Breakout rapper DaBaby — 27-year-old Jonathan Tyndale Kirk — has been the toast of the hip-hop Internet since late 2018, making a name for himself thanks to a series of compelling mixtapes and a generally likeable social media presence.
In 2019, however, that attention is going above ground, thanks to the success of March’s official debut LP — which has reached No. 14 on the Billboard 200 albums chart — and its lead single, the understated banger “Suge.” Slowly rising the ranks of the Hot 100 for the last month, “Suge” jumps 46-27 this week, giving the MC his first-ever Hot 100 top 40 hit.
Will there be other singles off Baby on Baby to match its success? And what other breakout rapper might be experiencing their own top 40 bow before long? Billboard staffers take on these topics and more in this week’s Five Burning Questions.
1. “Suge” seems well on its way to becoming the next big viral hip-hop hit. What do you think is the primary thing driving its success?
Bianca Gracie: Besides “Suge” being a supremely catchy tune on its own, I think the combination of DaBaby’s visuals and the power of social media helped it jump up the charts so quickly. A lot of new rappers prefer to show how “tough” they are for visuals that accompany introductory tracks, but DaBaby actually did the opposite and gave us a silly treat. The music video reminds me of the mid ‘00s when rappers like Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and Nelly sprinkled a little humor atop their music rollouts. And of course the onslaught of dancers creating their own social media-friendly moves to the track didn’t hurt either.
Carl Lamarre: There are so many driving forces behind DaBaby’s recent success with “Suge.” First, the hook pops and pays homage to one of hip-hop’s most vilified stars in former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight. Though “Suge” is a speaker-rattling earworm, the song’s visual is pure comedy. Puffing cigars, dancing on a pseudo-Soul Train line in the middle of a workday sounds like goals to me. And by no means is this a knock on the record’s success, but “Suge” has encountered little competition on the hip-hop front this year — and because of that, it will more than likely continue to glide its way into the top 20.
Jason Lipshutz: Sometimes a beat and a flow just complement each other perfectly, like a fine meal paired with the exact right wine. There’s no immediate chorus or “Bust down, Thotiana”-esque standout line on “Suge,” and the rubbery production from Jetson Made and Pooh Beatz is strong if not spectacular. But when DaBaby’s deep-voiced rumble is aligned with the beat, the result is quietly mesmerizing. Credit where it’s due, though: DaBaby’s confidence guides the song, each bar delivered like an old pro instead of an rising upstart.
Ross Scarano: The “joke” on Rap Twitter is that its success can be attributed to the embrace of young white men. (No comment.) “Suge” is humorous and surprising, with a hook that’s easy to recite, even if you only want to do the “yeah yeah” part. It has more quotables than some people’s albums, including “I don’t follow no bitches on IG/ But all of your bitches, they follow a n—a.” DaBaby is a reminder that sometimes the best solution to a hostile world is a rude attitude and an ugly retort.
Andrew Unterberger: Sometimes in this life, stardom is as simple as being able to say a sentence like “I go where I want” and have it sound totally unquestionable.
2. Is there another “Suge” on Baby on Baby?
Bianca Gracie: This may be too obvious, but the latest single “Baby Sitter” sounds like another winner. The video already gained over six million views a month after its release and continues DaBaby’s hot streak of popping out wacky visuals. Offset is featured on the track too, and he’s no stranger to chart success — so I wouldn’t be surprised if “Baby Sitter” takes off as well.
Carl Lamarre: “Baby Sitter” is a song that you worry about popping up on shuffle during a car ride with your mom. It’s offensively good. Offset sounds like a starving dog gnawing away at the beat, while DaBaby’s recklessness warrants a 10-minute timeout. When you hear a hook like, “You probably don’t wanna let your baby mama take a picture/ Cause I’m the type of Baby that’s gon’ fuck the babysitter,” you can’t help but laugh and appreciate the rawness of the record.
Jason Lipshutz: It may not get the same type of mainstream love as “Suge,” but “Goin’ Baby” serves as a riotous introduction to DaBaby as a quick-witted ad-lib machine. The hook is cleaner, the pan flute-injected beat is more interesting, and the Patrick Ewing simile is perfect for NBA playoffs season. DaBaby was able to secure some impressive guest stars on his debut album, including Offset, Rich The Kid and Rich Homie Quan, but it’s another solo track that deserves to get wider recognition whenever “Suge” starts stalling.
Ross Scarano: “Baby Sitter” is even ruder than “Suge,” so much so that DaBaby pumps the brakes on his verse for a gentle scolding: “Nah, that’s fucked up bro, you ain’t have to goddamn bring the kids into it.” Marii Beatz and Go Grizzly caffeinated beat suits DaBaby’s restless forward motion. He’s “snapping off the rip” on practically every song on the album, even more so on “Baby Sitter.”
Andrew Unterberger: Several, perhaps: I could see everything from “Pony” to “Best Friend” to “Walker Texas Ranger” hitting the same point of mass consumption as “Suge.” But I’d have to say the quasi-title track “Going Baby” has the best shot — it’s already part of Rap Twitter lore, and maybe stands to have better odds at a chart presence now that a post-“Suge” public has more of a frame of reference for “goin’ baby on baby.”
3. If you could assign a DaBaby guest verse to the next single (or remix) from an established star, who would it be?
Bianca Gracie: Even though she’s currently working on being an established name, I’d pick Megan Thee Stallion. She and DaBaby have similar aggressive flows and they both love to shit talk, so it would be cool to hear them go back and forth on a track. But another option I’d like to see — and this may be totally odd — is Bad Bunny. The Latin star also has a knack for spitting atop buzzy melodies, has interesting visuals and would match DaBaby’s energy well.
