Status Ain't Hood

DaBaby Is 2019’s Funniest, Scariest Rapper

Charlotte rapper DaBaby looks at his phone, and there is a video of a woman’s butt on it. DaBaby gets so fired-up about this that he drives his pickup truck off of a cliff. While the truck is falling, DaBaby is dancing. The truck crashes, exploding into a crude special-effects fireball, but DaBaby is just fine. He crawls out of the ravine and finds a blind man cooking soup in a shed somewhere. DaBaby then steals the blind man’s phone, cash, and soup. Later on, he steals the blind man’s cane and sunglasses. This is only after he gets into a kung fu fight in the middle of the woods. Somehow, all of this is sillier than I’m making it sound.

I have just described the storyline of DaBaby’s video for “Walker Texas Ranger,” a true masterpiece of low-budget, lowbrow absurdity. DaBaby posted the “Walker Texas Ranger” video on the first day of 2019, and it’s already inching up on two million views. In that video, DaBaby plays the clown, dressing up in cowboy hat and leather jacket, exaggerating his facial expressions, delighting in cartoon violence. It’s a WorldStar-era version of the type of hijinks we used to see in Twisted Sister videos. It’s dumb, and it’s great.

DaBaby has walked that dumb/great line more than once. At SXSW in 2017, DaBaby became a minor internet sensation just by walking around 6th Street in an adult diaper and nothing else. In recent months, he’s been cranking out music videos at a crazy rate — four in 2019 already — and he’s been finding new ways to make himself look ridiculous. In his “Next Song” video, a cop pulls DaBaby over while he’s smoking weed and getting a blowjob. When the cop complains — “Ma’am! Were you just giving him fucking top in there?” — DaBaby hands the cop an Apple Music gift card, tells the cop to download his mixtape, and then peels out. In DaBaby’s “Beeper” video, the rapper offers up X-rated boasts — “If I ever pulled up to my old school, bet I could fuck on my teachers” — and then the camera cuts to a little kid, possibly DaBaby’s son, dancing. I hope you will empathize when I tell you that all of these puerile, stupid jokes have made me laugh. Most of them have made me laugh hard.

DaBaby is not a comic genius. Nothing he does in his videos will change your idea of what is funny and what isn’t. His chain is an iced-out sculpture of Stewie from Family Guy, and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about his sense of humor. What makes DaBaby stand out isn’t his sense of humor, exactly. It’s his willingness to commit to the bit. He is fully ready to look ridiculous while cameras are pointed at him. That matters. It’s a quality that DaBaby shares with, for instance, late-’90s Busta Rhymes, even if DaBaby’s videos probably cost less than what Busta’s directors would’ve paid for a single fisheye lens.

That silliness stands out. So does DaBaby’s rap style. He’s got a deep North Carolina drawl, but he raps quickly, staying on top of beats and firing off punchline after punchline. (I don’t know what’s up with all the Babies in rap lately — Lil Baby and Sada Baby and DaBaby — but they’re somehow all great rappers.) DaBaby favors simple, hooky beats with memorable one-finger keyboard notes. And he’s getting better. DaBaby, who used to go by Baby Jesus, has been releasing music for a few years, playing chitlin-circuit clubs and building up a regional fanbase. And he’s figuring things out. His newer tracks, the YouTube videos he’s posted just in the last few weeks, are livelier and stickier even than what he was doing on last year’s Blank Blank mixtape. If he keeps up like this, DaBaby’s got a shot at being one of 2019’s great rap discoveries.

But as silly as DaBaby’s persona might be, he also cuts a truly intimidating figure. Just a couple of months ago, DaBaby was involved in some kind of shooting in a Charlotte Walmart that left a 19-year-old dead. Shortly afterward, DaBaby posted an Instagram video where he all but admitted to the killing. To hear DaBaby tell it, he was with his kids, shopping for winter clothes, when a couple of people came up to him, pulling out guns and threatening him. He never outright says that he shot anyone, but he implies it, and he says that his lawyers told him not to say anything.

DaBaby’s not in jail, so someone must’ve decided that the shooting was in self-defense. And it’s not an isolated incident. In interviews, he’s talked about legally shooting a masked assailant who broke into his house. As I’m typing this, there’s an Instagram circulating of DaBaby punching someone who tried to walk up to him while he was mid-performance at a club. In one of his recent music videos, there’s a sight gag where DaBaby pisses on a dead body. And a scene like that registers differently when you know that DaBaby may have killed someone in real life.

There’s no way to form a coherent narrative out of the DaBaby-related information that’s out there online. DaBaby is a fun, charismatic, goofy rapper, a guy who’s not afraid to make himself look preposterous. He is also a dangerous and intimidating figure who reacts to perceived threats with deadly force. That’s rap in 2019, I guess. You encounter a video online, and you like it. You look for more videos, and you like them, too. And then you dig a little deeper, and maybe you won’t like what you find. I hope DaBaby makes more music and gets more famous. I hope he continues to get better as a rapper. He’s already having a moment, and I hope he has more. And I also hope that he doesn’t feel the need to kill anyone else.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Creek Boyz: “Trap Digits”
On paper, it seems like it should never work: a Baltimore group who deliver slick Auto-Tuned tough talk in beautiful gospel harmonies. In practice, it feels like a ray of sunshine hitting you right in the soul.

2. Key!: “Peppermint”
Genially guttural Atlanta rapper Key! teamed up with Kenny Beats on last year’s 777 EP, which turned out to be a great decision and a sleeper critical smash. Here, Key! reaffirms that he knows a great beat when he hears one. This beeping, rumbling two-minute monster is an absolute jolt.

3. Sauce Walka: “Prius”
This Houston underground livewire sprints so hard for two minutes that you can almost picture him puking into a trashcan after the fadeout.

4. Blockhead: “Kiss The Cook” (Feat. Aesop Rock)
A feelgood reunion from two of the great co-conspirators of the late-’90s/early-’00s indie-rap wave.

5. Tree & Vic Spencer: “Nothing Is Something”
Two grizzled kings of the Chicago underground join forces over a beat that sounds like it’s eating itself.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO