With time, it gets exhausting to follow Lil B. Who, apart from die-hard fans, is brave enough to listen to his four- or six-hour long releases? Who is willing to explore his daunting mixtapes, just to find a couple of gems? Who, except the followers of his cult, is still fascinated by the Based God, whose last whim was to cast a spell on NBA stars? Not that many. However, last July, just when his releases were becoming sparse, he sent his regards through a mixtape announced as soon as in 2010. By then, only the cover art had been disclosed, drawn like 6 Kiss by Benjamin Marra, the comics author. But in 2017, Brandon McCartney finally decided to materialize it.
And thanks to Black Ken, Lil B is once again in the headlines. Some, indeed, consider it as his true masterpiece. As a matter of fact, it took the rapper two full years to perfect it, according to his claim on the "Hip Hop" track. Moreover, this time, its length is almost reasonable: it has "only" 27 tracks, spread over 100 minutes. It is, also, the work of one sole guy, the Based God managing the entire raps and production, except for one single guest, iLoveMakonnen. And he paid a strong attention to the mixtape architecture, structuring it in musically distinct phases.
At first, Lil B goes back to the eighties. After an instrumental track smelling of good old synthesizers, the mixtape starts with the jerky flow of that era. In the past, this guy had a song called "Am I Even a Rapper Anymore?". But now, he says that hip-hop is back, and he delivers some old-fashioned ego-trip. On "Wasup JoJo", Lil B says dumb sentences like "I said a hip to the hop, a hop to the hip", we thought had disappeared a while ago. On "Berkeley", the scratches are back. And "Hip Hop" honors the original rap myth from New-York. However, Lil B is still very much fixated on California. Or more exactly, on the dense, hot, and eclectic microcosm that the Bay Area scene, and his own city of Berkeley, always were. Its surroundings are celebrated on tracks such as "Still Run It" and "Bad MF". And he frequently delivers the self-confident and sexist rap promoted by the godfather of that scene, Too $hort, a long time ago.
Lil B's deep roots in the Bay Area are even more visible with the "Pretty Boy Skit", when a fan brings the rapper back to where he belongs: to the music he used to deliver when he was a member of The Pack. The next tracks, indeed, are made of the hyphy subgenre. The beats are synthetic and club-oriented, the voice is harsh, and the hooks are savage, and made of slogans. Now we get wild on the dancefloor, with the ladies, and the lyrics urge us to lose ourselves. "Go Stupid Go Dumb", says one song, quite appropriately. Also, in the course of the "Global" track, Lil B mentions local rap personalities like The Jacka, Joe Blow and Messy Marv. As for "Ride (Hold Up)", the last song of the series, and the quietest one, it is a journey across the Bay Area.
And then, after his "Mexico Skit", the Based God moves in all directions. The next songs are made of fancies, typical of the second phase of Lil B's career, when he turned into some kind of rap guru. He still has a foot in the club, while he ventures into Latino grounds, with "Zam Bose (In San Jose)" and "Go Senorita Go", songs that probably want to celebrate the significant Hispanic community of California. He is an Auto-Tuned seducer – or maybe a sexual predator – on "Turn Up (Till You Can't)", "Ain't Me", and "Raw". Afterwards, he pays a tribute to his homeland on "West Coast", as well as to his own person on "The Real Is Back", "Rawest Rapper Alive (2017)", and "Da Backstreets". This is just a long ego-trip, that ends with its apex, "Live from the Island – Hawaii", a fantasy blended with some introspection and social comments.
A musical kaleidoscope, a composite material, Black Ken is a monument to the rapper's own career, as well as a tribute to the scene who formatted him. This mixtape sanctifies Lil B as the ultimate incarnation, in the contemporary era, of the prolific and eternal rap of the Bay Area.