LET THAT BOY COOK: The Definitive Lil B Internet Post
January 20, 2011 § 6 Comments
Rereading my last post, I’m sort of disappointed with how it turned out. As presented, it was never meant to be anything more than a bit of navel-gazing autobiography and hip-hop historiography that, although it would’ve felt out of place in a piece focused on Lil B, might still work as a prefatory note, a way in to my thoughts on a complicated subject. Unfortunately, the hastily written conclusion made it seem like the next installment would be on some gotcha-journalism shit — “RAP CLOSET CASE EXPOSED!!!” with flashing Drudge Report sirens everywhere — when the actual point I wanted to make was that hip-hop, like middle school, and for many of the same reasons, can be a cruel place for outsiders. Which is also to say: I can’t really blame Lil B for fantasizing about killing hip-hop, given how hip-hop has been inclined to treat him — cf. the comments on this Smoking Section post from last summer, which are sorta-interesting at first, but quickly degenerate into dudes calling for Lil B’s death and suggesting that his fans should be targeted for hate crimes.
Anyway, I was feeling sorta down about the whole thing when my boy TP suggested that maybe the internet could still use a “definitive Lil B post”; so I figured I’d dust myself off, hop back in the blogsaddle, and give it another go.
As far as the sexual preferences of Brandon McCartney, the real person, the legal and biological entity who stands behind the character of Lil B “THE BASED GOD”, I don’t really give a fuck. Who knows if dude even has a sex life? After all, as he told Complex.com (in an article that I refuse to link to because it’s infuriatingly spread out over twenty-five god-damn mother-fucking slow-ass-loading Mcdonalds-advertisement-filled pages — Seriously websites, stop doing this shit, please.), he’s been pretty busy with music lately:
Truth be told, I’m not out fucking a lot of bitches. And the funny thing is, I could be. At any time, switches could be flipped and I could go crazy, but right now I’m definitely just keeping it positive and living that life. I mean, when times do come when I need to fuck, I will, but other than that it’s straight work.
Fair enough. Still, it hasn’t stopped people from raising the question. To a certain extent, Brandon/B seems to bring it on himself — not because he wears tiny pants or listens to ambient music, but because he calls himself a pretty bitch (he says it’s about being “high-maintenance”, but also admits that sometimes he’s just trying to get a rise out of people) and freestyles about, well, being a fag. Once again, I’ll defer to the man himself:
I said it in a song that ‘I’m a fag, I’m a lesbian.’ I don’t care. I’m not. I’m not a fag. I’m not a lesbian. Who cares. Even if I am, I don’t like guys. That’s just a word. […] I said it one time in the song and people are like, ‘That’s a gay song. He said he’s a faggot. I can’t believe it.’ I’m on that new age slang man. I’m on that ‘I don’t give a fuck’ swag. I’m on that the bitch ask me what I’m doing and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m sitting on the couch eating pizza like a hoe on New Year’s by myself like a bitch.’ I’m loving it. A nigga so cocky I’ma call myself a bitch, too. I need to calm myself down. [Laughs.]
Three things here. One: did B really spend New Year’s by himself, eating pizza?? He shoulda called me! I wasn’t doing anything either; we coulda hung out! I love pizza!!!
Two: let’s take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come, how much things have changed (mostly for the better) since Cam inked that deal with the devil, scoring himself a lifetime supply of pink clothing in exchange for popularizing the completely execrable phrase “no homo”.
Three: look how easily B moves here from pejorative terms about homosexuals to pejorative terms about women. It’s all part of the same “new age slang” of not-giving-a-fuck: calling yourself a bitch or a faggot is just something you do when you’re feeling cocky on the mic, but everyone knows it doesn’t mean anything — it’s just words, and words can’t define you! Which is true, sure, as far as it goes; and if this were just about a dude calling himself names, I probably wouldn’t care. When I start caring, though, is when you start calling the people around you a bunch of bitches and faggots; and then they start calling other people bitches and faggots; and then next thing you know, we have a situation on our hands.
Let’s be perfectly clear before we go any further: I’m not here to tear down the Based God. I love his music. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, or a hateful person, or blasphemous, or the antichrist. We’re talking about a dude whose (extremely #rare and short-lived) beef with Joe Budden was sparked by Budden’s derisive retweet of Lil B’s claims to have “ended racism” by inventing a new #grey race. If anything, you might accuse him of being a little bit naive.
But B is one thing, and the movement that seems to be taking shape around him is another; and it’s the latter that’s been keeping me up at nights lately.
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“Wherever men meet and assemble to take wives for themselves, to negotiate for them, to share them, etc., one recognizes […] a primary homosexuality between local groups, between brothers-in-law, co-husbands, childhood partners.”
