April 21, 2011
Trying to parse the insanity of that Charlie Sheen one-man show.
For an extremely casual listener, I read and write about Lil B an awful lot. He's always up to something new, and it just seems imprudent not to; it's been less than a year and I already can't remember the first time I heard him or about him. ("Didn't nobody give a fuck about me a year ago," he said last night during a goopy talk-freestyle, one of innumerable outsized boasts that were totally true. Another one was "everybody in the rap game on my motherfucking dick.") So I was initially surprised to see so few people crowding into the Mezzanine, clamoring to get to the bar, eager to show off their spatulas and cook-dance moves. Reality check 1: maybe, if I had less professional motivation to care about Lil B, I wouldn't care about Lil B very much.
Reality check 2: Lil B has great taste in beats -- see "Base For Your Face," see "The Trap," see "Motivation" -- so how come I can't tell most of his songs apart? The famous numbers in his repertoire ("Wonton Soup" and "Vans" and "I Cook" and "Cold War" and what I think was "Charlie Sheen" but could in retrospect have been literally dozens of structurally identical songs) account for a negligible fraction of his output, and all come with extra-musical identifying marks: a dance, a raucous singalong chorus, a Clams Casino beat that's better as an instrumental anyway. Last night B seemed to have let's say 30 tracks queued up that he laid into in sequence, skipping ahead when he got bored (typically about a minute and a half in). Some were his own, some weren't; some he bothered to scrub the vocal track off, others not. Sometimes he rapped, sometimes he freestyled, sometimes he just talked in the manner of the terrible Rain In England, sometimes he just listened and hopped around the stage. He did what he felt like doing. He catered to his own attention span.
And, lest it go unsaid, his swagger was tight. He shouted out all the Bay Area towns he could think of ("Muffucking... Pittsburg") and gleefully told us he had had the best performance at Coachella. He kept a dozen or so people on stage with him, including one guy who filmed the whole show impassively on an iPhone. (An iPhone 3, not 4, for that one person who really wanted to know.) He told us, his hometown, in all candor, that he wasn't even trying with the rap game, and laughed at the idea that anyone could still think him "weak." Someone doused him with at least half the contents of a water bottle; he just giggled for a few bars and then saluted. Lil B exudes pure effortlessness, and when you finally see him live you understand how impressive and unnervingly magnetic that is, what a magnificently self-assured rapper he is for someone who's not even very good at rapping. "Got the rap game on my dick," he freestyled at one point, accurately once again. "I don't give a fuck."
In a way, Lil B is the cheapest self-actualization guru on the market today. He's all positivity, when he's not fucking your bitch. "That's history," he said of the fact that this was his first Bay Area show since his rise to Kanye-caliber ubiquity, and it was true because he said so. "I believe in myself. Fuck the doubters, do what you want." Maybe two thirds through the set, he told us to stop and close our eyes and breathe in and breathe out. (It was really refreshing, actually.) He didn't used to have such a sunny outlook, he said, but then he "started responding to the free things in life, like going to the ocean." He's 21 years old. "This ain't no gimmick," he said over Kanye's "Devil in a New Dress
" beat. Later: "This is hard-ass work."