The Commencement: Advice for Graduates from Pop Culture Guest Speakers

“And make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people.”

This isn’t exactly the sort of fluffy, “Reach for the stars!” sort of message one expects to hear at their college graduation. But then again, these aren’t exactly times that call for fluff. And anyway, how totally disappointing and bummer-inducing would it be to hear a totally cliché commencement speech from Aaron Sorkin?  The writer behind The West Wing and The Social Network addressed the 2012 graduating class at Syracuse University over the weekend, delivering some very serious, eloquent, and at times, heartwarming real talk.

Watch Sorkin’s speech below, and check out some other inspiring words of wisdom for the Class of 2012 from other pop culture and literary icons through the years.

John Legend (University of Pennsylvania, Kean University)
This year, the R&B musician, songwriter and actor received an honorary degree from Howard University. But he’s also given two commencement speeches: first in 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he waxed philosophical on leading a soulful life and the “politics of empathy,” and then again in 2011 at Kean University.

Amy Poehler (Harvard University)
Leslie Knope herself spoke at last year’s Class Day at Harvard. Amid all the jokes and one-liners, Poehler left graduates with a message about the importance of collaboration and humility in succeeding in the “real world.”

David Foster Wallace (Kenyon College)
As one might expect from the late, great infinite jester, Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech to Kenyon graduates includes a crazy parable at the beginning, is self-reflexive and self-aware of the liberal arts education, perhaps a bit too long and above all, beautifully written.

Ellen DeGeneres (Tulane University)
The television, film and comedy icon had the unique and extremely stressful task of addressing the Tulane Class of 2009, the class that would have entered the university the semester following Hurricane Katrina. Naturally, she tackles it with humor, grace and important truths. This speech also produced this heavily Facebook-status-quoted soundbite: “When I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is, when you’re older, most of you will be gay.”

Steve Jobs (Stanford University)
Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Always.

Lil B (New York University)
Not a commencement speech, but The BasedGod still has plenty of inspiring words for the Class of 2012. The Power of Yes is applicable on more days than just grad day.

And, just because…

Chris Rock – "No Sex In The Champagne Room"
Not from this year, but Chris Rock’s wise words for the GED Class of 1999 are still relevant today. Congratulations, graduates!

Linkage: ‘Most Influential’ List Forgets Lil B, MacBook Pro Gets An Aroma

Time has released their annual list of the "100 most influential people in the world," and this year among them are Rihanna, Tilda Swinton, Claire Danes, and Hillary Clinton. They forgot Lil B, but otherwise: that pretty much covers it, right? [Time]

A group of Australian artists called Greatest Hits have done the magical and bottled the singular scent of a new Macbook Pro. But, to the great dismay of the unboxing world, the perfume has been "created for use at this particular exhibition only and is not available for purchase on our online retail store for personal use." Not yet, at least. [The Week]

In celebration of Revenge‘s return and Emily VanCamp and Josh Bowman’s art-imitating-life relationship, The Awl presents a history of other such on-screen/off-screen relationships. [The Awl]

"The ride’s over for Discovery Network’s Cash Cab," Vulture reports. New Yorkers will now have to come up with new jokes to make while they hail cabs. [Vulture]

Pitchfork has partnered with Wired and Washington, DC’s cylindrical Hirshorn Museum to present a series of "Happening" musical events that will coincide with multimedia artist Doug Aitken’s SONG 1 project. [Pitchfork]

The long wished-for new season of Arrested Development is going to be released in full, in just one day, on Netflix. No word yet on which day exactly, but you are going to want to plan accordingly. [D+T]

Lil B Preaches the Power of Yes

"The Basedgod is who I want to be," said Lil B—né Brandon McCartney—ooking out the backseat window of a cramped Jeep flying down Chrystie Street late last Thursday. "The Based God is the perfect one, while Lil B is like, the artist and the rapper, the truth in being yourself" He paused, quietly fingering a nug of weed given to him by a fan just before we left the New Museum after his performance, "you know what I mean?" 

That evening’s performance at the New Museum had begun with the usual positive anecdotes, referring to himself as "art history," with his "music painted on people’s souls like the paintings on the walls," before launching into a song called Ima Eat Her Ass. "I’m not just a rapper man," said the hip-hop wunderkind. "I’m a… what’s that called again? An enigma." The sparse space, void of any projections or distractions, was the perfect backdrop for his metaphorically small stature on stage to be framed by his own massive shadow.

