Lil B is a hip-hop enigma.
Who else could release a mixtape with 855 songs, cast a few NBA curses that become a big deal on ESPN and regularly tweet things like “I do believe and no dinosaurs existed.. giraffes are super horses and whales are super fish, sea lions are dogs and fish combined?”
So, yeah, Lil B is definitely a mystery. But he wasn’t always one.
Ten years ago — on Dec. 4, 2006 — Lil B’s career took a running leap with the release of the mid-2000s Bay Area rap anthem “Vans.” The song introduced the world to The Pack, a group that included a young, fresh-faced Lil B — who could actually rap at this point — alongside producer Young L and rappers Stunnaman and Lil Uno.
If you haven’t heard “Vans,” first of all, please listen to it. It’s a four-minute ode to the skate shoe over an absurdly minimal beat featuring only bass, finger snaps and a drum loop.
“Got my vans on, but they look like sneakers/ Got my vans on, but they look like sneakers,” the track paradoxically repeats over and over again. And while that simple, sneaker-themed nursery rhyme of a hook is bound to get stuck in your head, the verses are really what make the song so unique.
“If you wanna get right, stop buyin’ those Nikes/ Get some new fuckin’ vans and you’ll bet you look icey,” Lil B raps.
In 2016, it’s almost shocking to hear The Based God’s sparse, smooth flow and simple, clever lyrics on the track. For one, you can almost imagine he actually wrote down his contribution to “Vans,” unlike the thousands of “Based freestyles” he’s released in the past decade. But it is pretty amazing to see the roots of rap’s resident witch doctor, especially when those roots are as straightforward and fun as this one.
“Vans” is remarkable in just how unremarkable it is. It’s a great throwback to mid-2000s ringtone rap, sure, but it’s also an incredibly normal hyphy track. The beat bumps, the bars are simple and the hook is repetitive.
But the song wasn’t a minor hit because of those things: It was popular because it’s so damn fun.
And certainly, some of that appeal has stayed with Lil B throughout his career. His actual music is generally, at best, inconsistent and, at worst, unlistenable — but that’s not the point. His character isn’t too far from the Vans-wearing jokester you see in The Pack. While he’s a little weirder and a lot less catchy now, Lil B still has the mischievous, grill-filled grin he shows off in the “Vans” video.
So throw on your Vans (“Black on black, so they won’t get dirty”) and take a trip back to 2006 with The Pack.
Or just read through Lil B’s tweets. Both will make you smile.