With nothing to his name in 2006 but ‘Vans’, an innocuous sneaker ode with The Pack, the rise to prominence of Brandon McCartney has been impressive. Courtesy of his viral online presence and absurd lunges at hip-hop’s staid confines, Lil B has become rap’s strangely compelling oddball. But unlike the long line of eccentrics that have come before him, the world is listening, even if they can’t quite make sense of it. ACCLAIM pinned down the mercurial rapper to talk the industry, his music and his ‘based world’.
Words by: HARRY PEARL
Photography by WILL TAYLOR
Makeup by CASSIE CHAPMAN
Wardrobe by VICHAVIT PENMONGKONPORN
Model: LUCY CHEN @ STARS MODEL MANAGEMENT
After the initial success you had with The Pack, you were dropped by Jive Records fairly soon after in early 2008. What did you take away from that whole experience?
You know really, it was a beautiful experience. It gave me a chance to be part of a major label system. See how it works, see what goes down, and the people that love you when you’re high, and stop calling you when you’re down. You see a lot of people are in it for the money, they’re money hungry. And it’s a hard world and you gotta just keep it going.
Did it alter the way you planned to achieve your goals? Or the methods you would use to get there?
That’s the big thing: really just continuously pushing for the goals man, and really pushing and not stopping. It’s been crazy, you gotta never stop no matter what. Different plan, keep going and keep that positive energy in your heart.
More than most, you seem to typify a new generation of artists that are well aware of the potential of the internet to build a following and a career. How important has the internet and digital media platforms been to your success?
Well really with me, I have such a respectful support base that really loves me and loves my music, and the message I represent – the positive message – and [the] all round picture that I paint. It was historical what I did on the internet. I’m in a very special place. You know I set up a lot of ground work for other artists to have careers and actually change their lives. I see pretty much the whole industry took something from me in a positive way, and have been inspired by me somehow.
On your track The Age Of Information though you say, “The internet has ruined the human race…”
You don’t have to meet anybody when you’re over the computer, you know? My dream world would be everybody meeting up, seeing each other face-to-face, giving them a chance to feel, see and talk.
You maintain a phenomenal presence online. Does that reflect you personally, or is it part of a bigger plan to push your music?
I think it just keeps me and my supporters happy. My supporters really want to stay active with me and I’m just lucky to have such a support base. It’s a big step forward, you know what I mean? And it’s gonna change, people are gonna really be able to survive from this ground work that I put down.
For the most part you’ve been in control of all your music. What importance do you put on that artistic freedom?
It’s a really big deal, you gotta be free. You gotta do what you want. You gotta have that love in your heart to speak. Without that, you can’t go. You got to have artistic freedom and I’ve never been in a space, really, where I haven’t had artistic freedom – on a major label or now.
Would you ever be willing to compromise that to get ahead?
I mean, I’ve never done it. I’m such a revolutionary and historical artist, Lil B is, it’ll never be a problem. I’ll never sell out – I can’t ever sell out ‘cause I’m too me, too based. I’m so much me. I can do anything rap-wise, so it’s not a problem.
What’s the philosophy that underpins based music?
Staying positive, not worrying about what people are saying about you, doing what you feel, doing what you want, having people accept you for you and just living your life how you want to.
More specifically, what type of mindset or energy are you trying to channel when you launch into a based freestyle?
Really it’s a deeper level for me. When I listen to music it’s something different. It’s been this way for a while, my body just responds differently. You know it’s just opening my brain, opening up my vivid memory. It’s just crazy, it’s amazing.
Because you have a such a vast and eclectic range to your music, are there any themes that tie it all together?
Yeah, you really gotta check everything out, you know starting with The Pack and going to now. Everything from MySpace days. You know just listen, you’ll understand me. Everybody is jumping in now, but it’s a deep story you gotta go into. So you gotta go into the past, dig deep and it’s fun. There’s a lot of rare music. I’ve got a lifetime worth of music, everyday you can check a new song and find something new – for years. I could go to sleep and a cocoon comes out of my ass, and butterflies come around me, and I can go sleep in a cave for three years and come back with a beard and I’ll still have enough music to keep circulating and keep people happy.
But you know, is there a main theme, or a couple of themes, that lyrically tie that all together?
Just heartfelt, true, reality, spoken-word, based, legendary, amazing.
When you say “I’m a fag, I’m a lesbian” or “I’m the Pretty Boy” are you parodying the macho mentality of hip-hop?
You know, I’m just definitely having fun. I’m a jokester. I always like to make jokes and have fun and I’m just bringing my personality to the world. So I’m definitely having fun with it.
Is that just a different way for you to express the same sentiment as you do in a song like Cold War when you say, “Masculine niggas acting hard for reactions”. Are you just poking fun at those masculine stereotypes in the genre?
I’ll definitely continue to ask questions and poke around at anything that I feel. I’m gonna continue to speak.
I just want to talk about the title to your new album, I’m Gay. You copped some shit when you announced that didn’t you? Everybody from fans, to Freddie Gibbs. Do you think that response typifies some of the closed-mindedness of the hip-hop community?
Well you see gay marriage is legal now, so you see I made history because I made the I’m Gay album and now gay marriage is legal in New York City, thanks to me.
Do you think that was directly a result of you?
