Classical Music

Lil B's "Classical" Album: Our Classical Music Critic Reviews It

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Tue, May 29, 2012 at 4:30 AM

click to enlarge The cover art for Lil B's Choices and Flowers
  • The cover art for Lil B's Choices and Flowers
[Editor's note: Oddball Berkeley rapper Lil B suddenly released a classical music album under his "The Basedgod" moniker last week, called Choices and Flowers. Since no one in rap really knows what to make of it, we assigned West Coast Sound classical music critic Christian Hertzog to review it.]

See also: Lil B Discusses His Career Strategy: "Every day, there's something new for me. I have to be very picky and choosy what I do."

It's nothing new for popular musicians to venture into classical. Ragtime king Scott Joplin wrote two operas; George Gershwin crossed over from Broadway to create several bona fide masterpieces; jazz composers such as Ellington and Brubeck have written for orchestras; and plenty of rock stars have given it a go.

With Choices and Flowers Lil B has sought to join this elite-ish group, producing the entire instrumental album. But is it actually classical, as he claims? Well, to paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen during the 1988 vice-presidential debate, I've written about, performed, and even composed classical music for most of my life, and Mr. B, your album is not classical music.

iTunes offers the first clue, categorizing Flowers and Choices as "New Age," and indeed that characterization makes sense, what with the long synthesizer pads intertwining and dissolving away. The entire album is multitracked synthesizer with no rapping or vocals. (The video above, for "All My Life," is not actually on the album, but was posted to YouTube as a teaser of sorts for the project.)

Like most New Age synthesizer music, Flowers and Choices was improvised rather than notated. Improvisation can play a role in classical music, sure, but rarely to the degree that the entire composition is made up on the spot.

Lil B's system of improvisation is, to put it charitably, uninteresting. In fact, you could make it yourself, with no training whatsoever! Here's how: Put your fingers on 4 or 5 adjacent white keys and leave them there for the whole piece. Play 3 or 4 descending patterns. Never mix up the order of the notes -- always play 3 or 4 consecutively falling white notes. Don't repeat any rhythms, always vary them. Don't play in any recognizable meter. Just let the notes slowly and unpredictably fall. Every once in a while, record a track with your hand on a different set of 4 or 5 adjacent white keys. Even more infrequently play a couple of black notes.

Lil B favors the pitches C-B-A-G. A lot. For the first 16 tracks, that's the melody you hear in each song, for a total of 86 minutes. (If you don't read music, sing the first four notes of the Christmas carol "Joy to the World" or the Meow Mix jingle -- that's what C-B-A-G sounds like). There's no sense of closure to any track, as each one cuts off unexpectedly.

And yet, my editor insisted on a short review of each work on the album. So here goes:

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