Lil B Finds His Spot as an Icon to Hip-Hop’s Younger Generations
He encourages love and positivity while practicing the words he preaches. Lil B has found his spot as an icon to hip-hop’s younger generations.
Words: Vanessa Satten
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Lil B is 24 hours late for our interview, but who counts when it’s The Based God you’re waiting for? Even though he’s running behind schedule, B keeps sending text updates every step of the way, so it’s cool. First, he was napping. Then he was stuck doing his hair. Next, he had to do his taxes. With most rappers, one would think this is an excuse to not do an interview but with Lil B, you believe it. He’s an independent artist to the fullest extent so it makes sense he would be doing his own books.
When we finally meet up on that rainy November afternoon in the Nob Hill section of San Francisco, B, 28, hops in my rental with a big smile and enough charm for you to forget about the extra day. He says he has a special spot for us to drive to that’s “supposed to be cool” but that it’s on the low so we can’t mention it in the story. After plugging the random town into the Waze navigation app, the two of us set off to travel on some crazy twisty- turny Northern Cali roads in an enormous burgundy Nissan Armada. Conversation eventually falls into the interview that is included below.
Lil B is a very positive person. He’s a glass half-filled kind of guy and it works. Over the past 12 years, The Based God has used his endearing personality and a plethora of group and solo albums and mixtapes to establish himself as a legend and role model to the new generations of hip-hop. In 2009, B dropped his own book, Takin’ Over: By Imposing the Positive! My Personal Rap to You, sharing his uplifting wisdom. Then in 2012, NYU asked the Berkley, Calif. native to give an unscripted speaking engagement. The event was a success, with B preaching about positivity, love and his “based” lifestyle to 500 students. Since then, B has spoken for at least seven more universities including M.I.T., University of Florida, Carnegie Mellon, University of Nevada-Reno, UCLA, UC Riverside and Virginia Tech University.
In addition to his lectures, Lil B, born Brandon McCartney, offers a lot of his positive vibes via Twitter. He’s a passionate poster, following almost 1.7 million people and often tweeting or retweeting many times a day about anything and everything and interacting directly with fans. However, on Sept. 30, 2017, B got himself in a bit of trouble (but didn't realize until later) when he tweeted, “I feel like I rep New York hip-hop harder than some of the artists from New York. These New York artists sound like Future and DeJ Loaf.” Allegedly, Bronx-born A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and crew didn’t take too kindly to B’s remarks. Don Q, an artist on Boogie’s Highbridge The Label replied back to B’s tweet with, “STFU nigga.” Then on Oct. 21 at the 2017 Rolling Loud Festival in Mountain View, Calif., Lil B walked onstage for his set and said he had just been jumped by Boogie and crew, robbed of his laptop and couldn’t perform, but that he loved and forgave his attackers. The incident was caught on video and soon Lil B was trending worldwide on Twitter with many rappers coming to his defense. A day and a half after the altercation, Boogie and B squashed their beef via a phone call but the incident taught B a lot.
We never make it to our destination due to fog, but after a few hours of driving and several accidental trips over the Golden Gate Bridge, we end up at San Fran’s famous Pier 39. Unsure of what to do, we stumble into The San Francisco Dungeon, along with eight strangers, for an hour-long tour of a recreated dungeon that uses actors and full 360-degree sets to tell some of the history of San Francisco and scare you while the whole thing ends with the Escape Alcatraz Drop Ride.
After the tour, B and I see that the Nissan rental’s back driver side window has been smashed and his bag has been stolen (with what he says was just some paperwork). It’s the only thing that’s been taken. We are both seriously disappointed but B quickly slaps a smile on his face and insists all is good before eventually hopping into an Uber to head home. Robbed once again and he still found a way to smile. The power of positivity.
XXL: So after 12 years in hip-hop, what’s your role?
Lil B: I feel like my place is to connect hip-hop... with the youth, the older, the middle. Just everybody that’s listening to me. My place in hip-hop is really to just connect and show positivity. Put my vibe out there.
How is your positivity different from DJ Khaled’s positivity? ’Cause he’s making some real money on being positive right now.
And respect to DJ Khaled. DJ Khaled’s been watching how positive I was for a long time, like on Twitter and stuff, but [I’m] not taking any credit or anything, ’cause he’s his own man and he’s a legend. I think DJ Khaled’s positivity is legendary and great.
Do you feel like you should be monetizing your positivity more because of how it’s working for him? Or is that not part of how you function?
I look at it like, I really like to be myself and put the creativity first, and the inspiration. This, to me, is inspiring, what we’re doing. And it fuels the next thing that I’ma do. Everything, for me, is fueled off telling my story through music, because I have a lot to say, and it’s some urgent things that I have to tell to the world, and help and heal. I know my part that I have to do through music.
Why do you feel that’s your responsibility?
