*

A love letter to Lil B's 'Based Freestyles'

Trey Alston

 // Jul 25, 2018

Artist // Instagram

The term "based" comes from the pejorative label "basehead," slang for someone addicted to freebasing cocaine. The phrase entered into the public's lexicon during a 1986 news segment from PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. It kept that meaning for 21 years until Bay Area rap group The Pack released their debut album on October 30, 2007, titled Based Boys. They would spark a wave of interest in California's music scene, but the group would fizzle out of mainstream relevancy pretty quickly; all except for the eclectic Lil B who would reemerge nearly three years later claiming the term as his own. "'Based' means being yourself. Not being scared of what people think about you," he revealed in a 2010 interview with Complex. "I made [the term] mine. I embedded it in my head. 'Based' is positive."

In nearly the same breath, he revealed just exactly what was going on with his music at the time—the idea of the based freestyle. "In Based Freestyles, we don't think," he said. "You just let your unconscious mind speak. You let the truth speak. I'm not pre-thinking what I'm gonna speak. I'm going to speak from what my mind says, and that's the truth."

He had uploaded his Based Freestyle, "Crown Me King," to YouTube in April of 2009. It became the template for Lil B releases: scattered, largely incoherent, yet strangely magnetic. In truth, all of his music fit the standards he revealed in the interview. But he would specifically label certain videos on his channel as "BASED FREESTYLE"—always in all caps—while leaving other videos without the title. It was strategic. Initially, they were sporadic; a plethora of the signature art form hit the web in 2010, with tracks such as "Basedworld 1989," "The BasedGod," and "Fuck Him Up" being a part of the reason that Pitchfork wondered "if he's some kind of mad genius or just completely fucking around."

His music videos always seemed to be shot within 15 minutes of each other. Lil B would frequent one locale and rap a sprawling, stream-of-consciousness jumble of words that made about as much sense as Rubik's Cubes in the 1980s. He often didn't know the words to his raps; while he managed to get his planned releases mostly recorded without issue, in the videos for his Based Freestyles, he'd be visibly flustered as he missed words, phrases, and even entire verses.

Throughout 2011 he released less than a dozen videos for Based Freestyles while he put out 12 projects worth of music. Then, in 2012, he shat out an 855-track tape full of the signature rap wave that was much more of Lil B than anyone ever wanted to hear. It compiled every disparate thought inside of his head, from the days of his Myspace music mastery, all the way up to the release of that year's Green Flame. Then, in 2013, almost every mixtape that he released came bundled with at least one Based Freestyle placed at the end of the tracklist to wrap up the experience on a more personal note. From 2014 onward, the idea of the Based Freestyles slowly began waning, save for his faux-genuine six-track collaborative project with Chance The Rapper called Free (Based Freestyles Mixtape). The last that we received came earlier this year on Platinum Flame with "Bay Area Based Freestyle" where B's complete lack of coherency and rhyme make it one of the last vistas of Lil B's veracity that we've received.

Remember, this is the guy who has lectured classes at MIT and NYU. He's released gob after gob of bush-league music, by traditional means, right after releasing something that's critically-applauded (see: album I'm Gay). He'll rap about the society's chaining of the black body just as soon as he'll rap about being the prettiest man in the room. Lil B's not so much conflicted as he is a genius, a misunderstood one at that. By separating his thoughts in Based Freestyles as opposed to his planned-out music—to what degree planned we'll never know—B creates the distinction of play and work that the industry has abided by. His Based Freestyles are him mucking around and making observations rooted in positive and innate forces. His music often reinforces negative stereotypes that his conscious music seeks to stray from, but it's alright; the balance between the both halves makes it work. Without that balance, Lil B has suffered. His planned music is cool and all, but that raw element that made his early career exploits a hoot to be a part of has been missing.

In a surprise move that not even Nostradamus could predict, Lil B recently released a tenacious yet sprawling track called "Keke That's My Kitty" (a feline with the distinction of being the first rapping cat in history) to the backdrop of Drake's "In My Feelings." Along with the release of the Based Freestyle, Lil B revealed that, finally, Based Freestyles are back. To go along with his announcements, he released another Based Freestyle called "Fuck A Bitch." Whether it's overtly flagrant title or the randomness in which the songs release, the year 2010 comes to mind. Based Freestyles were the sprinkles on top of a growing, lucrative rap career. Now in the twilight of his run of importance, this same fascination with spur-of-the-moment rap antics could be the spark that place him back in the threshold of success.

Yet, the game has become much more like him in his absence. Artists around him have stolen his trademark new-age ethereal style and ran with it. Music for pretty boys? Warble-rapping? All of it came from him. And those are just easily seeable repurposes. There are also the kinds of flows and styles that have been hijacked, preventing B from just waltzing back in. At this point, his prestige is what is keeping him afloat. Based Freestyles are largely responsible for the happy-go-lucky mythos that he created. "I mean, the reason why rap is positive and open-minded today, and all the artists that are popping today, and the reason why rap is on the Internet is because of Lil B," he revealed in an interview with PAPER. And he's not fibbing; it's just that with everyone doing it, and a large part of his persona being based on his novelty, his acceptance is much more questionable. But reinventing the Based Freestyle for the new day and age is the first step to secure a long-lasting spot in the ever-altering rap landscape.

Truth be told, Lil B is hip-hop. The balls to go against the grain and establish numerous trends that others then follow is something that only the game's greats (Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, Nas, Dr. Dre) have in common. He may not be the lyrical mastermind that beats you over the head with creative wordplay, but his philosophy and mindset intertwine with his music in ways that the world's never seen before. His Based Freestyles are proof of that. Now that he's back on the surface, in full force, it's time to return to the popular times of his YouTube channel where he'd post his simplistic videos for his one-of-a-kind rap subsidiary.

"Keke That's My Kitty" is a resounding rap statement, even without the Drake loop, because it draws B back to a world of instinct and without second thought. This world's surplus of positive energy that comes from being yourself radiates from the work that he's done.

His Based Freestyles admittedly sound like a bunch of nothing. But that's the beauty of repurposing beats or just speaking from the heart in his vein—it doesn't have to be good by traditional standards. "Keke That's My Kitty" sounds like a much more mediocre version of "In My Feelings" by anyone's standards, but for Lil B it's not about that. It's the continuation of a mindset that permeated the heights of his early career, the same one that's responsible for influencing guys like A$AP Rocky and Chief Keef that have showed adoration for his way of life. A second wind for Lil B's career flows through the revival of his Based Freestyles. It's like it is 2011 all over again.


More by Trey Alston:

Video
From the top