The New Museum
Thursday, April 12
Better than: Quietly contemplating a painting.
1. In the small downstairs theater of the New Museum, a projector’s light beams onto Lil B, building his shadow. A camera drifts with him from behind, following him in a light trails. It brings the otherwise undecorated space into a soft, bluish focus, B floating coolly through it. There’s little distance between B and the crowd, just a small disparity in the altitude of the stage. He sweeps his hands over the front row as if to pull them closer. As with his lecture at NYU, he empowers the audience, but this time in a different, more physical way. In the prolonged coda of the show, as arrhythmic keyboard washes spread thinly from the lone PA, he tells the crowd, “Just close your eyes and trust everybody in the building. We all good.”
2. He lapses between songs into “based” freestyles, which are sort of relaxed, unpressured word streams. “I keep my head down/ I’m walking hopeless/ Every day I keep my mind open/ Third eye open/ I’m dope/ I don’t believe in Illuminati/ I don’t believe in nothing/ I believe in people.”
3. He announces two different upcoming releases: A single from his cat Keke, and a new “classical” album from The BasedGod, who produced the album Rain in England in dense, untethered synths structured around the refrain of “Three Blind Mice.” Lil B will not rap over The BasedGod’s album. He speaks briefly about California Boy, his upcoming rock album, in a monologue otherwise about Axl Rose. “Why didn’t he want to be included in the Hall of Fame?” B asks. “I rock with Axl, man. I’m an old-school Guns N’ Roses fan.”
4. His cooking songs are perhaps composed to be heard live. They electrify the room—hard, relentless synths, unplanned, Dopplering high-hats that seem, as they overpower the speakers, to contain literal electricity. The crowd congeals, an impenetrable weave of bodies up front.
5. Someone in the crowd asks him about Trayvon Martin. There are instants throughout the show where an audience member will say something incendiary, and Lil B will acknowledge them and then cooly say, “Yeah, bruh,” moving on. Someone else yells, “Free Boosie!” B does not move on. “Just because I’m black, a motherfucker don’t got to be like ‘What do you think about Trayvon Martin?'” His cadence is suddenly, inflexibly clipped. “I don’t know, bruh. Everybody come to me, ask me. I’m a fan of Boosie but I don’t know what’s going on with him. I can’t say ‘free somebody’ if I don’t know. I don’t talk about anything I don’t know. I don’t give y’all information that I don’t know about. I’ve never been a gossip and that’s personal.”
He performs “The Age of Information,” a song about the strange, dark pull of technology and the internet. The second half of the beat is a gentle, loping keyboard riff, and B lingers over it for minutes. “Thank you all for spending your precious time from me,” he says, calmly. He sounds newly unfastened, airy now. “I don’t want you to take any inconsiderateness or from me. Only take the best parts of me, the best parts of my personality while I’m here on this earth. Don’t emphasize on the negative. That’s what I’m trying to learn to do, is not be so pissed off. This is the age of information. This is how we got here.”
6. It is ostensibly the end of the show, but Lil B is still rapping and signing sneakers 30 minutes beyond. He discusses a line of “Breathe Slow” with a fan on the stage—”I’mma eat the pussy and I have no remorse.” B laughs at the pure fact of himself, for coming up with this lyric. “And for the ladies,” he says, “I’m glad that y’all have a light sense of humor, that we can talk about sex and I can make jokes about sexuality and you ladies can know we’re having fun and it’s regular. The guys too. We’re not over here like hounds, like, ‘Ahh! Sex! Ahh!’ We’re relaxed about it. You know, it’s fun. We’re talking about it, we rap about it, and everybody leaves for home safely.”
He can’t account for his whole fanbase. “I’ve been seeing the dudes on twitter—I’m RTing girls, what they say to me, and fifty dudes will get up and be like”—here, he roars. “Man, the girls can’t even joke around. A girl can’t even make a sexual joke.”
7. He intends to perform “Open Thunder Eternal Slumber” but then requests that the music be stripped away, so he can glide through the song freely. He pauses after the first verse, shaking his head, seemingly lost. He raps again, and stops: “As the night sparks bright… Man, this is crazy, man.” Traces of “Open Thunder” slip into another song, “Beat the Odds.” Then he quits again. The crowd hushes itself. “Quiet, he’s thinking!” His silences have a tense and brooding aspect, the sudden human strangeness one encounters as they become a focal point. “I’m gonna tell y’all like this,” he says, head listing from left to right. “This be so real, man.” It’s not weakness or even the dwindling energies of crowd and performer but an overwhelming mindlessness, a totally stretched fabric of brain.
8. At one point he tells the crowd, “This is the last time you’ll see me in this rare form. Because, I tell you all, I’m about to transform.” He twists his hands and body in a strict, almost petrified way. There is visible muscle separation.
9. He invites the crowd onstage. He tells them not to party too hard. “Keep it civilized,” he says. Security polices it to a certain number, but doesn’t impose beyond that. It is a cloud of people. “Wonton Soup” starts playing, and the cloud leaps. The cloud begins to rap, and they, audience and Lil B together, misplace the tempo of the song, slip into a rhythmic singularity, beyond songness. B eventually has the track rewound, loudly, and he reenters it ably, but for a lost minute the division between him and his fans, between people, had tangled and blurred fantastically.
10. After the show, I met up with a friend, who asked me, “Is Lil B for real?” I told him I didn’t know. I didn’t think it mattered. We interact with musicians and artists along a gradient of personas and performances, some conscious, some not—Nicki Minaj’s endless chain of characters, for instance, which are also quadrants of her. Lil B is a character, a performance, and so is his title, “The BasedGod.” But what he offers is relatively simple, a sweetly limited continuum: himself, and his love for you. Which definitely supports the weird, new-agey religious aspects of his music and his fans, but I don’t think it’s tonally different from the status listeners usually proffer upon musicians. Lil B simplifies it, makes it transparent. He lifts people up to him.
Overheard: “Here’s what I’m wondering: What usually goes on in this room?”