The 21-year-old rapper, producer, video star, Twitter fiend, and meme generator known as Lil B is good for about one Internet sensation per month—see (or look up) the cooking dance, the #swag and #based hysteria on Twitter, the Ellen Degeneres song, or, most recently, his mid-Coachella declaration that his next album will be called I’m Gay. (He’s not.)
This behavior, combined with the thousands of songs and hundreds of YouTube videos B has released over the past three years, has attracted plenty of attention. In the past year alone, Lil B (a.k.a. Brandon McCartney) has graced the covers of Vice, The Fader, and XXL, and grabbed features in magazines including Complex and The Source.
It has also netted him plenty of detractors: people who question his sexual orientation, hate on his flow, and call him a joke or a cultural plague. Hip-hop outlets struggle to figure out where he fits into their narrative, and other critics agonize over whether to take him seriously.
But for every Lil B hater, there’s at least one incredibly passionate fan. Along with champions like Cormega, Too $hort, and Cocaine Blunts founder Andrew Nosnitsky, B’s more than 186,000 Twitter followers seem more interested in his ongoing campaign to blow up the strictures of hip-hop image. With B poised to make an appearance at Philadelphia on May 2 at the TLA, The A.V. Club spoke with an ebullient B about his supporters, his detractors, possibly collaborating with Antony of Antony And The Johnsons, and motherfuckers flying in space.
The A.V. Club: Every band has its fans, but you have an army of people who fucking love you. Extreme emotional reactions—both of love and hate—often correlate with an artist rejecting or defying some sort of cultural thing. Do you see yourself as rejecting anything?
Lil B: It’s just me wanting to put out a love I feel is missing, and a spirit to a world that the world needs from me. I feel like everybody on Earth right now needs some good spirits and a positive core now. And that’s what I want to make a big deal. Anybody can disagree with me. A lot of life’s stuff is really personal, and I feel like whenever somebody disagrees with me, there’s a lot of factors that go into that argument, like age and stuff like that. But I do feel like I have a positive core, and that’s the main thing in this story—I have a positive core, and what I’m doing for music and Earth and the people is more living and less critical thinking. Less critical thinking about yourself, and more living: That’s what it’s really about.
AVC: And less classification, as you’ve said in some of your lyrics.
LB: Right. Less words! Less trying to put words on something. Why do we have to put words on something? Why can’t it just be what it is? Just because the words have been there for the last hundred years or whatever—words mean what they mean to whoever. Like, you define your life, and you define what words mean. I mean, I feel like you were trying to correct me, but the words mean what they mean to me. Don’t worry about the words. And that’s what it means, with critical thinking.
AVC: Do the very critical opinions that some people have about you bother you?
LB: I don’t care about it no more. I’ve been dealing with so much backlash and personal opinion that it’s just, like, “Man, I’m going, man. I’m going!” I used to think a lot, and I don’t want people to go through that shit. I just want people to be more comfortable; if people want to argue, I’m really not gonna trip. I’m in a position to be positive, and I want to spread that.
AVC: You grew up in and around Berkeley, California, which is a very open place, but a lack of things to rebel against can sometimes make it harder to carve out an identity in some ways.
LB: It was great, man! Being a young kid—it was a great place to grow up. No worries, really; just all living, all open. I was just accepted by everybody and I felt no boundaries, I saw no colors, man—just life, just love! Everybody should experience that.
AVC: So a little bird says you’re working with Antony Hegarty.
LB: That’s his full name? I didn’t know his full name. I didn’t know, but I love Antony And The Johnsons, yes sir.
AVC: Are you going to work with him?
LB: You know, they reached out, so we’re talking. And, you know, we’ve gotta lock something down, man—we gotta lock something down. But it’s coming: The dream has been answered, so now it’s a matter of locking that time down. But for Antony, I’ll make that trip. Like, ‘Where we gotta go?’ You know what I mean?
AVC: How’d you first find him?
