After releasing two albums in 2019, Baby On Baby and Kirk, 28-year-old Charlotte native DaBaby appeared to be a T-shirt cannon blast of fresh air for fans of bars-first rap, weary from a near-nonstop deluge of woozy, singsong trap of the past few years. According to some fans, DaBaby started rapping two weeks before the beat dropped and never let up until he’d 64-bar, ultra-combo’d it into submission. Whether this was a good thing or not depended on who you asked: Many nostalgic (and uncurious) fans welcomed the “return” of so-called lyrical rap, while others wished that DaBaby would switch up his flow.
On Blame It On Baby, his third album in less than 18 months, DaBaby tries to split the difference. On many of the tracks, like album intro “Can’t Stop” and “Blame It On Baby,” he maintains his FN Herstal-manufactured flow, blasting away at the beat with motormouthed punchlines that smack listeners upside the head with boast after boast. On others, like “Find My Way” and “Drop” featuring A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, he tries on the crooning flow popularized by rappers like A Boogie which has seemingly dominated the hip-hop space for the past three years.
Meanwhile, on some tracks, like catchy, guitar-driven “Rockstar” featuring Roddy Ricch, DaBaby and his guests strive for the platonic ideal of doing a little of both. Incidentally, “Rockstar” is also where this approach works the best. However, it’s not so much DaBaby’s flow that needs to change; it’s the fact that after three albums, we still know very little about who he is outside of his typical, punch-first-ask-questions-later bravado. We don’t know what kind of circumstances he came from, or how he feels about how stardom has changed them.
He glosses over that sort of emoting on tracks like “Sad Shit,” on which he proclaims “Let me do some sad shit for the real n****s,” but never really reaches beyond the typical jealous ex leanings that have also become de rigueur in the modern era of rap — over an incongruously cheerful-sounding beat, no less. Meanwhile, when he raps like he did on Baby On Baby, he still stands out as one of the better punchline writers in the game. On “Can’t Stop,” he boasts, “All these icy VVS on my neck, let’s play hockey,” and jokes, “I turn piss into lemonade.” If anything, he only needs to slow down to allow these bars to hit the way he wants. Rather than swinging for the fences, he instead attempts to hit a line drive, a tricky proposition that only highlights the drawbacks of such an approach, as well as of his relentless release schedule.
The shortcomings of DaBaby’s waffling were evident in the initial responses Blame It On Baby received from fans the day of its release. Fans quickly ridiculed both his reliance on the style that had made him popular and the inclusion of tracks like “Find My Way,” on which he incorporates more melody. While that may make fans’ complaints seem contradictory and inconsistent, it illustrates the trouble with listening to the comments section; oftentimes, the customer does not always know what they want — ergo, the customer is not always right.
Had DaBaby leaned all the way into his stylistic evolution, he may have alienated his original fans, but he could have showed skeptics that he had more to offer than he’s previously shown, making it worth diving into his back catalog. However, by sticking to his guns, he could have preserved and solidified a hardcore base of “day-ones” whose loyalty would pay off in the long run — think fan bases like those of under-the-radar trap faves like Moneybagg Yo or Young Dolph, or even Buffalo-based Griselda Records, whose releases rarely stray from the fan-favorite bangers they’ve consistently churned out for years.
Ultimately, it seems DaBaby’s overachieving 2019 may be working against him. Expectations are higher, the margin for error is thinner, and the exposure is greater. Listeners haven’t really had the chance to ease into being his fans; they were either pummeled by forced repeat plays of “Bop” or watched him suddenly pop up on festival lineups and album tracklist features without the luxury of getting to know his work over time. Incidentally, 2019’s other breakout star, Megan Thee Stallion, found herself in a similar position with the release of her new mixtape, Suga, earlier this year as well.
It’s somewhat ironic that one of the standout tracks on Blame It On Baby, “Nasty,” features the return of the duo’s powerful chemistry from “Cash Shit,” one of the biggest 2019 hits for both rappers. Fittingly, “Nasty” is also one of the album’s more polarizing tracks among fans; some love that it features Ashanti as it samples her 2002 hit “Baby,” while others feel it detracts from the harder-hitting mood that DaBaby set with his previous works. It seems that you truly cannot please everybody, no matter how hard you try.
Blame It On Baby is out now on Interscope Records. Get it here.