I listen to music all the time. I need music and I love music and I appreciate it. It inspires me. For me, I feel that I have something really unique, and a perspective that needs a quality, a sound and an essence in music that needs to be put out and explained.
See Photos From Lil B's XXL Magazine Spring 2018 Shoot
You've gotten into a couple beefs lately with some rappers, most recently the incident at the Rolling Loud Festival in October with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. What happened?
After the situation that happened with A Boogie and his whole crew or whatnot, it made me look at things differently. Looking back on that situation, it’s something as a man, I can’t respect it.
Can you explain the altercation?
I was about to get onstage and I [saw] him performing. And I was by myself. It was me and my DJ. So, I see Boogie onstage and he’s performing, I’m like, OK, there go bro. I’m a fan. Anybody that I speak about, I’m a fan of. I have to be a supporter, somewhat, to speak about ’em.
And you’re clearly a fan of hip-hop as a whole.
Exactly. I’m a fan of hip-hop as a whole, period. I love hip-hop. I look at it as a study and I love it.
Which means, I think, to say that any comment you have is not really coming from a hater perspective?
Literal commentary, with some humor and some of it might be some jabs. I guess I wasn’t as savvy with it like, say for instance, Jay-Z or Drake, with the jabs.
Why did you feel necessary to jab?
’Cause I like being competitive in hip-hop. I feel like some people are worthy of it, and I feel like they were doing good enough for somebody to say something about it. For myself to say something, I look at it like, if I say something about you, it’s an honor. So, that’s how I was looking at it. But after the Boogie situation, it made me look at things differently. Like, just saying things about people in general, and the power of what I have to say...
So, he’s onstage performing, and I’m in the golf cart about to get ready to go onstage. In my mind, I knew I said something about him. He’s getting offstage, and I’m in the back. He looked at me, he walked past me, and I’m like, “Yo, what’s up? Boogie, what’s up with it?” And he just gives me this look, but I really didn’t pick up on nothing negative. I wasn’t getting it at the time. He walked up to me, and then four other dudes kinda walked up and crowded around me. And then somebody started talking to me in the middle, asking me, “What’s your name?” I’m like, “Shit, I’m Lil B.” Then, somebody threw a punch at me, and I just started getting jumped by all those people. It happened just like that. I was trying to talk, see what’s up with Boogie.
They weren’t, though.
Yeah. See the thing was, fans are rolling up on me all the time. I’m always interacting with folks. So when they all crowded around me, I’m like, OK, we’re all just talking. Once I got hit by whoever, they all just started hitting me from everywhere. Punching me, kicking me, grabbing my hair out. I was like, Damn. It was just a real wack experience.
So, they stopped and you still gotta go onstage. What happens next?
What really made me go onstage were these girls that were back there and they were cheering me on. They were like, “We came here to see you perform. We’ve been waiting here all this time and you ain’t gonna perform?”
And they saw what happened?
Yeah, they saw what happened. They were like, “Man, you look good. You go onstage and perform. We’ve been waiting for you. Fuck that shit, you’re good.” I was like, “They took my shit, I can’t even...”
What was taken?
Man, laptops and money. But muthafuckas ain’t pressing no charges on them. It’s a lesson learned and we’re moving forward. So, I was like, what I’ma do is go onstage and just let the fans know what happened.
Was it important for you to say you forgave them when you came out?
Yeah, I think it was important to say that to promote my peace and positivity, and promote truth. ’Cause a lot of people always wonder if I was truly positive, or they’ll wonder about my lectures at universities, like, “What is he talking about?” Now, people respect me more and I can tell. It’s more respect. Before, there was respect but people were like, “What are you talking about?” Now, people are seeing this is just one of the many aspects I’m bring- ing to these universities, my outlook on positivity, forgiveness, truly loving people and acceptance.
How did you get into giving lectures at universities? What is the goal for you with them and what do you personally get out of doing them?
I wanna become educated in the school way, on some stuff that I care about. But the lectures came about by email. Anybody that wants to book me, they hit me up by email.
When you got that first email from NYU requesting you give a lecture, was that bizarre to you?
It wasn’t totally off because I was going in the realm of positivity. [When] I started working on my book, Takin’ Over: by Imposing the Positive, I was about 17. I think it came out when I was around 18 or 19, so it took about two years to work on it.
I was already kinda going in the way of positivity early. Even MTV, they posted an interview of me after the situation happened, [when] I got jumped. They posted an interview of my positivity from like, 2010. I’ve been on this same mission for a minute. I think more or less it was a win for hip-hop, giving more credibility to be a hip-hop artist.
How do you put your lecture together?
For me, I kinda go about it like The Daily Show. Current events, I’m going and doing things that are on my mind. But it’s a variety of things. It wasn’t absurd, getting [the emails] from the school. It made me feel good inside. I wanted to cry a lot and I did cry before about it. They acknowledged me and made me feel smart. I never knew if I was smart because I never passed high school. I’ve only been doing music. My life has only been music.
