"It's an emotion; it's how you feel," Lil B says. "Anybody can have swag ... it's just about what you think. That could be wearing a piece of tape on your ass and ripping it off and there's that little line [without hair] and you walk out with it. And it's like, 'This is me. The people that respect me respect it.'"

This liberalizing attitude toward self-definition allows for the rise of an artist like Lil B, an acquaintance of Kreayshawn who worked with her on a few videos. Through his persistent online self-promotion and without label support, he has elevated himself to international notoriety. He's built an obsessive fan base and attained grudging acceptance from the mainstream rap world, all while challenging attitudes at the core of the culture. That's what he would call "swag."


Most people agree rapping is about rhyming words together. Not Lil B. His musical style, which he has termed "based," consists of largely stream-of-consciousness musings haphazardly expressed over a basic beat. Some songs' themes are positive and universal. Many others push the virile persona of hip-hop stars to an absurd extreme. "Pretty Bitch" does this and adds a vain twist: "Damn based god, I'm a pretty bitch/I'm iced out/Iced-up bitch with your girl on my dick." In any song or "based freestyle," it's not unusual for B to suddenly contradict himself, change points of view, or fall back midthought on a few reliable refrains. One of those is, not surprisingly, "swag."

In the flesh, though, Brandon McCartney doesn't seem so audacious. As he steers a broad-shouldered black Mercedes S550 into a parking lot near San Francisco's Sutro Heights Park, the 21-year-old known as Lil B barely rises above the doorsill. He arrives clothed like a grungy undergrad: blue Cal-Berkeley sweatshirt and dirt-streaked jeans hanging far below his hips, with athletic shorts bridging the gap between the top of his pants and his boxers. Tattered white Vans dangle from his feet, a memento of the hit song "Vans" that briefly got McCartney (and his mates in Berkeley rap group the Pack) on the Jive Records roster before he could drive. The tattoos streaming down his neck don't stand out much in the blue-gray afternoon light.

Today is busy, because tomorrow, Lil B leaves to tour Europe for two weeks. It will be his first time on the continent, and he can't quite recall all the cities he'll be playing.

Ask McCartney a question, and his answers will often wind their way back to one of a few select phrases like "one life to live" or "spread the love, spread the positivity." These are meta-instructions for the actions of the Based God. He's far more inclined to follow these guidelines than anything else — even in the face of heated resistance. "His music is TERRIBLE, his persona is honestly an embarrassment to hip-hop," one commenter wrote on an early interview with Lil B. "I'm a pretty bitch? I'm finer than Nicki Minaj? WTF? That's gay dude."

Lil B is used to this kind of talk. "I've already done a lot of rapping how most of these rappers are rapping now," he says calmly, from behind pink-rimmed sunglasses. "But I've been rapping for eight, nine years now, and I'm not going to rap the same forever."

After the Pack's success petered out, Lil B pushed the group's "based" ethos ("just doing what you want, not really worrying about what people feel or say about you") into a new approach to music and fame. First, his self-recorded songs could be largely improvised, casual, and more about feeling than precision. This allowed him to release more music than anyone else: One mixtape this year included a bandwidth-hogging 676 songs, while its tracklisting was a four-page Microsoft Word document.

Second, Lil B adopted the persona of a sort of hip-hop Internet deity, building support for the Based God through digital omnipresence. He started more than 100 MySpace pages. He began spending 18 or more hours per day online. He follows, as of this writing, more than 165,000 accounts on Twitter, and regularly retweets messages from his more than 272,000 followers.

Lil B filled these streams with memes largely of his own making: There was the cooking dance, an absurd gyration that imitates the chopping and stirring of kitchen work. There was the phrase "Thank you Based God," which has been pasted atop images of famous men weeping (Barack Obama, Kobe Bryant, and James Van Der Beek), as if they are in awe of his powers. The ultimate nod to his stature: Some male fans, motivated by one of his lyrics, have invited him to have sex with their girlfriends.

In terms of shock and self promotion, Lil B is a lot like notorious Oakland rapper Too $hort, who hand-built his fame by selling tapes out of the trunk of his car. "It's always been the Bay Area way of hustling your own music," says "Prince" Aries Nuñez, a local hip-hop DJ and producer of hip-hop TV show Distortion2Static. "Right now, the trunk just happens to be the Internet."

As with Too $hort, Lil B was seen as a kind of a Bay Area freak at first. Then he grew into an underground curiosity. Starting last year, the ever-present din of Lil B's relentless online self-promotion grew too loud for the mainstream to ignore. He was booked into slots at South by Southwest and Coachella. He made XXL magazine's Freshman 10 list for 2011 — and its cover — as another 11th pick. As he began to earn respect, so did his new approach to fame. "Lil B is a master at marketing," DJ Amen says.