Carl Lamarre: If you saw DaBaby’s “Walker Texas Ranger” video, then you already know that he would do Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road (Remix)” justice. A midwestern flick featuring Baby and Nas X decked out in cowboy gear is the perfect way to not only bridge together two of hip-hop’s rising stars, but ultimately, pay real homage to Chuck Norris.
Jason Lipshutz: Someone should make sure he’s on Cardi B’s next full-length: DaBaby’s deeper voice tumbles downhill in a way that could be smartly juxtaposed with Cardi’s wordplay, similar to how 21 Savage played off of her on “Bartier Cardi.” Cardi’s Invasion of Privacy album collected both her pop-rap tendencies and hard-nosed spitting on one track list, and DaBaby could sound right at home operating in the latter part of her next project.
Ross Scarano: Cardi B x Baby would be a potent combination of talented people saying outlandish shit to make polite society frown. You could go high-concept rom-com with it and have them play two people who really don’t like each other at first — a tried and true formula for sparks.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d love to pair him with a pop star — preferably one with a similar sense of humor. Lana Del Rey seems an obvious, safer pick, though a higher-risk, greater-reward proposition might be Katy Perry: You get the feeling that DaBaby would really sink his teeth into the opportunity for such an unlikely collab.
4. Outside of Post Malone and “Old Town Road,” does it feel like it’s been kind of a slow year for hip-hop on the Hot 100? If so, why do you think that is?
Bianca Gracie: I think the appearance of rap on the Hot 100 has been pretty consistent so far. It probably seems to be slow just because there are fewer big names (like the Drakes and Kanyes of the world) and more rising stars. There were also more prominent releases from pop acts this year. So aside from the aforementioned artists, rap hasn’t really had an opportunity to gain huge chart moments. But it’s still early in the year, so I’m sure the genre will rise once again.
Carl Lamarre: Yes and no. I think it’s been a quiet year for rap heavyweights. Outside of J. Cole’s “Middle Child” and Post Malone’s “Wow,” we haven’t seen a major rap act enter the top five of the Hot 100 this year with a brand new record. That said, I’m more than happy to see rising acts like Megan Thee Stallion, Polo G, Blueface, YK Osiris, and even City Girls find a home on the Hot 100 for the first time.
Jason Lipshutz: A lot of hip-hop superstars with recent success at the top of the Hot 100 have taken a relative breather during the first half of 2019, from Drake to Travis Scott to Cardi B to Migos to Rae Sremmurd to Childish Gambino — and even with that in mind, Lil Nas X has become a household name (if your household keeps its horses in the back) and Post Malone has had two songs hanging out in the top 5 of the Hot 100. Chalk it up to coincidence that so many top-tier names are in between singles or projects, but no one should discount how thoroughly rap is continuing to impact popular music.
Ross Scarano: Perhaps, but if anything that’s given me even more time to spend with the hip-hop happening off the charts. The results may be questionable for my mental health, but I’ve been spending hours with the Billy Woods and Kenny Segal album Hiding Places, the Mach-Hommy and DJ Muggs collab Tuez-Les Tous and Lucki’s Freewave 3. Each offers difficult pleasures, from Woods’ claustrophobic nightmare scenarios to Hommy’s merciless antagonism to Lucki’s scary account of drug abuse — it’s rap to get lost in, at your own risk.
Andrew Unterberger: A little bit, though maybe just because the pop stars of yesteryear — both ones who have developed obvious hip-hop influences, like Ariana Grande and Halsey, and ones who are sticking to more of a conventional pop-rock mold like Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers — have take up a surprising amount of real estate on the chart in 2019. And there’s also been a dearth of truly big-ticket releases in the genre; new LPs from Nav and ScHoolboy Q are exciting, but it’s just not the same thing as full-length drops from Drake and Kendrick Lamar. The A-List names will return to our orbit soon enough, and it’s fun to see some newer ones getting play in the meantime.
Bianca Gracie: I mentioned her earlier, but I think Megan Thee Stallion has this one in the bag. Her “Big Ole Freak” is steadily climbing the Hot 100 (it’s currently at No. 76). While that position sounds low, she just got a co-sign from the most reliable rap co-signer of our time — one Aubrey Drake Graham — so his support is surely going to help her accelerate even further.
Carl Lamarre: I love Megan Thee Stallion, but I have to show love to my New York comrade Lil Tjay. Last week, we mentioned him for our latest edition of Emerging Hip-Hop because he has a knack for threading together fruitful guest verses. He’s already flirting with top 40 success because of his appearance on Polo G’s “Pop Out,” and recently, aligned himself with French Montana for his single “Slide.” He’s a younger version of A Boogie, who can dish out dance-happy hooks or militant bangers for the streets. Check out “Brothers” or his newest track “Ruthless.”
Jason Lipshutz: Give the edge to Megan: “Big Ole Freak” is damn compelling sex-rap that seems like it could start streaking up the Hot 100 as the warmer weather arrives (it moves up six spots to No. 70 on this week’s tally). Ms. Thee Stallion will assuredly be one of the bigger breakthrough stars within the genre in 2019, and “Big Ole Freak” is serving as the single to unlock a much wider audience for the newcomer.
Ross Scarano: I’m hopeful for Megan and I think she’s built for a long-term career; if “Big Ole Freak” doesn’t make it, her next big single will. But there’s no denying NLE Choppa’s momentum. “Shotta Flow” has 30 million streams on Spotify. (For comparison, “Big Ole Freak” has 6 million.)
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say Lil Tjay, mostly both because he’s closest so far (up to No. 51 this week with his appearance on “Pop Out”) and because he’s the only one to debut two songs on the chart already (bowing at No. 90 last week with his appearance on “Slide”). I’m not betting against Megan’s overall momentum anytime soon, though.