I had been lucky enough to tag along with his posse, consisting of a cool white guy named Sebastian handling every aspect of Lil B from publicity to driver and an 18 year old kid with a camera. We cruised around and, while I understood the distinction he was making between himself and the enigmatic character of The Based God, I also understood to his cultish following there is no difference between the two. To his fans, Lil B is a god, The Based God, and from what I’d experienced the past two days, he is to be worshiped as such. 

Last week was a big one for the 22-year-old Bay Area rapper. In the span of three days he released a new twenty song mixtape, Basedprint II; lectured to 500 NYU kids at a highly anticipated, overly attended guest lecture; and in conclusion, a two-hour-long performance at the New Museum. While the two events were staggeringly different in content and tone, the audience’s reaction remained the same: blind worship. 

Sitting next to me in this modest box blue Jeep, Lil B politely silenced his phone as to not interrupt my questions. A light ring of sweat seeped through his neon blue shirt, the Rolling Stones logo tattooed on the nape of his throat glistened in the street lights. Laughing heartily at barely funny jokes, his presence was hardly prophetic—he just seemed like a nice, regular guy who’d found a niche in re-appropriating the basic moral statutes we’ve been taught since preschool. No harm in that, I suppose, but I couldn’t seem to grasp the root of such incredible glorification as I’d witnessed during the events until I began thinking about that which he provides his audience.

The NYU event, which sold out within ten minutes of his Twitter announcement, was packed to the point that kids were picketing outside for tickets. At least 500 fans, almost all white undergrads, chanted, "Based God! Based God!" Anticipation was high; Lil B had said nothing of the event other than that the speech would change lives. At 23, I was probably the oldest person there. The following morning The Fader had transcribed the entire thing and posted it to their website.

Lil B tends to deal in obtuse sentiments that excite and carry a positive message but are difficult to rein in enough to be understood as clear direction for action. Such was the case with his speech last Wednesday. The room erupted as he took the stage in a neon yellow shirt with a fanciful yellow scarf tied around his neck. Everyone jumped to their feet; many stood on chairs, and remained standing throughout the 80-minute speech. He began, "Man. I love y’all man," and even I, a diehard cynic, immediately liked him. He was well spoken and sincere, funny even. Though many of his statements were trite, they were delivered in such an endearingly genuine way that they came off as enlightened. For once, all these things we’ve been told all our lives, the basic rules to live by that are overlooked in that they’re nothing but stock phrases now devoid of real meaning, seemed to ring true. 

But suddenly, I stepped back. The kid next to me was on his knees, praising up and down while repetitively whispering "Based God." Everyone was so animatedly involved in his every word that it became a bit pathetic to watch. How can you love everyone in a room when you’ve never met any of them? Eerie camaraderie was brewing and I wanted no part of the room’s collective sense of blind faith. It felt like Sunday Mass. There was little difference between his message and the way it was received than that of a reverend preaching a sermon. I grew increasingly tired of the word "positive," and by the time he had the whole room chanting, "I’m lucky I’m alive!" I wanted to go home. 

Bumping down the cobblestones of Crosby Street in our aimless excursion around downtown Manhattan, I asked Lil B about he felt about drugs, concious of the nug in his hand. "It’s a love-hate relationship," he told me. "Substance abuse is a really delicate issue, it’s rough for a lot of people. Really you just got to try to reserve and conserve your body as much as possible and love yourself. Drugs only lead to a downhill, depending on how you view it. That’s what it really does if you abuse it. Just try to stay drug free really. Really that is the thing, staying drug free is the way to go. I’m no to drugs." 

I asked him if he felt he’d accomplished his goal for the speech, if he felt he’d changed people’s lives. "Yes," he said, "and especially with the tone today, with the show that you came to at the New Museum, and with the tone yesterday, it’s just a big tone of love and I think everybody is comfortable now. I feel like everybody has a weight off their shoulders because people understand it a bit more."

Though I wasn’t completely sold on the clarification of his overall posi attitude as a life-changing event, Lil B undoubtedly touched kids in that room in a way they will never forget. It was evident in their overwhelming reactions. Whether or not this change was coming from a true internalization of his preaching, or just being caught up in the feelings of love and acceptance from one of their idols, remains unclear.

