*TRIGGER WARNING - STUFF OTHER PEOPLE LIKE*
If there's one person who's really responsible for this style of hip-hop becoming a distinct stylistic entity, it's not a rapper at all: it's Clams Casino, a 23 year old physical therapy student from New Jersey who just happened to become probably the most important hip-hop producer in the scene today.
An amateur producer with no particular ambitions of becoming a big-name hip-hop icon, Clams essentially stumbled onto a production formula that would end up becoming the foundation of the "Based" style, pioneered by infamous outsider-art rapper Lil B. Defined by hazy washes of synths, wordless, looping vocal samples, and a drugged-out, simultaneously melancholic and joyful atmosphere, the end result is pretty straightforward to any Music Person: it's little more than post-rock and shoegaze brought to hip-hop. While Clams himself doesn't seem particularly fixated on those styles of music- it seems like the similarity is more coincidence than an intentional merging of styles- the resemblance is immediately apparent, and its result so instantaneously appealing and logical that it becomes a wonder why no one thought of it before. Listening to a Clams-produced track is a lot like listening to Devourment: you're sort of incredulous that this is where the parent style ended up going rather than originating from.
What Clams Casino's sudden and massive explosion in notoriety around the hip-hop scene (well, the hipster edge of the hip-hop scene, that is) signifies, beyond establishing the based style, is the death of "instrumental hip-hop" as we knew it. Instrumental hip-hop was originally the pantheon of music that was aesthetically similar to traditional hip-hop beats but simply wasn't suited for an MC to rap over- however, Clams' beats have basically wiped off the entire chalkboard by displaying that just about anything imaginable can be rapped over by an adventurous enough MC. Often too slow or too scattered to conceivably work for a verbal flow, Clams seems to entirely ignore the basic principles of hip-hop beat construction, throwing rappers to the proverbial wolves to try to make sense of his rhythms. Some of his most far-out musical creations barely seem to have any coherent rhythmic center at all; they drift aimless and ambient, with only the murkiest, most distant accompaniment of bass drum or chiming electronic effect to provide a dim set of lights to guide a rapper.
It goes without saying that this sort of strange, wandering production would necessitate an equally strange, wandering rapper to match it; after all, cloud rap isn't supposed to be an instrumental genre. The first, biggest, and most important artist in the establishment of the style is none other than Lil B, a rapper who has massively divided the hip-hop scene, leaving equal numbers of frantic proponents and venomous detractors gnashing their proverbial teeth at one another over his veracity as an artist. Lil B's work and persona have been dissected up and down in just about every major music publication, so I won't devote excess text to describing his style. Instead, here are some important bullet points:
-An unformed stream-of-consciousness rapping style, often fully improvised, which places less importance on clever wordplay and rhyming and more on displays of naked emotion and authenticity
-Subject matter which ranges from subversively shallow, monotonous ranting about money and bitches to uncomfortable earnest and straightforward commentary on society and morality
-A visual and auditory lexicon centered around simplicity, lo-fi production values, and amateurish honesty halfway between Daniel Johnston and a teenager's awful Livejournal poetry
-A bizarre self-made philosophical system which itself necessitates a whole article to describe accurately
I have no doubt that the dreaded "W" word is heavy on the tongues of commenters, and that's perfectly logical: Lil B's, and the style as a whole's, artistic and aesthetic sense does have a lot in common with traditional "white" standards- or what we perceive white standards to be. The importance of racial issues in this movement is pretty minimal, though, and does nothing but cloud what's happening musically. The based style isn't a movement of black culture reappropriating white aesthetic elements so much as simply exploring some of the opportunities naturally available in hip-hop. Lil B's deliberately amateurish style (very deliberate- check out his work with The Pack to see that he's a perfectly capable rapper by all traditional standards) and trenchant focus on naked displays of emotion and almost childish earnestness are a clear musical decision which give the based style a distinct musical and artistic identity- and one that shouldn't be ignored simply due to its resemblance to some elements of "white" culture, whatever that means.
The based style is still in its infancy, but in the wake of Lil B has come a surprising second leader in the form of Soulja Boy, who has in many ways jettisoned his original pop-rap style in favor of this much more abstract aesthetic. Soulja Boy's work is a little less overtly positive and nostalgic and more distinctly drugged-out and "weird," coming off more like a reinterpretation of mainstream rap tropes through the cloud rather than Lil B's odd sideways move. It's no less relevant, though; while Soulja Boy is clearly still finding his legs stylistically, and has a less immediate and consistent output, his interpretation of the based style has plenty to offer, and I'm eager to see where he goes with it as time passes and he matures into the new style he's so eagerly adopted.
I'm not really sure what to make of this stuff; it's hardly getting any mainstream airplay, and the artists in the scene itself seem more interested in releasing reams of free music online than generating sales, but it's acquired a surprisingly large fanbase in a pretty short period of time, so who knows. I think it goes without saying that the parallels between this style and a lot of extreme metal and punk are readily apparent, so for those of you who don't regularly listen to Chris Brown like I do, you might want to give this stuff a shot.