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Historically, of course, the most respected women in hip-hop — hell, maybe in life in general — have tended to be moms. Lil B, in his own way, is no exception: check “Exhibit Based”, where he reminisces over youthful days spent robbing, bringing home stolen TVs to give to his mom “as presents for creating me”. It’s silly, but still kind of sweet, no?
Which is maybe one reason I felt so weird watching this video, which hit the internet a few days ago, after B’s latest sold-out NYC extravaganza:
Youtube commenters were predictably scandalized, comparing the fans to brainwashed cult members (no Jim Jones!); but I prefer “secret club” to “cult” in this context. What the people in this video are doing is speaking a kind of code, a private language, a set of rituals and unwritten rules designed (like most cool things) to leave the uncool outsiders scratching their heads. It’s impossible to understand what’s going on here if you don’t have some familiarity with that code and its history: you have to know the standard hip-hop tropes that are being parodied/subverted; you have to recognize the evolution that runs from rap-battle-boasts about stealing the other guy’s girl (“I bet I snatch your chick with my goddamn Vans on”), up through BasedGod’s self-aggrandizing claims about dudes actually thanking him for sleeping with their girlfriends, and terminates in this weird situation where fans show love online and at shows by offering him the use of their own bitches (real or imaginary).
This is all in good fun though, right? Done with a wink and a nod, it’s surely not meant to be taken literally, unless you want to look foolish, like a 19th-century European ethnographer who hears an African king being praised for the beauty of his 3333 wives and loses his fucking monocle over it because he doesn’t realize that the guy saying this is a diplomat from another kingdom trying to flatter the king (who in reality has maybe seven or eight wives, tops).* Kids asking Lil B to fuck their moms, their bitches, or whoever, are just playing around, in the same way that Lil B is playing around when he says “Bitches suck my dick cuz my chain look like lightning” or “I almost went to jail for like 500 things”, or brags about having the same gun they used in the movie Blue Streak (although I think he might be serious about that last one).
But on the other hand: sometimes the surface appearance is actually right. Maybe this is exactly what it looks like: a new twist on one of the world’s oldest pastimes, men coming together to arrange (or pretend to arrange) the distribution and exchange of women. Which, of course, has had serious repercussions for women throughout history — even if, as that Anti-Oedipus quote above points out, it’s often less about the girls themselves, and more about the chance for male bonding and alliance-making. (I’d prefer to call this “homosocial” rather than “homosexual”, but whatever.)
And then on the other-other hand: What to make of that new twist? Does it change anything? Does it change everything? Surely there’s a difference between pimping out your daughter, and pimping out your mom… which could be as simple as this: in the first instance, you end up with a new son, an heir, an ally, a future to look forward to; while in the second, you get a new dad, a legacy, a history you never had. So that maybe asking a rapper to fuck your mom is like a cry for help: Save me, Based God; let your love come into me, let it transform my body; I wish I were someone else; I wish I had never been born.
Again, I’m not trying to start a moral panic or anything here; even if I were, I wouldn’t lay the blame at Lil B’s doorstep. I don’t think, for example, that he’s ever bragged in a song about fucking people’s moms, and I doubt it would have spontaneously occurred to him to do so. But that’s the thing about being a Twitter-addicted, viral-meme-generating rapper: you can’t control what happens to your work once your fans get their hands on it. Sometimes you unintentionally invent a hot dance craze; other times, you just give a bunch of teenage d-bags something to laugh about.
I wonder sometimes: what does it feel like to be a woman at a Lil B show when everyone starts calling themselves bitches and offering to share hoes with each other? Just how inviting does this pretty boys’ club seem when you’re on the outside looking in? Take a look at this video, which opens and closes with Lil B laying out “the rules and regulations of cooking”: anyone can cook, but apparently you’re always supposed to say “Let that boy cook”, regardless of who’s doing the cooking, because that’s just how it works. And I honestly don’t know how to feel about that.
I wonder, too, about that faceless woman up there: Is she a fan? Or just a fan’s “bitch”?
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Any attempt at a serious Lil B discussion is eventually bound to stumble on the question of language. Slang is a delicate affair at the best of times, frequently requiring us to smile and play along until we have enough context clues to know what “crunk” or “hyphy” or “shazam” or “superman that ho” means, or else risk being unmasked as the lamestains we truly are. But while most of the world has managed to work out what “swag” means by now, B’s bewildering array of neologisms continues to leave heads scratching.
I’ll be honest: I can’t really define them for you either. That’s not how language works. If the question you’re gonna ask me is, What does Lil B mean when he talks about (being) “based”?, the answer you’re gonna get is, Go listen to his music and figure it out. There’s no shortcut, no way to get just the ‘meaning’ of the word without having to observe the usage too. That being said, I might be able to offer a few pointers. “Rare”, for example, puzzled me for a long time — hearing him talk about “rare golden collectibles”, my mind instinctively went to Pokemon. Eventually, I remembered that “rare” can mean “undercooked”, too; that Lil B calls himself “the rawest rapper alive”; that he’s famous for his cooking swag… suddenly, a connection that hadn’t been there before clicked into place. That’s how language works.
