We’re backstage at Finland’s Flow Festival and Lil B (real name Brandon McCartney) is nowhere to be seen. “He does this sometimes,” his manager sighs, referring to his tendency to run into the crowd after performances. Earlier, the 27-year-old rapper was performing to a crowd of thousands of festivalgoers. “I love you, Finland!” he cried, energetically bouncing from one end of the stage to the other, before beginning a rendition of “In Love With The BasedGod”.
The Berkley-born rapper has become something of an internet legend. From his early Myspace mixtapes with The Pack to his vast Twitter following of devoted BasedWorld disciples, the young artist uses his online army to spread love and compassion. His online Twitter affirmations – a mix of motivational, environmental, and political preachings – are accompanied by hundreds of hours of free music and mixtapes.
The Bay Area rapper emerged in the late 2000s, pioneering an unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness style of rap that was fiercely independent. The result was sometimes strange, sometimes incredible, sometimes terrible, and sometimes contradictory – but it was always unapologetically honest. Devotees include everyone from Frank Ocean to Tyler, the Creator to Kendrick Lamar, while his influence on the rap world, be it Yung Lean or Lil Yachty, can’t be understated.
Inconsistencies are the core of Lil B’s media presence. He is both the ‘father of internet rap’ and the ‘death of rap’, he calls himself a feminist yet can sometimes be openly misogynistic, he can make a transphobic joke on Twitter yet raises active awareness for LGBT rights. “I’m not perfect, but I’m learning,” he tells me, but what does he mean by this? In a year that’s been short of his own mixtapes but full of high profile collaborations with artists like Chance the Rapper and Clams Casino, we talked to the BasedGod to find out.
Can you explain the Based philosophy?
Lil B: You know Based really means being yourself, staying positive, and not caring what people say. Just trying to have people accept you for who you are. Based used to mean a negative thing. Around where I was from, it was from a part where people were slower, not smart or crazy, but I turned that around to make that positive.
What are Based freestyles?
Lil B: I channel in and tap into the truth in my heart – it’s just a free flow of truth. Based is getting to the purest level of consciousness and excelling and doing what I need to do.
How do you know it’s the truth?
Lil B: Because I feel it. I feel truth.
“I definitely see myself as as much a feminist as I can try to be. I know I’m not perfect, but I definitely feel the connection with women” – Lil B
You speak about the importance of loving yourself a lot. What is love?
Lil B: Love is music, love is what we’re doing now, love is a lot of things. A lot of things represent love. Being alive means love. I feel everything. I feel everything, so when you feel, you know you have emotions and everything. Music is a feeling. Music is energy, vibrations and sounds.
What part do women play in your music and Based philosophy?
Lil B: I appreciate women so much. I think the part that they play is that I just admire women. I love every part of the woman. I think the woman is what is amazing. I think humans are amazing. I’m a big fan of women – I’m just a big fan.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
Lil B: I definitely see myself as as much a feminist as I can try to be. I know I’m not perfect, but I definitely feel the connection with women. I feel them.
Can you tell us about ‘Free Love’, your recent collaboration with Vic Mensa that was released for Pride?
Lil B: My perspective is that I love the movement. I love LGBT, I love gays, I love people, so I just did that because I wanted listeners to know that it’s important. I support people and I support that, so I wanted to put my Based stamp on that. I support them.
You’ve appeared on a few American TV channels, like ESPN, wearing dresses and earrings. What are your thoughts on gender fluidity in fashion?
Lil B: I think it’s just about being yourself and embracing what connects to you. Also, embracing what connects to you and appreciating you. I think life is a constant growing and so many new things. Every day is new. Me coming here on the first day, coming here to Helsinki, meeting the people, seeing the love. You grow everyday and that links back to fashion. You grow.
“I took my talents to the internet. I had the choice to do TV, do major labels, but I decided to do myself” – Lil B
How do you think you’ve grown in the last few years?
Lil B: I’m way more humble, way more loving, way more accepting. I’m a lot more calm and you know, I think being alive is respectful. I’m less about respect and all that crap.
How did you feel when critics were calling you the ‘death of rap’?
Lil B: I feel. I’m a feeler and I love. I think of what people said about Albert Einstein. Especially in Albert’s time! That’s how I feel about it.
Why do you think they said that?
Lil B: Some people are late to the party, so I forgive them. That said, Albert Einstein was crazy, and now he’s looked at as whatever the listener thinks he is. Same thing with Lil B, but for me, I know loads of artists who are trendsetters or legends… it takes time to find out.
So it’s a learning process?
Lil B: Right on. You gotta learn to understand.
You’ve also been called the god of social media rap. Why do you think it’s important that artists use social media over big labels to promote their music?
Lil B: It’s straight from you. Lil B has changed the world, in that respect. Even though I’m on a lot of the TV in States right now, before that, I took my talents to the internet. I had the choice to do TV, do major labels, but I decided to do myself. I’m going to do my own thing.
How do you think your music can change the world?
Lil B: Being in Finland, it’s already showing me the world has been changed. I think that if I continue my plan, don’t give up, I think something can really happen.
“Frank (Ocean) is amazing. He’s a beautiful man with a beautiful voice. He’s a very strong man, a very strong person. Anything that I can do to help him, I will” – Lil B
What’s your plan?
Lil B: I can’t tell. You gotta watch.
How do you feel about Donald Trump?
Lil B: I’m not really paying attention to Donald Trump. I respect him as a business man, but I don’t know much of him as a politician but I don’t really pay attention to him. I can’t talk too much about him.
What about the Black Lives Matter movement?
Lil B: Well, I’m black (laughs)! You know I think with Black Lives Matter, it is extremely special and important. I definitely feel that.
But Donald Trump has explicitly shunned the Black Lives Matter movement, threatening to physically fight protesters.
Lil B: If that’s what he’s saying, then he doesn’t care about anyone except the people he resembles.
How has it been working with Frank Ocean?
Lil B: Frank Ocean was amazing. He called me to come out and do some stuff for his album, Boys Don’t Cry, that’s coming out. Frank is amazing. He’s a beautiful man with a beautiful voice. He’s a very strong man, a very strong person. Anything that I can do to help him, I will.
Can you tell us anything about Boys Don’t Cry?
Lil B: If Frank releases. Let’s see what Frank releases. Frank has the material.
Thank you, BasedGod.
Lil B: No, thank you.