By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor
Key Tracks: “Wasup Jojo,” “Free Life,” “Getting Hot”
Lil B is an enigmatic superstar that thrives on the unique mindset of “How can I render something normal completely bizarre and visionary?” Throughout his “Based God” mantra and lifestyle, he has completely changed the rap game in both serious and non-serious ways, stressing the importance of losing your ego whilst still preaching positivity and joy to all his devoted fans. Black Ken, his long-awaited mixtape that was teased endlessly with nothing to show for it, dials back on the iconoclasm in favor of a stylistic change that is as rudimentary as it is blissfully fun.
Unlike much of the 808s dominated rap landscape in 2017, Black Ken favors an 80s-inspired aesthetic that is both DJ Kool Herc and DJ Mustard in its stripped-down production and simplistic rhyme scheme. Not to say that any sort of return to roots is a bad thing; Lil B harkens back to the discotheque style of the New York forebearers with an eye for punchy verses and funky synths, most noted on “Wasup Jojo.” The meat of the song only features one simple bass drum and a mechanical bell that belies the Oakland-originated rapper, but it works due to Lil B’s free-spirited nature and commitment to such an antiquated style of hip-hop.
More inspiration comes from the Zapp & Roger-esque bass on “Free Life” that jumps off your speakers in tandem with a manic saxophone and Muzak synths. No one could ever accuse Brandon McCartney of lacking ideas, and he has switched up from a post-ringtone rap ideologue to an MC reminiscent of the Furious Five or Kurtis Blow in search of the next mic to rock and next party to pop off. Unfortunately, due to the sonic advancement in the genre, the songs and mixtape itself comes off as overlong, and a stripping down of the material is sorely needed.
It’s easy to decry Black Ken as corny regression to a genre of rap that should be long left behind, however Lil B’s ingenuity of creativity break it off from the rest of the pack to show that not everything has to be ad-libs and Fruity Loops beat samples. Artists like Young Thug, Chief Keef, and Lil Yachty have all crafted albums this year that fruitfully deviate from what they’re known for, and Lil B has done the same with a record that completely embraces the bizarre methodology that the former Pack star sticks to with aplomb.