For years, Atlanta’s rap scene was built on destroying the popular conceptions and boundaries of hip-hop. Future’s creation of a new form of hard-edged R&B mixed with trap sensibilities, Migos’ reinvigoration of the triplet flow and Young Thug’s dissolution of lyrical and stylistic structure spearheaded an era of innovation. Then the disrupters became the establishment. The pop interlopers went from being shunned to embraced. In their wake, a void needed to be filled.
Enter Lil Baby and Gunna‘s collaborative project Drip Harder. Across 13 tracks, the duo refines more than they reinvent. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. Baby is signed to Quality Control, the same label home to Migos and Lil Yachty. Gunna is the most successful member of Young Thug’s YSL imprint. Both young men fill similar purposes for their respective houses: workman rappers who forgo eccentricity in favor of relatable music that rides trends instead of bucking them. Baby and Gunna’s stories never seem unattainable or farfetched. Their music sounds of the people.
So far the formula seems to have worked. Drip Harder is projected to sell 115,000-125,000 equivalent album units in its first week. When compared to the first-week tallies of their mentors — Future & Thug’s Super Slimey sold 75,000, Travis Scott & Quavo’s Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho sold 90,000 — it’s impressive. Baby and Gunna have built a cult following based on their chemistry.
Here are the songs (ranked from worst to best) proving the two are often better together than they are apart.
13. “Seals Pills”
Best Line: “Heard you rent wasn’t paid, need a lend/ Just like Frito-Lay, I’ma feed my friends” — Gunna
Worst Line: “Rich rollin’, I’m a star, don’t take shots from the bar/ But I’m ballin’ like Lavar” — Lil Baby
“Seals Pills” suffers from monotony and a lack of momentum. The airy and haunting Jet-produced beat clashes with Gunna’s overly processed vocals. The subject matter — you guessed it: pills — is a tired concept. A line like “Need to free my dawg, he’s locked behind the walls/ Numb to the pain, I can’t feel shit at all” should have an emotional heft to it, but it’s delivered by the YSL rapper with the same lifeless drawl as the rest of the song. Lil Baby’s closing verse ends up sounding like an afterthought on a song that does little to sell their innate charm.
12. “Style Stealer”
Best Line: “I keep syrup in my bottle, I get brain from a model/ I got green avocado, drug lord like Pablo” — Gunna
Worst Line: “Designer to the floor/ I clean up like a washer” — Gunna
It isn’t hard to guess why “Style Stealer” is buried toward the end of Drip Harder. Gunna’s hook is uncharacteristically listless and droning. For a song about stealing styles, it’s not clear why someone would want to bite any part of this three-minute track.
11. “Off White VLONE” featuring Lil Durk & NAV
Best Line: “In Dior they call me Mr. Baby, they know who I am” — Lil Baby
Worst Line: “Gotta suck dick on your period/ You can’t say, “No,” I ain’t hearin’ it” — Lil Durk
“Off White VLONE” is a plodding, dreary, and repetitive slog of a song. Lil Durk and Nav couldn’t be more different than Baby and Gunna, the former pair managing to add nothing noteworthy or exciting to their brief cameos. Who let Durk get away with a line like, “Gotta suck dick on your period / You can’t say, “No,” I ain’t hearin’ it?” The Chicago rapper’s misunderstanding of consent is troubling and makes Drip Harder’s intro even more unnecessary.
Turbo’s ominous beat, Gunna’s simple hook, and Baby’s braggadocious verse were the only ingredients “Off White VLONE” needed to be a success. Drip Harder deserved a better intro.
10. “World Is Yours”
Best Line: “I fucked her like Thugger, just want me some sex” — Gunna
Worst Line: “They think I’m racist, my white gon’ be Off” — Gunna
Gunna’s stylistic consistency is a gift and a curse. At his most potent, the Atlanta rapper has a gift for sing-song raps that turn every part of a song — hook, verse, adlibs, bridge — into the catchiest part of the track. On the other side of the spectrum, Gunna often leans into a similar rhyme pattern and delivery, which makes it difficult to stay engaged over the course of a project. The wealth and excess raps of “World Is Yours” don’t add anything new to Gunna’s discography.
