Others kiss the rapper's hand in reverence. Many are simply there to witness the spectacle.

Lil B regularly interrupts the performance to pass his mic to the crowd, who jokingly promise their loved ones as sexual sacrifices. He "knights" them in return. He brags about wearing the same pants everyday. He signs iPhones. He plays the mic across his abdomen like it's a jugband washboard and then consoles his less fit followers: "It's okay if you don't have abs." He also raps a little, but not as much or as loudly as the kids in the crowd do. Equal parts musical performance, surrealist comedy act, motivational speech, celebrity meet-and-greet and dance party — this is the warped reality of Lil B, a.k.a. The Based God, hip-hop's most eccentric, vulgar, prolific, endearing and divisive new artist.

Since the dissolution of his almost-famous high school group The Pack, the still-unsigned Berkeley, Calif. rapper has released roughly 3,000 songs for free on the Internet in the past three years. On them he rhymes loosely, in a decidedly Lil Wayne-inspired croak. His themes shift rapidly between sexual perversity, new age mysticism and — most frequently — extreme absurdity.

He raps about cat care and back pain. He raps about black liberation and becoming a deity. He jokes about being a nerd. He laments materialism and claims to be an incredibly wealthy ladies man in the same breath. From a distance it would be easy to mistake him for an eccentric hiccup in the long line of in-the-moment pop rappers, but further inspection reveals a considerably more complex artist, one whose body of work look less like a musical catalog than a broad conceptual cross-media art project, or perhaps a relentless soundtrack to one young man's compulsive disorder.

Lil B's sonic scope is nearly as wide as his topical domain, drawing from an influence and sample pool where gangsta rapper du jour Waka Flocka Flame and true school New York emcees like AZ mingle with blind opera singer Andrea Bocelli and indie favorite Ariel Pink. His finest work has an ethereal and angelic quality indebted to British electronica songstress Imogen Heap. On "I'm God" he floats through the track and challenges nature itself to a rap battle. "Cooking Dance," a collaboration with fellow internet-bred rapper Soulja Boy, might be the first truly psychedelic instructional dance rap song.

By technical hip-hop standards some of Lil B's rapping is close to horrible, sloppy and off beat or thematically incoherent. It's a very punk rock approach, bypassing technical proficiency entirely in favor of getting an idea or emotion to tape in the fastest way possible. The method has its roots in the Based Freestyle, a formless and stream of conscious style of spoken word rapping that B invented around 2008.

"Based," at large, is Lil B's vaguely defined and slightly cultish ideology. He explains: "Being based means [being] positive, doing what you want to do, not caring and just being yourself." You know, everything.