Babies are rap’s hottest trend. There’s Lil Baby, DaBaby, Sada Baby, SahBabii, Bhad Bhabie, Bali Baby, BBG Baby Joe, Yung Baby Tate and, of course, Bryan “Baby” Williams — the most powerful baby of them all. Each Baby has their strengths and weaknesses but, right now, it’s Lil Baby that stands out as the best baby, and one of the best rappers out right now.
Quality Control Music, the Atlanta powerhouse label, has tapped Lil Baby as its heir apparent, and he’s already exceeded expectations, rivaling labelmates like Migos and surpassing ones like Lil Yachty in his short rise. He’s held his own on songs with Drake, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, a trifecta of feature killers. Last year, he released three projects, ranging in quality from the superb Harder Than Ever to the uneven, but star-making collaborative project with Gunna, Drip Harder. The leap Lil Baby has taken from his 2017 breakout hit “My Dawg” is a fascinating one, because he was mostly clueless about the fundamentals of rapping just over a year ago.
“The basics, he [Gunna] helped me a whole lot,” Lil Baby told Rolling Stone in October. “When I say basics, I mean the real deal — how to record, you gotta go back and do your ad-libs. The simplest thing: how to save a song and send it to my phone.”
Lil Baby is the result of over 15 years of Atlanta rappers obsessively reinventing themselves. His DNA is as indebted to the traditional trap music of T.I. and Jeezy as it is the emotionally raw, formally inventive melodies of Future and Young Thug. Baby isn’t creating anything new, but he’s a master synthesist.
The runner-up in the Great Baby Wars of 2019 is DaBaby, who released his latest album, Baby On Baby, last Friday and recently signed with Interscope. In a crowded release week that included competition from the critic-proof Solange and the LeBron James-assisted 2 Chainz, DaBaby’s project stood out for its sense of urgency. The North Carolina rapper’s allure relies on his comedic persona — his videos have the bombast of Busta Rhymes with the satirical edge of early Eminem. Absurd, detailed and over-the-top, DaBaby has a honed commitment to character. In “Walker Texas Ranger” he’s hip-hop’s most convincing cowboy, while in “Suge” he embodies the myth of the imprisoned Death Row Records executive. Comedy in rap as a genre has tended toward internet-fueled memes for the recent past; DaBaby is more of a traditionalist, committed to elaborate set pieces and skillful narration to achieve his vision in the vein of Slick Rick.
After that, the babies begin to feel like a crowd. Bhad Bhabie has the established backstory and is regularly more entertaining than all the other babies combined. Her song “Babyface Savage” ranks, surprisingly, as one of the best rap performances of the year and demonstrates her growing technical proficiency. Sada Baby has a dedicated fanbase arguing his superiority over his peers, and the momentum he’s been on since 2018’s “Bloxk Party” is a flag in the ground for the Detroit rapper. The most difficult of the babies to place is likely Bali Babi, whose emo alter-ego Baylor Swift was the source of some of the most confounding music of 2018, infectious and grating all at once.
There are a lot of rappers using baby monikers right now, and it’s time to start telling them apart: You’re not going to stop hearing about them any time soon.