LB: iTunes, man—just looking through iTunes and opening up my horizons and seeing what’s up. Browsing, going on YouTube and stuff, checking it out. I went to his iTunes, and he just has some touching words. At first, I’d never heard anything like it; I’d never heard anything like his voice. When I first started listening to him, it was a good month or two where that was really all I was playing, and it put me in a different state. It brought emotions out; it brought a lot of humbleness out in me. Just listening to the music, you say, “Wow.” And you just start to think.
AVC: Is that how you found Elliott Smith, too?
LB: Just browsing around, like I said, YouTube, really YouTube first. And it’s just crazy, listening to his emotions. I heard “Angeles,” and that brought chills; then to find out his story as an artist, it brought chills and tears, listening to his stuff. I understand where you go through things, and you feel that shit in such a powerful way; and those songs really brought tears to my eyes.
AVC: He is part of your video “The Worlds Ending,” which is some really powerful, really intense stuff. Who’s P89? Is that a reference to the gun, or is that some alias that I’m unfamiliar with?
LB: It’s a dude. His name is Peter Torney. That’s my cameraman—my dude Peter Torney.
AVC: You guys have worked together before, right? How’d you find him?
LB: Me and Peter Torney have been cool since high school. We’ve got a lot of videos together. Me and him, we just go with it; we’ve known each other for a long time. And we’re learning, still, and traveling. So look out more for more Peter Torney on the camera. Thank you for the kind words, though, because “The Worlds Ending” is powerful. That’s the kind of thing that people are going to look back, years later, and really be appalled by. It’s just crazy.
AVC: Do you and Peter talk out the concepts? What went into that video?
LB: That’s one that we had planned out. I talked to P, I talked to my friend, he got me a location, he got me what I needed, and props, you know what I mean? It ended up working perfect. It got some actors in it, and everybody just acted perfectly, and it came out great. But I’m gonna tell you something that nobody else knows, which is very intense: One of the people that was in the video (even though you can’t see his face) actually got shot the day after the video. Five times in the back, but survived. I didn’t know this person; I met him through one of my other friends, but I found out through the grapevine, and you just think, ‘What the hell is going on?’
AVC: That video is one of hundreds that you’ve put out over the years. Where do you think that drive to create so much comes from?
LB: It’s just… I live it. I live art, I respect people, and I’ve found what I want to do in life—I’ve found what makes me happy. And I’m still searching for existence; I’m still searching for what it means to be human. It’s just like, ‘Why are we here? Why are there bugs here? Why does everything fit?’ And I’m happy, ’cause I’ve found out why I’m here—I’m just here to make music that soundtracks people’s lives. I’m just searching, like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ It’s delicious; I just want to see what the hell’s out there. Like, in space. Motherfuckers flying in space. What the fuck is going on?
That’s why I love people, ’cause people are so smart. People have done a lot of great things, y’know what I mean? Like, there’s been a lot of shady shit, but a lot of the stuff that people have done—like, they’re so smart. They build houses, they build things. We have water, and cups, and handles, and it’s just like—‘Wow, how the fuck did we get here?’ And it could be taken away like that, too—you know what I mean?
AVC: You get help from some people, but you basically do everything yourself. When did you come to the realization that you could be self-sufficient?
LB: I’ma tell you exactly. I was, like, 18 or 19. The labels forgot about me; my management with The Pack [the hip-hop group Lil B and friends formed in high school that was signed to Jive Records in 2006 and dropped in 2008] forgot about us and left us for dead; everybody in the game just left us for dead, and I had to go. And I couldn’t be on TV and have no money, you know? Like I said, these managers that dropped us, that didn’t want to do nothing with The Pack. There were some people that didn’t forget about us; some of the supporters have stuck with me since the beginning, and that’s how you keep it together. You know, some people stay—some people don’t.
AVC: In a of couple weeks, you’re going to be playing The Bamboozle Festival with Lil Wayne and Waka Flocka Flame. A lot of artists with a chance to be around huge names like that would be planning to take some career notes. Are you?
LB: Oh, no. I’m gonna respect them, but hell no, I’m not gonna learn anything—I do me. I will respect them, and look at ’em, and be hella happy to be in their presence, but I’m not gonna take any notes on ’em. I already took enough notes. [Laughs.] I just wanna be me, I wanna be Lil B forever, you know—be the Based God.