“Based” is even trickier to pin down. On one level, it’s something like an unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness approach to rapping. When B says “I married Paris Hilton / We’re at the Hilton / Limousine driver, nickname Hilton”? Yeah, that’s pretty based. But there’s more to it than that.
’33Pippen’, over in the comments section of the aforementioned TSS post, takes it as a sort of heads-up, buyer-beware! indicator:
Dude , he has this scheme known as “based freestyles” that are meant to speak the foolishness that one might not dare speak on mic.
Before I understood that, I thought he was ass.. Then I noticed how specific he would be on top of his videos.. “BASED FRESSSTYLEE” as if he was trying to stress it was just random recordings.
Which is plausible enough, if you’ve watched/listened to any of B’s based freestyles. Here, for example, is that infamous “I’m a Fag, I’m a Lesbian” video:
Now, if that’s not the rawest rapper alive, I’d like to know who is.
I mean, just watch B here. Really watch him. Look into his eyes. Put yourself in his shoes. Follow his thought process. Imagine trying to rap over this beat. It starts off kinda low-key and ambient, he does his slam-poetry thing for a second… and then those ridiculous jacked-up double-time drums come in, someone in the background laughs, and you can see him think, Shit, what am I gonna do with this? So he tries a bunch of different styles, approaching the beat from every angle; he finds a groove, loses it again; he says dumb things, then shakes his head and rolls his eyes at the dumb things he just said. At the end of the day, he never quite hits on a flow that works for this track; but there’s something exhilarating about watching, waiting, to see if he will.
Rawest rapper alive.
Let that boy cook.
“… That’s right, I’m makin’ up different sandwiches…”
Thing is, you can’t freestyle your way through life. Sometimes, even if you’re the Based God — especially if you’re the Based God — you have to set something down in stone. Sometimes, you have to stop, take stock of your surroundings, and get to work building something. You have to give people something they can hold onto; you have to find a place to stand.
To date, the most successful thing that Lil B has ‘built’ is probably the cooking dance, which almost singlehandedly spawned the insane fan culture that follows him to this day. I can see why it caught on: the dance is fun as hell, with lots of room for creativity and personal flair. (I like to pause dramatically in the middle of the dancefloor while I tie my invisible apron — can’t be getting sauce on my tiny pants y’all!) And the craziest thing of all is that, as B notes, he never really tried to make any of that happen:
I never, never, never thought cooking would catch on. It was just a fun joke to me. Just a fun thing for me to do online and make jokes with the people that respected and supported me. […] So, we all making jokes all day and shit on the computer and I did that and now it’s somethin we getting a million views from. That’s what’s so crazy to me. It hit me hard. Just seeing it catch on and people continuously doing the cooking dance and not stopping and views gaining more and then more and more people asking me, ‘Where’s the more cooking music?’ Then going out to New York and flickin my wrist and the place just shut down. Man, I be feeling like Michael [Jackson]. I really be feelin’ like Michael, dude. I appreciate it. It’s fun. It’s definitely a unique thing to have and it’s just an honor. We’re having so much fun, man. Niggas over here having so much fun, man. Genuine fun and I just don’t wanna stop.
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Like “I Killed Hip-Hop”, “I Am the Hood” is a song built around a very simple metaphor, stretched almost to the point of ridiculousness. Lil B doesn’t just come from the hood, or speak for its inhabitants; he literally is the hood: the buildings, walls, streets, signs, fences, sidewalks, alleys, the cracks in the pavement where crackheads stand adjacent.
This does some interesting things to traditional notions about street cred, or realness, or whatever you want to call it. Because if Lil B is the hood, and you’re from the hood, and you shit on him… doesn’t that mean you’re shitting in your own backyard?
Not that that stops anyone: one of the main themes of the song is people’s utter disrespect for their hood, the gallons of blood and piss and booze that get spilled on B’s face, the cracks that open up and never get mended. See, the thing about the hood is, it can’t help itself. So by casting himself as the hood, Lil B does more than just assert his credibility; he also flips the script on his critics. I’m not just a product of my environment, he seems to say, I’m a part of that environment. When you attack me, you poison the air; you make things harder for everyone; you make this world a worse place to live. I didn’t choose to be born into a time when tiny pants were cool, it just happened that way… but you can choose whether or not you’re gonna me call a pussy-ass faggot bitch for wearing them. Or, to use his words: “It’s not the world’s fault / It’s the people inside it.”
