The year is 1995. The location is the world’s most dangerous room. The moment? “The Day Hip Hop Died.”
Those of the culture might remember this moment as the 1995 Source Awards. Yeah, you remember? The infamous award ceremony (hosted in New York) that featured a blood dripped Suge Knight dissing Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records with his highly flammable remarks (“Any artist out there that wanna be an artist, stay a star, and won’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing—come to Death Row!”) Or a young Snoop Dogg standing ten toes down for his mentor producer and that year’s Producer of the Year, Dr. Dre, with his rant (“The East Coast ain’t got love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg?!”) Or Diddy’s prideful stance for the East Coast (“I live in the East, and I’m gonna die in the East.”) Or how about a young Andre 3000’s plea and self-fulfilling prophecy about the Dirty South’s rap reign following Outkast’s surprise win for Best New Rap Group (“The South got something to say!”) Yeah, all of that energy happened in one setting and 24 years later, we are left with the manifestation of all of those words spoken. Rap legends, Tupac and Biggie were killed shortly after in 1996 and 1997, respectively. And the South is still saying a lot, as the region experiences its reign on top.
This brings us to Southern rapper DaBaby’s debut album Baby on Baby, released March 1 on LA’s Interscope Records. Talk about a full circle moment. The Charlotte native explodes with his first major release and does not spare any of his words. In fact, the 13-song, 32-minute album hears a DaBaby chorus or adlib within the first few seconds of each track. Literally. Baby on Baby is a rapid fire of aggressive, energetic bars and southern drawls for that ass. As a Dirty Southerner (reppin’ the 205) and deep lover of Dirty South rap, this effort felt all too familiar to my emotions, even its contemporary delivery. Equally comical and serious, DaBaby does not leave much to surprise in the album’s sonics or content. Sure, the 27-year rapper capitalizes on gimmickry associated with his name (DaBaby appeared on the 2017 SXSW stage in nothing but a diaper) but he also wants you to know that he is about everything he speaks in his music. He even calls back to the infamous Suge Knight to drive the point home on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Suge.”
You disrespect me and I’ll beat your ass up,
All in front of your potnas and children
Deepening his love and respect for the West Coast, he references fallen West Coast hero, Tupac, on another standout track of the same name, “Tupac,” as he loosely compares himself to the legendary rap figure.
Ayy who you is, n*gga? I’m like the 2Pac of the new shit
A man of conviction, DaBaby delivers every bar with a distinct level of bravado reminiscent of a 90’s Dirty Southern rapper. He also observes the press of one. (DaBaby was involved with a fatal shooting at a Walmart in Huntersville, North Carolina last fall, which left a 19-year old man dead; he has since not been charged with a crime.)
Synonymous to his person, Baby on Baby expresses its duality, making for an thrilling first listen. The ability to hold polar opposites within oneself is special. The ability to successfully present the gamut all on one album and in 32 minutes is even more impressive. DaBaby spares no words; nor does he leave his persona to outside narrative or perception. Baby on Baby experiences a range of “rap-approved” emotions that span from frivolous statements of grandeur and machismo (“Taking It Out,” “Goin Baby,” “Baby Sitter featuring Offset”) to somber moments of betrayal (“Celebrate featuring Rich Homie Quan”), as well as, everything in between. DaBaby is indeed an artist of his generation with a some things to say and his debut album Baby on Baby gives voice to all of it. Pay attention.