The Rise of Based God
“What I rap for? Everything. I want bling bling and world peace”
What is astounding about Lil B, the 25 year old rapper from Berkeley, California, is not just the incredible level of popularity he has been able to ascend to, but also the meteoric rate at which he became one of the most recognizable and polarizing figures of hip hop in the 21st century. It was only in 2010 that Lil B left the buzzing Bay Area hip hop group The Pack to embark on a solo career that would not only grab millions of listeners by the ear, but also elevate the eccentric artist to something of a cultural icon whose influence would have a veritable effect on people from all walks of life. Amazingly, the supposedly still unsigned artist has been able to shape and create culture almost completely on his own – “He has none of the trappings of mainstream success – no Video Music Awards, no Fallon appearances, no record deal” (New Yorker). With only mass following of Internet supporters behind him, Lil B (also known as the Based God) has become a cultural phenomenon with the ability to create other cultural trends. In this essay, I will first elaborate further on the cultural influence of Lil B, highlighting the sometimes-bizarre trends and movements the young rapper has made popular. Next, I will examine Lil B under the lens of Anderson’s theory about cultural stagnation, arguing that the Bay Area rapper is providing fresh innovation and insight in a stagnating genre. Finally, I will address how the production of culture perspective might help explain the sudden rise of the Based God persona over the past four years.
From the moment he launched his solo career in 2010, it was clear that Lil B showed little concern for what was considered “acceptable” or “mainstream” in the modern hip hop landscape. Rather than conform to the scene of the genre, Lil B chose to stay “based”. As he explains, “Being based means being positive, doing what you want to do, not caring and just being yourself” (NPR). This care-free attitude gave Lil B the creative freedom to say anything, do anything, and be anything; hence the wildly eccentric and unconventional Based God was born. Musically, Lil B’s output has been nothing less than extraordinary (and absurd). Feats range from releasing an 855 song-mixtape in 2012 to releasing a seventeen-track classical music album titled Choices and Flowers in the same year. Altogether, estimates online point to the rapper releasing at least 46 mixtapes and over 3,000 songs since he entered the rap game back in 2010. But Lil B’s influence is just as strong outside of the music world. The “Thank You Based God Meme” took the Internet by storm in 2010 – it “sparked a running Tumblr and message board meme in which photos of everyone from Barack Obama to Anna Karina crying tears of joy are photo-shopped with the phrase on top” (NPR). Around the same time, he used his Twitter account (now with almost a million followers) to create the web phenomenon #GirlTime, which consists of female followers submitting photos of themselves during an allotted hour and other users posting positive comments in order to give women confidence in their appearances. After releasing an instructional Youtube video for the “cooking dance” he popularized in his music videos, the move become popular with everyone from high school students around the nation to NFL players celebrating touchdowns in the endzone. One of the telling indicators of Lil B’s rising fame and influence came in 2012 when he was invited to give a lecture at New York University in front of the student body. “It’s gonna be a real progressive talk and when everybody leaves, their lives will be changed”, he claimed. During the actual lecture, Lil B “gave shout-outs to Mitt Romney, ant colonies, architects, and his future children, and encouraged everyone to wear seatbelts” (New Yorker), and when the videos of the seminar went viral they racked up