Can’t Please Everyone
You can tell that California rapper Lil B really wants his career and his new album, I’m Gay, to embrace topics and fans, both street and otherwise. The album’s title was a straight man’s outreach to LGBTQ listeners, and the resulting death threats cast harsh and cleansing light on rap fans’ insular attitude toward its sounds and performers. In spite of his backtracking to focus on “gay” merely as a synonym for “happy,” Lil B could stand alongside Kanye West as a leading mad rap scientist, toying with and tweaking acceptable themes, style, and associations… eventually.
In addition to his small pile of mixtapes, the man also known as The Based God famously has dozens of social media pages containing thousands of song experiments. He boasts “I’m working for the future / ‘Cause I live in the computer” on “Open Thunder Eternal Slumber,” yet living that way so far seems like an awfully messy way to develop a rep, let alone an album. Whether built up from these early pieces or written anew, I’m Gay is just this side of directionless—but maybe that was the point.
The album’s midtempo almost to a fault. The tracks won’t have people crowding dance floors, yet they’re definitely solid headphone headnodders. Lil B bravely pulls the loops for I’m Gay out of not just old soul but buzzworthy indie-rock and -tronica (Washed Out, Boards of Canada); Tri Angle Records beatmaker Clams Casino chimes in too, skillfully fitting “Cry Little Sister” from the film The Lost Boys into “Unchain Me.”
From the jump, Lil B’s lyrics suggest he’s at ease with his accepting Berkeley skater/hyphy background and acknowledging urban life’s ugly underbelly in spite of it. “I ain’t a drug dealer / I’m a life liver,” he raps on “Trapped in Prison,” his jail references feeling more metaphorical than based on specific experiences. Even the pauses in his delivery, heard prominently in “Game,” suggest electric relaxation or MF Doom’s dramatic pacing instead of space filler from any trapper-come-lately.
Lil B occasionally dips into unmitigated, over-earnest hokeyness. “Gon Be Okay,” for example, is loaded with flat half-singing, piano and orchestral loops, and a Barack Obama clip. But really, how far are any of those elements away from stuff you loved by Biggie, or Wu Tang, or Public Enemy? I’m Gay may not always work—The Based God feels too lackadaisical to transform this into 21st-century “conscious rap,” at least right now—but it’s refreshing to hear attempts at introspection and inclusion made by someone without a major label or years of front-page coverage behind them.