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How Lil B built the Internet's most ardent following (sample)

The Enigma

In the process of uncovering the enigma known as Lil B, a logical place to begin is his Twitter bio. Using the platform to send tweets to over 1.36 million followers, Twitter is Lil B’s Web 2.0 pulpit. As of March 2017, the bio for the Twitter-verified @LILBTHEBASEDGOD reads “Mogul, First Rapper Ever To Write And Publish A Book at 19, Film Score, Composer, Producer,Director/Photo/Branding/Marketing /Historical Online Figure #BASED.” The bio goes on to note that this Lil B-helmed account originated in the United States in 2009, making it a relatively mature member of the Twitter universe.

The diversity of this bio is important as it points to the bewildering and complex nature of the rapper-cum-internet phenomenon known as Lil B. The man behind the phenomenon, Brandon McCartney, was born and raised in Berkeley, California, and began rapping at a young age. He gained momentary national prominence in late 2006 with the song “Vans,” a catchy track created with the then fellow members of the Bay Area skateboard-rap group The Pack. After The Pack released their 2007 album “Based Boys,” McCartney began to explore opportunities as a more eccentric solo artist under the moniker of Lil B. In order to understand Lil B’s current importance as a critical new media experimentalist and internet community-builder, it is important to understand his early emergence into the internet world of the 2000’s.

The MySpace Years

According to MySpace’s official bio, Lil B began to post new solo songs in 2008, and by late 2008 he was experimenting with the “excessiveness of the Internet, storming the Web in a full-on blitzkrieg.” During this posting-rampage, Lil B created no less than 122 MySpace pages, which created a body of work consisting of over 700 songs. As the number of songs grew, Lil B moved away from the Bay Area rap style that he employed as a member of The Pack, and to a more experimental form of free-associating spoken word which he dubbed “the Based freestyle.” While most artists and bands can spend years crafting twelve songs, only releasing these when perfected, Lil B mirrors the sharing nature of the internet, putting out music at a feverish pace with no thought to editing. As stated by Drew Millard, Lil B’s MySpace years were a crucially formative time for a “young, creative rapper hermetically sealing himself in the Internet, and emerging a nearly completely-unrecognizable entity with his own world, slang, and philosophy.” While Lil B no longer uses the MySpace platform, it remains an important key to understanding the history of the “Basedworld” community.

McLuhan at work?

In an NPR article on “understanding rap’s new rebel,” Andrew Noz states, “Often the medium – the Internet – seems like a more immediate focus for Lil B than the message. It's his principle canvas and his primary distraction.” In this, Noz is identifying that fact that Lil B is far more than a musical artist, he is both a child of the internet, and a master of it. Noz goes on to remind the reader that while for most musicians of the past, the internet merely served as a “distribution method, or promotional tool,” for Lil B it is “home- -His musical output reflects the relentless pace of a Twitter feed, the oversharing of Facebook...the lawless and recursive humor of 4chan memes.” It is through this context that we must understand Lil B’s approach to building communities through new media. While the stereotypical rap dream consists of sold out stadiums and an opulent lifestyle, Lil B seems to understand and embrace the fact that his real life stardom will most likely never surmount his internet fame. In one interview Lil B states, "I have my fantasy world where all the girls love me...But truth be told, I'm at the computer. The computer's my girlfriend."

Thus, the internet is not just a convenient medium for Lil B to spread and promote his music, it is where he has chosen to reside. This reality, hearkens back to Marshall Mcluhan's theories concerning the relative importance of medium versus message. Mcluhan did not believe that the medium was more important than the message being conveyed, but rather that the fact that society had developed a particular medium as an extension of itself (developing new advantages and limitations) was of more interest and importance than the singular messages being released at any given moment. Likewise, the messages of each Lil B song (which range wildly in terms of absurdity and apparently experinmental offensiveness) are not as important as the fact that his musical output is a strange new experiment in internet-based art.