Based On A Two Way Street
Lil B f/ Phonte & Jean Grae – “Base For Your Face” (Internet, 2011)
Produced by 9th Wonder.
So this happened. Musically the track is exactly what you would expect. Pretty good, if you like that sort of thing. The response is equally predictable. Some twitterers are tweeting mad at Phonte, Jean and 9th. Others are hitting their oh my god Lil B is actually good moment of clarity. Otherers are patting the artists on the back for breaking down the walls. Phonte, Jean and 9th are proudly touting the record, on one hand acting like they’re doing something real rebellious while also working the no really this is really real hip hop guys! angle. As if the Little Brothers weren’t among the very wave of artists who first cultivated the state of hyper restrictive elitism that makes their fans think that B the enemy.* This is fine. I’m not going to scream hypocrite. People are allowed to change their minds. It’s just that the flip flop would be easier to stomach if it were delivered with just a little more self-awareness.
And all the back patting and counter back patting is still frustrating for a few reasons. One, the actual act of putting Lil B on a 9th Wonder beat or in the same pro tools window as Jean and Phonte is not the big shocker it’s being made out to be. Anyone who has been paying any serious attention to B knows that this is hardly outside of his regular work. He’s rapped traditionally this well or better in the past, and over as good or better production within the same lane. The song only matters because of the other names attached to it. Even the names themselves should be unsprising to anyone who has been paying attention – B’s long been vocal about how Jean Grae is one of his favorite rappers. He’s been working to introduce his fans to this type of stuff.
It isn’t exactly a corrective measure either. To the Little Brother fan “Based For Your Face” only gives B a pass because he “can rap.” But it gives that fan no new tools to think critically about his output. It gives them no better understanding of how and why he resonates with his own fans, and it certainly doesn’t offer them an in to experience that resonance on their own. They aren’t going to turn around and find the value in “Wonton Soup.” In fact they might even hate it more now. (9th doesn’t appear to be a fan himself.)They will bump this song, find a few more in the same vein and then maybe label B as “one of the good ones” while continuing to push hard line conservative rap values about how Waka Flocka N Em are destroying the genre.
9th offered this rationale on twitter: “I cannot build a wall to ANY young rapper on the come up that wanna SPIT and pay hommage…thats where the problem lies…..” Again, if you follow B at all, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is all of these things. He is a student of this game. Everytime I’ve ever talked to him, even in an interviewer capacity, he ends up asking me more questions than I do him. What ever happened to Group Home? What’s the deal with Cormega? How do I become MF Doom? He is a listener and a learner. And a humble one at that. Murs recently said the same thing when confronted with B’s invitation to Rock The Bells. I seem to recall Lupe using a similar line of reasoning when fans complained about his rumored collab with the Based God. Like Jean says here, “Lil B’s in love with the music.” Superficially 9th’s educator stance is noble, but a good teacher should also learn from his students. As a sponge, B knows a lot about rap music. Rap music that Phonte and 9th have probably dismissed in the past as insufficiently real or ignorant minstrelsy. B has schooled me personally on so much rap over the past few years. He was the first person I remember talking about Waka as a solo artist and not just a Gucci bag holder, well before “O Let’s Do It.” He introduced me to DB Tha General, who has become one of my favorite rappers. He even forced me to reconsider the talents of Birdman (and justly so).
I don’t know how much, if any, mileage 9th Wonder or Jean Grae would get out of these specific artists. I just hope that now that these guys have opened the lines of communication they are actually listening to B, using the Based ideology to expand their worldview and not just picking out the bits and pieces reaffirm their own values. Maybe next time Jean and Tay could hop on a Keyboard Kid beat. Or 9th could try his hand at flipping a “Pretty Bitch” remix.
He’ll need harder drums though.
* Not going to throw Jean Grae under the bus here because, as far as I remember, she was always on her own trip and didn’t do too much of the brow beating hip hop purism thing. But if she did and I’m misremembering then just give me the word and I’ll gladly turn the bus back around.