Hip-Hop

Lil Baby Is Ready to Embrace His New 'Beginning' As Rap's Leading Superstar

Lil Baby
Kenneth Cappello

Lil Baby

Lil Baby still isn't satisfied for someone who had the most popular album of 2020, earning more units than pop titans Taylor Swift and The Weeknd. It's early January, and the rapper born Dominique Jones is actively thinking of new ways to keep his torrid streak intact, not just for 2021, but for years to come.

"I go Dominique for the business, and I'm still Lil Baby on the stage," he tells Billboard during a Zoom conversation. "My plan now is to make Dominique bigger than Lil Baby, in a sense."

After earning 2.63 million equivalent album units with his second studio effort, My Turn, Lil Baby is now hoping to solidify his reign as not only rap's top juggernaut, but as a surefire business savant. His first mission in doing so came through a partnership deal with Rockstar Energy drink. As part of the company's relaunch, Baby stars in his first commercial -- a Super Bowl ad -- set to be released Feb. 7.

Baby's emergence on the business side shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. His burgeoning label 4PF struck gold with the rise of 42 Dugg -- one of Billboard's hip-hop & R&B artists to watch for 2021 -- and he's continuously around his Quality Control bosses, founders Kevin "Coach K" Lee and Pierre "Pee" Thomas. Soaking up gems is nothing new for the 2020 MVP as he looks to tighten his grip on the music game. 

"From Pee, Coach, my mama, my dad, my friends, and enemies, I take everything I get from everybody, and I put it all in one little pot," says Baby. "I strut my little pot and come on with my little flavor. So I take from people from my label, to people I got to talk to, from other people labels for my own label. I take the wisdom and advice, and I use it. That's helped me become the kind of person I am now."

In a new interview with Billboard, Lil Baby speaks on his 2020 heroics, staying level-headed despite his rise in popularity, his friendship with James Harden, and welcoming his role as one of the new rap leaders. 

You were considered the MVP for most people last year. What did you learn most about yourself as a rapper in 2020 that you hope to carry over to this year?

What I learned was I ain't gonna say what I was shooting for, but we're on a good start, meaning if I can be MVP in 2020, I can be MVP for five-six years straight.

MRC Data Names Lil Baby’s ‘My Turn’ as Top Album of 2020 | Billboard News

When I spoke to DaBaby last year, he told me at the midway point that you, him and Roddy Ricch were his MVPs. Let's flip the question: Who do you think will be top three MVPs of the decade?

For the whole 2020s? Roddy Ricch for sure. DaBaby for sure. You take me out of there, Megan Thee Stallion. Them three is solidified, but it's gonna be three new of them, for sure. There might be three new of them three times before 2030, and with me? That's four. So there's gonna be four new of us 2030 the way it's going. But the way we've solidified our spots, we're here. That little crew, I think we're the leaders of the new generation.

In a 2018 interview with Fader, you said you weren't in the right position to be a considered a leader in rap. With your current stature and status, do you feel it's safe to say that you have that responsibility now?

I still ain't gonna say I'm the leader, but I'm on the way to becoming a leader. If I make the right moves, I can be the leader.

What moves do you think you'll need to make to get there?

That's the hard part -- you get what I'm saying? That's why it's going to have to be the right moves on stage, the right moves off the stage, the right moves with my music, the right moves with my brands, the right moves with my phases. It's all that in one. So it's real crucial for me right now.

You've also said in the past that you don't care about the numbers. If you look at the stats, you sold more than Taylor Swift and The Weeknd last year. With that being said, how much do you pay attention to the numbers now knowing what you accomplished in 2020?

My numbers just gotta be like that [going forward]. That's where I'm at. It's like I set a number now. My only competition is myself. I'm the only person I see. So that's the only number I see and I just gotta go harder this year or whenever I drop an album, my album gotta do more than that in a 12-month span.

You've made it a priority to speak on mental health during award show performances and on your record "Emotionally Scared." How do you protect your mental space right now knowing that you're growing every day as a superstar?

Believe it or not, I have to take my mind out of what's really going on and [tell] my body to just physically do it so I don't lose my mind. There's a lot of s--t that I did or do that I don't even think about. I just do it and get it done. It ain't even me doing it -- it's my body doing it. My mind don't go there. 

Has the idea of being this big superstar in music finally settled in for you?