I definitely think I played a huge role in it. I mean I have an album called I’m Gay. I’m the first hip-hop artist to ever have an album called I’m Gay, and a couple of months later gay marriage passed in New York for the first time ever. I think there’s a big, big, big coincidence there.
Just going back, do you think the hostile response that you got from some quarters for the title reflects some of the closed-minded attitudes in the hip-hop community?
There are definitely a lot of closed-minded attitudes and there’s a lot of people in hip-hop that don’t wanna show love. It’s okay, I’m trying to do my part and bring people together.
If you look at hip-hop as a whole, is there anything you’d change? Are there any things that you find limiting?
The negativity and the violence. Just the violence is not proactive and it’s not helpful for music and the hip-hop community.
But you know, some of your lyrics could be interpreted as very misogynistic, very disrespectful towards women…
Half of my fan base is women. A huge part is women, especially young girls, and a lot of older women too. I got respect from everyone. That’s what happens when you’re misunderstood. When people want to read my music, and what I mean by music is read my books, and what I mean by read my books is listen to my music, ‘cause I actually wrote a book literally, so listening to my music is like an audio book… So people just need to give me a chance, let me do what I need to do, let me do what I want to do and we’ll be all right.
Do you think people interpret your lyrics too literally?
I think I’m judged a lot – in fact I know I am. A lot of people judge me before they even pay attention, or try to even look deeper. I’m ok with that, I have the people that want to be helped.
I just want to go back to the album for a minute. Why did you specifically choose to reinterpret Ernie Barne’s the Sugar Shack painting for the front cover?
Well, I had reasoning to do that just for the hip-hop community. I felt hip-hop, there’s a lot of violence in there and I wanted to stop it. I wanted to bring people together, I wanted to show [that] a lot of hip-hop people are followers in a negative way, they’re not accepting of people. I just tried to do my part to help humanity, that’s why I called it I’m Gay and that’s why I had the picture up there to show how people become individuals.
It reflects the emancipation from both mental and physical slavery right?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like the mind state of not being free and accepting and happy, being close-minded, people dying over senseless things – money, money is paper, money is the true devil of the true evil thing – that’s why I really did that you know? For people in hip-hop to see it’s time to be fun, this is the year of people coming together, the year of people being themselves. Not saying I’m black or I’m white or I’m anything, just saying this is my name, this is who I am. If somebody asks you, “Oh where are you from?” You know what, I’m Brandon. That’s me, that’s where I’m from, that’s who I am.
Traditionally, a lot of MCs have been particularly careful to portray a certain image of themselves. Do you care about that at all?
You know, I just do what I want to do, and I don’t have any regrets. I haven’t had any regrets yet, I don’t plan to, and I just keep going.
On a track like Look Like Jesus, you must have known when you set out to record that and film the video for it, that it was going to stir up controversy.
It wasn’t about controversy, it was just… I felt who was better than Jesus Christ? Who was better than him?
You just collaborated with Lil Wayne on his new mixtape right? How was it working with him?
Lil Wayne is a legend, man. I definitely gotta good chance to see him work, just vibe out and just go in and go crazy. Wayne’s a great dude, you know? Real cool, real fun, real humble, just legendary. The whole [of] Cash Money is just great people, so nothing but love and respect for them.
Who else, given the chance, would you like to collaborate with? I know you hit Kanye up to try get something teed up there, but is there anyone else?
Definitely gonna be working with M83, some stuff with Boards Of Canada.
Have you actually been in touch with Boards of Canada?
You know, I haven’t been in touch but some stuff should be coming together soon. Let Boards Of Canada know what’s up, come holla at me. I wanna hit up Band Of Horses and just get in it heavily, let’s go. [And I want to] do something with Arcade Fire real soon.
So it’s artists outside of hip-hop that you seem most interested in collaborating with.
Yeah. I love everybody and I love music, you know what I mean?
I just wanna talk about your beats for a minute. You use a lot of ambient textures, is that because you find it less limiting in terms of sticking to a strict beat pattern? You can express yourself better?
You know, really it just comes down to my heart you know? I feel like those are my emotions, the beats that I create with the Based God – thank you Based God – when I go to the Based World Studios, when I go actually work with him, it’s just a real personal and humbling experience. Everything comes from the heart – the lyrics to the music. So you know, it’s just some of the most emotional music ever released.
What drew you to Clams Casino’s beats?
Clams reached out to me a long time ago over MySpace and we just worked. He just had an amazing sound, he’s a legendary producer and we made history [with the] first song, I’m God, and just continued from there.
How would you like to be remembered in 50 years time?
Just [as] a positive soul that brought people together. Somebody that was fun, happy, got the party started, respectable. Somebody that was a good role-model, tried his best to do what’s right. Just humble, safe and legendary. Somebody that was amazing, somebody that did it big. That’s respected and the ladies love.
You seem to remain relentlessly positive. How do you do it? What’s your secret?
[I] just have a love in my heart, you know what I mean? Being forgiving, I forgive people. I’m just happy to be here, I’m happy to be alive. I’m happy to have people that support me, I’m so thankful and grateful, it’s weird. It feels weird. It just feels weird to be alive, so to be alive and have people love your music and just love you for being yourself, it’s even more weird and more legendary.
This interview first appeared in #24 the FANTASY issue. You can purchase it here.