I Got Based

A professional cynic attempts to unlock Lil B's unrelenting positivity.

I'm a pretty negative guy. A crank, a cynic, a critic to the core. Depression runs in the family. The glass is half empty, and anyway we're all going to die. I've often wondered, though, if it's possible to change all that: Is being a crank just who I am? Or, through conscious effort, is it possible to change my outlook, my mind, even my life?

I was one of the thousands who followed Bay Area rapper Lil B's "historic" NYU lecture earlier this month, transcripts and recordings of which were online just hours afterward (as of this writing, 44,120 people have listened to the lecture on Soundcloud). In his unscripted talk, Lil B (born Brandon McCartney) covered lots of ground: cats (adopt them), hydraulic fracking (let's stop it, bruh), ants (what's the deal with those guys?)—but its broadly motivational tone centered on Lil B's not entirely coherent "based" (or #based) philosophy of positivity and openness. Insights included "Nobody asked to be born; life is hard . . . kinda"; "Don't be so hard on yourself"; "Be positive."

That night after the lecture I went to bed pissed about some petty bullshit. But the next morning, appropriately off the top of my head, I decided to try to see the world through #based glasses. What follows is a diary of one week's attempts at based thinking.

DAY 1 (Thurs., 4/12/12)

8:15 a.m. Woke up 15 minutes before my alarm. Based. Fired off some e-mails, wrote a sarcastic tweet about positivity. Easing into it. Pitch this story to my editor.

11 a.m. Open the shades, let some sun in. Consider this as a possible metaphor for something.

11:30 a.m. Google "Lil B + coffee" to see how he felt about the thing in the world that makes me feel most #based. Watch the YouTube clip for Lil B's "Coffee Shop"; still have no idea how he feels about the stuff (although its opening line, "You only got seven lives, seven days to live" seems like a fine motto for this project).

1 p.m. Order won ton soup, signature foodstuff of Lil B's "cooking dance" (even though I'm usually a hot & sour man, natch) from China First in the U District, where it must be said the main waiter lady is always smiling, cracking jokes, basically based as fuck. (Soup is good.)

2:30 p.m. Read a message-board discussion of Lil B's NYU lecture, debates about sincerity, lulz, etc. Feel serenely above it all.


8 a.m. Woke up even earlier than usual. This might just be the sun, though.

9 a.m.–noon Blog, write, tweet. Honestly feel a little less up today, a little more down. Opening those shades again helps.

2–3 p.m. Meet a friend at Bauhaus, take their dog to the dog park, hang out in the sun, feeling based.

5 p.m. Pushy old people at the bar crowding our table. Silently hating on them.

6:30 p.m. Cashier at Am Appy says my name looks "sorta familiar" when he runs my credit card. I feel maybe .001% of the fame that floats Lil B's based lifestyle.


Noon Decide to start flossing again today. Positivity. Gums bleed.

1 p.m. Out on a friend's new pleasure boat for its maiden voyage on one of the first truly springy days of the year. Pretty easy to feel good about it. Appropriate Lil B clip: "B.O.R. (Birth of Rap)," a dreamy track whose video shows "Rare Documented Footage Of Lil B A Private BASED Country Club Where He Is A Member." Rich-people shit.


Noon Listen to fellow music critic and relative based scholar Andrew Matson attempt to explain the philosophy (with local Lil B producer Keyboard Kid) to Jamala Henderson on KUOW.

7 p.m. Spend all day barbecuing, playing the Game of Thrones board game, and then watching Game of Thrones at a friend's house. It occurs to me that I may have picked a bad week for this experiment: It's easy to feel based when it's just starting to be nice and sunny out, when you've got a bunch of rare leisure activities (boats, barbecues, trips to California) and concerts (Jeff Mangum, Pulp) lined up for the week. Would I find it as easy to get based in late January, stuck at home in the rain?


1 p.m. For another job, I have to write a diplomatically positive review of an album that I don't personally enjoy (by Neon Trees, who are like a photocopy of the Killers' photocopies). A based attitude is actually pretty ideal here, looking for the positive and all that.

8 p.m. Get to see Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum at the Moore tonight. Not a particularly based artist—in fact, that Mangum released only two albums before 14 years of media exile is the exact opposite of Lil B's madly prolific output. Still, a lot of love in that room.


Noon On an airplane to SF to see Pulp, one of my favorite bands in the world, one I never thought I'd get to see, all of which I'm ecstatic about, and yet . . . my positivity is flagging. Two talkers are seated next to me, and it turns out the free-flowing—so central to Lil B's based world—turns deeply (more) annoying from airplane seatmates. The old woman and middle-aged man occasionally pantomime flapping open their Kindles as if to read, but this is only an ornate mating dance punctuating the interminably inane flapping open of their mouths. I am not, as Lil B's lecture advised, looking at these people like they're "golden million-dollar babies"; I'm thinking old people are worse than babies, even crying ones on airplanes, because old people should know better. Not my most based moment. Notably, I don't put on Lil B to try to drown/zone it out, but rather Pachanga Boys' 15-minute chill-out "Time" on a loop.

9 p.m. Even at this amazing Pulp show, I can't help but fire off hateful tweets about the fucking terrible opening act (Ariel Pink). Say this for me: I've at least never had a problem with the speaking my mind/running my mouth part of based living. (It also occurs to me: This whole article could be deeply embarrassing, but saying every dumb thing is kind of the point, right?)


2:30 p.m. Before this week, I'd been only a casual Lil B fan, the sort who knows him as meme first and music second. So for this day off in ridiculously beautiful SF, I'm walking around listening to the Lil B joints I downloaded for this trip: the scattershot White Flame mixtape, 2011's largely upbeat and inspirational I'm Gay (I'm Happy), and the beatless, ambient/spoken-word oddity Rain in England. You can try to get into Lil B in such album-sized chunks, but really Lil B is beyond the album, and YouTube surfing seems the more appropriate mode.

As Matson, a based scholar compared to me, put it, there are several streams of Lil B's music you can dip into: his celebrity look-alike goofs ("I'm Fabio," "I'm Miley Cyrus," etc.), his cooking dance, even the odd "evil" tracks or mixtapes. The based world is propelled by a prolific, first-thought-best-thought approach to recording (which allows for negative thoughts, too; there is, for instance, an infamous clip of him pointing a gun to his head and exhaling smoke to the strains of Elliott Smith's "Angeles" or the 2011 track "I Hate Myself"). The songs are funny and serious, happy and sad, nonsensical—literally to the point where the words don't really mean anything anymore—and self-contradictory. A lot of them are actually really, really good.

Based thinking isn't about sugarcoating or rose-colored glasses so much as taking the bad with the good and just rolling with it. Lil B's book Takin' Over, it should be noted, goes into greater depth, though perhaps not greater coherency, about his worldview. I couldn't find a copy this week, though, so I'm taking his songs and his lecture as my primary texts. On some level, I think it's about mindfulness: It's OK if you get depressed, if some dumb shit gets you down. Just feel that, and go on with it. Then feel the next thing and be positive again.

Taking stock of the week: Yeah, I've been pissed and glum, I still hate on stuff, but that's OK. It's all part of it. I also woke up every day and decided to feel positive, and I do. I feel better. I think I feel based.

I'm gonna try to do it again next week.


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