No two rappers are more a product of the Internet than Chance the Rapper and Lil B. Chance found fame quickly, with his breakout sophomore mixtape, Acid Rap, and then cultivated a ravenous following on the web. He was on the verge of a commercial breakthrough but chose an alternate course, and he’s somehow managed to translate online popularity into real tangible celebrity by releasing all of his music for free online. Lil B, once a forgotten member of Bay Area rap group The Pack, has become one of the most ubiquitous rappers in cyberspace doing the same thing on a grander scale; since the late ’00s, he’s funneled thousands of songs through web channels like Myspace. B has generated a cult-like following by being everything to everyone: a positivity pushing pacifist that raps in rambles, connecting with people on the strength of his magnanimity and spreading his belief that everyone should be wholly accepting of everyone else. It almost seems cosmic that two of the most positive forces in rap, though on opposite ends of the technical spectrum, would end up rapping together, free of competitiveness and free of charge, and also entirely freestyled in Lil B’s signature Based format (or lack thereof).
It’s somewhat ironic (or maybe even calculating) that a mixtape without any premeditated raps arrives on the heels of a massive ghostwriting controversy. There isn’t any type of rapping more organic than freestyling. It is a truly singular and independent process. Free, the Based Freestyle mixtape from Chance and Lil B is no strings attached rapping, a labor of love for long-time listeners and newbies alike. It is all inclusive. There is no pretense. There is no posturing. This drinks in the spirit of rap’s carefree past. This is making music just for the sake of it or even just making music because it feels good. There isn’t a lot — if any — of serious rapping here. But everything doesn’t have to be serious, and the artistry lies mostly in Free’s triviality. There is an unspoken chemistry between the two rappers that produces a genuine energy, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it. Both Chance and ‘B ramble like they’re having fun. It feels fun.
The pair isn’t winning any tag-team rap championships with Free, but that isn’t what they set out to do anyway; this isn’t rap as craft, this is rap as a conduit for pure, unbridled emotional expression. Chance explains on “What’s Next”: “We’re making an entire piece of content from scratch, which is where the best things in life come. The best things in life come from nothing. And become something different. So, you know, This is an allegory to life, and life is an allegory to this shit, I guess.” Over a weeping vocal sample, he pairs his animated delivery with Lil B’s waddling monotone. The Basedgod is very familiar with the Based freestyle format, and seems right at home holding the floor when he is deferred to, but he often lets his counterpart, who he describes as “one of the best artists ever,” take charge. Every once in a while, Chance will stumble into a moment of brilliance, like on opener “Last Dance” where he raps, “What’s up? You thought it was a joke / ‘Til I come in – Hocus Pocus, with the dopest / Shit – halitosis, I spit the grossest / Now I gotta spit ashy then gross assist / Grocery shoppin’ for my mama and daughter / I’m feelin’ like I shouldn’t have involved her / But now I’m moving too quickly / Believe it or not, I’m Mr. Ripley, talented too.” Even off the top he can be a devastating lyricist.
But, weirdly, Free is especially riveting when you can tell they’re making it up as they go. The chords on the Nate Fox-produced “Amen” sound like they are slowly deflating and Chance stammers and smirks through his verse. Lil B breaks out into song. The free-forming “Do My Dance” is a certified Lil B song that finds him right at home reciting immensely quotable lines like “Man, I swear I love my thugs.” Chance ad-libs his way through with a masterful flow. Without a doubt, though, the highlight is “We Rare,” the mixtape’s only fully-formed song which features creeping production that sounds straight out of an 8-bit Shinobi video game. It and the mixtape stand as reminders that sometimes the best things in life are free.