First-round Grammy voting gets underway on September 30th and runs through October 12th. For our 2021 Grammy preview issue, we asked a series of likely contenders for next year’s awards to reflect on their past experiences at the ceremony, look ahead to the future, and discuss the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come January.
DaBaby’s Blame It on Baby is a watershed record for the North Carolina rapper — whose real name is Jonathan Kirk — for several reasons. As his third full-length release in just over a year, it solidified his place as one of hip-hop’s most prolific artists. And as his most notable departure from his signature high-pace flow, it’s a sign that he wanted to push his musical boundaries and show listeners he’s far from a one-trick pony.
The result was hit-or-miss among critics and fans who’d grown accustomed to the DaBaby formula, but it launched by far his biggest hit to date with “Rockstar,” his Number One-charting song of the summer, featuring Roddy Ricch. It’s a contender for Record of the Year and for Best Rap Song, and as DaBaby enters his second Grammys (following a nomination last year for breakout single “Suge”), he’s looking to get some hardware this time.
You went to the Grammys for the first time this past January. Was it what you’d expected?
It was a surreal experience. There were so many different genres of music, a lot of people I hadn’t even heard of. It was the place to be, and it definitely made me think, “I could get used to coming to this every year.” I usually don’t go into new experiences with expectations — that’s just not how I am. I go in head-first. It’s the only way I know. I got really clean, got fresh, put my suit on, and went.
You reference being a Grammy nominee on your recent song “Talk About It.” Is that distinction important to you?
Of course I want to win a Grammy. When I first started rapping, I mentioned going to the Grammys. I have songs I made back in, like, 2015 where I mention going to the Grammys. I want one, and this coming year I’m going to win one. It’s like winning the NBA Finals if you’re a basketball player. I’ve won BET awards, Hip Hop Awards — I’ll get the biggest award of the night there — but winning a Grammy, that’s a different type of certification.
Did it bother you last year that “Suge” didn’t win? Do you feel you got snubbed?
Absolutely not, I can’t say I got snubbed. Nipsey won.
People sometimes joke about a lot of your music sounding very similar. Did you feel pressure from fans and critics to mix it up on Blame It on Baby?
The fact of the matter is, I’ve been making records like that since before the first record. I’d been making crossover records, diverse records. With this being my third album in 12 months, I thought at that point fans would be ready. At the end of the day, they take it in how they take it in. I’ve never been afraid to jump in the water. If there’s a style of music I can take it to, I’ll do that. I want to push the envelope and grow as an artist. Now, whether or not the fans are ready to grow with me, that’s something I have to find out in hindsight. They don’t know what they need till you give it to ’em.
“Rockstar” wasn’t the lead single — it blew up because it became a huge TikTok song. Did you see that coming?
Absolutely. A lot of people shoot their shot. I like to bait the fans in. I’ve got “Find My Way” in my hands, and I’ll put that out first. I want to get the fans ready for a different style of music and test them out and see if they’ll embrace it or not. And they did.
Still, “Rockstar” spent six weeks at Number One. It’s your biggest hit by far. That had to be a bit of a surprise.
Not even lying: The second I made the song, I knew. I probably have that on camera — me saying what this song was going to be the second I made it.
The song features Roddy Ricch, who you might have to compete with at next year’s Grammys. Have you guys talked much about that?
No, whenever me and Roddy are talking, it’s strictly work. We do so much of this on a daily basis, staying consistent and perfecting our craft. It ain’t no thing — that’s the company you want to be in, [someone] you’re competing against for a Grammy. I’m going for the people that have been places I haven’t been, and Roddy’s one of them — he’s got a Grammy. I want to be with the people who have seven, eight Grammys.
Of the albums you’ve made so far, is there one that you feel closest to?
One thing about music, it immediately reminds you about where you were in life. You almost remember where you were, specifically, when you first hear a song. I love everything I do, but that said, Baby on Baby is different. It’s the one I’m closest with. That’s when I was still figuring out how I was going to pay my rent at the top of the month. That’s when it was all or nothing.
And now with Blame It on Baby, that’s the third album you’ve released in about a year. Why not slow down?
Some people wait because they have to. Fortunately enough, I wasn’t put in that position. I had the green light, and everything I’ve dropped was hot. If I didn’t put out new music, there wouldn’t be “Rockstar.” I’d still be trying to beat out “Suge.”
Did it feel good to outdo your first hit?
I felt that way already by the time I dropped the second album. Of course, being Number One is a blessing — it’s what every artist is working for, whether they’re willing to tell you or not. That’s why I continue to put out new music. As soon as I get comfortable, I get bored.