Level Up I by I 22.02.18

Level Up: Lil B on why video gaming needs a Black Panther moment

Level Up is our new series where we speak to musicians about their favorite video games. Next up, Lil B tells Thomas Hobbs about his joy at completing Shenmue 2, his desperation for diversity in video game culture and his plans to bring the Based God to a games console near you very soon.

Few rappers have embraced video game culture quite like Lil B. ‘I Love Video Games’, from the Californian’s 2010 album Evil Red Flame, lists the consoles and games that “fuel my fire” as he puts it, saluting everything from the N64’s Goldeneye 007 to mod-chipped PlayStation consoles and Metal Gear Solid, over a 16-bit beat and Sonic the Hedgehog samples. “Gameboy Color, Pokemon Arena, I love it!” he raps on the track.

His impressive PlayStation collection totals hundreds of games: the rapper has previously excitedly shown off his library in YouTube videos, shouting “classic” while scrolling through wallets bursting with discs. And in the music video to ‘I’m Fabio’, the rapper’s apartment is seen to contain – deep breath now – a PS3, a SNES, a Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Saturn, Dreamcast, an XBox, a Wii, a silver PS2 slim, an N64, a Gamecube and even a Gaming Genie cheat cartridge. “My favorite console changes every single week,” the 28-year-old says. “I’m currently figuring out what will be the next candidate.”

“It is in my soul and I’m a die hard gamer,” says Lil B, real name Brandon McCartney. “Whether it’s playing games or rapping to video game beats, it’s all natural to me. I don’t need to be a poser and speak about it constantly or have a YouTube page dedicated to me monetising my opinions on games. Folks can check out my Gamestop account if they want the proof.” Some of his favorite gaming memories include using Diamond Dallas Page on the career mode of N64 wrestling game WCW Nitro and completing cult classic RPG Shenmue 2. “A lot of people don’t realize that Shenmue 2 ever came out on the Xbox!” he exclaims. “At the moment, I’m playing a lot of farming simulators too as that’s relaxing to me.”

Lil B is arguably one of the most influential rappers of the internet era and his Based God persona – which reclaims the crack-era insult of “basehead” and turns it into an unlikely movement of positivity – is embraced by millions of millennials on social media. To them, the rapper is the messiah of the meme generation. “The meaning behind ‘Based’ is to be positive and have people accept you for you,” he explains. His music, ranging from socially conscious epics (such as the Lost Boys-sampling ‘Unchain Me’) to nonsensical jams like ‘I’m Miley Cyrus’, has made him a cult favorite; he’s both adored by acclaimed rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown and academic institutions such as NYU, where McCartney held an 80-minute lecture in 2014. But the rapper has ambitions bigger than hip-hop: currently, he’s developing his own video game.

“I definitely want there to be a Based God game,” he reveals. “Something where I’m in the same kind of world as Dungeons and Dragons would be cool. There’s been some cool rapper games like the Wu-Tang and 50 Cent titles, but I am trying to work out what would be the perfect developer to bring the Based God to life. There should be some news real soon.”

Working out who to collaborate with on the project is one hurdle still to overcome. McCartney already has a relationship with 2K (the developer sends him advance copies of their NBA games), but he doubts whether certain gaming studios really care about the gamers. “I want to meet the people who make my favorite games to make sure whether they actually love me as a customer,” he explains. “We donate and devote so much money and hours of our time playing their games so I need to know the developers actually love me and my fans! My back hurts and my hands hurt from playing these games so much, so I need to know that these guys are riding with the Based God.”

“There definitely needs to be more diversity,” McCartney says, soberly. “More people need to go to college to learn how to develop games that get to a deeper sphere of the world and take us to another portal. Maybe gaming needs a Black Panther moment.” The reference to the Marvel mega-hit is a timely one, and not accidental; McCartney has an upcoming single about the nation of Wakanda that’s been exclusively licensed by the studio and Marvel has even created cover art depicting the Based God as one of the characters within director Ryan Coogler’s opus.

Lil B is currently working on a new mixtape, Platinum Frame, which will sport beats from long-time collaborator Clams Casino and should “change the game forever”. But wherever that tape takes his career next, McCartney will always make time for the games he loves. Well, the ones that an unnamed relative hasn’t borrowed and failed to return. “I’m really disappointed. I loaned some of my PlayStation games to a family member who doesn’t appreciate them like I do,” he laments. “One of them was a rare DragonBall Z Sagas game. It’s the Japanese version too, so it’s really hard to find. I don’t wanna speak too much about it as it’s pissing me off just thinking about it.”

Thomas Hobbs is on Twitter.

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