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20 comments
John
John

To everybody hating on Lil B and Kreayshawn please STOP. Lil B has a plethora of deep songs and videos on Youtube. However, his ignorant parody songs like "Pretty Boy" and "Wonton Soup" get millions of views while his serious well-put together songs and videos get well under 500K views. Who is the real idiot here? This is because the public eats up ignorance. Listen to Lil B's "Age of Information", "The Trap", "Motivation", "Walk the World", "Myspace", "The World is Ending", "Exhibit Based" and "The Growth". That is only a small sample. All of these songs display a deep message and or complex lyricism. If Lil B is trash, then why do J Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Jay Electronica and Cormega co-sign him? Lil B is one of the best rappers to come out the Bay in years. If anybody has a right to say that, it's me. I grew up in Lakeview in SF on Randolph Street looking up to Bay Area rap legends like Cougnut and Cellski.

Ramona Fuller
Ramona Fuller

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Denbaronita2
Denbaronita2

i cant believe this me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.Go here http://bit.ly/qJFHsO

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, pluscent.com

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, pluscent.com

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, http://pluscent.com

Hip Hop Jewelry Store
Hip Hop Jewelry Store

Hip hop trend has become most popular trend in today’s world and growing highly over past decades which has led hip hop diamond jewelry as the most popular jewelry in people.

Druciferschild
Druciferschild

Well, they all suck. That's the bottom line. I think enough people have mentioned how much all of these TALENTLESS people are invading the already stupid ass RAP syndicate of the bay area. Let's just clarify that reeeeeal quick. THIS SHIT IS RAP, NOT HIP HOP and it also sucks.

onenine
onenine

These SF weekly articles on Bay Area Hip Hop are just as bad as the gimmick artists (Lil B, Kreayshawn) they are "promoting". Aren't these writers supposed to offer up their own opinions instead of calling any song with 2 million Youtube hits dope. Can we please get some articles on Bay Area artists who actually have real talent?

Walter White
Walter White

What the fuck? Why would you group actual talented rappers like Mistah FAB, Roach Gigz, or Odd Future with goofy novelty acts like Kreayshawn or Lil B?

Thatisoutstanding
Thatisoutstanding

Here's another hip term SF Weekly should get familiar with: "D-Rider"

I have no hate at all for these new artists getting their shine on, the problem is the society that supports them. Is the state of our current youth really this jaded? I can't believe i'm talking like this.

Amousai
Amousai

Why does same/lame individual bash SF Weekly, weekly?

Love the blow-up*cover

Kray
Kray

This article is so biased there's no way to take it seriously...

Alltherage
Alltherage

Bay Area Rappers need to stop with the SWAG SWAG stuff....That will come. Give us complete albums. Something that I will knock in the car AND listen to on my headphones and just stare into space.

ABc
ABc

Sf weekly is desperate to latch on to this trend... Honestly the quality is absolute shit an makes this publication look ridiculous

SELLASSIE
SELLASSIE

For the people reading this article upset by the unbalanced perspective presented regarding Bay Hip Hop, you shouldn't be surprised. When is the last time you heard an anti-drug-in-the-community song on corporate radio backed by print. When is the last time you heard a song dealing with our unjust wars that are still going on? When is the last time you heard any hip hop pioneers on corporate radio in rotation? I'll tell you when.. Never. My point is, there has to be a balance. I believe there is room for everyone in the game, but a balanced perspective when it comes to bay area hip hop is rarely seen, read or heard. I'm in the streets, not industry and real BLACK PEOPLE, not "niggas," have serious issues with our culture, our music and our images being pimped out to the highest bidder. But I was always taught, "they'll always be a new "nigga" next year, and it isn't anything to give a "nigga" some money." But there are some of us in this Bay Area Hip Hop game, til our last dying breath, no matter what the cost, will not give the agenda-setters the satisfaction of ruining the world with Sambo-inspired personalities and music. If you don't know who Sambo is, read Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and study the personality which will reveal the Sambo we walk amongst today and represents so many misguided individuals. I'm Sellassie, the Bay Area's Number 1 Anti-House-Negro Emcee and when it comes to the truth and representing the people, you can count on me. Respectfully, Sellassie of M.Y.G.H.E.T.T.O. (Mad Young Generation Here Eternally To Take Over) and we don't sell out.

Dk
Dk

What doea all this have to do with music?

 

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