I’ve never had any job besides music. I make honest money off music. When people say there’s no money in rap, it’s like, no, there is. I’m thriving in hip-hop. Hip-hop has made me. So, that acknowledgment, it’s just like, Wow.
Going back to the Rolling Loud incident for a minute, it was very interesting to see how many people supported you after you came out and publicly forgave your attackers onstage. They very well could have made fun of you because of people being haters. But the general consensus seemed to be, Leave Lil B alone. Travis Scott said, “Protect Lil B at all costs, muthafucka” at one of his shows.
Travis Scott, that meant a lot. [And] ScHoolboy Q. So many of the big artists came to my aid, and it really warmed my heart. [With] Travis Scott, I was just like, Whoa, ’cause that’s one of the biggest stars in the world and then in hip-hop, too. I always heard through the grapevine [that] Travis Scott respects me but I never [really] know. ’Cause I respect him, too, so, it just makes me feel good when these other artists show respect like how I show respect.
You seem to be a big sports fan and already have some recognition in that world...
I actually have a meeting with a big sports agent coming up.
To put curses on athletes?
Yeah, that, but [also] just me getting more into that sports arena. Because just dealing with the curses, and seeing people actually really like to hear me talk about sports and being invited to these shows numerous times, doing the NFL Network, or doing ESPN, it’s like, it makes me want to watch sports even more, and really have more of an opinion because sports and hip-hop have always been very close.
Lil Wayne got very much like that.
Yeah, see. That’s why I feel, it’s like, Damn, because I have all these opportunities to go on these platforms and really give a great opinion on sports. But my stronger opinion is within hip-hop, that’s what I love.
You have been a true independent hip-hop artist for years now...
I’ve been self-funded my whole career up to this point. No management, no team.
There’s just you?
Yeah. Me having to like, we were talking about that earlier. I’ve been doing some [of my own] bookkeeping early in the day for my tax stuff.
Keeping everything on the up-and-up, good. We’ve seen many rappers have tax problems.
Yes, yes because I don’t want them to just erase me. Trust me, I love paying taxes because that shows I’m making money.
What have you bought so far?
I’ve invested in real estate. You know, I like the multiplexes, you know what I’m saying? It’s like housing really, I feel like housing is such a special [thing]. Outside of housing, what I’m into is commercial real estate, and land, just land stuff like this, this is what I’m really interested in. Owning the building as well as the business.
Owning that building and it has people living in it upstairs and businesses downstairs. That's serious.
Facts. That’s what I’m into. That’s sexy to me. That’s what it’s really about. But, yeah, I've been happy just spending my money.
Where’s your family and what do they think of your success?
Yeah, my family is really supportive. I come from a dysfunctional family, but the ones that are a part of my life are really supportive. Really smart, and they try to give me strength, too. They know me and stuff like that. So, they’re definitely supportive and it was unique at first, kind of what I was doing early, early like when I got the Freshman cover, and before that. People weren’t really understanding and it was hard to explain. That was like early in the internet.
You're entertaining on the web now though, but I’m confused about you and Twitter. You follow over 1.5 million people. What’s the purpose of that?
I still handpick the people that I follow. I follow people that are relevant to me.
It’s not just click, click, click, click, you retweeted me, so I’m gonna follow you?
No, these are actually people that I’m interested in following, and that have relevance to what I’m doing.
There are over a million of those people?
Yeah. Wow. It’s shocking, like, people that I’m just interested in...
How much is that cute girls on social?
Yeah, I would probably say out of all that probably maybe 30 to 40 percent. All girls are cute, you know what I’m saying? There’s no ugly.
What made you get dreads?
Just time to switch it up. I think that getting older and [I] just have to show the folks how to do it.
Does anybody give you a hard time about it not being your real hair? In a different day, older hip-hop would’ve cracked on you over the bought dreads.
For me, this is The Based God’s hair. But I think that my hair is growing and stuff. Everybody going to keep seeing the dreads get longer. I just think some people need help.
Hip-hop is about hair right now, it's pretty serious. We had beef with a couple of rappers because they didn’t make a best hair list we did online. Anyway, do you think you are a role model?
I’ve already taken the role as a role model in hip-hop. And I’m doing more to secure that role and solidify it in a more mainstream way, like doing some of the more normal things, I guess, like a role model would do. [It’s kind] of crazy to me when the folks [don’t embrace it].
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2018 issue including our two cover stories with G-Eazy and 21 Savage, Show & Prove with Trippie Redd, Cole Bennett's rise as a music video director, Show & Prove with J.I.D, Evidence's thoughts on the future of hip-hop, Show & Prove with Tee Grizzley and more.
See Photos from G-Eazy and 21 Savage's XXL Magazine Spring 2018 Cover Shoot