Black Ken Is Extremely Rare Art

"The poetics of banality are crucial to Lil B's durational approach."

There are a few rappers that, when I listen to them, I forget that I’m the best rapper in the world and actually hand the title over. Lil B is one of those rappers. I’m a big Lil B fan. He’s a very influential dude to me, personally and, like, more “objectively” in the broader culture (as far as objectivity actually exists). People who don’t like Lil B either don’t understand rap or are too uptight. I don’t even want to waste any breath on explaining why they’re wrong. Too tedious.

If I’m not mistaken, Black Ken, Lil B’s latest LP, is the first self-produced rap album that dude has ever dropped, seven years in the making. I’m curious to hear how The BasedGod flexes as a producer. (Off top, I know I’ll like it, tho—never heard a Lil B joint I didn’t like.)

“Produced by The BasedGod Intro”

Spooky Yay Area synth-carnival vibes. Lil B knows how to make a beat. Big, dynamic mix. Kinda E-40ish/Rick Rock–ish. So far, so good.

“Still Run It”

This joint is hella Bay widdit. This is the cleanest mix I’ve heard on a Lil B album since “I’m Gay.” He’s on his Too $hort flow. He said, “I’m finna throw a party at Eastmont Mall.” That’s that real Yay flavor that people love and respect dude for.

“Bad Mf”

This beat has more of a kind of Kool Keith vibe to it—straightforward, minimal, unpretentious piano loops, boxy kicks, some zany synth noises in the background. He’s getting loose with the li’l fills. The raps stay in that straightforward Too $hort lane, with some Rappin’ 4-Tay in there, too.

“Wasup JoJo”

This beat go hard—kinda like 2 Live Crew meets House of Pain. Got that Trackademicks-y synth pad on the hook. Kinda DJ Mustard–y, too. The hook’s just a stereo-panned sample of a chick saying “Wassup, JoJo?” That’s a great hook. This shit is very 1981 Paradise Garage. He said “I could roll in the Tesla or ride in the Honda / Really don’t matter, I’m the one driving.” Tesla and Honda are probably the two most Berkeley cars you could rap about. Very East Bay car choices. Who else rapped about a Tesla recently—Tyler, right? We need to phase these fossil fuels out, man, go electric.

“Hip Hop”

This hook is hella funny: “HIP! HOP! HIP! HOP!” Sort of like a semitonal vibraphone–type thing going on. “Listen to the Lox so I know about J Hood” is hella funny to me for no reason. He said, “Cyphers with Kendrick Lamar / And I ain’t spittin a bar / Unless you got 50 thousand or more.” That’s hard bars.

“DJ BasedGod (Black Ken)”

Sort of a Run DMC vibe. This album has definitely been reminding me of early Too $hort throughout. Like, Get in Where You Fit In era, or Don’t Stop Rappin’—ha, that album is amazing. And definitely on some Kool Keith, too. LL Cool J swag, as swell. Super old school. Kinda like Grandmaster Flash. Very hip-hop stuff; quite litty; très swaggy.


Dreamy li’l “Cloud Rap”–esque synths over some classic, big, boxy Rick Rock/Ant Banks–type drums. He’s keeping the flows hella old school. “Baby, I’m a drugstore” is a good line. Very hip-hop stuff here—reminds me that there’s not enough scratching on rap albums lately. “Lookin’ for a girl with a mind and heart / It’s not about sex, that’s the lamest part,” is a crazy line—very futuristic.

“Free Life”

Good song title. Crazy li’l dueling synth lines. He got them Amaze 88 delayed free-jazz horn trills on there. Ghettotech-y type drum pattern with the Phil Collins gated snare. Dude can produce. “The weather don’t stop / It just keep on changing” is like a Bob Dylan line. Lil B is the new Bob Dylan.

“Pretty Boy Skit”

Haha. Skits—forgot about skits. This one has a sort of Brechtian/Warholian quality. The poetics of banality are crucial to Lil B’s durational approach.