I then asked him if he believes in God. "I definitely believe in a spirit. I look at God in the Bible… see I pray to God, but I’m not a slave to God. I’m not going to kill for God, but I know God loves, whatever God is. God to me is the conscience for the people that haven’t found it. It’s a positive affirmation. A lot of the things that I’ve read in the Bible are like, if you go through life you kind of know." Positive affirmation, a conscience for people that have yet to find their own, these are exactly the things Lil B offers his fans in the form of Based God. Having gone through life and found truth in the same basic sentiments found in the Bible, he offers them to sheltered kids who have yet to find moral wisdom through experience. Based God is a manifestation of Lil B’s mature interpretation of religion, and his devout fans are all his followers. 

This dynamic was palpable at his New Museum performance last Thursday, part of an ongoing monthly series put on by the museum called "Get Weird." Completely sold out, the line to get in snaking around the block consisted of the same young, seemingly sheltered and style-less white kids as the speech did. Inside one of the museum’s whitewashed downstairs screening rooms, kids waited eagerly, crowding the stage, breaking into short various chanting sessions, one of which inexplicably went "Bie-ber! Bie-ber! Bie-ber!" It was pretty apparent these kids didn’t know what was up. Usually at a show there is some sort of aesthetic continuity, whereas the crowd at this show seemed to be defined by a stylistic randomness, with the only constant being a sense of counter cultural confusion. There was the greasy longhaired boy with khaki cargo pants underneath a frilly purple skirt sitting cross-legged in thick old running sneakers; the girl with two different shoes and a target-patterned oven mitt on one hand; the guy whose hat simply read "Rape." The misguided attempts at rebellion were palpable, but I was just as confused as them as to what they were rebelling against. 

Whereas his message of love and peace at the NYU speech remained consistent and came off authentic, he seemed to have difficulty translating it into rap lyrics. The experience was oddly contradictory. A song that went out to "all the haters" consisted of the lyrics "fuck ’em, fuck ’em, fuck ’em," with gun shots blasting in the beat, followed by him yelling, "Stop the violence!" No one seemed to notice, all too enthralled with a performance I’ll leniently refer to as mediocre. The beats were for the most part great, overshadowing his lyrics and delivery, both of which could have used some work. 

Interestingly enough, the articulate and charismatic guy who spoke at NYU was almost unrecognizable on this stage. Despite all this, he had the crowd transfixed. Even when he fumbled through a freestyle to the point that he stopped and said, "I can’t do it," his fans responded with "You’re a legend!" and "We believe in you Based God!" leading my friend, underground LES rapper ABC, to lean over and whisper, "did he put something in their drinks?"

But the kids were mostly too young to drink anyway—Lil B maintains his popularity because his fan base is incredibly impressionable. They eat up his Bay area notions of peace, love and positivity. Like most mainstream mediums of popular music before it, layers have separated within the Hip Hop genre. Rap isn’t exclusively gangster rap anymore. There are hipster rappers, punk rappers, techno rappers, and with Lil B, even hippyish rappers. His next project is a rock album called "California Boy." He’s spreading the same message of love and acceptance preached by Sixties icons, and there’s no difference between these kids who feel out as the lost youth who ran West looking for acceptance back then. He tells these kids it’s okay to be who they are. He tells kids who’ve never been considered cool that they are cool, that everyone is cool and we’re all one big family. 

By the end of the show, half the audience was on stage dancing with Lil B, dressing him up in their clothes, smothering him with camera phone pictures and tablet videos, being part of something. "He touched my hand!" I heard one kid in a wicker hat exclaim. He stayed an hour after wrapping up his performance offering "free hugs" to any takers, posing for photos. "This is definitely my new pro pic," said one Facebook-forward blonde. 

Despite any inconsistencies in Lil B’s persona, his success is that he cares to reach kids in a positive way that not many entertainers can or know how to do in the new internet economy. Though it can sound corny, and though it can manifest in unfortunate ways such as a scrawny teen throwing up signs in a du rag, it could certainly be worse. Then again, there’s no telling what direction he’ll take it in next, telling his New Museum audience, "This is the last time you’ll see me in this form. I’m about to transform." As an incredibly prolific artist, having recorded over 2000 songs in his relatively short career, and with rock and roll on his list of conquests, there’s no way to know is to come. 

