Everybody Is Based

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Return to the work of Steven Aguiar

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Everybody Is Based

Artist Statement:

Everybody is Based is an online Tumblr blog inspired by the enigma of Lil’ B The Based God, a rapper hailing from Berkeley, California whose viral music and videos have attracted millions of views over the past few years. Lil’ B is credited as the founder of Based, a genre of music he is currently the only artist practicing. Based as a brand of music is usually nonsensical stream of conscious rap, but extends itself as a way of life that promotes “positivity”. Lil’ B has crowned himself the leader of this movement, proudly boasting that his book Takin’ Over by Imposing The Positive! was written when he was only 19 years old (which makes him the youngest rapper/writer ever). Taking all this into consideration, he comes across as a walking contradiction.  In his music, he fancies himself an immortal “God”, but in person he is a humble and awkward individual who would rather spend his time browsing pictures of fans on Twitter than going on actual dates. Although he preaches positivity, some of his lyrics are extremely abrasive and sexist. He is a polarizing figure in the hip-hop world, labeled as either a savior or destroyer by people who interpret his unique brand of music differently.

Some of Lil’ B’s most catchy lyrics are on songs like “Ellen Degeneres (Cooking Music)”, where he repeats the name of celebrities punctuated by the word “swag” indefinitely. His celebrity references are erratic, ranging from pop stars to politicians, usually never other rappers. Although his references may seem random at first, each embodiment may help us understand key clues about Lil’ B’s intentions. Groomed to be a pop-star her entire life, Miley Cyrus herself has a second persona in “Hannah Montana”. Based God compares himself to Bill Clinton because he “used to rule the world but is over it” and his sexual deviancy. By repeating names over and over, and referencing celebrities in his metaphors, Lil' B is appropriating entire personalities.

While appropriation is often discussed in regards to the specific process of creating art, the appropriation of entire cultural icons into one’s personality (or even simply citing them as reference) happens subtly and broadly on a cultural level, whether you consider yourself an artist or not. This could happen as innocently as a Halloween costume, to increasingly complex situations where people make concerted efforts to become more like their favorite icons. 

In a world increasing dominated by the forces of social and new media, through his music and persona, Lil’ B is forcing us to redefine the notion of fame and celebrity. Stars are no longer cultivated behind the scenes and magically dropped down upon us, but can now slowly rise through grassroots efforts using free promotional tools online.  What interests me most about Based God is his level of self-awareness. My rational side tells me this is all an act, but I have an irrational urge to hope someone can be this successful just being their weird self. Regardless, he is a satire of celebrity culture.

Social media in itself is a collage of our personalities, with each network revealing a different layer of our identities. We keep in touch with friends with Facebook, market our brands via Twitter, and build serious business connections through LinkedIn. Lil' B himself has been particularly prolific on YouTube and MySpace, known to be channels that have the careers such as Justin Bieber. He boasts to have 3,000 songs online for download, 155+ MySpace pages, and has garnered over 140,000+ followers on Twitter. In many ways, Based God’s dozens of MySpace accounts with only 5-10 songs are a collage in and of themselves; fragmented pictures of his entire body of work loosely connected through hypertext URLs.

Process:

I chose to make host my collage on Tumblr to reflect on Lil’ B’s rise to fame through excessive and persistent use of social media outlets.  In addition, Tumblr’s format provides an inherit emphasis on the art of collage. Most Tumblr blogs are streams of reblogged pictures, quotes, and links that users appropriate from user they follow. This means that although the same picture may appear across many Tumblr blogs, each user’s format and choice of what to post make each one individual.

The sidebar background of the Everybody is Based is a collage of different cultural icons Lil’ B compares himself to in his lyrics. The content of the Tumblr feed is a combination of images I made myself in Photoshop and other found images and videos relating to Lil’ B. The title comes from the idea that we are all “based” on people in our environment.  Everything from our mannerisms to inside jokes with friends are appropriated from either celebrities or our peers, sometimes in very subtle ways.

Key Questions:

How do we distinguish appropriations in singular and ambiguous terms such as personality traits, passions, and goals? How do cultural icons appropriate from their predecessors?

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