“Young Niggaz”

Classic hyphy stuff here. A real anthem. This is the cleanest-sounding Lil B album I’ve heard thus far. You can tell he spent some time on this. This album is like Chinese Democracy, except I’ve never heard Chinese Democracy, and I heard it sucks.

“Getting Hot”

Super hyphy, man; this one go. He on his Keak on this one. (Heard Keak got shot; hope he gets well soon.) Ha, he bleeped his own cuss words out. Bruh’s like a more fiercely experimental Kanye West. Continually wowed by his production, actually. He’s not going the “lyrical” route so much on this album, but it’s bars regardless. Hearing shades of Problem and Sage the Gemini on the delivery and flow, dynamic modulation, his changes are 40-esque. Reminded of Suga Free for almost no reason.

“Go Stupid Go Dumb”

The hyphy continues. Lil Jon vibes. These beats are all insane. He really makes beats the same way he raps, with, like, an encyclopedia of styles, but prioritizing innovation and surprise over finesse. The result is an effortless finesse—a finesse without finesse. Nothing but simple, anthemic, scream-along hooks on this whole album. Dummy flameish.

“Global (feat. iLoveMakonnen)”

I did a show with Makonnen one time. It was one of like five shows I did in sweatpants. Comfy. I’ma get back into that again. Feel like I rap better in jeans, tho. Hmm.

Anyway. Makonnen has a real foreign vibe. I guess Canada is technically another country from the United States. Never really thought about that. Makonnen is the best fool out of Toronto. Wait—I just looked him up. He’s from Atlanta, never mind. That makes sense, too. He lives in Portland? Weird.

This song is amazing. I could see this being DJed at six in the morning at a sweaty Berlin club. The beat’s like if PM Dawn got hired to do the Mortal Kombat theme song. Another Tesla reference. “Do your pretty dance” is a great line.

“Ride (Hold Up)”

Why is Lil B trying to buy an ounce of weed? Who cares? I fuck with the li’l background synth claves he’s got going here. The drum patterns are tight on this song. Mellow, dreamed out, almost like a jazz element to these drums, kinda Latin. Hook rhythm is tight. He said “You need to tap in / Ten stolen cars, I was mainy back then.” This guy.

“Mexico Skit”

I been saying move to Mexico! Glad Lil B’s on that wave, too. America’s dead. America jumped the shark. Matter fact, America was born dead; born on the other side of the shark already. Abandon ship, furl meh. I know it’s easier said than done, but just give it some thought, OK? I’m not saying there’s no value to standing your ground and defending the land you were born on, I’m just saying there’s no need to over-romanticize America—it’s probably not worth “saving.” It’s like an abusive spouse. Plus, Mexico do its thing.

“Zam Bose (In San Jose)”

Yooo, this beat go crazy. He’s on some crazy Latino shit right now—some kind of wacky mélange of reggaeton, cumbia, EDM, and salsa. Very surprised dude made this beat. You know that GIF where the white dude raises his eyebrows in surprise? That’s how I feel about this beat, which is kind of like if Major Lazer was hired to do the theme music to The Three Caballeros.

“Go Senorita Go”

Slick, stark beat. I’m fuckin’ with the lasers. Literally laughed out loud when he said, “What up, Monica Lewinskyyy.” He said, “I don’t throw ones / We got real money.” He brings back the Latino synth horns for the hook. This has a real Tootsie Roll, YMCA/Boys and Girls Club dance–type feel to it. Very strange, beautiful music. A whole lot of hook going on. On the whole album, really.

“Turn Up (Till You Can’t)”

This one has an “Akon in a Puerto Rican mall” vibe. Sort of pop-punk vibes. Autotune singing over some 120 BPM electro-dance pop. He’s on his Taylor Swift right now. Avril Lavigne. Rebecca Black–ish. If Spike Jonze shot a Target commercial, he might use this joint in it. This is like when Kanye opened his sophomore album with dude from Maroon 5: It sounds bad on paper, but works.

