“Black Ken” is a work of west coast art

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Lil B has finally dropped his long-awaited mixtape “Black Ken.” First announced seven years ago, the album is what the enigmatic rapper calls his “first venture into hip hop” and his “first official mixtape,” although he has been putting music out for over 10 years. His first venture was with hip hop group The Pack, who found success with their hit song “Vans.”

Since then, Lil B has denounced all standards of hip hopwearing Vans skate shoes as a fashion statement, dropping mixtapes with 100+ songs on them and having a completely different mindset in his rapping. He preaches positivity at one moment and plays the role of a gang banger the next. Lil B has gained icon status while being independent of a record label, solely depending on Myspace pages and music videos hosted on Youtube as well as his Twitter page. Lil B’s character and its intricacies could fill textbooks, but for now, the rapper has left us with “Black Ken,” a pinnacle of Lil B’s career in terms of production and rapping.

Lil B’s rapping has been misunderstood for a long time. The first time it was recognized as something worth paying attention to was in 2011, when he was featured in the XXL Freshmen List among the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Mac Miller, and many more. Sometimes rapping like a newcomer and sometimes rapping on par with the greats, Lil B keeps the listener on his toes. This fun and laid back style was ahead of its time, influencing the current new wave of rappers such as Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and the like. On “Black Ken,” Lil B takes the form of a late 90’s California rapper, taking his time on the bouncy production.

For example, on “Berkeley,” Lil B flows right on track. He delivers lines of positivity such as, “1989 when I was born/Thanks mom and dad for making me yours/I don’t care what the news say cause it’s okay/So I put on my clothes and started my day,” over a beat reminiscent of an NWA b-side. For someone who has never heard of Lil B, this is a good place to start.

This mixtape has a vibe that has not been seen from Lil B. He fully embraces the 90’s west coast style, taking every chance he has to shout out to his hometown of Berkeley. Most beats seem like they are from that eramid tempo, bass heavy, melodic, and reminiscent of something from a Snoop Dogg song. Lil B is the only one responsible for the production on this tape. His amateurish production skills mixed with this west coast vision creates a product all its own, with some beats being downright scary sounding like “Rawest Rapper Alive.”

The high points are met with low points in this project. For one thing, this album has some fluff on it. Tracks like “Global” and “Turn Up (Till You Can’t)” are a couple examples of club banger attempts or turn up songs that are funny but do not offer much past that. Historically, Lil B makes his fans dig to find the gems. In the past, mixtapes have had a ridiculous amount of songs on them, some sharing the same name, and on Black Ken some digging is still required.

Verdict: This is an enjoyable and extremely unique listen from Lil B. There is really nothing like this in the slew of rap releases that have come out this year. Lil B delivers his signature flow over beats he produced. The listener receives the brunt of his weirdness that might just be genius.

Best Tracks: “Berkeley,” “Rawest Rapper Alive,” “Free Life”
Grade: B+

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