Best Line: “Spend thousands on fragrance, she fuckin’ my odor” — Lil Baby
Worst Line: “Too many vibes, they think I’m R. Kelly” — Gunna
One of the major drawbacks of Drip Harder’s first half is the pacing. A song like “Belly” isn’t bad, but it’s various parts never equal something greater than the whole. The Turbo produced-beat sounds great in a vacuum, but the harshness of the main melody battles with Gunna and Baby’s voices. At various points the song devolves into hypnotic white noise.
Best Line: “My clothes ain’t wrinkled, but I gotta stick with that iron” — Gunna
Worst Line: “Money comin’ in, like I play ball, but I don’t play ball” — Lil Baby
“Underdog” has an epic quality missing from the first half of Drip Harder. Part of that is thanks to the June, Mattazik Muzik, and Wheezy beat. The mixture of flutes and hard hitting drums force Gunna and Baby out of their comfort zone. Where Gunna’s voice generally operates at a snail’s pace, “Underdog” pushes the speed up just enough to give the song a nice edge.
7. “Business Is Business”
Best Line: “Still eat fettuccini, I’m stuck in my ways” — Gunna
Worst Line: “My flow a disease, kill these rappers like AIDS” — Gunna
“Business Is Business” is a trap western. Gunna and Baby gallop over the guitar filled beat like outlaws planning a swift escape. Gunna’s hook effortlessly transitions into his verse and the YSL rapper sprints through the song at a dizzying pace. Drip Harder isn’t a project preoccupied with showing off the duo’s traditional skills, but somehow “Business Is Business” accomplishes that without trying. Gunna’s delivery is precise with the ending syllable of each bar coalescing into a rhythm that momentum of the drums. Someone get this song on the next season of Westworld.
6. “Deep End”
Best Line: “I got them throwin’ salt, they steady tryna fuck up my recipe” — Lil Baby
Worst Line: “If she find out I been creepin’, she gon’ murder me” — Lil Baby
Lil Baby raps about his tragedy like it’s a foregone conclusion. During the opening of “Deep End” he sings, “I know they ain’t feelin’ my pain, I got codeine inside my veins,” like it’s one truth among many he’s come to terms with, but isn’t interested in exploring much further. From there a story full of the possible death, relapses, and infidelity unfolds. Somehow, Baby’s suffering barely peeks through. There aren’t many who can make stoicism sound this thrilling.
5. “My Jeans” Featuring Young Thug
Best Line: “I bought some Gucci socks so long they can reach my knees” — Gunna
Worst Line: “I’ll be the FN, you be my holster/ Tell the city ’bout my love, I even post her” — Lil Baby
Young Thug was the first one through the wall. His penchant for slippery melodies, absurdist lyrics, and vocal acrobatics changed the foundation of 2010s rap. That constant experimentation and prolific release schedule has earned Jeffery unbridled respect in the industry, but has left him adrift in terms of popularity and sales.
“My Jeans” is proof that even if the students have passed him commercially, they haven’t creatively. All Thug needs is a chorus to prove his indelible style is reproducible, but rarely mastered. Thugger flirts between singing, rapping, and mumbling. The ad-libs crash against his soaring vocals. He juggles it all and ends up creating the album’s best hook in the process. The feature is so effective it’s easy to forget Baby and Gunna make contributions to the track.
4. “Drip Too Hard”
Best Line: “Drip too hard, don’t stand too close/ You gon’ fuck around and drown off this wave” — Lil Baby
Worst Line: “I feel like a child, I got boogers in the face/ Diamonds dancin’ in the dial like this shit is a parade” — Gunna
“Drip Too Hard” is the pinnacle of Baby and Gunna’s chemistry and the heart of Drip Harder. There is a fluid nature to the duo’s artistry, where one starts and the other picks up isn’t important. Instead, their music works like an endless surge of energy, always being played and remade.
