These days, social media links us to our favorite artists in ways that were previously impossible. This is impressive in itself, but occasionally our interactions with those formerly unreachable stars reveal truths that illuminate not just how we engage with our favorite artists’ craft, but how they see themselves, as well.
Case in point: A recent Twitter joke by a follower of frequent DaBaby producer JetsonMade highlighted the gift and curse of his beat making style — and ultimately, of DaBaby’s appeal as an artist as well. In response to the accusation that he only uses three keys, Jetson rebuffed that he actually uses four, both rejecting the limitations implied by the comment and cheekily admitting that his style isn’t all that extensive after all.
The same thing could be said of DaBaby, whose sudden ubiquity has only been matched by his ridiculous productivity — a productivity that might only be possible because he hasn’t quite extended himself too far outside his comfort zone. His new album, Kirk, is a welcome follow up to his explosive debut, Baby On Baby, incrementally expanding his range while sticking to what has been effective for him so far.
DaBaby’s story is quickly becoming a familiar one the digital age: In March of this year, he dropped a project, Baby On Baby, with little buildup and an impressive underground buzz. By June, Baby On Baby had reached the Billboard 200 top ten, DaBaby was featured on the XXL Freshman 2019 issue, and seemingly every rapper, whether bubbling up from the underground or soaring at the peak of rap fame, was scrambling for a Baby verse.
And while many rap stars both classic and modern would have been content to simply ride the wave of their burgeoning stardom while carefully crafting a creatively artful followup, DaBaby simply did what the majority of his influential favorites have been doing of late: Dropped another album delivering more of the same, with just enough autobiographical material to hint at hidden depths to be plumbed on a future project.
The standout tracks are, of course, “Intro” and “Gospel,” which sound a little less like the trunk-rattling, 808 thud of prior hits like “Suge” and “Walker Texas Ranger” and a little more like the more personable artwork of the upper echelon rappers DaBaby has the potential to one day be. “Intro” works in the vein of the “Dreams And Nightmares”-style hype opener pioneered by Meek Mill and utilized by everyone from Cardi B to Kash Doll to Tee Grizzley, delving into the emotional tension of Baby losing his father just as he was getting his big break.
Meanwhile, “Gospel” borrows liberally from guest artist Chance The Rapper’s oeuvre, with a beat that sounds like half Saturday night in the strip club parking lot, half Sunday morning in the back row of worship service at the local Baptist church. Again, DaBaby addresses the pain of loss, associating his personal tragedy with the wider-felt agony of Nipsey Hussle’s death, both linked by time and the anguish of seeing a guiding light snuffed out. As DaBaby recounts the circumstances of his come-up, fellow XXL Freshman YK Osiris, Chance, and trap legend Gucci Mane provide further perspective, linking their shared struggle to the comfort and rejuvenating power of faith.
The drawback of DaBaby’s insistence on sticking to his “if it ain’t broke” philosophy means that even bangers like the flute-driven “Bop,” the wobbly “Vibez,” and the zippy, upbeat “Really” featuring fellow North Carolinian Stunna 4 Vegas come off a little pat, as much fun as they are. DaBaby’s subject matter never really wavers from his usual, punchline-packed observations about wealth and tough-guy talk, nor does his flow ever dip below the redline. As impressive as his breath control is, it’d probably be nice to see him slow from a sprint to at least a slightly more leisurely pace, so the listener can really appreciate each sneering sidearm because his rhymes really are clever and catchy.
Just like JetsonMade, who actually only appears here on three tracks (“Bop,” “Vibez,” and “Gospel”), DaBaby sticks to a sound that has previously been effective, only sneaking in spatters of more emotive, relatable material the way Jetson switches briefly to brighter, more joyful production on “Gospel.” The major change that DaBaby could make to silence his detractors is to show them that he has more depth and range on future projects, as the flashes of honesty and vulnerability add a much-needed dimension to the proceedings and hint at a far more interesting personality behind the bravado. DaBaby is an entertaining character who plays well to the crowd, a loveable heel you can’t help but root for, even if he’s kind of obnoxious. We still don’t quite know who Jonathan Lyndale Kirk is — but we can’t wait to find out.
Kirk is out now via Interscope Records. Get it here.