It’s been a busy couple months for Lil B. After announcing the title of his album would be I’m Gay, the California native’s name was plastered in mainstream press clippings from the Huffington Post to CNN. Then, last month, he announced that he was recording with Lil Wayne. And now the new album.
I’m Gay and his last mixtape, Bitch Mob Vol. 1, sound as different from one another as any two pieces in Based God’s extensive catalogue. On that previous release, the 2011 XXL Freshman grumbles alongside throwback Bay Area production. Here, by comparison (and this is only by comparison), his delivery is crystal-clear over the expensive, Just Blaze-style soul samples.
To find a closer precursor to Lil B’s most recent release, look back to Angels Exodus, his last proper album, which dropped in January. Like Angels Exodus, I’m Gay is influenced by traditional East Coast boom-bap production styles. For this reason, Lil B die-hards may accuse I’m Gay of pandering to hip-hop purists; in reality, though, the project’s production is high quality and inventive. Conventional soul samples bump against samples as strange as the chorus from the Goo Goo Doll’s single “Iris.” But what else would you expect from Lil B, who looped Pitchfork darling Ariel Pink on his 2010 track “Hugh Hefner.” New Jersey producer Clams Casino engineers the standout beat, sampling Gerard McMann’s 1987 Goth-rock hit “Cry Little Sister” for Lil B’s balled of mental slavery “Unchain Me.” Like Angels Exodus’s “Motivation,” Clams uses vocal samples on “Unchain Me” to create an atmospheric, stretched-out melody, punctuated by crisp drums.
Sonically, I’m Gay and Angels Exodus are similar, but their subject matter is Based Worlds apart. “Motivation” tells the story of Lil B’s rise to the top, and the consequences he faces as a result. “Unchain Me” is less about Lil B and more about the world. Throughout I’m Gay, B shares his opinions on plenty of hot button topics, from race to religion to health care to welfare. These opinions are often nontraditional (a nod to his album’s contentious title) and have the potential to alienate listeners. But that’s okay. In “Open Thunder Eternal Slumber” Lil B raps, “No sir, I don’t believe in Jesus/You is a slave to the world and the books of preachers.” But his trademark ambiguity rescues this verse from a pit of Odd Future-esque angsty quicksand. A couple bars later, he says, “No disrespect, I found myself in church/Paying respect to the lord like everyone else/But the picture of the blond hair and blue eyes is something…” He trails off, seemingly at odds with himself. Then, he stammers, “that…I…ain’t.” Lil B’s stunted flow reveals his complex relationship with Christianity, reaching out to religious listeners, instead of shunning them.
Many called the title of this album a marketing ploy. The album, though, shows that the title is a reflection of B’s hopes to critically consider deeper content and reject widespread assumption about ourselves and society. There are no “Miley Cyrus,” “Justin Bieber,” or “Charlie Sheen” records here. If Lil B only wanted to make money, he sabotaged himself from the moment his album dropped on June 29. Labels normally release albums on Tuesdays, but Based God released I’m Gay late Wednesday night, exclusively to iTunes, completely unannounced (never mind a promotional campaign.) The next day, he posted a link to download the album for free on his Twitter. But that shouldn’t be surprising. As he raps on “I Seen The Light,” “I don’t got greedy, man/Just the fame is enough.” With the release of I’m Gay, expect Lil B’s fame to continue to grow. —Henry Greenfield