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Lil B
Rain In England Ross Pounds , November 22nd, 2010 11:54

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Musicians have always used the songs they create as a means of bearing the soul – providing an insight into the deeper recesses of the human psyche, fragile areas that they wouldn't dare show as they go about the humdrum of their day-to-day life. The recording studio or the bedroom becomes a means of expression, a blotting pad on which to pour the ink spills of the mind and soul. Words leak out like piss trickling down a wall – no pattern or route, the most basic and based desires spliced together in an instant.

And there's no place more prevalent for these outpourings than rap. Perhaps because it's a genre where no holds are barred, perhaps because the word count is so much higher, perhaps because the adulation is so much greater and the fall so much higher, but here every last insecurity or depraved fantasy comes straight out of the mind and into the mic. Granted, for every Eminem or Kanye or Lil Wayne there's a 50 Cent or a Gucci Mane, rappers with fine qualities of their own but ones who don't stray too far from the clichéd templates established a quarter of a century ago, but on the whole the rap world is a place where nothing is held back. As always, though, the bar can be raised higher. Brandon 'Lil B' McCartney, member of Californian blog-rap also-rans The Pack (remember 2006 sneaker anthem 'Vans'? No?) is an intriguing character. Insanely prolific, the Based God (so named because of his stream-of-consciousness flow) has released more mixtapes, tracks, and self-made Youtube videos in the last year or so than even the most ardent fan can keep up with (he has somewhere in the region of 150 separate MySpace accounts). He makes Gucci Mane look like Axl Rose; Lil Wayne like D'Angelo. As one might expect from such prolificacy, the hit-to-miss ratio is, well, hit and miss. But there's one thing that Lil B never is: boring. It's something we should all be thankful for in a day and age when mundanity is rewarded with untold success, when Ludacris can dial in a guest verse half-asleep on a Justin Bieber track and get away with it.

Lil B's unfiltered approach to releasing material reached an apex of sorts recently with the late-September release of the startling Rain In England, a baffling, flawed but utterly engrossing album of brain-spews layered over the kinds of ambient beats and new-age synths normally more associated with Gorilla vs Bear than XXL (on a recent track, 'Why They Wanna Kill Me', McCartney sampled How to Dress Well's speaker-blown slow jam 'Ready for the World'). It's bizarre and, at times, almost impossible to listen to given the self-flagellation B indulges in. In numerous extraordinary verses his doubts and foibles are laid bare on the table, ill-mannered verbal lacerations opening up his soul for anyone to see.

Although the material on display is sometimes unremittingly bleak, there's something oddly heart-warming about both Rain In England and Lil B himself. He's a man seemingly unrestrained by the macho posturing of the rap world at large, a rapper at once willing to give everything to those who adore him and one who seems to be doing it for no-one but himself. You get the sense that albums like this, or any of the numerous mixtapes released this year, are forms of therapy for McCartney - valuable vessels into which his innermost thoughts are poured, ways of expunging mind and body, a method used to attempt to understand whatever might be going on inside his head. If B's on the couch, then we're on the chair – a patient laying bare his doubts and desires to deconstruct as we see fit.

From a purely musical point-of-view, there's a lot to like. Lil B's flow is a delight: gloopy and densely textured, as if someone has a lighter to his throat and the words are melting out. It's more measured but no less dexterous than his contemporaries, and the pace of his eloquent, brooding verses lend themselves well to the alien, frosted glass synth sounds and syrupy electronics that form the majority of the backing tracks here. Rain In England comes across like the work of some rap savant, a man whose inner filter has been disabled, creating something which may polarise but which is, at least, utterly distinctive.

Where McCartney goes from here is anyone's guess. Described as the "anti-Drake", it's unlikely he'll hit the mainstream with such deliberately lo-fi concoctions, but there's no doubting that the man has talent, that he might even be rap music's next bright young thing – pushing the genre in directions it has yet to find. Regardless of the future, though, he should be applauded for standing alone in a sea of depressing homogeneity, for striking out beyond the backpacks and boom-baps, for putting those bloated boasts to bed. It's flawed for sure (the composition of a large portion of the backing tracks is at times wincingly naïve, although no less charming for it) but crucially it's jarringly unconventional, refreshingly unpretentious and downright compelling. It's a wildcard, but one well worth taking a punt on.

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John Calvert
Jan 28, 2011 3:53pm

brilliant description:

densely textured, as if someone has a lighter to his throat and the words are melting out

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