Lil Baby Talks Crafting His Debut Album 'Harder Than Ever,' Working With Drake & His Decision to Quit Lean
"You know how they have projected sales? I'm doubling it," Lil Baby confidently proclaims to conclude our conversation. With the well-oiled machine of Quality Control management at his back, the 23-year-old is looking to take his burgeoning career to another level and realize his star potential.
After getting convinced to rap by QC heads "Pee" and Coach K just last year, Baby rose out of ATL's trap by unleashing four projects and becoming a force in hip-hop as just a neophyte. The Atlanta native is finally closing the book on his acclaimed Harder mixtape series with his highly anticipated debut album, Harder Than Ever, which dropped on Friday (May 18). The project arrives less than six months after December's Too Hard.
The gritty debut LP features 17 bristling tracks with loaded assists enlisted throughout, including Drake, Moneybagg Yo, Young Thug, Gunna, Lil Uzi Vert, Offset, Starlito and fellow ATLien Hoodrich Pablo Juan. Lil Baby also calls on a special cast behind the boards, including such esteemed producers as QC's Quay Global, DJ Durel, Memphis own Tay Keith, London, Earl the Pearll, Turbo, Atlanta's Southside and Wheezy.
Billboard sat down with the "My Dawg" MC for an in-depth conversation touching on the Drake-featuring "Yes Indeed," dropping a joint album with Gunna, his friendship with Lil Durk, feeding his gambling addiction, and much more. Check out the rest of our interview and stream Harder Than Ever below.
Billboard: How was Rolling Loud 2018? You also joined Meek Mill on stage.
Lil Baby: Rolling Loud was lit. I had my own set. I came out for Meek Mill's set as well. I didn't perform though, I just came out on stage with him for a few minutes with Gunna. I was cool with Meek before he got locked up. We've been cool for a minute. He brought Gunna out and I walked with him. I don't think [Meek] even knew I was there.
How did you end up collaborating with Drake for "Yes Indeed"?
We've been chopping it up for a while. [Drake] kept saying, "I'm going to send you something." He sent it and I sent my verse back. It happened in the last month or two. Drake played it at Preme's album release party in Atlanta.
I heard a snippet on Pee's Instagram story that night (May 6) before he deleted it.
Pee: I knew everyone in the club was going to hear it, but then I thought that I didn't want to be the one to [leak the track], so I deleted it.
Last Friday, OVO Sound Radio premiered the track on Apple Music for the world.
Lil Baby: When [OVO] played it, people just ripped it from there. They just gave it the name "Pikachu" and everyone was on using that as the title. We didn't even have a name for the track and then WorldStar grabbed it.
"Yes Indeed" features an unusual song structure -- was that something you were going for, with Drake opening up with a verse and you coming to close it out?
[Drake] sent me the song with a verse on it. I guess I could've put the verse at the end of the song, but we just went in like that. I kept it how he sent it originally.
How did "Sold Out Dates" with Gunna come about? You guys have been cooking up preparing for a joint project.
That's another problem. We were trying to really hold onto that record for something big, but it ended up getting leaked out. So we were both like, "Fuck it, we got to put it out." It's still going crazy though. We got something harder than "Sold Out Dates" coming later on.
Is Drip Harder coming soon?
Definitely coming soon. I'm just not up on any dates yet.
Let's get into some cuts off of your debut album Harder Than Ever. Why was "Southside" picked as the final single?
That's another record that was leaked. I had no choice but to run with all these leaks. These weren't even the songs I was planning on [releasing] before the album dropped. I wanted to do something different as far as my presentation to show that I'm coming. That's how everything happened though. So we were kind of forced to run with those songs real quick.
What made you want to link up with Hoodrich Pablo Juan for "Boss Bitch"?
That song is really hard, too. [Pablo] is one of them cool dudes. He's from Atlanta so we hang around the city. We actually had a show together one night. [Pablo] was actually doing the song and I fell asleep. I heard it and thought, "This is hard." I recorded my verses the next day or something.
Why did you want to make the final installment of the Harder series your debut studio album?
It kind of just happened like that. This is going to be the last of the Harder series. That was the way this became the studio album. It's just really on a way different level. Even outside the Harder series, from my first mixtape Perfect Timing to right now, Harder Than Ever is on a whole other level.
