The Prophet Bar’s main entrance sports polite-but-unnecessary directions: you actually find their “Big Room” by the sea of Lil B fans spilling onto Main Street. You can’t mistake the swarm of pink bandanas and floral print shorts: this is soon-to-be legendary ground, marked specifically for California-based rapper Lil B’s first Dallas performance.
Teenagers spill into two equally impatient lines in front of The Prophet Bar’s dark-bricked, sticker-covered venue, and I fit in comfortably in the “no ticket” line with my fellow procrastinators. Waiting only takes an uncomfortably warm 45 minutes, which is more than enough time to spot more than 10 floral print T-shirts, two Supreme ‘fits, and five band shirts that have nothing to do with Lil B (but undeniably look cool, which is always important.) The group of dudes behind me crack jokes about the parking; the girls in front of me look at me funny, which I understand: I am wearing a floral print button-up myself but, unlike the boys in line, I’m not boasting about its fit.
The Prophet Bar is a humble hulk on the outside, fresh with a new art piece of legendary Dallas diva and recent Red Bull Sound Select artist Erykah Badu, but even more relaxed on the inside with its blacked-out stage and surroundings. Here, the DJ spins an electric mix of what feels like Top Dawg Entertainment and Friends’ greatest hits (like Schoolboy Q’s snarling, clipped bars or Danny Brown’s nasally, weed-laden raps) but it’s actually a smart entertainment move. Kids “turn up” in response but still allow their peers a customary bubble of space.
It’s here that you learn the most about Lil B fans themselves. The DJ plays for nearly an hour and a half, and in this time I gather that Lil B fans like bucket hats, bandanas, and the bass-heavy, 808-friendly staccato of “trap” music. Aside from a system malfunction, the set is pretty standard, and so is the response of the fans, who show their approval of selected song choices with the flip of a pink bandana or a mosh pit. There are a few stage dives, but the fans seem more interested in saving the wilder antics for the main event. The night’s real jams are those everyone can sing along to: ASAP Ferg’s 2013 rap All-Star roundtable “Work” remix gets the crowd noticeably hype, while more obscure DJ-friendly hits like Young Scooter’s “Colombia” go mostly unnoticed.
Eventually, the DJ makes room for OG Ron C, the Houston-based Swishahouse aficionado and producer/DJ who almost feels like too much for a crowd of teens. Maybe because it’s Dallas or maybe because his career predates the births of much of the audience, the kids clearly don’t recognize him. That’s not a problem of OG Ron C, who is all smiles and playful admonishment when it comes to “not handing [him] the blunt.” He drops a few Dallas-based bangers that the crowd surprisingly reacts to after being on their feet for almost two hours, even when he plays the same Rick Ross cut twice. The kids are still happy to move around, but don’t react much to what he’s saying if it doesn’t contain “Based God,” and so his announcements about Yung Nation don’t generate much of a response.
Enthusiastic reception or not, Yung Nation does make an appearance. Their twerk-inspired “Shawty Wassup” is the crowd favorite, and easily a rundown of the late night, “no rules” house party hookup: “I don’t give a damn about your man shawty, wassup/Everyday we burn loud in this b-tch, burn up.” The audience devolves into flexing arms and body slams. It’s the first time I get to move something other than my hips. My lipstick is melting in my pocket, but finally my feet don’t hurt anymore.
We get a good show of things, but the fireworks of Yung Nation and nostalgia-fueled ruminations of OG Ron C still feel like well-planned distractions. Every time the lights turn low, someone is calling out for “Based God” and touting bandanas, a blow-up doll, or a poster into the air. Kids take “smoke” breaks that thicken the air, and security guards make pained faces as they rush the crowd, ordering the halted use of any “paphernelia.” But it’s hard to enforce house rules in a crowd like this, and chaos is the name of the game when Lil B finally makes his on-stage appearance to the backing track of what seems like so many angels.
During the first 30 seconds that Lil B is on stage, I am blinded by a barrage of smartphone cameras flashing and grasping hands. It is chaos that Lil B stands neatly in the center of, donned in a white surgical mask and a glitterry gold watch. The backing track thankfully slides into “4 Me,” one of the newer cuts from Lil B’s recent mixtape 100% Gutta. Its lyrics are all Lil B (“I know your b-tch wanna ho for me”), but its instrumental is Rihanna’s 2011 smash hit “We Found Love,” which is also characteristic of Lil B’s use of nontraditional samples. A lot of songs in the set follow this format: a later freestyle is assisted with a slowed-down version of Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day;” “Realest B-tch Alive” gets to freeform all over French Montana’s “Stay Schemin.” What would seem like a tacky move for any other rapper actually works in Lil B’s favor, because everyone knows the words.
Even if you happen to be unfamiliar with Lil B’s ever-growing repertoire of music, you don’t have to suffer complete estrangement. The chants come frequently. Some are esoteric in-jokes that seem offensive to the un-“Based” eye (“Lil B, f-ck my b-tch!”); others are Lil B’s personal mantras (“Ask me about Dallas, whoadie!”, “I love life, I am happy to be alive, I love Based God.”) It’s obvious that Lil B doesn’t want anyone to feel left out. Between quips to “respect the people,” he warns against fights, asks for calmness and collection when taking pictures with him, and even provides a brief sexual education seminar (“make sure y’all use condoms,” “remember that ‘no means no.'”) It’s endearing and the basis of Lil B’s “Lil B-ness”: the brotherly, sensitive gooey under-layer to lyrics about stints in jail and alternative sex.
Female fans weren’t left out either. Girls were granted time on stage to shimmy and twerk in Lil B’s presence while a pre-recorded Lil B provided chirps of encouragement. It was a triumphant score for the ladies, who spent most of their time during the show lost in the shuffle of undulating boy bodies and mosh pits. The lucky girls got to walk away with a hug and a picture. For the most part, the crowd was respectful. (Except for in the case of the unfortunate girl who removed herself from the stage because someone pulled down her shorts.)
After a few hiccups, the crowd settled into nonstop mosh circles and body-butting. Hearing many Lil B tracks back to back gives you a strange appreciation for his production: none of his songs sound exactly alike, even in the face of how they feel. Rolling synths, horns, and sharp 808s punctuated hits like “Pretty B-tch,” “Ellen DeGeneres,” and “The Truth,” but soon gave way to the lush, ambient work of producers like Clams Casino. None of it felt misplaced. Ever omnipresent was the bass: bone-rattling and spine-tingling, it managed to slip its way into every song. Perhaps that is a testament to Lil B’s true “hyphy” roots, but it all meshed wonderfully.
Eventually, kids filtered out of the crowd elimination style when the moshes became too rough, but there was still a decent-sized cuff of fans by the time I exited. Outside, Deep Ellum had long gone quiet, but a few bass-heavy strains of music made their way onto the street. Even if the rest of Dallas hadn’t witnessed the legend in the making, it was obvious that this neighborhood would not forget. For one thing, the rattle seemed to be making new cracks in the concrete.
Photo by Andi Harman.