If you told a rap fan in 2017 that within three years Lil Baby would be the hottest artist in the genre, they would have laughed. Now regarded as one of the most consistent, hard-working artists in the game, Lil Baby is a household name. He’s a Grammy winner, has the official song for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, countless hit records, and Atlanta comfortably perched on his back.

His latest release, It’s Only Me, is the much anticipated follow-up to his first number-one album My Turn (2020) and arrives a few months after Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby, a documentary directed by Karam Gill now available on Amazon Prime Video.

Lil Baby’s evolution as an artist has been evident, with the 90-minute film providing further insight into his mindset and the mechanics behind his journey to superstardom. From Harder Than Ever in 2018, his improvement has been undeniable and demonstrated on his prodigious and on-going feature run since 2020. The 27-year-old rapper is now a focal point of the extremely tight-knit Atlanta community alongside artists like Young Thug, Gunna, 21 Savage, and Future (amongst many others).

The Lil Baby rise was a somewhat of a grey area. Given Baby’s now superstar status, an in-depth backstory was much needed and extremely well received. It’s widely known that he was a millionaire before music, but Karam Gill provides a first-hand account into Baby’s rise from the streets to headline world tours. It gave insight into how the transition from the streets to the studio materialised after Coach and P, the founders of the Quality Control Music label, pushed to get him in the studio.

“I used to sleep on the floor for a mattress. Getting evicted, that sh*t was embarrassing. My mama didn’t have it, we made us a palettes. I had to share with the roaches and rats. Keep gettin’ money these voices keep telling me, I went to prison, it made me a better me. I can’t get no job, I got too many felonies, I been on probation since I was like seventeen.”

– Lil Baby on ‘Money Forever’ (feat. Gunna).

Baby was reluctant to rap at first. Making money wasn’t an issue, but he was living an unsustainable lifestyle. After some convincing, he got in the studio and was a natural. Hits like ‘My Dawg’ and ‘Freestyle’ quickly followed and instantly became street anthems. Momentum built and Baby never looked back once he understood the industry side and saw the long term legitimacy. He got the coveted Drake co-sign early with ‘Yes Indeed’ – whilst undoubtedly a huge boost, artists struggle to capitalise (see Blocboy JB). But this wasn’t the case with Lil Baby, who only elevated himself further and started to blossom into a modern day rockstar.

By 2018, Lil Baby was on the tip of everybody’s tongue.

He had multiple hit songs early on but people were unsure about Baby’s ceiling. However, this narrative changed upon My Turn‘s release. It debuted at number one, was critically acclaimed and became the most consumed album of 2020 in America. 12 songs off the album charted after its first week, giving Lil Baby a career 47 songs on the US Billboard Top 100, equalling Paul McCartney and Prince‘s record. Additionally, My Turn was certified as quadruple Platinum earlier this year.

‘The Bigger Picture’ further swayed heads in Baby’s direction shortly after My Turn‘s success.

It was a response to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests happening globally during 2020. It was a huge moment in Baby’s career and general perception. Baby showed that he recognised his voice and stature, and clearly wanted to use his growing platform for good. He empathised with both sides of the sword in an extremely candid way while talking about his own story. He explained his thoughts, unpacking general feelings and experiences towards police from an African-American in a clear and extremely well received manner. The world immediately recognised his artistry and attention to detail, appreciated his courage and immediately held him in the highest regard in terms of modern rap stars.

Whilst many may have slowed down, Lil Baby proceeded to go on a legendary feature run that hasn’t let up nearly 3 years on. His verses on ‘Wants and Needs’, ‘Every Chance I Get’, and ‘Pride Is The Devil’ (to name a small selection) further cemented him as the hottest rap artist on the globe, with constant comparisons to Lil Wayne and J Cole‘s individual feature runs echoing.

It’s Only Me is 23 tracks long and features Young Thug, Pooh Sheisty, EST Gee and more. Critics were skeptical given the lengthy track list and underwhelming singles leading up to the release; with ‘Detox’ and ‘Heyy’ falling flat and below par. Baby’s features this year for the most part have been great, but ‘Staying Alive’ alongside Drake and DJ Khaled was cringeworthy. Alas, to say that Baby hasn’t delivered in 2022 would be a categorically untrue statement. His yearly highlight reel includes the ‘Pound Cake’ sampled single ‘In A Minute’, ‘Frozen’, and not to mention his feature on Vince Staple‘s ‘East Point Prayer’. The anticipation for It’s Only Me had reached its tipping point.

Blocking out the noise, Lil Baby delivered. His cadence is polished, particularly on the silky run of tracks ‘California Breeze’, ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Never Hating’. Young Thug’s feature on the latter was a huge moment given their personal relationship and Thug’s current high profile legal allegations. Each of the 7 respective feature artists stepped up: from Nardo Wick‘s energetic showing on ‘Pop Out’ to Fridayy‘s angelic vocals on ‘Forever’ and Jeremih‘s ambient vocal display on ‘Stop Playin’. Baby reflects on fame from his ascension into superstar territory, allowing himself be open about the struggles of his past and the newer struggles he navigates through.

Most are in unison that Lil Baby is at his peak, but there is certainly still valid criticism from those in disagreement who feel his music sounds too similar and he’s unable to switch up the approach. With 23 tracks his sound is bound to become repetitive and predictable. However, he’s mastered a sonic that’s able to translate across different genres and demographics, thriving commercially and in the streets.

With the lengthy timeframe in between albums playing a large factor in the highly-criticised 65 minute runtime, It’s Only Me may not be his best work. That said, it flows nicely and should age well, which is Baby’s clear main goal. Additionally, he eclipsed all expectations set on him and proved that he’s capable of stepping up to the moment. He’s at the point in his career where it’s not cool to be a fan anymore, slowly carving his name into Atlanta’s Mt. Rushmore, as referenced on It’s Only Me’s cover.

Lil Baby is clearly someone who cares for his people and community. On album release day last week, he was at Rikers Island talking to young incarcerated men, sharing his story about his own experiences and how he changed his own life. He doesn’t take his status for granted, and he uses his voice to spread positivity and motivation. He improves artistically in front of the world’s eyes, inspiring millions, and taking us on an inspirational journey. One that beats all the odds and proves that with a good head on your shoulders, the right people around you, a willingness to learn and a little bit of luck, you can achieve anything.

“Bruh, I’m somewhere at the World Cup, I’m not in your league. You was playin’ a game when I was on the block, chasin’ my dreams.”

– Lil Baby on ‘Back and Forth (feat. EST GEE).

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