Lil B is the noisiest, oddest, most intriguing Bay Area rapper working. A dust cloud of controversy follows him everywhere, and a combination of famous endorsements, stunning D.I.Y. songs and videos, and guerrilla marketing seems likely to send him over the top any minute now. That a YouTube video surfaced earlier this summer showing him getting randomly punched in the mouth has somehow only raised his profile.
You might know the not-quite-21-year-old Berkeley MC from his group, the Pack, which had a minor hit with its 2006 song, "Vans," and will release its second album, Wolfpack Party, on Aug. 24. (He was also recently profiled in The New York Times.) But forget all that. Lil B, born Brandon McCartney, is still with the Pack, but he has mostly abandoned its glossy hyphy influences to immerse himself in a subgenre he and his crew call "based," which combines a stream-of-consciousness rhyming style with tranced-out melodies and filthy Southern beats. He has said his goal is to reappropriate the word, originally used to insult low-lifes and drug addicts ("baseheads") — people with whom he identified as a picked-on kid.
Lil B's contradictions make him interesting: He's crass and misogynistic in one breath, gay-friendly in the next. His singing is atonal and his flow isn't especially crisp, but he burrows inside an infectious rhythm like nobody else.
Lil B wears tattoos on his neck, chest, and arms, and grills in his mouth. He doesn't have corporate backing or an essential studio album, but he has released more songs on the Internet than you could listen to in a work day. His rap pretensions were inspired in part by New Orleans clique the Hot Boys, but he does things they would never do, such as directing his own low-budget videos, creating more than 100 MySpace pages to showcase different tracks, and calling himself a "pretty bitch." "Probably think I'm gay 'cause I'm grindin' in my tiny pants," he raps on "I'm God." "Bet I'm the only goon nigga in these tiny pants."
He speaks constantly of "bitches" and the myriad, bizarre ways he'd like to fuck them, but rejects the knee-jerk homophobia that consumes hip-hop. "I respect the hell out of gays and the gay community," he told the men's magazine Complex in June. "I can say I'm the gayest bitch on Earth. And I'm so not gay, it's obvious. ... So I can say I'm the bitch queen that fucks cows. I'm not." This statement earned him confused coverage in the blogosphere, as did his recent encounter with aspiring Berkeley rapper Nico, who can be seen on YouTube cold-cocking him in the face. Nico was upset because he had asked B for — and not received — the phone number for Soulja Boy, the Atlanta phenom who has brought B into his camp. The pair recently released a mixtape together, and B claims a "million-dollar" deal with Soulja Boy's label, Stack on Deck Money Gang, is in the works. (His publicist said the paperwork was expected to be finalized soon.)
The pair seems to be a good match, on the surface at least. They're approximately the same age, neither are dextrous lyricists, and both specialize in corralling their fans via viral video dance crazes. (B's is called the "Cooking" dance, in which one pretends to chop vegetables and beat eggs.) But while Soulja Boy is content to rhyme about his cars and swag all day long, Lil B aims higher, speaking of his dreams and fears. "You ain't in the game until you make 1,000 songs," he imparts on "(B.O.R.) Birth of Rap." "And you dying for this rap, cause it's the only thing you love."
Not everything Lil B makes is good. Much of it, like the majority of Pretty Boy Millionaires, his tape with Soulja Boy, is garbage, seemingly conceived and executed in the amount of time it took to record. But when he hits his mark — as he often does — B projects sincerity, honesty, and vulnerability. It doesn't matter how many Internet hits or superstar collaborations Lil B obtains; if he continues making heartfelt music that is also ludicrously catchy, he will be here to stay.