Some Things Are Important: Lil’ B at NYU

Not because what he said was profound (though some of it was), or because he said anything that hasn’t been said before, but because he said it at all, and because of the way he said it. And because the audience, as described here by Nitsuh Abebe, seemed to be evenly divided between those who took him as an entertaining freak and those who took him seriously (maybe too seriously). There’s a weird yet sublime balancing point between thinking in an analytic manner and thinking in an entirely free-flowing, not always coherent manner, and Lil B appears to have bounced back between the two all night and occasionally found that balance. Listening to his lecture is like listening to someone thinking, listening to their brain work, tossing ideas back and forth between the hemispheres until coming to just the right conclusion. He leans mostly toward the free-thinking (which, as an artist, he should), but he’s got a strong analytic sense, as well, though he seems to have learned, or taught himself, to keep his analytic side away from self-consciousness. There’s a lot of Walt Whitman in what he said: all accepting, but sharp-eyed, specific, and astute. And very, very American.

What may be more important is the way many in the press, even critics, are reacting to this. There seems to be a sudden dropping of barriers. It’s as if Lil B had said what has been on people’s minds for a long while, and in a way that everyone can get behind. It’s a shift that’s been coming for a long time, away from a harsher, more analytical, divisive viewpoint toward something more broadly accepting and focused on the human, but the lecture may make it feel like a sudden landslide. I’ve always suspected that this shift was coming, but there was no way of knowing exactly what would tip things over. Lil’ B may be it.