The man behind the meme

From Berkeley to the World Wide Web, rapper and online innovator Lil B is taking over

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Lil B: "I'm not on TV right now. I don't have a single on the radio, but people know my songs word-for-word at shows."
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MATTHEW REAMER

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC When I finally manage to get in touch with Berkeley rap phenom Brandon McCartney, a.k.a. Lil B, he's just landed in Oakland, having returned from a brief — and in his words, "amazing!" — stay in Atlanta with Internet-rap legend Soulja Boy. He played a show or two down South, and got a lot of love from local radio. "It's just amazing the respect I'm getting offline," says, "just from being at a computer, doing what I do."

What does Lil B do online? He has a prolific Twitter account, more than 100 MySpace accounts, a self-published book on positive living (Takin' Over, available from Kele Publishing), and dozens of hastily-made videos on YouTube. Most of the top comments on his YouTube account are from B himself, and he leaves comments on blog posts about Lil B with a blogger account, Tropical Doves (tropicaldoves.blogspot.com). At a recent New York City show, Lil B's status as an Internet star was apparent as soon as he stepped on the stage — dozens of cameras (and one spatula) went up in the air to record or TwitPic the performance, making online footage available to everyone, including anyone unlucky enough to be in the back of the room.

Lil B's friendship with Soulja Boy makes sense; both are young, motivated rappers who have found ways to harness various social media platforms to generate huge followings online. Their songs and dances are, in essence, Internet memes — dances and credos that get adopted and modified by their listeners, the sort of thing ad agencies throw millions of dollars at in vain attempts to imitate. Together, they make some of the most fun, mindless swag rap out there, ideal for watching on YouTube, on repeat. In "Swag OD," a recent black-and-white video directed and edited by B during his stay in the South, they ride around suburban Atlanta office parks in Soulja's black Mercedes. "Ice chain, ice, ice watch, ice neck/ Ice watch, ice, ice, hoes, ice chest (rich!)," B raps at one point. "Swag OD" has this jaded, over-it sound, Soulja sort of yawning between bars. Something's not right.

Soulja Boy's blasé attitude is pitch perfect for the aging child star — how else should he feel? But Lil B, who claims to be a Berkeley hippie at heart, seems out of place putting on this act. Even on crushingly low-brow YouTube hits like "Suck My D*&* HO" (his second most watched video, with about 300,000 views), B brings way more energy. This enthusiasm — on stage, on camera, wherever — accounts for a good portion of Lil B's appeal. You can tell he loves what he's doing.

The "Suck My D*&* HO" video is a great starting point for those curious about Lil B. "Ten on my dick and my girlfriend Persian," B lipsyncs from inside an Apple store. "Bitch sucked my dick 'cause I look like a surgeon." That Lil B gets all sorts of special treatment for looking like people he doesn't actually resemble — Madonna, Mel Gibson, Matlock, Moses, Jesus, Patrick Ramsey, to name a few — is just something you have to accept if you want to enjoy his music. It's akin to the suspension of disbelief you bring to a summer blockbuster.

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