Lil Baby has a saying that sums up his approach to making music. “I don’t see anybody that I can lose to except me.” It’s a phrase that’s equal parts bravado and nonchalance — he’s too busy running his own race to worry about what’s happening in anyone else’s lane. And competing against himself is probably the best way to guarantee that he maintains his position ahead of his peers; after all, you can’t run your fastest when you’re concerned with what’s going on behind you.
Baby is seated in his green room just minutes before he’s due on stage to perform at Courtside Studios, MTN DEW®’s NBA All-Star Weekend interactive experience. Prior to his arrival, the brand has already treated basketball fans to exclusive experiences like interviews with Zion Williamson, A’Ja Wilson and Scottie Pippen. Baby’s red and black fit for the evening — a subtle tribute to All-Star Weekend’s host city, Chicago, and their hometown Bulls — comes complete with recently released “Red Cement” Jordan 3s and his signature chain: a diamond-encrusted “Baby” pendant that he wears on the off chance he’s out in public and isn’t immediately spotted. Admittedly, it’s a phenomenon that’s becoming increasingly rare for the budding superstar.
That’s because, in only his third year making music, Lil Baby has already reached milestones that most rap hopefuls can only dream of. That growing laundry list of accolades includes a top ten album on the Billboard 200 Chart, 24 entries on the Hot 100 Chart, a 2019 BET Awards win in the best new artist category and an assortment of nominations at the Grammys, Billboard Music Awards and the IHeartRadio Music Awards.
That list feels all-the-more impressive when you consider that the Atlanta native didn’t even want to rap until Young Thug recognized his early talent and began paying him to focus on music in 2017. The life change was so drastic that Baby all but confirms it was divine intervention that actually pushed him into the studio. “Rapping was like something from a higher power, it’s like it was meant for me the whole time.” He continues, “Every new song I make feels like practice, and now it’s almost scary because I’m at a point where I’m doing things with words and with beats that I never thought I’d be able to do.”
In his estimation, Baby is at least “20 times” better at rapping than he was when he put out his chart-topping debut album Harder Than Ever. More than anything, he credits his rapid growth to spending more time in the studio, a necessary evil as he was arguably the most sought-after rap feature of 2019. (At the time of writing, Lil Baby was a lead or featured artist on 8 of the 50 songs on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist.)
As successful as he’s been, Lil Baby maintains an almost carefree view on his short term goals, simply because he doesn’t see the point in setting too many of them. As he explains, “The honest to God truth? When I first started [rapping], I was just trying something. From then to now, I haven’t set [specific] goals in the rap game. My goal is to go hard, get better at rapping and not have people look at me like I’m just ‘Lil Baby from around the way.’ I just keep going because I ain’t got no limits.”
His lack of concern for accolades and trophy room fodder isn’t to say that he doesn’t want them — they’re just not the end goal. Instead, the awards and platinum plaques are just stepping stones en route to what’s probably the most tangible music-related goal that he has. “I know people think I’m just gonna be this big ‘lil’ rapper out of Atlanta, but I’m trying to become one of the biggest rappers in the world. You get what I’m saying?” He leans forward in his seat and adjusts one of the two blinding rings gracing his left hand before continuing. “At this point that I’m at now, there’s a lot expected of me and I’m trying to go farther than what’s expected. I’m really focused on the future more than anything. And I don’t know when it’s gonna happen, but honestly, there’s gonna come a time where I’m as big as a Drake or a Kendrick Lamar.”
It’s obvious that the 2020 version of Lil Baby is a far cry from the rapper who, in 2018, told the Breakfast Club very candidly that he was “probably like 60 percent” into rapping before reminding the morning show trio that he’d only been making music for a year at that point. If Baby says it, it’s because he means it and understanding that about him gives an added sense of gravity to his bars on “Sum 2 Prove,” where he elects to show rather than tell us that he’s 100 percent locked in. The anthemic second single from his approaching sophomore album My Turn, “Sum 2 Prove” is a gripping listen because of how fluidly Baby walks the line between reminding you of all he’s accomplished but rapping like he’s still got a chip on his shoulder:
“All these digits comin’ in / I’m savin’ for the bigger picture
Know one day I’ll need ’em / Might as well get used to me
My biggest fear is endin’ up a used-to-be, yeah”
On My Turn, Lil Baby promises that there’ll be ample vibes to appeal to the different corners of his rapidly growing fan base. “I put a lot of songs on my album, and I got something that’ll touch everyone. I have songs for the streets, songs for my concert fans, songs the ladies will like, and songs that’ll touch people who are really going through it.” That said, he’s not exactly sure which track he’s most excited for his fans to hear when the record drops and admits, “Today, the one I really want them to hear is probably gonna be different from the one I want them to hear tomorrow.”
One thing Lil Baby is sure of, however, is that when the record drops, people will get a clear glimpse at just how far he’s come as an artist. When asked what he wants people to take away from the album after they hear it, he gets straight to the point, “The only thing I want them to know is that I’m different and I ain’t no one to play with.”
The conversation begins to wind down as Baby prepares to hit the stage. Next door, there’s a venue flush with Mountain Dew’s signature green lighting that’s packed wall to wall with fans impatiently awaiting his opening track. Before heading over, he has to do another brief interview, carve out time for a quick step and repeat photoshoot and record a few Instagram Story frames for his nearly 10 million followers — for an artist of his caliber, rapping now involves a lot more than writing, recording and performing.
Before closing, he accepts one more question: “What exactly did you mean when you titled the album My Turn?” He perks up a bit, “It’s my turn in music, period. It’s my turn to go number one, it’s my turn to have three songs back-to-back on the radio. It’s just my turn to really show them how I’m coming. Even though some people feel like I’ve [already had] my time, this is going to show them how things will be when my turn really starts.”
“I don’t even feel like I’m in my prime.”
Lil Baby’s Sophomore album My Turn drops Friday, Feb. 28