Chart Beat

Five Burning Questions: DaBaby's 'Blame It on Baby' Debuts at No. 1 on Billboard 200

DaBaby
Meredith Jenks

DaBaby photographed on Sept. 30, 2019 at Drift Studio in New York.

Hard to believe it's barely been a year since DaBaby first graced the Billboard Hot 100 with breakout hit "Suge," eventually peaking at No. 9 on the chart. Since then, he's become a commercial juggernaut, topping the Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time in October 2019 with sophomore album Kirk -- charting all 13 tracks on the Hot 100 in the process.

Half a year later, he returns this week to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with third album Blame It on Baby -- again blanketing the Hot 100 with 12 of its 13 tracks. Though the numbers remain impressive, the album's 124k in first-week equivalent album units is a bit of a downturn from the 145k moved by Kirk, and critical enthusiasm for the set has also been a little more muted.

Where does DaBaby's momentum seem to be currently trending? Is his unusually prolific release schedule sustainable? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. Blame it on Baby arrives with 124k in first-week equivalent album units -- more than enough for an easy No. 1, but short of initial projections, and about 20k under his first-week number for last year's Kirk. How would you describe DaBaby's current heat level: Jacuzzi, heated indoor pool, moonlit creek or ice bath?

Josh Glicksman: Heated indoor pool, but that’s only because it’s very unsafe to be sitting in the jacuzzi for such a long period. Elapsed time in the music industry is somewhat analogous to the human years vs. dog years scale at this point — Kirk’s release last September, while only seven months ago in reality, practically feels years ago. It’s unrealistic to expect him to retain bubbling jet status for such a duration. He can crank up the temperature at a moment’s notice, too, and to say he hasn’t done so already this year is simply wrong. Besides, given more than a few recent legal troubles, it’s not the worst idea to take a minor step out of the spotlight.

Carl Lamarre: Heated indoor pool. It's still an incredible feat to pull anything over 100,000 units in this climate. Despite selling 20K less than Kirk, Baby still had 10-plus records land on the Hot 100 its opening week, with his Roddy Ricch-assisted "ROCKSTAR" leading the pack, debuting at No. 9. Men lie, women lie, numbers don't, even if the Baby hate-train is loading up on passengers.

Jason Lipshutz: Give him a heated indoor pool with one eye on the adjacent jacuzzi: even if Blame It on Baby’s debut is a slight step down from that of Kirk, it’s still a six-figure No. 1 bow, and that’s never something to sneeze at. Kirk arrived when DaBaby demand (DaMand?) was at a fever pitch, coming off of the recent top 10 hit “Suge” and the explosive “Intro”; given that, and the fact that Blame It on Baby is arriving barely six months later, it’s not surprising at all that there were slightly diminishing commercial returns this time.

Andrew Unterberger: If you just listen to Twitter, it'd be moonlit creek at the warmest. In reality, it's probably still heated indoor pool: the numbers are still fairly undeniable, and the album is stronger than many give it credit for. But for a guy who spent all of 2019 trending up, up and away, the new decade may be bringing a gradual downturn for DaBaby if he's not careful.

Christine Werthman: Heated indoor pool. I know lots of people aren't too stoked about DaBaby's stylistic repetition on his third album in just over a year, and it's definitely the weakest of the trio, but we're still listening. Hate listens count! In my own little echo chamber of the internet, Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters was making people lose their minds, and that debuted at No. 4. If the Billboard 200 strictly measured fan enthusiasm -- or only physical album sales, for that matter -- Fetch would've whooped Blame it on Baby. But again, the numbers don't lie. People still care about DaBaby right now, and a No. 1 is a No. 1 is a No. 1. Now hand me my floaties.

2. The album's "ROCKSTAR," featuring Roddy Ricch, is the highest of DaBaby's 14 Hot 100 entries this week, debuting at No. 9. Does it feel more like an enduring hit to you, or a piling up of first-week stats from two of streaming's most popular newer artists? 

Josh Glicksman: I don’t know that it’ll have an extended stay in the top 10, but to chalk up its high debut to little other than both artists’ streaming prowess doesn’t seem like a fair assessment, either. I’d be pretty surprised if the song doesn’t at least hang around the middle of the chart for a bit. DaBaby knows how to plant a chorus in his listeners’ heads and “ROCKSTAR” is no exception — here’s to hoping this kicks off a wave of harp (I think?) rap. And if I recall correctly, previous songs titled “Rockstar” have fared pretty well on the Hot 100.

