I love the idea of Lil B -- a member of Berkeley one-hit wonders the Pack who wasn't gonna go out like that, and has since thrown anything and everything at the wall via Twitter and Mediafire to keep attention, fans and fame -- yet I've scarcely heard a note of his music. Loved his stint on Soulja Boy's "30 Thousand 100 Million" last year, and "Wonton Soup" (the Lil B "hit" everyone can agree on) is an okay-enough novelty. But it's not like I've been bumping this year's 676-track "mixtape" since reviewing a chunk of it. Nevertheless, his willingness to do anything has pushed him into a kind of interesting corner, especially the decision to title an album I'm Gay. Even GLAAD put down what they were doing to watch this. I think we're all hoping he matures into the figure he's carving out for himself: The positive (but still ribald) yin to similarly 'net-crowned Tyler, the Creator's yang, and not merely, as Spin's Brandon Soderberg recently suggested, a "human meme." Me, I'm just looking forward to a listenable Lil B album. So let's see in real time if this is it.
[Ed. note: Lil B released I'm Gay on iTunes last week; he also posted a link to a free download of the album on his website.]
Trapped in Prison
Relaxing, spidery guitar backing reminiscent of that sample from Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive" and Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady." Good start. Namechecks slavery and Martin Luther King Jr: okay. "My advice: Get out of the game" is a little surprising, but then blam: "Third World countries ain't even got sidewalks." I'm still a B novice, but that's his most sincere and humble observation yet. This gives me a vibe like Lil Wayne's Katrina after-report "Tie My Hands." Maybe this self-help thing isn't an act.
Open Thunder Eternal Slumber
"I live in the computer," the human meme observes. The sample in this one is gorgeous, reminiscent of Slowdive. His muddled, halted delivery isn't fully-formed yet, so freestyle or not, I'd really like to know the end of the sentence, "The rich get killed 'cause the money they got ..." but I'm impressed nevertheless. "The 9-to-5 can't even pay the bills" is pretty understanding for a guy who lives in the computer.
A cool recent-Ghostface-style soul sample introduces "Game," and he rhymes "apartheid" with "sharks lie." But it doesn't sustain; he's really getting the hang of this album thing, but his rhyming still has huge, unavoidable holes. "I've gotta be a role model" seems more his primary concern, and it's not like I disagree. I mean, what does rap need, more rappers or more role models?
This stuff is evoking airy indie -- this time a chopped-up M83. It's a little paranoid, about death threats, haters, the usual, but I figured out who he reminds of on I'm Gay: a Rhymefest who never met Kanye.
Neva Stop Me
Hey, some RZA strings! This is the best one since "Open Thunder," but he's all over the place. I didn't get the NASCAR metaphor, and there's too much spoken word. Theme: mortality and togetherness in an "action-packed" life, and "Bitch, I do what I want and the tracks is ill." Sort of.
Gon Be Okay
I like the offhand back-pats of these titles, but he's just so incoherent. The New Age thing is getting annoying. "We gonna win somehow, some way" makes a catchy hook to go with the post-Late Registration orchestra. "It's so live when you quote my lyrics" is a cute expression of gratitude, but at this point I feel he's too bashful to address the album title he was bold enough to type next to his name. Lady Gaga he is not.
Finally, proof that "Trapped in Prison" wasn't a fluke lyrically. What has this guy turned into where I'm most eagerly awaiting his Talib Kweli-ish stuff? Well, there aren't many alternatives on I'm Gay; it's not like he's compared anyone's genitals to Chinese food yet. I welcome "Gave us religion so we couldn't move past it" and "People dying every day just to buy a T-shirt" with open arms, knowing full well he'll be on a tangent a minute later. "The flag waves back," huh?