The old adage voiced in the classic fable, “The Tortoise and The Hare,” of slow and steady wins the race applies to almost every situation in life. Almost. The one exception to this universal proverb is DaBaby, the latest incarnation of hip-hop ‘babies’ to break into the forefront of the rap game. His rap style is deliberate, frantic, and confident, a combination that is impossible to resist. A common joke on Twitter is that he starts rapping 5 seconds before the beat comes in, which is no joke on the opening track “Taking It Out.” His explosion onto each track is allegorical to the way that he has launched himself into the mainstream with a strong following. On his new album, Baby on Baby, he checks in with the same braggadocious aura that drew in his fans on his previous mixtape that brought him a viral level of success that has drawn the attention of the rest of the industry.
If the success of DaBaby, formerly known as Baby Jesus, seems a little random, that’s because it sort of is. The rapper hails from Charlotte, North Carolina, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for hip-hop talent. In fact, in an interview with Billboard.com (we don’t have the pull to interview him yet), he commented on the lack of a rap scene in his home city. “There really wasn’t one,” he said. “I didn’t know of any rappers in Charlotte. Not to sound like I’m bragging, but I brought the music scene alive and shed the proper light on it.”
Whether or not the accuracy of his self-proclaimed influence is up for debate, the comments themselves highlight the attitude with which he raps. It’s an attitude that says, “I’m here to carry the torch and put the rap game on my back.” This mantra, combined with a lightning fast wit and a charismatic aura, shines through on every track in his discography. Baby on Baby is the electric product of this concoction, with his magnetic personality wedging itself into the listener’s head.
Similar to any self-respecting rapper, DaBaby makes allusions to historically powerful rap figures in a way to cement his place in the industry. Sure, comparing yourself to Suge Knight, the co-founder and former CEO of Death Row Records, doesn’t sound like the most flattering comparison. But it’s hard to name a more daunting figure who was so impactful in the rap game at such a young age. He constantly calls himself the “young CEO,” which situates him as a parallel to the former rap mogul. It’s a ballsy way to introduce yourself to a new rap fan, with no semblance of humility to be found. He continues to double down on these comparisons near the end of the album on “Tupac.” He floats over the hook as such:
“Ayy who you is, nigga? I’m like the 2Pac of the new shit
A hundred thousand hoes and they like the way I do shit
I’m the realest nigga rappin’ and my bitch like Jada Pinkett
I’m the fresh prince of my city, shout out Will, no point intended.”
Some rappers would probably work their way up to these kinds of comparisons, solidifying their place in the industry before name-dropping greats like Tupac and Suge. But he’s very forward in insinuating that he is among the Black culture greats in terms of rap prowess and influence. Normally, this type of overconfidence from a relatively unproven newcomer would be off-putting during a first listen. On the surface, it would seem as though the Charlotte native had jumped the shark and is setting himself up to fail with these lofty comparisons, but he delivers throughout the album, rapping his damn ass off on every track.
The most powerful skill that he holds is crafting a flawless hook. In such a short time, he has perfected the construction of a chorus that doubles as an earworm, continually cementing itself in the listener’s mind and replacing whatever inferior hook was there before. He clearly understands the importance of a strong hook and is fully confident in his ability to deliver one. He never starts with a verse or an intro: each song starts with a perfect chorus that establishes an electric energy that never wavers. It’s hard to rank the best examples of his hook proficiency. There’s the chorus on “Goin Baby,” where he compares himself to “pure cocaine from the ‘80s” (amazing flex), and name drops the title of the album. Or there’s “Deal Wit It,” on which he claims to not even like the beat he’s on and then proceeds to slaughter it for a swift minute. But my personal favorite is “Joggers,” which resonates with the deepest part of my soul. I wear joggers eight out of seven days of the week, so to hear my new favorite rapper shout out this very important article of clothing was a match made in heaven. On the track, he describes always having to pull up his pants, a problem I often have when I wear my joggers.
Besides the incredibly relatable and lighthearted subject matter on the track, DaBaby proved that he has found the Andre 3000 to his Big Boi, the Gunna to his Lil Baby, in the form of fellow Charlotte native Stunna 4 Vegas. The two have linked up multiple times, most recently on DaBaby’s 2018 mixtape. The pair have perfected the stop and start flow, constantly punctuating each line with entertaining wordplay, trading barbs back and forth. It doesn’t matter what speed they’re rapping at, they always seem in sync. Instead of going bar for bar like they did on “4x,” they both roamed freely with lengthy verses, showcasing their abilities to float over a beat in a calm, yet urgent manner.
Despite his formulaic song structures, he has managed to combat the constant worry of coming off as repetitive or boring. He avoids this trap by keeping the album’s run time short. Even with 13 tracks, the album clocks in at 31 minutes, resulting in concise, quick jabs of entertaining music. There is no fluff, no lull in the action. Each time he raps, he cuts away all of the unnecessary junk that we hear from some other artists. He leaves just enough room for his personality to shine through. His ability to spout clever raps stems from a comedic persona that never ceases to elicit laughs. From the bawdy wordplay to the hilarious music videos of “Suge” and “Walker Texas Ranger,” in which he satirizes record deal contracts and steals from a blind grifter in the forest, the ability to combine creativity and wit never fails him.
Quick aside: check out the music video for “Suge” immediately. He doubles as the world’s worst postman and the buff version of Suge Knight, ripping off some poor rapper. It’s absolutely hilarious.
It’s difficult to overstate how fun this entire album was. DaBaby exhibited the fundamental tools for success in the modern rap game. He’s able to play well with others, meshing well with Atlanta natives Rich Homie Quan, Rich The Kid, and Offset. He doesn’t let the listener rest, relentlessly slapping them with bars at a blistering pace. There is a magnetic aura that draws in casual listeners and makes them super fans. If his recent work is any indication, those fans will be stick around for quite a while.