“When I get bored with something, I’m done with it,” he says matter-of-factly, chewing his burger. “Running around in the streets started feeling repetitive. I just felt like I mastered it.” Performing at “hole-in-the-wall spots” around Charlotte, he earned admiration for his dynamic stage presence and husky delivery, eventually attracting the attention of South Coast Music Group CEO Arnold Taylor, who signed him to the independent label and production company in 2016. (Manda and Interscope Geffen A&M executive vp urban operations Nicole Wyskoarko signed DaBaby to Interscope in a joint venture with SCMG early this year.) “We had Petey Pablo and J. Cole [from North Carolina], but we didn’t have anybody in Charlotte,” says Taylor. “He’s fearless.”
The following year, DaBaby proved his work ethic, releasing six projects (including four installments of his Baby Talk mixtape series). Then, last November, he dropped the Blank Blank mixtape, his best, and smartest, release yet: Instead of overstaying its welcome with a lengthy tracklist designed to gain streams, the project’s tight 10 tracks showcased his natural humor and charisma. “I haven’t seen too many people in life work like him,” says Manda. “He’ll do 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and then ask, ‘What else should I be doing? I feel like I’m not doing enough.’ It’s not like he uploaded a song to SoundCloud or put a video on YouTube and it went crazy overnight. This guy really built this from the ground up.”
Whether he can sustain that momentum may depend on his actions outside the studio. Shortly after Blank Blank’s release, DaBaby was shopping with his family at a Huntersville, N.C., Walmart when, he alleged, two men threatened him with a gun, and in the ensuing altercation DaBaby shot and killed one, a 19-year-old. He claimed self-defense and in June was only found guilty on a concealed weapons charge, receiving a sentence of one year of unsupervised probation. Then, in September -- four months after the Louis Vuitton store confrontation -- DaBaby punched a concertgoer who he says tried to steal the chain off his neck at the Prime Festival in Lansing, Mich.
“At the end of the day, any legal situation that I got going on, I wasn’t in the wrong,” maintains DaBaby. “And I’m the type of person, if I ain’t wrong, I’m gonna stand on that. I don’t lose no sleep at all with having shit going on. I just let the work overpower the shit.”
And right now, that’s what seems to be happening for him. Kirk, a heartfelt tribute to his late father, is a commercial hit -- all 13 tracks have cracked the Hot 100 -- and DaBaby’s name has swiftly become synonymous with chart success far outside the core hip-hop universe: Major pop stars like Lizzo, Post Malone and Lil Nas X have roped him in for remixes of their own hit records in the hopes of driving them further up the ranks. And DaBaby already has his eye on a future beyond his own stardom: In 2018, he started his own independent imprint, Billion Dollar Baby, to which he has signed Stunna 4 Vegas, Rich Dunk and 704Chop.
“I’d bet the house on me every time,” he says with a shrug. “I do it every motherfucking day -- and I ain’t been wrong yet.”