Chance The Rapper & Lil B – ‘Free (Based Freestyles Mixtape)’

Cult rappers team up for an unconventional but good-humoured mixtape

On the surface, Chance The Rapper and Lil B seem an unlikely pairing. Chance, from Chicago, is noted for his crisp arrangements and an eclectic ear best displayed on ‘Surf’, his recent mixtape with jazz-fusion band Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment. Conversely, Lil B’s ramshackle approach has seen him record and haphazardly release thousands of songs from the basement of his Berkley home, ranging from charmingly crude (‘Ellen DeGeneres’, where he compares himself favorably to the American comedian and talk show host) to unlistenable garbage (the bizarre, cat-featuring ‘Keke The Adopted Tabby Cat’).

But in many ways a team-up also makes perfect sense. These are two hip-hop hippies, happy to fly in the face of convention – Chance with his diverse rhythmic stylings and Lil B (who’s been something of a cult hero since he had multiple accounts on MySpace) by pioneering a hugely popular internet meme culture focused on a vague-yet-appealing philosophy of positivity that he calls ‘Based’, which stemmed originally from his approach to freestyling. Such is its appeal that The Based God, as he’s usually known, has been invited to lecture at some of America’s most prominent universities, including NYU and MIT. He’s been profiled by The New Yorker, and has a passionate fanbase comprising more than a million Twitter followers.

The six tracks that make up ‘Free (Based Freestyles Mixtape)’ were, according to Chance, all recorded on the night the pair met last month in Chicago, and follow Lil B’s structureless ‘based freestyle’ outline that sees both rappers spitting incredibly upbeat lyrics straight from the top of their heads over high-pitched, lo-fi soul samples. Forget about tradition – there are no choruses here. Sometimes, they even ditch rapping completely. The second half of ‘First Mixtape’, for example, is more breakfast radio than hip-hop, as they chat back and forth, shout out other rappers and generally pat each other on the back (“It’s your boy Lil B, in here with Chance, Chance The Rapper, Chance The Legend”). When Noname Gypsy, a 23-year-old Chicago singer who previously collaborated with Chance on 2013’s ‘Lost’, breaks down on opening track ‘Last Dance’, admitting midway through her verse, “Sorry fam, I’m not a good freestyler, uh, I don’t know what to say,” it’s clear these songs haven’t exactly been handled with care.

As is often the case with The Based God’s output, this lack of professionalism can be testing. Most irksome is ‘Amen’, nine minutes of sluggish rapping over finger clicks, lazy keys and not much else. But the pair’s positive energy is undeniable. Chance tips his hat to Chicago’s public libraries on ‘My First Mixtape’, while Lil B tells his legion of fans to keep the love in their heart on ‘Do My Dance’. The record’s most conventional – and best – song is closer ‘We Rare’ the creeping, skeletal beat of which allows Chance’s tuneful flow to fully blossom. Though little else has much replay value, ‘Free’ is time well spent with these happy Based heads.

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