This March, 42-year-old Kyle Chapman, who was once described by his own lawyer as having “severe psychological problems,” cracked a thick wooden closet rod over the head of an anti-fascist protester at a pro-Trump rally in Berkeley, CA. It was one of the first violent demonstrations of the Trump presidency, and video of the attack quickly went viral. A thread on 4chan’s politics board /pol/ cheered Chapman on — “After seeing Antifags riot without consequence, it's about time someone made a fucking stand!” wrote one commenter — and he was immortalized by a new nickname: Based Stick Man.
"Based” is an awfully mutable slang term, as Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate has neatly summed up. In the 1980s, it meant being high on crack — a basehead. In the 2000s, Lil B’s group The Pack reclaimed it, as B once explained in Complex: “People used to make fun of me. They was like, ‘You're based.’ They'd use it as a negative. And what I did was turn that negative into a positive.” Over the past decade, as his solo career took off, Lil B brought his interpretation of based to the world. His north star and alter-ego was the BasedGod; his cat was Based Kitty Keke. For fans, being based meant supporting Lil B and his philosophy, the way he embraced stereotypes so as to invert them for the sake of good. Then Gamergate happened.
Before Based Stick Man, there was Based Mom. Based Mom is Christina Sommers, a pseudo-intellectual advocate of a separate-but-equal ideology called “equity feminism." She is a fixture in major newspaper op-ed pages and the author of books like Who Stole Feminism? (1994) and The War Against Boys (2000), which contain such insights about the global oppression by gender as:
“There are a lot of homely women in women’s studies. Preaching these anti-male, anti-sex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches — they’re just mad at the beautiful girls.”
In 2014, Sommers released a YouTube video entitled “Are video games sexist?” in which she argued that violent and sexist depictions of women in video games are harmless because the games are mostly played by men who like that kind of thing. At the time, men from 4chan and Reddit were attempting to purge the internet of women critical of misogyny in video games and the video game industry, and in Sommers they found a prominent ally. As a term of endearment, they dubbed her “Based Mom”: like Lil B, she had said that the bad thing was… actually… good!
This hollowed-out new meaning of based spread like a parasite from host to host, and is now fairly common slang among the internet-savvy and irony-addled segment of the right. To them, Trump is based; Richard Spencer is based; there’s a Youtube video called “Based Milo” uploaded by Based Hitler. Once the domain of a materially vulnerable person seeking respect, based became a way for a group of privileged people to play the victim. For them, based means thinking affirmative action is "racist against white people." It's calling Antifa fascist.
You can totally see where the train went off the tracks. Whether the druggy origins of based or the recurring motifs of money, sex, and guns in Lil B's music, his artistry has always involved taking ownership of this less-than wholesome aspect of himself — because it is just one aspect of his identity. “I think you’d be more disappointed if I didn’t make a song like ‘Child Support,’ if you thought I was only one way but I was also really another,” he once said, when I asked about one of his most offensive songs. “It’s all true.”
But allowing opposing sides of himself to coexist is what leads him to write songs like “I Love You” or “Beat The Cancer," and it’s what makes them all the more impactful. Because thugs need love and less cancer too! Real life!!! But in practice, most white listeners' attention spans are too short and their world views too corrupted to fully understand a narrative that's thousands of songs deep, or the subtleties of a black artist's perspective. In this way, Lil B is like Dave Chappelle: you get "I'm Rick James!" memes, and you get teen boys dressed in chef hats at his concerts shouting "BasedGod, fuck my bitch!" Dumb teen boys grow into adult 4chan jerks — at least enough of them to proliferate the meme in that space, so it catches on among the even-less-informed.
So many fake based lol its at all time high lol fake based have no shame either lol shouts out to real based not many only few real - Lil B— Lil B THE BASEDGOD (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) November 25, 2013
Lil B has been declaiming the “fake based” among his followers since at least 2013 — and explicitly those who haven’t “studied the positive.” Back then he was releasing mixtapes almost monthly, but he recently took a few years off. It would be total speculation to suggest his hiatus was brought on by the scourge that is fake based, but I know they've affected me. Since the beginning of his now 12-year career, I've enjoyed being a Lil B apologist. He's a button-pusher, cleverly but also naively controversial, whether the debate is over the legitimacy of his talent or the content of his raunchiest songs. But at shows or scanning deep in the replies to his Twitter, which can devolve so quickly into misogyny or just plain grossness, often my fandom felt more like my shame. For a while, I stopped really listening. And then Lil B released Black Ken.
For years, Black Ken was a myth. The artwork was shared as far back as 2010, and from time to time Lil B would mention that he was working on it. Like some of his ambient music projects but none of his dozens of rap releases before it, the project would be produced entirely by the BasedGod. The end result, which he shared this July as a rare for-sale release, was like a kaleidoscopic rendering of his entire catalog, distilled into 27 tracks — profoundly clever and contradictory and free. I love when he says “I own my own masters so I’m a real rapper” on “Wasup JoJo,” or the nonsensical beat on “Zam Bose.” Maybe that's another reason the libertarians took to him: he's freer than they'll ever be.
But while Based Stick Man was off committing actual assaults and pulling in $100k in donations to his legal fees, the alt-right wasn't saying shit about Black Ken. The message boards were eerily silent about the album, so last week I downloaded the social media app Gab, meant to a free speech haven for people banned from Twitter, to see if anyone was talking. This was the only post I saw:
Is it a surprise that white nationalists aren't actually listening to Lil B? Of course not. But I still want to flag their lack of engagement with Black Ken because the existence of Based Stick Man bums me the fuck out. The fake based are out there, dragging a good idea through the dirt. This is why we need Antifa, I'm not even kidding. To protect Lil B at all costs.