Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V has been a white whale for hip-hop enthusiasts since 2014, so it was surprising last month when the rapper Young Thug predicted that the long-awaited album was sure to fall short. “I’m Wayne’s biggest fan,” Young Thug wrote, “but [Tha Carter V] not goin’ to be harder than Harder.” That’s Drip Harder, the debut full-length from rising Atlanta rappers Lil Baby and Gunna.
These two agile, melodic-minded MCs already have close to an album’s worth of songs together spread across various mixtapes; they’re on the radio right now, rapping next to their booster — and stylistic forebear — Young Thug on “Chanel (Go Get It).” After the collaboration “Sold Out Dates” leaked earlier this year and generated a rapturous response, fans demanded that Lil Baby and Gunna record an entire tape together. As good entertainers, they gave the people what they wanted.
If you heard any of the previous Gunna-Lil Baby collaborations — maybe “Life Goes On,” an exultant assessment of the good life from Harder Than Ever, or “Oh Okay,” an exultant but oddly haunting assessment of the good life from Drip Season 3 — you know what to expect on Drip Harder. “I just started rappin’, I made me some millions,” Lil Baby proclaims on “Belly.” “Give mama a hug, we finally made it,” Gunna adds on “Business Is Business.” Money is spent; snazzy cars are driven; the good life is enjoyed.
The haunting celebrations are the better ones, because the tension between the rappers’ words and their tone makes you listen harder. “Deep End” is scarily good, accomplishing more than you’d think possible with just one synth arpeggio. This is a Lil Baby showcase, and he wails with a light smear of autotune, throwing his slicing voice in odd ways — why does he sound sad when he’s asking, “whoever thought that I’d say I’m the one up next?” The track is strong enough that Lil Baby and Gunna basically made it twice: “I Am” uses a very similar chord progression at a slower tempo.
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These rappers’ “up next” status was aided by “Drip Too Hard,” the album’s lead single, which was one of the five most-streamed songs in America the week of its release and the most-added song at rap radio the week after. With that kind of momentum, it’s not a surprise that Drake wanted in. The star shows up on the Drip Harder track “Never Recover,” which is good for a line on Gunna’s resume but an unexciting retread of old Drake hits.
Young Thug’s prediction didn’t quite come true: Right now, the top eight tracks on the U.S. streaming chart are all Lil Wayne’s, suggesting that Tha Carter V was hard enough for plenty of fans. But the ninth song on the chart belongs to Lil Baby and Gunna — they’re in good company.