Carl Lamarre: It's tough to say. For me, "ROCKSTAR" along with "DROP" ranks as the top two records on the album. You get a healthy mixture of swagger, star-power, and edge on the former. Plus, Roddy is only a couple weeks removed from his huge 11-week run as the King of the Hot 100 charts after holding down the fort with "The Box." The song is insanely good, and I'm curious to see if it can stiff-arm the opposition to land Baby his first top-five record.

Jason Lipshutz: For a rapper best known for endlessly piling up bars with little deviation or fatigue, “Rockstar” finds DaBaby expanding his range a bit by adding some melody into the chorus -- he does this on “Find My Way” too, but the Roddy Ricch team-up is the stronger overall track. There’s also a ton of commercial interest in Ricch post-“The Box,” so consider “Rockstar” a layup for heavy hip-hop radio rotation and high placement on playlists.

Andrew Unterberger: I'm not super-sold on "ROCKSTAR" yet beyond its star power, though the latter alone is certainly going to get it every opportunity it could ask for in 2020. Still, the outline for a smash is so obvious here that maybe it doesn't really matter that the definition within the lines isn't as sharp as it could be -- I certainly wouldn't feel secure betting the under here. I do wish folks would stop spelling "rock star" like it's actually a single compound word, though.

Christine Werthman: SethInTheKitchen produced this one, and as we saw on Kirk track "iPHONE," he's good at laying those thumping, moody R&B foundations. He brings those to "ROCKSTAR" but adds a memorable, daintily picked guitar loop that almost sounds like a harp, giving it some real "Lucid Dreams" vibes. Similarly, DaBaby acts as the subdued foundation here, while Roddy Ricch is the more animated, higher-pitched, Young Thug-ish addition you'll remember. This is one of the strongest songs on the album, but without a massive hook, a takeaway line or any one-two-punch rhymes, all signs point to the collaboration itself driving those early streams.

3. The most frequently posed question of DaBaby -- sometimes on his own hits -- is when he's going to start expanding his flows a little. Is it time for him to make a concerted move away from his signature flow, or is there no need to fix something that isn't broken?  

Josh Glicksman: If it’s his signature flow, why would he move away from it? Given the constant claims of rappers biting one another’s styles, I don’t see any reason why he’d look to pivot. Clearly, it’s been a winning formula for DaBaby over the past year-plus, so I’d honestly push back on the idea that the flow isn’t even a little bit broken, let alone demonstrably broken. And just because he’s sticking to the familiar style, that doesn’t mean that Blame It on Baby fails to branch out sonically: outside of the title track’s frequent beat switches, throughout the album, he’s playing with different sounds in the chorus more than ever before.

Carl Lamarre: Well, after speaking to Baby last week, his philosophy leans on the latter part of your question: "if ain't broke, why fix it?" I think Baby can easily change the flow up, as proven on "FIND MY WAY." It was a smooth attempt to soften his haters' stance, but at times on the album, he swerves back to his comfort zone. Judging off the criticism, what's plaguing Baby right now is the case of "listener's fatigue." Not only is he pushing out his own releases, but he's also on every feature imaginable. As searing as his voice and flow are, the key to longevity will be his willingness to one day evolve and take the next step to rap immortality.

Jason Lipshutz: What songs like “Rockstar” and “Find My Way” demonstrate is a willingness from DaBaby to add some pop know-how to his songwriting, as if he’s graduated from just being the guy who can rap circles around the competition and now wants to collect crossover hits (see also: his guest spot on the Camila Cabello hit “My Oh My”). The early returns are positive, and I’d expect DaBaby to persist as a mainstream artist thanks to this subtle flexibility.

Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I don't think it's so much that the flow needs switching up as just... three albums in barely a year's time is a lot of DaBaby. He actually branches out impressively on a handful of BIOB's tracks, and we saw on Kirk's "INTRO" that there's depths still to be plumbed with the rapper's lyrics and performance. His material feels more repetitious than it actually is, just because we're getting so much of it at once. Not a huge problem, but one that could lead to diminishing returns.

