Lil B Angel’s Exodus

[Amalgam Digital; 2011]

Styles: impressionistic rap, spoken word, trap hop
Others: Kanye West, Lil Wayne

My first exposure to Lil B was by way of several of his internet-sensational singles, most notably “Wonton Soup” and “Ellen DeGeneres,” which gave me a certain expectation. As I recently wrote disapprovingly of Wakka Flocka Flame for his anti-intellectualism, I more than half-expected to write the same about a rapper whose aforementioned work seems to consist of no-effort (not “effortless”) and moronically vulgar “rhymes” like “Eat that Wonton soup, I got the cash like chang chang chang/ Bitches suck my dick because I cum like 36 ways.” I also expected to have to monitor my level of irritation at hearing the word “swag” shouted hundreds of times as an ad-lib (“Ell-en De-Gener-SWAG!”; “Eat that Wonton soup SWAG SWAG!”) over the course of a full-length album.

That said, no album in recent memory has been harder for me to wrap my head around. Lil B may be the strangest, most confounding artist in hip-hop — and perhaps its most complex. No matter what you think of his singles, Angel’s Exodus proves that Lil B is an artist that deserves your attention. He should be kept up with and followed with interest, because he has what it takes to record the next transcendent hip-hop album.

One of my core beliefs as a critic is that music must be discussed on its own terms, according to the values and objectives of the artist who created it. To that end, consider Lil B’s “Based World” movement, a quasi-religious worldview — one that essentially amounts to pacifism and unbridled, stream-of-consciousness self-expression — in which he is the BasedGod. Representing the Bay Area, Lil B claims to be something of a hippie and has released a veritable torrent of material over the last 18 months (over 600 songs!) of wildly differing quality and tone. We’ve seen this before from Lil Wayne, who famously lacks the gene for self-censorship, but for Lil B it goes beyond that; “Based” seems to be about a different form of honesty, one where he filters or contorts absolutely nothing, as though he had no skin (or, alternatively, as though he were the God of Creation). For an artist who floods the internet with content and releases a mixtape almost every month, what use is a studio album, and what is he using it to say?

One thing that stuck with me about “Wonton Soup” was its haunting, evocative production; I found myself returning to the song on my iPod and repeating it in my head in spite of finding its lyrics obnoxious. Lil B brings the same artistry and attention to his production throughout Angel’s Exodus, with the highlights in the middle of the album. “Motivation” sports one of my favorite beats of recent memory and is completely unique: heavy and authoritative, but also lush, abstract, dynamic, and beautiful. “Cold War, Pt. 2” is built on a selection from last year’s brilliant Janelle Monae album. “More Silence More Coffins” and “The Growth” are some of the best chipmunk soul tracks this side of 2004 Kanye. The piano-melody, organ-harmony beat from “Connect the Dots” could have found a home on a Common record.

Lyrically, Lil B shows range, depth, introspection, humor, and technique — and I expected to only be using one of those words in this review, because I expected to be discussing B’s comedic value. I stand corrected; Lil B is no joke on the mic. It’s hard to believe that a guy who drops lines like “Don’t mistake knowledge for wisdom/ The verses are living, the other is a gift son/ Learn off them, and get your distance,” “I can’t sleep at night, the pain got me open/ The pain got me angry, the pain got me smoking,” and “Haters try to down me, but this is my progression/ Me up in the studio is when you see perfection/ Achievement connected with the actions/ Last time I failed is when I fell in love with distractions” is the same as the MC from “Ellen DeGeneres,” but that’s Lil B’s “BasedWorld” for you.

Problems of consistency are to be expected here, but this is also one weird hip-hop record. On “Vampires,” Lil B sings “don’t let the vampires get you” like Biz Markie over 30 seconds of outro. There may be more reverby synths on Angel’s Exodus than there are on the new Radiohead record. Ultimately, it plays more like a mixtape than an album (again raising the question, “why an album?”); although there are no skits or guest spots, several songs check in at under two minutes and feel like unfinished sketches. The sung chorus of “All My Life (Remix)” is truly bizarre.

Normally, this is the part of the “good-but-not-great” album review where the scolding critic says, “if only he would learn to rein it in a little and cut down on the nonsense, he could do something great.” In this case, I’m entirely sure that’s not true. Lil B is a true artist, one whose version of subjectivity is the entire content and purpose of his art. It’s not all great, but it might also all be great. His nonsense is all-sense. I have no idea what to make of all this, but Angel’s Exodus sure has given me a lot to chew on. I should just let Lil B preach for himself: “Preconceived notions/ Please move beside them/ Living off instinct/ The honor is my conscience.”

Links: Lil B - Amalgam Digital

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