With a glistening smile and teeth wrought in the most mischievous grill, Charlotte-native Jonathan Lyndale Kirk has imposed on the rap scene a character of carefree whims and unrelenting spits. Infamously monikered DaBaby, his overpowering rhyme-style and confrontational run-ins outside the studio have made the rapper an unmissable figure in the social media and streaming age.
Last year’s releases of “Baby on Baby” and “KIRK” proved to be formidable gladiators in the ever-competitive hip-hop arena, and DaBaby’s inclusion in the 2019 XXL Freshman Class cemented a prospective career. However, his slaps, shakedowns and shooting incidents haven’t been overlooked.
In November 2018, DaBaby shot and killed a 19-year-old man who allegedly threatened him, his children and their mother in a North Carolina Walmart. DaBaby was also arrested in early 2020 in connection with a Miami robbery of a gig promoter who allegedly shorted the rapper of his payment.
Now in the middle of a pandemic and with many in lockdown, DaBaby announced on Twitter a quarantine-special album on April 13. Dropping only four days later, “BLAME IT ON BABY” should have served as a reflection on his rapid stardom and past woes. Given instead is run-of-the-mill trap beats and disposable lyrics and features.
The self-proclaimed “Tupac of the new s---” stuck to his worn-out guns of sonically forward rapping alongside substandard production that doesn’t try anything new. With the typical 30-minute excursion, new school rappers often try to pack a record to the brim with a breadth of material to demonstrate their worth. Here, DaBaby falls too comfortably into his galoshes and face mask, leaving tracks to languish too long in their flute notes and bass.
His biggest appeal, the in-your-face Bart Simpson nonchalance, feels overplayed in songs such as “CAN’T STOP” and “JUMP.” The constant lines about his game with the ladies mixed with addresses of his allegations sound too muddled to leave an impact. It is off-putting to hear him talking about stealing other guys’ girls after denouncing his relationship with the media. In “PICKUP,” DaBaby chides, “He a Skittle.”
DaBaby does have one moment of clarity on “ROCKSTAR,” featuring TikTok-viral Roddy Ricch. In a few bars, DaBaby laments about the Walmart incident and the violence his family had to witness in an act of self-defense.
“PTSD, I’m always waking up in cold sweats like I got the flu, My daughter a G, she saw me kill a n---- in front of her before the age of two… Long as you know that, don’ let nobody tell you different, Daddy love you (Yeah, yeah).” DaBaby becomes the most vulnerable he has ever been in his music, and it offers a hint of vindication on an otherwise vapid album.
Other lyrical tropes include the archetypal “rags to riches,” lots of classic hip-hop fronting and his often-mentioned sexual prowess. “NASTY,” with verses from contemporary Megan Thee Stallion and old guard Ashanti, is the biggest projection of his carnal knowledge on the record, not counting its mini-me’s: “PICK UP” and “LIGHTSKIN S---.”
While the sentiment can always be respected, tracks regarding the grind are too repetitive but still can be supported by better instrumentals from outside producers. “DROP,” featuring A Boogie wit da Hoodie and composed by London On Da Track, is the most subdued and distinctive sound on the whole project. The aforementioned “LIGHTSKIN S---,” composed of synth vibes from producer Jetsonmade, is coolly reminiscent of a Pac-Man collection for the Gameboy Advance.
Most features here seem like DaBaby checking off the boxes. Rap regulars Quavo, Future and YoungBoy Never Broke Again provide expected results. Oftentimes, they add a little diversity and a little excitement to DaBaby’s run-on sentences. Roddy Ricch’s appearance seizes their co-starring track with some decent belting and makes you hope he lingers a little longer.
If DaBaby wanted to be the “Coronacation savior,” he failed. Trapheads should and surely will take a listen to “Blame It on Baby,” but those musically attuned to other genres will not find any endearing qualities. A reliance on the same themes and assembly make the album a copy and paste effort. With little redemption to his character and to his messages, DaBaby is on track to descend like Jack Nicholson’s Joker; if he does not correct course for future works, the last we will care for him is that big toothy grin.
Contact Manny Rea at [email protected]