Not really. In some kind of ways, but not really 'cause I don't put my mind into it. This type of s--t will make you lose your mind. So I just do it and I go, "Whatever, whatever."

You said earlier on in the interview that you would like to show more sides of Dominique. Do you have days where you struggle juggling both him and Lil Baby?

I end up going to sleep, man. Them days I just sleep the day away. The days I don't know who I want to be today, I just sleep. Five, six of clock in the evening, I just wanna sleep. Then I can do this as Dominique or this as Lil Baby. I really be needing to do both of them at the time, and if I don't even doing it, I just go to sleep. I kind of split the day up. I'm like Dominique right now. I'ma probably be Lil Baby around like five, six o clock.

Let's bring up your homie James Harden. Talk about your friendship and your thoughts on him becoming a Brooklyn Net. 

I'll get a condo as soon he finds out he's going up there. I'll tell them to get me a condo too, but I'm not too big of a fan of the team unless I'm cool with a certain person. So I'm cool with James, I'll be a fan of wherever he goes, you get what I'm saying? So if he wanted to go to the worst team in the NBA, then that's who I'm rocking with. I don't really know this business as far as sports, 'cause I don't be on sports like that, but of course I'm his friend, so we talk about whatever.

He'll put me down on game and he'll let me know the pros and cons. I'm one of those friends who even though I don't know, I'll still ask him, "What's going to be the good part about this or what's going to be the bad part about this?" So I feel like if he's excited about going to Brooklyn, then I'm excited. Let's get it. We gotta get a championship, though. That's the main part.

Who would you say outside of rap gave you the best business and life advice that you still use today?

I ain't gon' lie. It's a group of 10 to 12 OGs. Dudes who about 40 and over. Rich Paul, Corey Gamble, to name a few on the tip of that one, but street dudes who been in the game for 30 years or who been out the game for 30 years and still lasting. So people like that. I'm heavily influenced by older figures. I don't know a lot of older women who influenced me -- maybe one. But older men, I'm really influenced by older men who been through something.

Courtesy of Rockstar Energy
Lil Baby

Why do you think you've been able to command so much respect from the older generation as a new rapper?

I believe for the most part they can see it. That's why I'm so hip and I respect OGs so much because they've been around the block. So they know certain stuff and they can tell what's what just off the look or the feel of it. When I get to talking, they can see that's a rapper, that's a real dude. That's what I feel.

I remember watching Joe Budden's Pull Up interview and you preached on the importance of young rappers obtaining creative freedom. With you reaching such a peak commercially last year, does the idea of having too much creative freedom scare you?

It's not scary, but I appreciate it. So I'm careful with it.

Boogie Cousins said on Twitter that you and Drake have a fire collaboration on the way. If that is true, what can fans expect from that?

Me and Drake got a lot of songs together, right? It just so happened that one of the songs I recorded was at James [Harden's] studio. I ain't delete the songs out the computer so the songs were still [there]. James probably got the team at the house and they just listening in the studio. So when I seen [Boogie's tweet], I was like, "Damn. How did he hear this song before?" [Laughs] I was like, "James you got some basketball players in there?" That's how that came out. I don't even know the song he heard, honestly.

I know you've done a handful of features in your career so far, but if you had to pick your most underrated or favorite verse, which one would you choose?

There's a verse getting leaked. It's going around now. It's a song with me and Meek Mill. It ain't out yet. I'm telling Meek we gotta go and drop this song. It's a piece of me, man. Meek already had the song at James Harden's house. Like I'm saying, he left it on the computer. I was just listening to it and I said I'm gonna get on here. I just got on it.

Shoutout to James Harden because he sounds like the missing piece with some of these big records. 

He's an A&R for sure. He got a real ear for music. That's how me and him linked on another level. He really into music.

Let's touch on the success of "The Bigger Picture." What does it mean to you knowing that the song became such a protest anthem, a commercial win and landed you two Grammy nominations? 

I mean, it don't feel different from any other song because it's me. I've been giving me this whole time, it just happened to be one of those subjects. I don't feel like I deserve an extra light for it, but I appreciate it.

Lastly, if you could pick one word to title this chapter in your life, what word would that be and why?

"The Beginning" because it's the beginning of a new me.

Watch Lil Baby's Rockstar Energy teaser commercial below.