And Baby hasn’t just acted on a national stage: He has devoted to his hometown of Atlanta as well. In June, he bought out an entire Foot Locker store and gave away sneakers in his old neighborhood; afterward, Baby downplayed his efforts on Instagram, telling fans that he was working on more important things that he wasn’t ready to share on social media. He knows that his community needs a hero, not a celebrity figurehead. That mindset informs his every move, and may ultimately define his time in the spotlight.
“My life feels like a responsibility,” says Baby. “I’m not even trying to be no role model, honestly. [But] now that I know that I am, I try to carry myself differently, because I got people watching. I don’t even be doing what I really want to do. I do what I gotta do now.”
When Lil Baby was first released from jail — in 2017, for possession of marijuana with intent to sell — and began his rap career in earnest, Quality Control co-founders Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas spotted a diamond in the rough. “The first records he made coming out of prison — when he played them, I was like, ‘These are not great, but they’re good,’ ” recalls Thomas. “He looked at this like a hustle. This is the same type of dedication he had to making money in the streets. He was treating the studio like his music is the product, so he was dedicated to perfecting his craft and turning it into some money.”
Intrigued by Baby’s potential, Lee and Thomas signed him to Quality Control at a time when the label was molding Migos into superstars while building its roster with budding talent like Lil Yachty and City Girls. When Baby’s 2017 mixtapes Harder Than Hard and Too Hard started gaining underground attention — and when his subsequent 2018 debut, Harder Than Ever, made him a star, thanks in part to his top 10 hit with Drake, “Yes Indeed” — Baby channeled his street savvy into a legitimate endeavor: the music industry. He recalls the day he quit hustling, a wide grin on his face. “I started making more money rapping than I did hustling — monthly, I’m saying,” he says. “At that point, I made [$500,000] rapping: 20 bands a feature and four shows a week. It was no risk. Who ain’t going to take the lowest risk?”
His entrepreneurial instincts developed further when he launched his own imprint, 4PF (Four Pockets Full). The label’s roster of rising stars — Alabama rapper Rylo Rodriguez and Detroit newcomer 42 Dugg — is small but making an impact: Last December, Rodriguez’s G.I.H.F. debuted at No. 11 on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart, while Dugg, who also signed with Yo Gotti’s CMG imprint in 2019, was featured on Lil Baby’s Hot 100 top 10 single “We Paid” in 2020.