All photos by Julia Hannafin
Two years ago, I watched Lil B perform to a full crowd of pink bandana-waving, frenzied fans at UCSD. My friend was DJing for B’s Pack-mate and frequent collaborator Stunnaman, and so I watched from the stage as waves of teens—mostly dudes—pushed so hard to reach Lil B that the front row began to bend over the fences separating the crowd from the stage. As fans squeezed against and over the fence, they hopped onto the stage, celebrating their short-lived victory before being tossed back into the masses by security. When people hit that stage, their faces glowed. Below them, more fans reached up, stretching and stretching just in the hopes of brushing the Based God’s hands.
Lil B's music is catchy, meandering, and incredibly distinct, tailored to each moment in his life and to each message he wants to convey. Yes, there are the bangers like "Like A Martian," but there are also tracks like "Earth Medicine," earnest and ambient songs that often meander past the six-minute mark. What Lil B has done is make a movement, regardless of whether that entails having fans who listen to all of his songs. So where's Lil B today? Lately he's been showing up at recent A$AP Rocky shows and rapping on a freestyle tape with Chance and Noname Gypsy. It seems that Lil B has entered a new era that's not so solitary—but just what does that mean for where the Based God is heading?
Flash forward to a Thursday night in Santa Ana, and I’m experiencing a Lil B show again. This time, it’s Lil B and friends, friends in this case being Dem Ham Boyz (Ham on Everything DJs), Softest Hard, Stunnaman and Ashley All Day. The Observatory is kind of a weird spot, sandwiched in between office buildings and expansive parking lots. When you walk in, you see the place is huge. Levels of concert floor and seating go back like a low slope amphitheater. The fans are, again, mostly young and male, but less Based World than the last show. You still have your pink bananas and your Lil B paraphernalia in the occasional fan’s hand, but it’s less all-out. An equal balance of die-hards and “Yeah, I fuck with Lil B”-types.
Currently on the stage is Softest Hard, a young DJ on the rise who's been running with the likes of Skrillex and Vic Mensa. Somehow managing to hit both emotional and turn-up notes in her mixes, she gets into a crowd’s bloodstream quick. Next up is Ashley All Day, a Bay Area rapper who reps a bass-heavy, slow slur kind of flow. She seems a lil fucked up, occasionally missing a bar here and there, but she still gets it, sauntering around stage to her slap, “Yadadamean”.
Stunna, aka Black Bart, aka part of the legendary Pack, comes out next. At this point the crowd wants the Based God, rustling around in the pit and occasionally beginning chants for him to come out. But the crowd knows Stunna, too, and they’re ready to get down with him. Moving around stage with bouncing energy and gravel-trap voice, Stunna performs a range from Pack cuts like “In My Car” (Fun fact: Look deep into the crowd of the fools dancing by the car in the video, and you see a young tattoo-free Tyga dancing along) to new slaps from Black Bart 2, which came out this summer. He also played a favorite of mine, “Quinoa.” “On that quinoa, what the fuck is rice?”
Stunna steps off stage, and the lights dim. It’s time. A single light shines through the dark, and out steps Brandon McCartney in his quintessential uniform—light, tight pants, a light blue polo, and large, boxy shades. The crowd goes crazy. B launches into a concert set similar to his past tours—a mix of old and new, but always closed with the same rough lump of songs: slaps like “Green Card,” “Wonton Soup,” “Like A Martian,” “Pretty Bitch,” and “Bitch Mob”. These are some of Lil B’s most recognizable songs, as well as the ones to which his young fans know all the words.
In typical Lil B fashion, he breaks into short anecdotes or shout-outs in between songs. Sometimes it's to shout out someone he mentioned in a song. After “Wonton Soup,” he bellows to the crowd, “Shout out to Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone!” Other times, they’re thoughts about how to be nicer, how to be kinder. “If you early to the airport,” Lil B says to his crowded room of followers, “Let some motherfuckers cut you who need to make their flight.” He pauses. “Let your people on the plane, you feel me!” He also takes a second to remember those lost in the recent San Bernardino shootings.
Lil B is an excellent performer. He’s energetic, always dancing, gigging, waving back and forth. He grabs his fans' hands, signs their stuff, promises to stick around for photos afterward. He talks to the audience as if they’re his friends, as if they’re younger siblings he’s passing down advice to. He plays what the crowd wants to hear. This is kind of the formula—and even as Lil B has grown, that formula hasn’t really changed. The popular songs haven’t changed either, at least not for the past two years. But what happens when Lil B’s fans, primarily in their teens, grow into the next generation?
In 2012, Lil B was trying out for the Warriors and giving epic, rambling talks at NYU. In 2015, a couple years later in his evolution, he’s making appearances on MSNBC and CNN to rep Bernie Sanders and seeing out curses on NBA players. And he’s playing the same shows to his adoring audience, a legion of supporters.
Now, it’s clear: Lil B has the concert thing down. But his sights are set elsewhere—and maybe always have been. Not somewhere defined, concrete, but in the avenue of love and acceptance. Everything that Lil B touches is connected to something else—he’s sure to acknowledge everyone that’s affected. Nothing he ever does is completely alone. Towards the end of the show, Lil B mentions he made it to CNN this year. What’s going to happen next year? “I got a lot of surprises in the future, you don’t even know,” he proclaims. Based World, and the next iteration of Brandon McCartney fans, are waiting.