Photo by Lucas Alvarado-Farrar / Far Fetched Future

Afternoon Links: Big Debut Likely For ‘Boyfriend,’ Rihanna Rides The Subway

● Justin Bieber’s "Boyfriend" is on pace to sell 400,000 downloads this week, a one week haul that would easily rank as Justin’s best. Growing up ain’t so bad! [Billboard]

● In 2000, a high school student asked Fiona Apple to write a letter for his school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and oh did she. [BuzzFeed]

● MediaTakeOut seems to believe that Lil B’s upcoming NYU lecture will be something of a coming out party. [MTO]

● "Whew this job is no joke," tweeted new mom Hilary Duff, hopefully not between choked back tears. [Us]

● Rihanna skipped pants but remembered her Oyster card for her Tube trip to Drake’s London tour stop. "I hate waking up early and I am always late so the Tube is 10 minute," she explains. "Me and my fans all went to the concert, that was the coolest part definitely." [MTV]

● Rumor has it that Busy Philips introduced Michelle Williams and Jason Segel, and that the two have been totally "smitten" ever since. Aww!  [PageSix]

● Better late than never, 50 Cent announced today that he’ll be joining rank with a Gangsta Grillz hosted mixtape. “Arguably the two most important brands in the mixtape game in the last 10 years. 50 Cent & Gangsta Grillz,” he says. [RapRadar]

Afternoon Links: ‘Ninja Turtles’ Gets A Name Change, ‘Harry Potter’ Goes Digital

● Looks like Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be neither "Teenage" nor "Mutant" — not by title, at least. Bay announced on his blog this morning that Paramount marketing has renamed his reboot Ninja Turtles. "They made the title simple. The characters you all remember are exactly the same," he assured, adding that, "yes they still act like teenagers." [EW]

● The precocious Chloe Moretz has been cast as the tormented adolescent lead in Kimberly Pierce’s upcoming Carrie remake. "I’ve never been so happy in my life," wrote Moretz on Twitter. [Deadline]

● The Harry Potter series is at last going digital, with all seven books now available for download from J.K. Rowling’s own Pottermore site. [WSJ]

● Lil B will give a #rare, #exclusive, and — although it goes without saying — #based lecture about something at NYU on April 11. "THIS WILL BE HISTORICAL AND TRULY LIFE CHANGING, HISTORY STARTS," says the Based God, and we don’t doubt it. [Pitchfork]

● 11 years, 6 million albums sold, and perhaps the best Pitchfork review of all time later, the Aussie rockers that make up Jet have decided to call it quits "to pursue separate creative endeavors." [Spinner]

● They might have lost Khloe Kardashian in the wake of the flour-bombing incident, but a new and beautiful relationship appears to be blooming between the increasingly absurdist PETA and "recently switched to a vegetarian" Courtney Stodden. Lets call it a draw. [NYDN/Gawker]

● Steven Tyler celebrated his 64th birthday with a sparkly blue pedicure, a new puka shell necklace, and a nice walk on the beach. [ONTD]

Morning Links: Amy Winehouse’s Website Hacked by Lil B Fans, Stephen Colbert Launches PAC

● Amy Winehouse’s official website was hacked by a group called SwagSec, who appear to be a bunch of vigilante Lil B subscribers. No comment yet from the Based God himself. [TMZ] ● Sports Illustrated model Brooklyn Decker is diving head, er, belly-long into her acting career, this time starring opposite Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez as the “perfect pregnant” in the comedy What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Feminists, rejoice. [EW] ● Jonathan Rhys Meyers was hospitalized after a possible suicide attempt on Tuesday night. The actor, who has long struggled with substance abuse, was found slumped on the floor having overdosed on pills and booze, needing to be convinced by police to seek treatment. [Huff Post]

● The Federal Election Commission has given Stephen Colbert the OK on launching his Colbert Super PAC, a committee set to raise unlimited amounts of money to spend supporting or opposing candidates as he wishes during the 2012 elections. “I don’t accept the status quo,” he said. “I do accept Visa, Mastercard or American Express.” [CBS] ● Generally cool-headed Vinny Guadagnino stormed out of the Jersey Shore house yesterday, reportedly ripping off his mic and claiming to have “had enough.” Chill, bro.[NYP] ● Beyoncé’s best life ever continues with another so-sweet surprise performance in Harlem, a behind-the-album documentary available for stream on her website, and a projected top-spot debut for 4. Boof boof! [Reuters]

Lil B Debuts ‘I’m Gay’ Album, Lupe Fiasco Calls it ‘Liberation Rock’

Earlier this month, we were still debating whether or not Lil B’s I’m Gay album title was purely a publicity stunt, but that’s all irrelevant now. Last night, the Cali rapper accomplished something that seemed near impossible in 2011: He released the album on iTunes with one single tweet, before any of the new tracks could leak. Applaud him—at least a little.

