Growing up I was an avid Marvel Comics nerd, and for a while, one of my favorite characters was Adam Warlock. He did a weird thing in the ’90s, though. He got possession of this weapon called the Infinity Gauntlet that grants its wearer godlike powers and essentially makes them ruler of the universe. Adam is a bright guy who wants to do the right thing. Naturally, he uses the gauntlet to purge all good and evil from his person so he can rule based on logic and reason. Thing is, in the process he creates Goddess and Magus, the personifications of his expunged virtue and malice, respectively, and he catches years of hell trying to stop each of them from taking over the universe. Real smart, bro.
What am I on about? I first got into Lil B’s music off the strength of 2009’s 6 Kiss, which was a sometimes dumb, but usually brilliant collection of songs that ping-ponged between gleefully ignorant shit like “I Got Bitches” and the hilarious, gender subversive “Pretty Bitch” and introspective fare like “Beat the Odds” and “What You Doin’”. The songs worked well on their own, but the strength of 6 Kiss can also be attributed in part to the way these two musical extremes played off one another. In the intervening years since the release of 6 Kiss, Lil B has seen his profile raise considerably, and he has weirdly undergone an Adam Warlock-like compartmentalization of his conflicting musical pursuits.
Each outing since has zeroed in on one side of the persona exclusively, and the results have been mixed. His Blue Flame, Red Flame, and Please Respect the Bitch mixtapes dove headfirst into the abyss of foolish rap. Blue Flame yielded goofball gems like “Wonton Soup” and “I’m Paris Hilton”, but the returns have been diminishing ever since. Sitting through a full hour of bars like “Then I park my car/ then I fuck your bitch/ Eat that wonton soup/ Smell like wonton soup” is just out of the question. Lil B also released the feisty Red Flame: Devil Music Edition and Angels Exodus, a pair of super serious explorations of his more contemplative side that embraced more traditional hip-hop lyricism in a way that his seemingly tossed off based freestyles never did. The serious Based God yielded keepers like the inspirational “Motivation” and the mournful “1 Time”, but both albums dragged in spots. B’s controversy baiting I’m Gay dropped by surprise this month, and it appears to be another stressed out slab of struggle music.
Lil B seized a wealth of interest when he announced his album would be titled I’m Gay, and he takes the opportunity to deliver one of his most spirited outings to date. He’s made an even more concerted effort to streamline the content than he did on Angels Exodus, where goofy numbers like “Vampires” still snuck into the fray. With his social activist cap on, Based God thunders through this set like a man possessed. While there isn’t really a complete failure in the batch here, this feat is achieved by trimming the quirks that made Lil B stand out from the rest of the current crop of MCs in the first place. Woos and swags are out, and in their place is a serious of ruminations on wanting to be successful but running into obstacles, be they personal or social, that prevent growth. Lyrically it’s as tight as most anything in his massive canon, but it’s taxing.
I’m Gay’s streamlining of Lil B’s lyrical quirks also comes with a shift in the character of the production. Most all the beats here sound like early 2000s East Coast rap. That’s not a knock by any stretch (I’m from New York), but it’s disorienting to watch as a Bay Area rapper with an atypical personality and flow best known for his playful ease over atypical beats just folds and embraces these murky, Rocafella throwaways. It’s not all Bleek, though. There’s Clams Casino’s “Unchain Me”, which flips Gerard McMann’s “Cry Little Sister” (better known as the theme song to 1987’s Lost Boyz), “Gon Be Okay” with its muted piano loop, and the morose, but enticing instrumental for the synth-laced “I Hate Myself”, and more. Moments like these are crucial in making I’m Gay’s dense subject matter more lively.
So what we’ve got here is a decent album that’s out of step with the personality of the person that created it. It strives to ask big picture questions and tackle pressing social issues and be as philosophically edifying as Lil B’s goofier side is willfully brainless. In the process of gravitating toward the one end of his persona, though, he loses much of what makes him such a fascinating and polarizing figure. Lil B just isn’t your bread and butter conscious rapper. And whenever he tries he comes out with smart and capable, but also monolithically dark and overwhelming music. You have to wonder how this thing might’ve sounded with a little comic relief thrown in the mix to lighten the mood. As it is, I’m Gay is all right. Nice beats and thoughtful songwriting. It’s just too fucking depressing. I’m cutting this shit off and turning on something uplifting just as soon as I finish this sentence. “I swag. I chef. I cook…” I’m out.
3 out of 5
You can stream “I Hate Myself” below.