An Interview with Lil B

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
The prolific rapper on Bill and Barack, Ellen and Hillary, 50 and Puffy. Photography by Daniel Rose.

The strangest rapper alive,” The New Yorker bitched. “A brilliantly warped, post-Lil-Wayne deconstructionist from the Bay Area. He freestyles prolifically and deftly,” Slate. “One of the most visible rappers on the Internet, and also one of the most inscrutable… a folk hero of the rap counterculture,” The New York Times. These publications didn’t actually interview the social media phenomenon with almost 90 million YouTube hits and 700,000 Twitter followers.

“I’ve gotta get some rest, man.” It’s 1am Thursday in Wellington. Lil B looks tired, tells me he really doesn’t want to do our scheduled interview. The 23-year-old Berkeley rapper who’s put out hundreds of songs flew in from San Francisco the previous day. Opening/closing with dope trio ‘The Age of Information’, ‘Ellen Degeneres’ and ‘Giving Up’, he’s just delivered a lively 80-minute set at Bodega. His army of fierce fans extends to New Zealand, and he’s capping the gig with an hour with them saying hi, taking photos, signing things, and doing hongis.

Despite playing a disappointing one-minute cut of his/the Pack’s 2006 breakthrough ‘Vans’, Lil B is still wearing the same busted pair of white Vans he’s had on for years. Shirt-off, ripped, his upper torso is thoroughly tattooed. He’s taking low-riding next level, with near half his green boxers above his red shorts. I tell him I’ve put notable prep time in. “I feel ya,” Lil B relents to a quick, friendly interview (after getting a jacket).

He’s getting so much female interest, he’s making Bill Clinton look unloved, I say. He laughs loudly, energised and animated out of his torpor into a characteristic stream of consciousness. “Sup man!? You know it’s all love! I’ve got love for Bill. I just followed Hillary Clinton on that Twitter, shout out to Hillary.” Hillary signed up to Twitter last week, not long after the Big Dog did. “Hell yeah he there.”

His song ‘Bill Clinton’ is really funny, I enthuse. He beams, irreverently busting out the lyrics: “I’m Bill Clinton/ Fuckin’ all these women.” He then adopts a sober tone: “Respectfully.” Lil B is buzzing with the fun he’s had adopting a Bill Clinton persona; and personas for Miley Cyrus, Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, Dr Phil, Justin Bieber, and Ryan Duffy. I find his exploration of celebrity more entertaining and interesting than (the overrated, outdated) Andy Warhol. “I appreciate Andy Warhol, man.”

His energetic performance was motivated by the crowd’s enthusiasm. “Beautiful people. Man, I love Wellington, one of the best places I’ve ever been, most positive people.” He got most of Bodega’s mellow crowd putting their middle fingers in the air against haters mid set.

Is Ellen still denying him? “Yeah, you already know.” He’s stoical about Ellen not showing him any love, any acknowledgement on Twitter. “Ellen know about me though. I’ve got love for Ellen. I understand, I understand.” He should be on Ellen (but understands it ain’t gonna happen). “I know, I know, I know, I know. It’s all good, we don’t want Ellen to get fired.”

Lil B is reluctant to play favourites from his series—“Every one’s my favourite you know what I mean?”—and doesn’t think any celebrities have been unhappy. “Man not really, not really, not that I’ve heard of. I mean all these ones will be getting millions of views.” He’s releasing a new celebrity song very soon. “I got a big one that’s going to be big. Coming out next couple of days. You’re gonna see it. I can tell you right now it’s a girl who’s popular now, it’s not who you think.” (Right before the gig, Lil B tweeted out his new, crappy Rihanna remix.)

Having Puffy as his hype man at SXSW 2011 was exciting? “Yeah definitely, it was beautiful.  Puff opening man, hyping me up, man that was a lifetime experience. Shout out to The Fader.” Lil B also felt like he’d made it in 2011 when he featured on Lil Wayne’s ‘Sorry for the Wait’, comparing the experience to playing basketball versus Michael Jordan. “I was nervous, and I don’t even get nervous about nothing. It’s great if you get a chance to be around Wayne.” He’s also worked with Jay Z collaborator 9th Wonder, and hung out with 50 Cent. “Hanging out with 50 is a humbling experience in this hip hop legacy.”

“Hell yeah. Prince is on my list. I’ve got some money for Prince,” Lil B is keen to collaborate with the artist Hudart from Hypnotic Brass Ensemble described working with (to Lumière) as “Amazing!” What about Lil B’s famous tweet trying to get Kanye West’s attention; has he heard anything from Kanye, got anything more to say on that? “Nah.”

Last year, Lil B (no tertiary education) gave a pauseless, packed 80-minute lecture at New York University. “It’d never happened before and it was just amazing, I mean there was so much love, it was so real. I went there unscripted, I went there and just spread the love. It was great to play a part with the staff and see other intelligence get respected. The NYU faculty and the students and the beautiful people were respecting my intelligence, what I have to offer to people, to the progression of humans and love.”

The happy atmosphere reminded people of Obama’s 2008 election victory. Uncharacteristically, the Spirited Away fan[1] equivocates on Obama. “I don’t know too much about politics, I need to learn more, I don’t know where to start. He looks cool.” Jay Z wouldn’t be supporting Obama if he wasn’t the real deal? “Yeah. That’s what I think too; we’ll see. I like a positive attitude, and that’s what I want to bring in: whoever’s positive. Bill Clinton was positive.”

“He got four years to straighten out 50 years of bullshit, shit’s been going on a long time, but they gotta put it on the black man,” soul’s Bobby Womack, recently in New Zealand, defended Obama. I point out Bill Clinton said Obama needs another four years to build on cleaning up after Bush’s mess. Lil B can’t curb his Clinton enthusiasm: “I fuckin’ love Bill! Bill’s Bill. He got over there. Some people don’t get over there. Mitt Romney didn’t get over there.”

Christian rockers Section Zero frontman turned promoter Josh Mossman interrupts: my time’s up. So before wishing Lil B all the best for his Melbourne gig later tonight (Thursday), I tell him I really like his thoughtful March release ‘Giving Up’. (Not just because, as with Daft Punk sampling, Diplo-hustled ‘Hipster Girls’, it gently makes fun of B supporters.) His message? “You know, just love each other. You know, all your friends and everything you know could be gone so it don’t matter. Spread love.”

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© Daniel Rose 2013. All Rights Reserved. More images at danielrose.co.nz.

Lil B performed at Wellington’s Bodega on June 12, and is currently touring Australia. Alexander Bisley interviewed Kiwi hip-hop notables DJ Sir-vereK-One, and Anna Coddington earlier this year. He is currently working on an in-depth feature on David Dallas.

[1] Obama hopeful ‘Gon Be Okay’ samples Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away soundtrack.

Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music

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Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.