Are you on Quality Control's Control the Streets album? When can we expect that?
We have so many songs already. Then when it's time for a project everyone mingles out and makes new stuff. Let's say we had a deadline to turn something in, we might make a whole new tape a week before and turn that in instead. It's really how ever the vibe is going.
I had Lil Durk up here about a month ago when his project was dropping. He was saying how you guys have a great rapport in the studio.
That's my dog. A lot of people I'm cool with, but I don't post a lot of stuff. I'll post some pictures but not really what I'm doing. [Lil Durk] and I talk on a daily basis. We have a great relationship and have a ton of music together. I'm talking major hits.
"How I Know" was definitely a standout from Just Cause Y'all Waited. It saw you guys in a different space than we're used to as well. There's definitely something special there.
I didn't even know he was going to put ["How I Know"] out. We've had that song forever. This was even before he knew his project was going to be coming out.
What's the biggest thing you've learned from Coach K and Pee throughout your music career thus far?
I'm not going to lie, just everything. I never knew anything about rapping. There's certain stuff they can't teach me because I need to experience it firsthand as far as rapping and shows. But with the business aspect, you could be in business where someone tells you what to do. With Pee and Coach K, they explain to me the logistics of everything. It's not telling me what to do, it's, "This is why you need to do this press run and this is what comes with it."
How has your gambling and dice game been lately?
Yeah, I almost missed this press run from gambling. I'm playing $1,000 a roll on dice. I don't really watch sports or nothing to bet that, but I'll watch the playoff games. A lot of the bros lately been on the games while I'm shooting dice. I stick to the dice. I'll watch the games but I'm not going to gamble. I like LeBron [James] and [Steph] Curry. I'm one of them any-type-of gamblers, so I'll just try something. Ain't no telling who I'm going to be betting when gameday comes. Everyone be calling me, so I'll try, even though I don't know anything about basketball. $10,000 or $20,000, I'll take Cleveland against Boston. LeBron's going to do it. He's gotta step it up.
Did you know what you had on your hands when you created "My Dawg"?
I always knew "My Dawg" would be a hit, but I didn't even know what a hit was. When I made the song I knew it sounded hard. I didn't know it could get me to where I'm at today. I ain't know nothing about the music industry, but I knew it was something people would like.
You need to make that the official anthem for the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
I run into the players all the time, but I don't know who it would have to go through. The players love it, though. It would take a lot for it to be the anthem. They'll listen to every word that I say. It's deeper than that. I saw the Georgia quarterback at Rolling Loud and he was telling me about it, saying, "We've been trying to come out to the song." It's in the locker room right now.
Talk to me about hopping on YoungBoy Never Broke Again's "Traumatized."
[YoungBoy] and I were in the same studio one night, and I did three songs for him and he did a couple for me. I guess that was one he wanted to put on his album.
What's your relationship like right now with the rest of the Quality Control roster?
It's really like a brotherhood. I had a relationship with a lot of them before I started rapping. I talk to everybody less now because I'm busy, but Young Thug and I talk almost on a day-to-day basis. We're recording, too.
What did you learn from the Catch These Vibes Tour with PnB Rock?
It was great for me, because it gave me an experience I never had before. It was my first big tour and it's gotten me ready for the point I'm at right now.
What's the biggest difference in your lifestyle after your career success?
I'm used to having money and the stuff I do, but it's more of how I'm doing it now. I walk outside and people know me, and I really get paid for shows. I have an impact and people look up to me now. It's more than the money.
Have you stayed off the lean for the last month?
Definitely. I used to not even drink regular soda, period. I had to have it with lemonade. No lean for Baby.
Were you disappointed about being left off of the XXL Freshman List this year?
I was pissed I just had to come up to New York and go to their office when Pee called me, but that's it. I didn't want to go up there in the first place. When I didn't make it, I definitely wasn't tripping. It would've been cool if I made it, but I'm not into that.
Any plan in place for the rest of the year?
I don't have any plan we're just going hard. I know the plan for this week releasing Harder Than Ever, but that's all I can say and know really. Saturday, I'm right back at it and it's time to go again. We gotta work [the album] a little bit and keep going at the same time.
What would you see as success for your debut album?
You know how they have projected sales? I'm doubling it.