“Ain’t Me”

Bob Dylan at it again. A mellow, screwball, dancehall chune. Hook on a sort of Vybz Kartel–ish, Mavado-ish, Gyptian-ish wave, melody/cadence-wise, but a li’l more chilled out. He came with the Ying Yang Twin whisper deadpan verses. He said: “Eat the pussy, I’m emotional / I’m a Leo.” That’s bars. And bruh can actually lightweight sing? This really is adding up to be the best Lil B album so far.


He’s on his “Pretty Boy Swag” flow again here. Flow’s kinda like Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle. Loving the excess use of that classic, goofy Cali wobbly bass synth all over this album. It’s like a cartoon frog walking into a 7/11 in outer space and copping a five-pack of Swisher Sweets and some Sour Straws.

“West Coast”

He’s on his based Pac over a half-melancholic Dru Ha–type beat. Hella Californian. Very hip hop. Hecka based. This song is like Marshawn Lynch diving into a swimming pool of Skittles like he’s Scrooge McDuck.

“The Real Is Back”

I like when Lil B gets on his Lil Weezy flow. He said, “RIP, Emmett Till;” that bar caught me by surprise. Damn, he dissed Soulja Boy; that sucks; Soulja been taking Ls lately: getting jumped, beefing with Chris Brown…that sucks. Was a big fan of that Pretty Boy Millionaire mixtape; was hoping to hear more collaboration between the two of them, but I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles.

“Rawest Rapper Alive”

Always love those Hood Hop “Hey! Hey! Hey!” accents. These bars are hard, he said, “Rather live real before I die rich.” He said, “Like Mary J. Blige, bitch, I’m going down,” ha. “I’m really with this punk-rock rap shit” is hell of accurate. Lil B is hella good at rapping. He really is a raw-ass rapper.

“Da Backstreetz”

He’s back on his T-Pain. He said, “I’m at Fruitvale BART with a kickstand.” He said, “I’ll cut the whole rock like I’m Jay-Z,” damn. The synth melodies in these beats are all hella strange—just weird chord progressions—but the production and mix is so clean it doesn’t come off as amateurish, but just, like, really “out” choices. All that said, this whole album still way poppier than I had expected. This album feels like a real-ass classic.

“Rare Art”

This beat is crazy as hell. Dude is right; this is extremely rare art. Très avant garde. Discordant melodic choices, varied percussive textures, inventive flows, Toni Morrison-esque. He’s been running through his Rolodex of styles and polishing them up on this whole album.

“Show Promoter Skit”

Sort of like a post-humor Crank Yankers episode here. Deadpan Warholian Jerky Boys vibes. Remember that TLC skit on CrazySexyCool where she’s, like, talking dirty on the phone, and she’s like, “Can you…get me…a tissue…so I can WIPE MY ASS!” That shit was hella funny. Anyway…

“Live From the Island – Hawaii”

Hawaii—great island. They need to secede from the States. California, too. Man, the United States is total trash. Anyway, nice li’l outro.

This album is pitch-perfect—classic Lil B, I would say it’s his best so far, but it’s kind of impossible to pick a best album out of the dozens and dozens of classics he’s dropped over the years. The production is incredibly strange, yet clean as hell. Very hip hop stuff here, very punk rock, très avant garde, Toni Morrison-esque, hyphy, super Bay widdit, very Cali, swaggy, litted, funky stuff.

I’m pleasantly surprised at Lil B’s production chops. Dude is really evolving, despite what a less trained ear might tell you. I think his best work still remains ahead of him—I’m looking forward to the next few albums in this stage of development. Fire, flames, fuego. 10/10.

Victor Vazquez, aka KOOL A.D., is a rapper/singer/producer/painter/ novelist/astrologist/male model/exotic dancer just trying to be free and live his life in a big beautiful world governed by brutal, soulless men enslaved by their own toxic ideologies.