“Drip Too Hard” isn’t Baby or Gunna’s best song (that’d be “Life Goes On”), but it does illustrate what makes their musical bromance special. Rap is a genre birthed in the embers of undying competition between peers, but Drip Harder makes a case that fusion can be far more interesting than separation.
3. “Close Friends”
Best Line: “I even did the unthinkable, and I’m sorry for what I did to you/ Take me back, if I was you and I did what I did / I probably would, I probably wouldn’t” — Lil Baby
Worst Line: “But damn what them broads say, I fucked them all the first day/ And that’s why you trippin’ anyway, like when I fuck ’em I don’t pay” — Lil Baby
Lil Baby is a romantic at heart, but man does he struggle with the consistent act of being faithful. The Harder Than Ever rapper is at his most compelling when he’s dealing with his demons and “Close Friends” is Baby at his most personal. Over a somber Turbo beat, the young rapper looks inward.
When Baby goes back and forth about whether he’d accept his partner back if she cheated — “I probably would, I probably wouldn’t” — it’s a moment of vulnerable honesty. He knows he holds the woman in his life to a different standard and has difficulty reconciling that truth with his reality.
The narrative arc of “Close Friends” isn’t perfect. When Baby raps, “But damn what them broads say, I fucked them all the first day / And that’s why you trippin’ anyway, like when I fuck ’em I don’t pay,” it’s a cop out. Nevertheless, “Close Friends” is a rare moment of introspection on an album that isn’t necessarily geared toward embracing the complexities of love.
2. “Never Recover” Featuring Drake
Best Line: “I bring up hits and they change up the topic/ I got a 19 and it fold in my pocket / One hell of a year and a nigga still droppin’ / They wanted to stop it, but they couldn’t stop it” — Drake
Worst Line: “Gave her a dime, told her fix up her stomach/ By the time she get back, I’ma switch up my number” — Lil Baby
Urgent, precise, and unrelenting, Drake’s Drip Harder contribution reeks of one all-consuming goal. Don’t get outrapped by Baby and Gunna. Luckily, the odds were in Drizzy’s favor the minute the “Tay Keith fuck these niggas up” drop landed. Their rapper-producer chemistry has birthed some of the best rap songs of the year — “Look Alive,” “Nonstop,” and “Sicko Mode.”
Nevermind that Drake employs the exact flow he used on Baby’s “Yes Indeed” or that his verse is full of his prototypical 2018 subject matter — more potential Kanye subs, gangsta rap fetish bars about dirty money, and résumé reading ripped straight a Wikipedia entry. Even if at times it’s tired, the formula still gets the job done.
Baby and Gunna cruise at their standard frequencies for the rest of “Never Recover,” which is fine. Why drip harder when you can drip smarter?
1. “I Am”
Best Line: “Christian Dior on my shoes/ They cost a band, I prolly won’t wear again” — Lil Baby
Worst Line: “My money long as the yellow bus” — Gunna
Lil Baby is a blacksmith. At his peak, the Atlanta rapper transforms every word, bar, and phrase into small strikes that mold an already hot song into something scorching.
“I Am” features Baby juxtaposing his smooth, processed vocal delivery against snarling bars about overpriced fashion apparel, his hood, and recent come up. In a short amount of time, the Quality Control rapper’s verse hits a crescendo where he details the violence threatening to boil over at any moment. Baby closes his verse warning others to keep their distance (“Don’t come too close, my dawgs wan’ buck”) and assuring listeners if rap doesn’t work out his back up plan isn’t far from the streets he just escaped.
Lil Baby is an everyman and “I Am” demonstrates that relatability as his core strength. Gunna does his best to keep up, but “I Am” is firmly Baby’s world.