Even in a world of extremes, Lil B ups that ante to a ridiculous level — and that’s been especially true now that he’s teamed up with another teen favorite, Chance the Rapper. It’s no secret that Teens on the Internet are prone to hyperbole, but the Free (Based Freestyles Mixtape) might set a new bar. “I don’t think I can ever be sad another day in my life now,” reads one comment on the Hip-Hop Heads subreddit. “I barely finished the first song on this mixtape before it gave me cancer,” goes one commenter on HotNewHipHop. If either of these people, deep in their hearts, feels even half the intensity that their statements suggest, they’re taking this too seriously.
Free is like a pretty good episode of an improvised podcast; the whole thing was apparently recorded in a single night, every verse coming off the top (as the two are sure to note repeatedly throughout). It is not Citizen Kane, or even Failure to Launch — six tracks featuring plenty of laugh breaks and gibberish where the freestyles flop, it doesn’t even attempt to carry the scale or polish of a major project. Rather than be weighed down by corporate, capitalist interests, it floats free, almost to a fault. It’s not a pile of garbage, either — every track features at least a couple of great lines, the production is solid throughout, and the whole thing brims with genuine warmth and love. This is the sound of a couple of positive, talented dudes having fun and goofing around, no more, no less.
But I get why there’s so much hate and so much love for this tape specifically, and for its creators generally. As a dude nearing 30, the jaded part of me bristles at the furthest reaches of Lil B’s incessant sunshine. On “Do My Dance”, he goes beyond the “You can be anything you want to be!” speech and into some real Millenial empowerment bullshit. He starts off well enough, with the positive insistence that you “respect everybody but follow your own heart. But then he takes a sharp left turn into some “rap game The Secret” insanity that cuts to the core of every teenager’s blind insistence that they’ll be famous, wealthy, or powerful: “When you real, the money just come, you ain’t even gotta worry about it.”
Meanwhile, I get why people might be frustrated with Chance. Many of the complainers are people raised on the paradigm where an artist releases an album — a fully realized, complete artistic statement — and then falls off the radar for a bit, presumably putting their nose to the grindstone and working non-stop on the next one. So, it might be discouraging from that perspective to hear an immensely talented dude get halfway through a verse about hooking up with a shorty who plays violin before laughing out, especially after his last project (Surf) wasn’t really his, and featured relatively few actual bars.
But that perspective is limiting both Lil B and Chance unfairly. I’ll say “Thank you Based God” for this tape, even though it’s wildly inconsistent and I likely won’t come back to much of it with any frequency. They were under no obligation to put anything out, and there shouldn’t be any expectations for Free.
The smoldering “We Rare” features both halves of the equation. The beat smolders, and Chance’s yawping repetitions of the title will burn into your mind. That balances out the giggly bailout on the verse, as well as the headscratcher of an explanation for why the dudes are rare. “I feel like motherfuckers don’t understand the reason why we rare is ’cause everybody’s beautiful,” Chance shrugs. “And that shit just makes me rare, and so that’s why I’m just gonna keep dancing in the studio.” Sure, Chance. Sure. The Chicagoan also gets to the core of the issue on a verse: “Everything that you thought I wrote I just thought,” he insists. That’s true, and there are some excellent, twisty lines on the tape that reinforce the need for that clarification — “I’m comin’ through, I had to dissolve ’em/ Like acid to bases/ They want me to go back to Acid, the basic/ Shit that’s just tasteless,” Chance drives on “Last Dance”, an excellent takedown of those questioning his decisions. Lil B’s goofy punchlines about buying a mummy and hitting haters with a llama are peak Based God. But the problem is there are also plenty of lines that we’ll obviously never think that they wrote.
“Is this gonna be a whole freestyle mixtape? That’s crazy,” Noname Gypsy says in the tape’s one feature, after stumbling (“Sorry fam, I’m not a good freestyler”). It’s definitely crazy, not something that the brightest stars with this kind of album anticipation would have done in any other era. But, as the closing line of “First Mixtape” argues, this is “a declaration of independence.” Chano and Lil B aren’t beholden to anyone, and they can do exactly what they want to do. Complaining about a free set of tracks from two exciting young voices is off-base — and so is calling this a masterpiece. It’s pretty good and that should be plenty good enough.
Essential Tracks: “We Rare”, “First Mixtape”