Christine Werthman: In the name of artistic growth, sure, give us something new. But is it a requirement? Of course not. He's got a No. 1 album, and in this time of pandemic, aren't people gravitating toward the familiar anyway? That said, if he puts out a fourth album and doesn't switch it up, the jig may be up. Or it will do exactly what this album did and go to No. 1.

4. While DaBaby enjoys his second No. 1 album for his third full-length release in 14 months, YoungBoy Never Broke Again appears poised to succeed him atop the chart with his third project in just over six months. Is it possible for any rapper to sustain momentum consistently over this high-volume a release schedule? 

Josh Glicksman: Only to a certain extent. If he keeps up this output, I wouldn’t expect every effort to go No. 1, but as DaBaby himself has shown, a rapper -- or any artist (hi, Ariana Grande!) -- can put out multiple hugely successful albums in a short time span. Here’s the thing, though: while Blame It on Baby is a studio album, it feels a lot more like a mixtape to me. And not every mixtape needs to be a massive success for the artist to still be huge! Look at Lil Wayne during his peak Tha Carter phase. Just because every single one of those 2004-2008 mixtapes didn’t explode, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have the massive momentum behind him when he wanted it most.

Carl Lamarre: Ever heard of Future? Let's revisit the time he dropped two No. 1 albums in back-to-back weeks in 2017 with Future Hndrxx. Nobody complained because Super provided two completely different projects for people to soak in and appreciate. On Future, we got the bombastic trap lord who thrived on running up the scoreboard with street anthems while Hndrxx highlighted a scorned player trying to decode the meaning of love. We can even journey back to when he released his trio of headbanging mixtapes starting from 2014: That run consisted of MonsterBeast Mode, and 56 Nights in a year. The end result? He revitalized his career and legacy because of his prodigious output. If the music is undeniably good, the fans are going to keep coming back.

Jason Lipshutz: DaBaby and YoungBoy are both hyper-prolific stars who have been able to rack up chart achievements by working quickly during what appears to be their period of greatest commercial success; it’s the same sort of thinking that causes boy bands to release albums in quick succession before their younger fans age out of being die-hard supporters. It’s easier than ever for an artist to collect a worthy group of songs and upload it for mass consumption, and artists like DaBaby are going to rightly take advantage of that supply-and-demand tactic, while others like Drake and Migos will thrive by sticking to a more traditional release timeline.

Andrew Unterberger: Future, already an icon, is certainly the closest thing to an exception here -- and an artist like YoungBoy (whose fanbase is so rabid without necessarily crossing over much to the larger pop world) might also be able to sustain such a pace for a while. For DaBaby, though, who seems to have a higher superstar ceiling that he's still yet to reach, I might advise him to get out of the fast lane for a little bit at this point, and figure out what really makes sense for his next career step.

Christine Werthman: Yes, if the rapper in question keeps things interesting by, perhaps, maybe, hypothetically changing up his flow. Look, it's fun when your favorite rappers of the moment release a bunch of stuff in a short period of time, creating a battle-like atmosphere to see who will top whom. But it gets old if the artists aren't giving you anything new and the competition transitions from a spirited battle to a war of attrition. I don't think DaBaby -- or anyone, for that matter -- can uphold this rate of releases, and the only way he could be cleared to slow down right now is if he puts out an album that really knocks people out, so that they'll be more excited (and willing to wait) for his varied flows  than impressed by his frequency.

5. The surgical mask on the Blame It on Baby cover: timely or in poor taste?

Josh Glicksman: Well, it’s certainly timely. I probably wouldn’t have advised him to wear it, but it’s not like he’s going to be the last person trying to get a self-quarantine fit off while stay-at-home orders are in effect. And at the very least, I’d prefer him to wear it around more than required as opposed to not at all.

Carl Lamarre: Ehhh. I get why people would say poor taste because so many lives have been lost in this pandemic, but it's what makes Baby who he is. It's not to say he doesn't care, but I believe his aim was to provide a timestamp. Looking back years from now, his hope is for people to know that this was the album that went No. 1 during a global crisis.

Jason Lipshutz: A little of both. The image of DaBaby sporting a mask on an album cover certainly contains a level of shock value, but it does also anchor Blame It on Baby to the time period in which it was unveiled. If he’s the only artist who does this, I’m very fine with that, though.

Andrew Unterberger: I'll just say "kinda unnecessary."

Christine Werthman: I'm going to lean positive and say he's leading by example. Well done. Wear your masks!