By Thomas Klepacz, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 6, 2013
Nearly 10 months ago, a certain, casually 18-year-old New York rapper released possibly the greatest mixtape of the year. It was called 1999, an ode to the days when Supreme was a brand that only baggy-jeaned New York skaters knew about and when Nautica rivaled the lifestyle authenticity of Ralph Lauren. The days of “true hip hop,” where simple looping drums and drab piano highlighted pure lyrical prowess, where content — the “meaning” of your lyrics, your own relevance to them — mattered over everything else. The good ol’ days, when rappers like Lil B couldn’t have survived among the waves of hip-hop greatness that sprung from the “bEast Coast.” Joey Bada$$ was four years old at the time.
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On 1999 — released solely over the Internet and championed by Internet mogul Hypebeast and Nah Right frequenters alike — a member of Joey Bada$$’s crew, Capital STEEZ (since deceased), took an old-school “shot” at Lil B. Referring to the Bay Area rapper’s alter ego, STEEZ yelped, “Tell the BasedGod don’t quit his day job!” to a gap in drum sound, accenting both his emotional cadence and the importance of his words. To Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew (as he calls them), a rapper like Lil B — a man who gained a legion of cult-like followers purely from his own devotion to social media, a man who released a series of mixtapes named after impossible flame colors (Pink Flame is his newest) — seems like a complete joke. A man who could never make it in their hailed golden era, the 1999 of their high-school imaginations.
What Joey Bada$$ and his crew didn’t imagine was the trouble that would come from this line. Earlier this week, Lil B released “I’m the Bada$$,” a 10-month-late response to the “diss.” Over a tweaking soul sample and heavy drums (a sound generally uncharacteristic of Lil B), the BasedGod threatened young Joey, telling him “If you think / You’re a badass / I’ll turn you into trash / You lil’ b*tch.” Sure, the song itself was nothing special — Lil B barely made any personal attacks on Joey, instead seeming to direct the song at the overwhelming presence of his constant “haters” — but the overall attack was tremendous — the Blitzkrieg of BasedWorld, if you will. Within hours of the track releasing, “Lil B” was trending on Twitter, Joey Bada$$ had gained thousands of hate-mongering followers and innumerable BasedGod fans (Task Force, as they’re called) had directed their attentions towards defending Lil B and destroying the “Bada$$” image of Joey. They succeeded.
They and Lil B, that is. Joey Bada$$ has since released his own diss track, titled “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” a completely underwhelming response to the man he claimed was “too easy” to defeat. The man Joey claimed he wouldn’t “waste his time” on (but then spent days recording a diss, arguing on Twitter and addressing the situation to various media outlets). The man who ultimately led Joey to delete his Twitter account, leaving only his Tumblr, addressing questions from various Tumblr girls offering their own condolences (“I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time with all this Lil B sh*t”) for Joey’s now tragic situation. Doesn’t seem like it was “too easy,” does it?
The issue with Joey Bada$$ (and the rest of the internet-hating contingency) is his own apparent naïveté to the realities of modern rap. While Joey dreamt of VHS recordings and busted tapes, Lil B constructed an immense following of dedicated fans through a constantly entertaining Twitter account (“THEY LOOK AT ME AND SEE A BLACK MAN? I FEEL LIKE A WHITE WOMAN”) and a note-filled Tumblr mysteriously titled “Dior Paint,” where Lil B spends his time making memes of himself and re-blogging pictures of various fans.
His raps aren’t to be ignored, either — Lil B could be the most versatile rapper in hip hop, a man who can simultaneously release songs called “I’m Miley Cyrus” and “Illusions of Grandeur.” The man who sprung producers like Clams Casino from his mother’s New Jersey home into mass popularity through his artistic ear, the man who invented a style of free-form rap now called “Based Freestyling,” the man who tweets dedications to cancer victims, police officers and his endless females alike. The man who broke down in tears in one of his most recent videos (for the immensely emotional song “I Love You,” built around a Final Fantasy piano sample) because he was so taken aback by the beauty of the animals in the pet store he filmed it in. “I just … wanna spread the love,” he said, tears sliding down his face. “I just got so much love in my heart, man.”
Joey Bada$$ can scoff at Lil B’s skills, YouTube commenters can lament over his influence on hip hop, and the Grammys can mysteriously remove him from a performance competition, but The BasedGod’s material stands for itself. Lil B has an entirely unique perspective on both hip hop and the world around him, he makes boatloads of entertaining, creative music and he garners respect from tween girls, old men and kittens across the globe (He made a song featuring his pet cat, Keke. Look it up).
He is an artist in its truest form, a man who has saved hip hop by changing the very parameters which the art form has been stuck within for years. He's not the one who needs to watch out for his day job — that's the Bada$$. “I need some time off that sh*t,” Joey wrote on his Tumblr. “Do you know how it feels to know the whole world is watching you … it kinda sux … but I'm not gone tho my n*gga I'll be back just taking a break.” Take your time, Joey — I’ll be listening to Pink Flame.