On December 30th of 2015 Lil B the BasedGod finally released his long-awaited Thugged Out Pissed Off mixtape, a 63-song triple album that confirms his place as one hip hop’s most vital and unpredictable artists. It is a work of brutal, confrontational honesty that once again reveals the enigmatic, self-contradicting nature of Lil B, the way he can express diametrically opposed viewpoints with total sincerity, in particular his torturously complicated views of women. On one hand he has songs like “All Women” from 2010’s Rain in England, a tribute to womankind: “Every woman, every queen on this earth/ One of the most beautiful creations I have ever seen/ The woman, the strong woman, the beautiful woman/ All shapes and sizes, different colors.” He’s rapped about how “there’s more to models” than meets the eye and marveled at a pregnant mother’s ability to “take all the pain, like a comet.” In 2013 he published an op-ed in Rolling Stone titled “I Stand with Wendy Davis” after the Texas senator filibustered for 11 straight hours to block an anti-abortion rights bill. In some of his songs he has decried violence against women more passionately than almost any other rapper; see for example 2010’s “Real Life”, which includes a shattering portrait of a teenaged prostitute, or Thugged Out Pissed Off’s harrowing closing track, “I Can’t Breathe”, which despairingly implores the listener to “go to East Oakland, ride down to East Oakland, see the young prostitutes.” On 2014’s “No Black Person Is Ugly” he directly urged listeners to “stand up against rape.”
And yet there is a much uglier side to Lil B, one where he threatens physical violence against women with a virulence that is sickening. The cover of Thugged Out Pissed Off foregrounds this side of his psyche, featuring the quotes “Baby mama drama, I can’t respect that” and “Child Support Me/ Knock the bitch out.” As these quotes, as well as lyrics from numerous previous mixtapes, attest, Lil B is obsessed with the notion of being brought to court to pay child support and reacts by threatening violence against the woman in question (“I might kill the bitch/ When you in court I’m gon’ slap you, bitch”). Has this actually happened to Lil B in real life? Perhaps his paranoia around the issue comes from the fear of being incorrectly named as the father of a child that is not his. He referenced this way back in 2009 on the song “Based” from the 6 Kiss mixtape:
But this girl’s really trippin’, sayin’ she my baby mama
I’m not the baby’s father, but I still got a conscience
So I gotta be honest, I might be the baby’s father
But… was he actually the father? “The Truth” from 2012’s Trapped in Basedworld seems to clear the matter up: “Baby mama drama so I had to get tested/ The bitch told me lies, I thought I was the daddy.” So: at least some of Lil B’s violent threats against women seem to stem from this autobiographical incident. That’s not an excuse for such offensive, inflammatory material, but it is a factor that helps us understand how a rapper who speaks endlessly of ‘based’ love and positivity can also write such problematic lyrics. There’s another factor I can’t stop thinking about when I ponder how Lil B can rap lines like these: on “The Growth” from 2011’s Angels Exodus he revealed that he “Had a crazy Mom, she took her hand to the belt/ And the father used to beat her so the violence passed down.” Lil B has always emphasized how much he’s evolved since his formative years, when he was involved in crime and was at one point incarcerated (“I thought it’d be cool to go to jail”), but the scars from an abusive childhood can last a lifetime. Even more unsettling: on “I Can’t Breathe” he utters the line “I got raped so many times I don’t know if I’m broken.” His stream of consciousness approach provides no additional context for the meaning of such a shocking line. Is he speaking literally, from his own experience, or is it meant as a metaphor for cultural oppression? Either way it points to a tortured psyche.
At times Lil B frames his lyrics not as hypothetical threats of violence against women (“I’m gon’ slap you, bitch”) but, even more unsettlingly, as incidents that have already happened i.e. “I knocked the bitch out.” Again, is he speaking literally? I don’t think so. He’s always incorporated fictional elements into his lyrics and spoken about how his raps can come directly from the unconscious and I take a line like “I beat my bitch up” as a disturbing revenge fantasy, not something that actually happened. He addressed this in an interview with The Fader, saying:
“I mean, sometimes you just say things because you aren’t going to do them. I would rather just say something, you know, than actually do it. You should talk about things and let them out.”
This doesn’t necessarily make these lyrics any easier to stomach. Take “Domestic Violence Case” from Thugged Out Pissed Off: “You’ll get your fucking face smashed in the wall, bitch.” Sad and wrong. In between these types of threats he rationalizes violence against women in cold-blooded terms (“We all equal… I’ll choke a bitch out just like I’ll choke one of you niggas”) and even speaks directly to men who would oppose him: “You niggas crying over a bitch, [mocking voice] ‘I’m gonna fight you cuz you wanna hit a bitch’… Captain Save-A-Hoe.” It’s frightening how zoned-out and dead-eyed he sounds here, totally lost in rage and hate. It’s like he’s become a completely different person. And it gets worse. One of the last tracks on the tape is called “Ray Rice”: “Call me Ray Rice, I’ll knock a hoe out/ Leave her jaw broke.” It’s one of the worst, most saddening expressions of women-hating in the history of a genre in which misogyny is endemic.
At his best Lil B has revolutionized hip hop with a unique, open-hearted, at times seemingly ‘artless’ positivity (I’m Gay, “No Black Person is Ugly”, “All Women”) as well as a confrontational, powerfully raw sense of truth-telling (“Real Life”). Sprawling and multifaceted, Thugged Out Pissed Off has glorious examples of both the former and the latter but with songs like “Domestic Violence Case” and “Ray Rice” Lil B has chosen to reinforce the worst, most damaging, most divisive aspects of the genre. He remains one of our very best, most important rappers; hopefully he will continue to grow, to evolve past these troubling impulses, because we need him.