Those that ventured into the arid and dusty conditions in Indio, California for 2011's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival expected to witness an array of performances by the likes of headliners like Kings of Leon, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Black Keys, Interpol and more.
Although this generation has a decidedly different upbringing than the flower children of the '60s, the festival is often a place where men and women alike - regardless of upbringing, race or sexual orientation - can gather for two weekends and act like maybe music can ease the woes of the world as if a Band-Aid trying to cover a bullet hole.
Despite an atmosphere which evokes thoughts of a neon Woodstock, it actually proved to be the stage for one of the more controversial announcements in all of hip-hop at the time thanks to the unfiltered words of none other than The BasedGod himself: Lil B.
Prior to his performance at Coachella is 2011, Lil B had cultivated a strong fanbase thanks to his diversified catalog of songs which ranged from hyphy-inspired anthems with his Bay Area group, The Pack, to a more esoteric fare in later years which registered like amalgamation of spoken word poetry, motivational speaking and standup comedy.
After a string of notable releases like I'm Thraxx, 6 Kiss, Dior Paint, Base World Pt. 1, Pretty Boy Millionaires and Rain in England, Lil B was further validated by scoring the cover of "The Now Isse" of The FADER.
Although he was beginning to score press with major magazines, hip-hop outlets and blogs weren't ready to necessarily endorse the rapper out of fear that perhaps it was all one big joke and they fell for it hook, line and sinker. Eventually, Complex came knocking and wanted some real answers.
"I'm a rebel," Lil B said. "I'm a punk. I'm like a rocker in the rap world. I'm one of the outcasts. The motherfucking guy that's just fucking crazy."
Although the interview touched on an array of topics, it inevitably was steered toward his own sexuality given his penchant for referring to himself as a "princess" or a "pretty bitch" in a number of songs - one of which was titled "I'm a Fag, I'm a Lesbian" which to avid listeners of the genre seemed to be quite different than the approach of other rappers who were blowing up at the time.
"It's a touchy subject," he said. "I respect the hell out of gays and the gay community. I'm not a gay man. I don't agree with sex with another man or fucking another man or giving blow jobs to another guy. That's not my thing. I'd rather fuck a girl, fuck her in her ass, fuck her in the mouth or something."
"People get scared when they hear the gay word, but when you truly know yourself, you gonna be good," he continued. "Say for instance you're watching a porno, right. And, you're jacking off and shit, and some gay shit pops up. And you're like, 'Oh, shit!' Either you're gonna look at that shit, or you're not gonna look at it and you're not gonna give a fuck about it. Like, some gay shit can pop up on me, and I don't give a fuck about it. I'm like, 'Oh, that's that gay shit. Get that shit off. Back to the bitches.'But some muthafuckers are in denial. Some dudes are really in denial. They're like, 'What's that? Ohhhh!' And they hate themselves for that. They're like, 'What's wrong with me?' You feel me? And these are motherfuckers that's around us. That's not saying shit. So, it's like, I'm a faggot because I'm so not a faggot. I can say I'm a faggot. I can say I'm the gayest bitch on Earth. And I'm so not gay, it's obvious. I know from my deepest core that I'm very far from gay. So I can say I'm the bitch queen that fucks cows. I'm not."
Before his announcement at Coachella, the hip-hop world was again forced to deal with the issue of homophobia permeating the genre when in late March of 2011, Hot 97 DJ Calvin “Mister Cee” Lebrun - who also had been the tour DJ for Big Daddy Kane and executive produced Biggie's Ready to Die - was arrested for public lewdness in New York City.
Rumors began to spread that Mister Cee was allegedly caught while receiving fellatio from a 20-year-old man.
Fellow music impressarios like Funkmaster Flex and Ed Lover came to his aid, with the latter saying, "Please stop spreading that nasty rumor around about my friend DJ Mister Cee! It’s just wrong and untrue!”
Ultimately, that rumor proved to be substantiated. Yet, the hip-hop community rallied around the embattled DJ and said all the right things - notably solidified by 50 Cent.
"Who is to judge you when there's an audience -- that is probably one of the strongest audiences, if you look at Lady Gaga's career -- that says that that's fine?" said 50. "If you say it's not fine, you're gonna get attacked. You're gonna write apology notes."
Taking the Coachella stage in 2011 - only weeks after the Mister Cee incident - Lil B's eclectic fanbase turned up in full force to pay homage to The BasedGod.
