Review: Lil B at the Mohawk
By Ramon Ramirez
Editor’s note: This article was originally published August 5, 2013
Four years into a solo career of experimental raps about Ellen Degeneres, Bay Area-based rapper Lil B’s rebellious, uplifting pop art has perfected its live spectacle. In front of roughly 850 cult followers Saturday at the Mohawk, B stood on stage with no hype man or guests and ran down his Internet hits for nearly two hours. Believers worshiped by donning chef hats and spatulas. The boiling point catharsis led to an outbreak of crowd surfing. A united room shouted along to needle-scratching cadences about sex.
For the unconverted, Lil B is known as the “Based God.” The self-proclaimed deity is responsible for an ocean of expressionist media — from discarding more than 150 MySpace music profiles to cobbling more than 725,000 Twitter followers. To be “based” is to be live free of social constructions and simultaneously infuse your life with swagger. Anyone can be “based” and do “based” things like drive a convertible, but Lil B is the God of all “based” actions.
In between the online antics, the 23-year-old artist born Brandon McCartney has made some of the most compelling and polarizing hip-hop recently. His unconventional lyricism is rooted in stream-of-conscious performances more concerned with words that sound interesting such as “Martian” and “Wonton Soup.” Find language that fits phonetically over a hypnotic beat, and you have addictive club bangers about nothing.
Because it’s still a rap song for the club, Lil B pairs these ideas with two key tropes. First, a targeted overkill of misogynist hip-hop slang that neuters meaning by making everyone a “ho” in its wake. Then, playing on the absurdity of what straight rappers think the opposite sex finds appealing. At The Mohawk, Lil B worked on a variation of the boast “your girl likes me because I look like …,” and then filled in the blanks with Patrick Swayze, Ben and Jerry, Matlock, NBA journeyman James Posey, J.K. Rowling and President Obama.
The Based God walked on stage in shades, gold watch, wife beater and a surgical mask. The chorus to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” was changed from “we found love in a hopeless place” to, well, a dirty joke about pimps. It would be gimmicky and ugly if not for the landscape — a room filled with bros touting their feminine side; one in which Lil B puts out a major label debut solo record called “I’m Gay (I’m Happy)” amid death threats; one where a teenage girl jumped on stage wearing a T-shirt that read “Lil B saved my life.”
I had an extra ticket for the show that went to waste. My hip-hop nerd buddy declined an invite with a text that read, “Lil B is more interesting to me as a concept than a rapper.” The live Lil B performances are de facto tests for sympathetic skeptics charmed by the humor and scene, but that lack the connection to a corpus that includes 43 self-released mixtapes since 2010. The Pentecostal revival experience and dancing was a sure thing — especially after a radio single-validating, opening DJ set from Houston legend OG Ron C - -but B’s challenge was offering up a coherent setlist.
He knocked it out of the park — running down the highlights of his starter kit classic, “Six Kiss,” and saving the 3-in-the-morning touchstone “I’m God” for late. B set the tone early with the king-making “Ellen Degeneres” and 90 minutes later around 11:30 p.m., tore a metaphorical hole in the speaker with the instructional dance epic,”Wonton Soup.” He pulled off “I Love You” with the exuberance of its YouTube clip, one wherein B goes to a pet store, holds a snake, and cries.
The banter was funny and regional: “Shout out to the farmers,” “I love Austin, Texas, and I love the whole world.” He warned us to be careful with his sneakers, “The Based God’s shoes worth about 100K.” His ID-driven positivity meant huge cheers for Police Ice-esque phrases like: “Are we about to have a safe night?” “If you respect women say ‘hell yeah’” “I hope everybody has a safe ride home.” At the end, B walked into the crowd to pose for pictures and sign autographs amid chants of “protect the Lil B.”