Lil B's album, I'm Gay (I'm Happy) is a brave move on the Bay Area rapper's part. Its bravery isn't in the controversial-seeming title, which I'll get to in a moment. It's in the very fact that the ascendant rapper is abandoning his biggest strength—transcendence through prolific output—to make a statement as mundane as releasing a well-hyped album of straightforward raps. Lil B's brave move is to actually be a little bit, well, normal.
After a handful of back-to-back listens, I'm Gay (I'm Happy) is a surprisingly solid rap album that maintains Lil B's off-kilter sensibilities. The production ranges from sped-up soul to classic East Coast beats. There's a notable absence of the space-age Bay Area sensibilities that have leaked into the music of contemporaries like Odd Future, Soulja Boy and Kreayshawn. The album is sober while maintaining an unrelentingly positive focus.
For fans, it's no surprise that Lil B actually has bona fide rap chops. Similar to the Lil Wayne of a few years ago, Lil B has been rapping for so long, and so prolifically, that it would be hard for him not to have gotten good at it by now. For those formerly unimpressed by Lil B's thousands of freestyles, his latest album should prove him reformed, the second coming of swag.
But all is not rosy in Lil B's paradise. The run up to I'm Gay (I'm Happy) has centered on, of course, the album's title, which he announced rather extemporaneously at this year's Coachella festival. A spokesperson for GLAAD immediately made some remarks, saying, "We hope that Lil B’s album title is not just a gimmick." Unfortunately, it seems like that's precisely what it is.
To start, the title of the album is not I'm Gay, but rather,I'm Gay (I'm Happy). The parenthetical isn't surprising, since part of his Coachella announcement was to say that "words don't mean sh--" and that "gay means happy." But by putting the "I'm Happy" part in the title, B preempts his pro-gay sentiments by making a childish word-lawyer apology, "gay means happy."
While it's certainly clear that Lil B cultivates a bizarro personality, giving shout outs to Ellen DeGeneres and calling himself a "princess," a "pretty b----," a "f--," and a "lesbian," he makes no overt commentary on homosexuality on an album called I'm Gay. His silence on the topic is, please excuse the cliche, deafening.
Let's be clear, though: Lil B doesn't display any homophobia. In fact, I'm Gay (I'm Happy) is the crest of B's unprecedented wave of positivity. His social politics are leagues ahead of other rappers. B's album focuses on a variety of topics like the disproportionate incarceration rates for people of color; healthcare reform; having a respectful attitude toward women; and avoiding gun violence.
I'm Gay (I'm Happy) should cast a wide net for B's "based" movement, which, philosophically, shouldn't really be too difficult. "Based," like "swag," means just about anything. When B calls himself "based," he's connoting a few concrete concepts: positivity, personal expression, courage. But "based" also connotes some of the more ineluctable aspects of life. Like the word "cool." Or "god." Lil B's aimless, non-judgmental, anti-religion is also a sort-of religion.
The more amorphous a school of thought is, the lower its barrier to entry. B's anti-religious sentiment pours out into a weirdly earnest faux-religiosity. I wouldn't exactly call it ironic that Lil B calls himself the "based god," or that one of his very best songs is called "I'm God." He is, kind of oddly, Christ-like with regard to being “based.” He's taken a word that formerly meant something like "on drugs," and made it mean something positive. (It is ironic that Lil B actually does seem to be on drugs all the time.)
B's use of "based" is, in fact, a lot like how people use the word "gay." The latter may mean "homosexual" or "happy" or "bad." The meaning's up in the air, and that's perhaps the best and worst part of Lil B's whole aesthetic. It's as if the meaning of words doesn't matter to him.
While his loose allegiance to meaning makes for occasionally brilliant, always interesting rap, it's also a kind of disconcerting moral stance. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is fine, but it also means never being accountable for language that's hurtful.
So while B's use of "based" and "swag" are fun and empowering, his use of "gay" is a little less so. He calls himself gay as a provocation, as if to say that being gay is outrageous. He doesn't put down gay people, but his lack of any explicit positivity for their cause mars an otherwise excellent album.
Fuse July 5, 2011