Which is maybe another reason why “let that boy cook” blew up so big: because you know cooking, like clothing, is a fraught issue. There are people out there who don’t want to let that boy cook, who would rather tear him down, because someone told them a long time ago that cooking is something bitches do, and they never really got over it. And in the face of that attitude, “let that boy cook” can basically translate to, I don’t give a fuck what you think of me or my friends; we’re gonna do what we want and have fun doing it.
I don’t wanna speculate too much on the biographical details of B’s life, but remember that he hit at 17 with a song about how rocking Vans (“A punk-rock shoe with the logo in the back”) could be just as cool as rocking more expensive shoes, if not more so. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if some of his friends at the time disagreed. It’s natural enough: everyone has haters, even this measly old blog (U KNOW WHO U R). And so now he spends a lot of his time trying to show that, Vans and pants and words and dances aside, he can still be hood, still be a goon, still be hard. Again, in his own words:
You know motherfuckers be like, ‘We don’t fuck with that pretty bitch shit.’ Alright, well I’m gonna keep going and you’re gonna have to respect it because I’m still real and I been real so I can make jokes. I can make fun of myself and fuck whoever hatin’ on that shit. I’m not gonna stop ranting until I’m gone.
Which is maybe as close as we’re gonna get to a definition of “based”.
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If you’ve been following the Based God for a while now — especially if you enjoy mining youtube comment sections for funny/stupid/insightful quotes — you may have noticed something changing lately: people are giving him a second chance. Until recently, comments were invariably split between the pro-based camp (these posts were easy to recognize because they usually contained the word “SWAG!” at least a dozen times) and the haters. But lately, his videos are exploding with comments like these:
“wow i never expected decent music from lil B this song is actually good but every single other lil b song is total shit”
“this nigga be playin he need to drop real shit like this more”
“wow i cant beleive he did good on this he went hard”
“lil b says some gay shit and he cant really rap but this nigga killed this! creative”
And another variant, which I find even more interesting:
“notice how this video has 95k views but suck my dick hoe has 820 thousand.”
“This gets 100k and Suck My Dick Hoe gets 900k…Exposin hip-hop bruh.”
((all taken from the “I Am the Hood” video, but you can find plenty of comments along the same lines on any of his ‘serious’ songs — “Age of Information”, “Cold War”, “The Worlds Ending”, to name a few))
We’ve got at least three distinct perspectives here, which break down into a surprisingly neat dialectical progression (no Hegel!).
In the first moment, one encounters B at his most ‘immediate’, rapping over booming drums and epic trance synths about the hundreds of thousands of bitches he has on his dick, and comes to the conclusion that this guy is an abomination, a symptom, a direct manifestation of everything that’s gone wrong with the world and music and the kids these days.
The second moment is a reconsideration of the first in light of further evidence: Okay, some of his songs are actually good… so why doesn’t he make more like this? And why put that other shit out at all? Where’s the quality control? What’s this dude’s deal? (Guided By Voices fans are nodding their heads right about now.)
The third and final moment attempts a synthesis of the first two contradictory perspectives: Lil B isn’t an idiot, but most of the people listening to him are; he’s clowning us, knowing that the cream sinks to the bottom while America gorges itself on shit and cotton candy…
Of course, none of these interpretations is entirely correct, and none of them is complete on its own. The third one has the advantage of at least showing the man a little respect, acknowledging that he might have something going on, in his mind and in his life, that goes deeper than the words he’s spitting on any given track. But in many ways, it remains a displaced version of the first moment: I’m still the guy who knows what’s really up; but now Lil B gets to be on my team, instead of Team Idiot, which is full of no-taste-having suckers for me and B to laugh at together. What this view still can’t account for, though, is the very real possibility that B might actually enjoy making the ignorant club bangers; or, even weirder, that they could be somehow necessary for the existence of the serious songs.
To draw once again on the always-relevant Fred Jameson: perhaps we’re facing an impasse, a sort of impossibility within the current representational field of pop culture. Maybe being a full-time “good rapper” in 2k11 is simply out of the question, like summing up the state of modern-day America in a Balzac- or Dickens-style realist novel. Maybe Lil B will never develop that quality control filter; maybe he’ll just keep doing his thing, tossing off trash and treasures with equal effortlessness, and we’ll always need people to follow in his wake and pick up the pieces — whether they be internet tastemakers, or Soulja Boy, who heard B drop the line “thirty thousand, hundred million” in a freestyle and liked it so much he decided to craft a whole song around it.
And if that means the world has to become a little more based to deal with all this craziness, then maybe it won’t be such a bad thing.
*: No citation on this, sorry; I pretty much pulled the numbers out of my ass, but I took the story from Robert Bernasconi’s outstanding essay “Hegel at the Court of the Ashanti”, which I unfortunately don’t have on hand right now.