And now, to make things even more interesting, Lupe Fiasco has become his most vocal supporter. First, Lupe fired off a series of tweets supporting the new album:

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After that he took to his blog to pen a detailed explanation as to why he considers Lil B’s mew muisc to be “Liberation Rock”:

His disclaimer:

Before we get any deeper let me put my inherent biases on the table. First, I blindly and unconsciously love anything that comes out of the Bay Area of Northern California. It’s part honest respect for the cultural products that emerge out of that region and part happiness and empathy that in the midst of the social turmoil and raw violence and despair that has plagued that area for decades that artists reppin’ the Bay are capable to create and express themselves at all. Second, my faith is in the youth. So I find myself constantly observing and trying to empower and support the youth in any way that I can. No matter what they create.

The lowdown on Lil B:

What gets Lil B admission into my coveted genre of “Liberation Rock” is his absolute lack of fear when it comes to challenging the status quo. Whether it be in hip-hop, which is very elitist and caste and class oriented, or just society in general, which is very elitist and class centric. His albeit “rocky” road musically has been honestly at times unbearable to walk on. Some of Lil B’s past works have been underwhelming to say the least and at moments I would seriously consider heading out for smoother pavement. But every now and again an absolute jewel would come to the surface and I’d find myself unable to fathom leaving this kids side for any reason. The vulgar lyrics, happy go lucky cooking dances and sometimes pointless stream of conscious style rambling started to give way to hints of a deadly serious revolutionary mentality lurking underneath.

Morning Links: Justin and Selena Use The L-Word, Lil B Drops “I’m Gay”

● Justin Timberlake is joining recently sold MySpace as an investor with hopes of revitalizing the site in order “to bring artists and fans together in one community.” In other words, to bring sexy back. [TheWrap] ● In case the pictures of them playing on the beach, holding hands, and stealing kisses weren’t enough: Someone heard Justin tell Selena “I love you” while they were shopping at Armani Exchange. Their love, it’s so real. [Page Six] ● Amber Rose swears she didn’t send those sexy pics (very NSFW) to Nick Minaj’s boyfriend, and says that the whole thing is just another media ploy to make her miserable. “it shld be illegal to write fake stories about ppl the media never wants to see anyone happy,” she waxed on twitter. [NYDN]

● As he is wont to do, Lil B surprised everyone by dropping his self-proclaimed “historical project,” called I’m Gay, on iTunes last night. Thank You Based God. [LilBTheBasedGod/Twitter] ● Anderson Cooper is ready to come out. “You can be very serious and very passionate about [serious news] and still like NeNe Leakes,” he told AdWeek, coming clean on his affinity for Housewives. [AdWeek] ● G.O.O.D. henchman CiHi the Prynce says that Jay and ‘Ye’s Watch The Throne could be out any day now. “Those are the bosses. They might put it out yesterday,” he told MTV. “He can just put it out tomorrow if he wanted to, and that’s what ‘Ye want to do.” With initial January release dates long past, and the most recent drop-day, July 4th, quickly approaching — who knows! [MTV]

Morning Links: Tupac Shooter Confesses, Selena Gomez Blames Junk Food For Hospital Trip

● First Alec, and now youngest and “kookiest” Baldwin, Stephen wants a New York mayoral run. What, again, was wrong with Weiner? [Gothamist] ● According to AllHipHop, Dexter Isaac has confessed to shooting Tupac Shakur outside Quad Studios in 1994, earning $2,500 from music exec Jimmy Henchmen for the hit. Isaac is currently serving a life sentence for another crime, and Henchman is on the lam. Today would have been Tupac’s 40th birthday. [AHH] ● Lil B copped, ever so slightly, on his boldly titled new album, adding the parenthetical “(I’m Happy)” to I’m Gay on the official, Marvin Gaye inspired cover art. [RapRadar]

● Selena Gomez wants to clarify: when she says she is malnourished, she doesn’t mean she’s not eating, she just means she loves M&Ms and Snickers at the movies and cheese on her broccoli. And anyways, her mom is making her take vitamins now. [People] ● James Franco, the man who has proven himself capable of doing almost anything — shelling invisible art, included — wishes he looked better in tank tops. [NYM] ● Bill Clinton admires the cast of Spider-Man‘s gumption: “And I am very proud of them for not giving up, it was fabulous,” he said after the premier. [PopWatch/EW]