Kendrick Lamar almost never tweets. When he does, it usually has something to do with either his music or one of his TDE label-mates. But this week, he gave a completely unprompted shoutout to Bay Area rapper Lil B on twitter. The phrase “Thank you BasedGod” appeared not once, but twice in the less than 140 characters tweet, where Kendrick showered Lil B and Lil Wayne with praise. The tweet leaves many conservative hip hop heads with mixed feelings: why is the creator of To Pimp a Butterfly showing love for the dude with songs titled “Pretty Bitch” and “What Dat Mouth Do?” According to Kendrick himself, for “teaching us how to swagg in videos”. And he’s right. Underground rap before Lil B looked like shit. Back in 2009, popular mixtape-hosting website Datpiff was cluttered with backpack rappers who oddly competed for the worst Nas impersonation. The advent of Lil B, although met with strong resistance, forced cliché mixtape rappers to reconcile with the fact that rap was changing. Looking back from 2015, the current hip hop climate has been largely built by an unsung hero in the form of a guy with dirty vans and zero radio hits.

Before even getting into the music, it’s important to trace the evolution of visuals in rap music over the past six years. Lil B has been on twitter since 2009, and he’s had the same avatar since. It’s a photo of him wearing a multicolor silk coat with no shirt underneath; he gives a faint smile while flexing his iced out ring and now iconic tats. Virtually every quirky, bizarre Internet rapper that’s come out since has been nothing but an attempt to recreate that photo in life and song. All you have to do is watch a Migos video, a Riff Raff vine or any photo of Young Thug fully clothed. B has also been wearing gender-breaking fits from the start, but no one made a fuss of rappers wearing women’s clothes until Kanye West wore a women’s Céline shirt during his 2011 Coachella performance, or a skirt (kilt?) during his Watch The Throne tour the same year. BasedGod had quietly been curating these developments in rap years earlier. Furthermore, the only time Lil B has had the nation’s attention was last week when he appeared on ESPN’s SportsNation, donning earrings, a sun hat and a white lace top.

And then there are the videos. Earlier in the summer, A$AP Rocky dropped his drugged out visuals for L$D, but guess who premiered it on his behalf? Paying homage, Rakim got Lil B to premier the video by being the first to tweet the link. The video itself, with Rocky roaming the streets in exaggerated colors and warped depth can draw direct comparisons to many of Lil B’s earlier videos, but it’s not the first time Rocky’s art could be described as based. Rocky (and subsequently the rest of the A$AP Mob) blew up after the 2011 release of Live.Love.A$AP, which Clams Casino (prominent Lil B collaborator) produced a third of. One of the foremost identifying features of Rocky on this tape is his perception of himself: a self-described “pretty boy” who signed a three million-dollar deal off Internet buzz.

Naturally, this poses questions that are difficult to answer. Why do so many artists get away with based tendencies while catching mainstream success? Why is Lil B celebrated only ironically while the artists that spawned in his wake climb the Billboard charts? Why do people hate Lil B while their favorite rappers adore him? We know the answer isn’t behavioral, because so many of his fledglings exhibit the same behavior while gaining widespread respect. Thus, the answer lies somewhere in his rugged, sprawling, unpolished discography.

The problem with Lil B is accessibility. His Wikipedia page lists 58 different mixtapes, solo albums and collaborative efforts, but that doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface. The reality is he has hundreds of projects floating around the Internet, some boasting over 100 songs. I routinely download 5 mixtapes at a time and don’t discover hidden gems until months later. For fans, the act of following his music is almost as fun as listening. The excitement of keeping up with Lil B’s output is part of what creates his cult fan base; there’s a new music video every week, a new song every day, and a new tweet every hour. This is ultimately what distinguishes him from the likes of A$AP Rocky and ILoveMakonnen: there are barriers to entry. You can’t just YouTube him and settle on knowing Wonton Soup. He has so much content on the Internet, that he makes you work to be a truly informed fan. There’s no such thing as a lazy Lil B fan.

The man has a ridiculous work ethic, but his downfall in achieving mainstream success is that he does not entertain the notion of quality control (which is not a bad thing artistically). He doesn’t even stop and fix a song if he messes up recording. There are countless instances of Lil B losing his place, or outright bringing his rapping to halt mid-track to collect his thoughts. But if Lil B had a leaner discography, he still wouldn’t have become a relevant figure in mainstream rap. The nature of his influence on modern rap is in his relentless output and all the crazy shit that comes with it: the inspiration to be yourself, coming from a dude who thinks he’s Ellen Degeneres, Miley Cyrus and Jesus Christ at the same time. Sadly, this was the only way it could have happened. The man who fathers most of the rappers and trends in the game, is inherently unable to enjoy the same mainstream success as his successors. While Lil B remains a villain in conservative circles of hip hop culture and an enigma to casual rap fans, those who can accept the shifting face of rap truly appreciate what he’s done for the culture. Thank you BasedGod.

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