His initial ramblings were quite customary for the thousands in attendance, with the rapper saying, “We only have life to live… I love all my Facebook friends. My Twitter friends.”
However, it was all leading up to a larger announcement.
"I'm gonna do the most controversial thing in hip-hop Ya'll heard it first," he said. "And I'mma just show you that words don't mean shit. I'mma make an album called 'I'm Gay,' right. Now I'mma tell you why I'm the first person to do it in hip-hop and why you're the first people to know my reasons. I'm just gonna tell you. So many people be worried about what people mean and definitions of words and shit. Now I like women, I love women, you feel me. But within yourselves, no matter what you do, it doesn't matter, it's like live life. You've only got one life to live. Be happy."
In response to the announcement, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told XXL that they hoped Lil B’s album title was “not a gimmick, and is really a sincere attempt to be an ally. He has the platform and the voice. We hope he uses it in a positive way.”
“I got major love for the gay and lesbian community, and I just want to push less separation and that’s why I’m doing it,” Lil B said. “I hope GLAAD sees that I’m taking initial steps to break barriers.”
With the rise of anonymous hate mongering thanks to social media, Lil B soon found himself squaring off against people who viewed his decision to name his album I'm Gay as a declaration of his personal sexuality as opposed to a broader statement about acceptance.
“People been hitting me up like, ’I’m gonna bash your head in,’ ’you faggot,’ ’I’m gonna kill you,’” Lil B told MTV News.
"I don't like men," he further clarified with CNN. "They're saying they're going to bash my head in. They're calling me faggot. That's all right, because I did this with the pure intention in my heart to help people, and I didn't do this for promotional reasons. I did because there needs to be someone brave enough to do it, brave enough to speak up and have the right reasonings of doing it."
In an October 2011 interview with Complex, A$AP Rocky - who himself had just entered the public consciousness with his debut, Live.Love.A$AP - was asked to weigh on homophobia in hip-hop after many questioned his own sexuality given the high fashion labels he was known to wear.
“I’m so comfortable with my sexuality that if someone’s gay, that’s their business," Rocky said. "People are people. I enjoy people. Of course I’m not gay. I’m heterosexual. At the same time, I don’t really give a fuck about anybody’s sexual preference as long as you respect mine. Every designer I have on is gay. I love it and I don’t give a fuck."
Despite his acceptance of others' lifestyles, Rocky wasn't particularly fond of Lil B's attempt to capitalize off the hysteria, saying, "Don’t get it twisted: I don’t fuck with Lil B or that 'I’m Gay' shit. But as a kid, as a person, I probably would fuck with him. I’m not getting on the record about him anymore. I like the, ‘Woop! Woop!’ but I can’t. He wears my grandmother's earrings. I’m just being serious. It’s not going down. I mean, I can’t talk but this nigga be wilding. The nigga said, 'I’m Gay' and [in parenthesis put], I’m happy. Come on, Brandon. What are you doing? That’s all I can say.”
Ultimately, Lil B released I'm Gay (I'm Happy) on June 29 without warning and featured a tongue-in-cheek reference to Marvin Gaye's 1976 album, I Want You, with the album artwork.
Fellow rapper, Lupe Fiasco took to his own website to discuss the title and controversy, writing, "What gets Lil B admission into my coveted genre of 'Liberation Rock' is his absolute lack of fear when it comes to challenging the status quo. Let me make something abundantly clear, the title 'I'm Gay (I'm Happy)' I think is absolute genius. Those two words together side by side in almost any format in the society we live in can be a cultural and social death sentence. The word 'gay' referring to homosexuality in the minds of the 'guilty,' as well call them here, sent shockwaves throughout our hip-hop community. Making Lil B the target of attack and ridicule. But Lil B's ultimate intention and preference for the word 'gay' was it's 'one who is happy' definition. So basically my lil homey was being attacked for being happy."
I'm Gay (I'm Happy) eventually peaked at number 20 on the Heatseekers Album chart on Billboard for the week of July 16, 2011. Critics who were hoping to find songs about themes that might be discussed given the controversy surrounding the title of the project would ultimately be disappointed. But that's the BasedGod for you. As easily as he can cook up trouble, he can also reduce the boiling point to a simmer as well.
For more explorations of sexuality and hip-hop, check out 12 queer hip-hop artists every Highsnobiety reader should know.