There are not many fans who’d have thought a man from North Carolina rapping at SXSW in baby diapers would go on to become one of the mainstream’s most on-demand rappers. The man in those diapers might have, though: What sets DaBaby apart, beside his run-on flow and sandpaper voice, is the unforced confidence that surrounds him.
Of course, the most obvious example is his biggest hit “Suge,” an exercise in playful menace. Even without a pop hook, tracks like “Intro” from his new album, Kirk, and his XXL freestyle showcase a technical ability (and on the former, introspection) that prove his gimmicks are charms, not crutches.
DaBaby’s also been spending a good portion of 2019 being a reliable utility player. Whether you need a remix for a streaming boost, want that extra gritty flair or are straight-up aiming for a hit, DaBaby is there in his breakout year to deliver. Some of his features outright carry the best verses of his career. Check out our ranking of his best guest appearances of the year, upon the release of Kirk, below.
14. Stretch – “Goin In”
DaBaby does a majority of the track’s heavy lifting and provides its simile-heavy hook. His imaginativeness isn’t quite present, though. DaBaby spends a lot of time sticking to brusque lines about how he’s going to steal your girl. Doing that is somewhat his obsession, but the “[she’s a] hoe but she just acting like a lady” trope he uses doesn’t feel any less played-out here.
13. YK Osiris – “Freaky Dancer”
DaBaby doesn’t really do that much to elevate the song’s simple concept. There’s a woman who’s caught YK Osiris’ attention and there’s another who’s caught DaBaby’s. Obviously DaBaby’s muse is someone else’s girl. The charm that underlines his other sexual escapes is absent here.
12. Mir Fontane – “Hide the Money”
DaBaby arrives as almost a relief for Mir Fontane’s nasally melody. Instead of plowing through the beat, DaBaby prods around a bit before he applies throttle. The approach gives his appearance on “Hide the Money” an added kinetic energy.
11. Sy Ari Da Kid – “One Phone Call”
DaBaby’s “One Phone Call” appearance also works because of the contrasts. While Sy Ari Da Kid is generally a warbly presence within the production’s psychedelics, DaBaby rolls through with a growl. But it’s Sy Ari’s lullaby-like hook that makes “One Phone Call” stick — although DaBaby’s “Rubber Band Man” shout-out is much appreciated.
10. Go Yayo – “Rockstar”
“Rockstar” wisely lets DaBaby get the anchor spot over the sparse guitar slabs. His stop-and-go performance’s curt wordplay “Her nigga a pussy, we call him a kitty” and lackadaisical rhyme patterns (“Bandana on like I’m Pac/Dropping off bows like The Rock”) are the few things that give this brief, incomplete-sounding track its color.
9. Gucci Mane – “Richer Than Errybody”
DaBaby can only get so dark as an on-demand pop song feature. While Gucci Mane and NBA YoungBoy aren’t strangers to the pop charts either, their shared come-up from the trap does allow the trio some decent chemistry over the haunted production. “Richer Than Errybody” feels palpable partly because bars like “Some people compare me to Gucci, I drop some new music and caught me a body” are mostly true.
8. Lizzo – “Truth Hurts” (Remix)
DaBaby’s guest appearance is in many ways insurance for Lizzo’s reign on top of the Hot 100. The DNA test results are slightly different, but DaBaby does match Lizzo’s charisma. One might even say that he bests her on her own joint on a technical level, but it’s Lizzo’s quirkiness that made the song in the first place.
7. Lil Nas X – “Panini” (Remix)
DaBaby continues his habit of using melodies as runways to rap his way away from, albeit not as aggressively as some of his other appearances. His rugged nature contrasts Lil Nas X’s deadpanning aloofness. DaBaby rhymes fast enough to fit a ribald reference to injuring his right hand from clout chaser-simiting: “She know I injured my right hand so when I get behind I use my left.”
6. Post Malone – “Enemies”
Frankly, Post Malone doesn’t sound that convincing as he spends the entire song crooning about his foes; lines like “Used to keep ’em close, now they dead to me” and “Yeah, it’s so sad” are too imprecise to prove he’s doing much more than feasting on a hip-hop trope. DaBaby’s in-real-life altercations are well-documented, but he still would’ve been the song’s biggest motor even if they weren’t. While Post Malone coasts on the beat’s melody, DaBaby steals the track by simply plowing through, as his belligerence jukes between menacing to petty. He’ll buy your girl a Prius out of spite.
5. Megan Thee Stallion – “Cash Shit”
DaBaby acquits himself well on “Cash Shit,” boldly stating his M.O. (“You know why these bitches love me?/’Cause Baby don’t give a fuck”) and some of the most absurd sex-as-wrestling lyrics this side of Lloyd Banks. But he’s ultimately the intermission. Megan Thee Stallion’s “I’m in my bag, but I’m in his too” proclamation in the intro became a summer-long motto. There was no way she was going to get outshone.
4. YG – “Stop Snitchin”
On paper, the DaBaby’s feature mean he’s the one giving the frenetic energy, especially next to YG’s plainspoken style. The dynamic is the other way around on “Stop Snitchin”: YG furiously goes off-beat to fit his distaste of snitches, while DaBaby’s presence is more cool-headed. DaBaby is only more chill by comparison; he dedicates some bars to detailing his relationship with a girl before her IG picture with her purported significant other. Home-wrecking is one of his biggest themes, so it’s a bit unclear if this instance is specifically punishment for snitching.
3. Jamz – “Baby Shower”
DaBaby’s proclivity for sparse melodic instrumentals naturally moves the song’s gravity onto the fluidity and charisma of his performances. “Baby Shower”—which pairs him with fellow baby, Lil Baby—is one of the clearest examples of that aesthetic. Essentially a this-is-my-life verse, DaBaby swims through images in a way that’s borderline folkloric. Here, getting off a flight with two pistols is almost as equal of an achievement as scoring a XXL Freshman photo shoot, which he’s running late for. Call it DaBaby’s Fables.
2. Chance the Rapper – “Hot Shower”
It doesn’t take much for DaBaby to own “Hot Shower.” While Chance the Rapper playfully mentions hitting up his lawyer on the hook, DaBaby’s reference feels urgent because he obviously does have viral legal issues plaguing him. Even without the real-world drama, the sheer energy of his performance transforms his trademark humor (“Tip a hundred if you let my cousin in/You know everybody my cousin”) into a thrill ride.
1. J. Cole and Lute – “Under the Sun”
Finding a rapper rhyming in triplets in 2019 isn’t that hard. DaBaby ends up standing out because of how much his use of it is infused with his personality, as if that flow or a stream-of-conscious is him at his most natural form. That helps him run away with the Revenge of the Dreamers III intro. Maybe J. Cole, Lute and the false calm of the soulful production exist only to lead up to DaBaby’s appearance, but he doesn’t disappoint as the climax. The verse, a verbal sprint, finds him catching himself on lying about letting women in his dorm room, flipping idioms (“They don’t come out after dark, bitch, I swim with the sharks/You ain’t got enough heart, get a bigger pool”), and making threats with a wink (“I got a Glock with a d–k — let’s get physical”). DaBaby might be going harder because his fellow North Carolinian is on this one, but the result is one of his finest moments to date.