Photo by @puretapwater
In the days leading up to Lil B’s lecture at MIT I found myself trying to make sense of some longstanding unresolved feelings I’ve had regarding the Based God. Lil B is a polarizing artist, though I’ve never been able to identify with either the Task Force’s cultish fanboy worship of him or with those who crusade against him as some sort of antichrist of #realhiphop. For the former group, Lil B appears infallible; a recording artist who can no wrong and whose work can’t be measured by any sort of normalized standards of judging art. For more conservative hip-hop fans, Lil B’s unpolished and seemingly careless approach to making music makes him a pariah that should be ostracized from the rap game.
I felt squeezed between the sides. There is certainly good Lil B music, and I can appreciate his widespread influence on hip-hop as well as his appeal as a unique personality. But I was reluctant to buy into completely and as a result I was missing the sort of firm, principled stance on Lil B that I encounter when his name comes up in conversations. My hope was that seeing him in the flesh could sway me one way or another.
First though, I wanted to figure out how and why he’d landed a speaking engagement at MIT, the country’s most renowned institution for physical sciences and engineering. My first course of action was to reach out to a family friend of mine, a professor in MIT’s physics department. They hadn’t heard of the event, nor had they ever heard of Lil B whatsoever. I eventually got in touch with third year Nanotechnology student Forest Sears, who with the help of some friends organized the lecture through MIT’s Black Student Union.
“Lil B obviously appeals more to the humanities than technology, but I did think him speaking at MIT was appropriate,” Sears said. “He has a lot of social ideas, but there is a technology aspect to them because of how involved he is on social media and the Internet. Because of that there are a shocking amount of Lil B fans here at MIT.” The event, which was only available to MIT students and a handful of media representatives, sold out within hours of being put on sale.
Photo by @puretapwater Shortly after 9PM on Friday, Lil B walked into a lecture hall of MIT’s famed Stata Building to a standing ovation, opening with a focus on workplace culture and stressing the need for “Less opinion, more perspective.” He’d go on discuss the media, his ongoing feud with Kevin Durant, the real value of money, and a new venture with a vegan foods company called Follow Your Heart, among other things. I found a great deal of what he shared to be profound, particularly that bit about the importance of positivity in the workplace. But there were also moments that left something to be desired. His response to a question regarding the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri could be interpreted as a nonanswer. When an audience member asked how minority students at MIT could preserve their culture he responded by saying “We all are African” six times in a row before trailing off into something altogether different then the initial question asked. The Fader has transcribed it in full, and it’s worth the long read, though there is something that gets lost in translation in seeing the words on paper, or even watching the videos on YouTube.
Without getting too based, I’ll say this: there truly is something special about being in a room with Lil B. There’s an energy he projects—feelings of love, vulnerability, empathy—that really is palpable. And what he puts out there comes back around. When he was prompted by an audience member to freestyle, I wondered if it might become a Dinner for Shmucks-esque moment, and the sort of ironic appreciation that Lil B’s detractors decry him for would come into play. But I got no such impressions from the roaring ovation that erupted after he completed it. The same goes for when he took to the chalk board to do an abstract drawing with the words “I love Earth - Lil B” accompanying it. Look, I get the inclination to say people are applauding the spectacle of Lil B versus actually liking it but the thing is he really is a great person. Lil B’s positivity is no schtick. It’s emanating from his pores. There’s a sincerity about him that really makes it impossible not to root for him. To like him “ironically” would make you an asshole.
Photo by @puretapwater
When the lecture came to a close I felt different, changed slightly in some immeasurable way, but for the better. It’s what I imagine people experience after a Tony Robbins seminar. Lil B had told us he loved us and I believed it. Somehow I now cared about the wellbeing of this classroom full of strangers in a way that I hadn’t when I walked in. I wanted everyone to get home safe, and to thrive during their college years at MIT, and just to do well in life. I looked down my row of seated writers and hoped that all their stories and recaps of the event got millions of views, even if we were ostensibly competing against each other for attention on our articles about the same topic. It's all about sharing the love, not keeping it to yourself.
That’s when I started to feel uncomfortable. What was going on here? Had I been brainwashed? What sort of Kumbaya horseshit was I buying into?
On my way out I caught the eye of the MIT campus police officer who had watched over the event. This man was a cop’s cop. Big, bald, mean looking. If anyone could snap me out of this and bring me back to reality it was this guy. I asked him what he thought of the event.
“I had never heard of him until I found out that I had the detail,” he told me. “But he’s an uplifting kid. Very spiritual…I like what he’s about.”
It was all I needed to hear. I’m all in. Thank You Based God.
Photo by @puretapwater