Editor’s Note: Tomorrow night, Lil B is speaking at NYU; yesterday afternoon, he released a mixtape that he said was required listening for the students attending his lecture. We had Brad Nelson, the Lil B scholar who will cover tomorrow’s lecture and Lil B’s Thursday night performance at the New Museum, chronicle his first reactions to the tape.
At the start of The Basedprint II, the new mixtape by Lil B, he advises us that there’s “no need for volume one.” On the cover he is hastily photoshopped over Jay-Z, edges widely lassoed, triangles of background newly part of the face. He employed a similar deconstruction of classic hip-hop album art on White Flame, with his smiling absorption of Soulja Slim’s Give it 2 ‘Em Raw. On the cover of Silent President he launched a rendered, golden profile of himself into the ornate and regal teeth of Watch the Throne.
Lil B usually deals in interpolation, from hip-hop and other forms, but the signal-to-noise ratio is always slightly off, misshapen. I’m Gay, his 2011 album, is a tonally straightforward backpack rap album—soul samples, choking strings, rapping as slow darts of consciousness—that, for a song called “I Hate Myself,” lands on a gravitationally slowed sample of “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls.
The Basedprint II is probably Lil B’s most accessible mixtape since I’m Gay. His previous tape, #1 Bitch, was half-stocked with cooking music, a kind of vigorously unmastered swag rap over which Lil B flows motionlessly about how he is pretty. Basedprint II is all amorphous cloud rap and repitched r’n’b backings, but there’s something in Lil B’s interaction with the beats that differentiates this and the rest of his 2012 output from I’m Gay, where he sounded largely bored.
“NYU” is ostensibly curriculum for his talk on Wednesday, on the progression of humans: “My interpretation of what the game facin’/ I’m basing my facts on ancient civilizations/ a proclamation puts the world in its foundation/ my education startin’ a new unification.” He carries this “-ation” rhyme scheme a minute beyond its half-life, where it crashes into some other thought. A guitar figure slides by in a weathery loop. On “Smooth,” he raps over a restrictive, clattering beat without any clear attachment to it. He is talking to his weed. He says, his tempo fluctuating, “Write a poem man, and you know I’m a poet/ Write a song about you ’cause you know that I wrote it/ Weed, man, I love you, love you, love you.” In this disconnect, there is an incredible interaction, as if there is some unearthly rhythm to which Lil B adheres. New rhythms issue out of the scattered beat, arrhythmia landing atop arrhythmia.
On “Gabana Flow” his flow completely deteriorates, though regenerating once to convey how slushies mingle with gore: “I’m one of the realest that will go off and spill for the thrill/ Head rush better than 7-Eleven slushies cold/ See your brain mushy and froze.” He seems to rap out of syncopation, out of sense, over a confused edge of hip-hop. His music is pulled with him: A choir decorates the end of “RIP to the Competition,” and is summarily vacuumed upward.
It seems an excuse to suggest that the appeal of an artist’s music is in the elements it fails to contain. But it’s this absence of solidity, of gravity, of anything to grasp without it slipping and vaporizing that makes Lil B’s strange performance of hip-hop compelling. There are intimations of meaning without the actual burden of meaning. No need for volume one, only the suggestion of it, the curious absence.
Lil B speaks at NYU’s Kimmel Center on Wednesday and performs at the New Museum on Thursday.