Status Ain't Hood

Sada Baby Made 2019’s First Great Rap Album

Sada Baby can sing. This was a pleasant surprise. If all you know about the Detroit rapper is “Bloxk Party,” the ridiculously fun 2018 collaboration with fellow Detroit rapper Drego, you would know that Sada Baby could dance. You would know that he could come up with viciously enjoyable punchlines. You would know that he’s an absolute hurricane of berserk, energetic charisma. But you wouldn’t know he could sing. Last week, Sada Baby released his new mixtape, Bartier Bounty, and there are a couple of songs on that tape where he really lets loose. His voice is ragged and bluesy, but it’s smooth, too — an oddly tender, emotively churchy rasp. And what Sada Baby chooses to sing is this: “My fat pants and the .40 on me, ‘bout to corrupt my rules / Sipping lean on probation, yeah, I break a lot of rules.”

Even when he sings, Sada Baby is an agent of chaos. He’s a Detroit street-rapper, and he raps about Detroit street-rap things: selling drugs, shooting you, having sex with your baby’s mother. These are not new topics. But when he raps about these things, Sada Baby brings a wild, unstable, joyous fuck-it-up energy. He reminds me of the Cat In The Hat, bursting into kids’ houses and sending them scrambling to clean up his delightfully surreal messes, or the Cookie Monster, undermining the entire Sesame Street reality by just showing up and eating everything. When Sada Baby really gets going rapping, latching down on every syllable and shouting outrageous knucklehead bullshit with contagious glee, he sometimes ends lines by shouting out a tremendous James Brown grunt: “Hunnnnh!” It’s not an ad-lib. It’s just how he ends his lines, a verbal exclamation point.

Sada Baby talks so much shit on Bartier Bounty. There’s a beautifully malevolent recurring threat where he’ll tell you that he won’t just have sex with your significant other; he’ll completely replace you in her life. As in: “Taking shits on your toilet, playing with your kids.” As in: “Can’t keep your ho up out my face / Now I sell dope up out her place / Now your kids be doing my dance / Beat your son ass if he go in my pants.” As in: “Your bitch kids love me like I’m Frozen.”

You have probably noticed that Sada Baby does not come across as being an enlightened figure. No. He’s not. Bartier Bounty is pure ignorant shit, and it has all the problems that pure ignorant shit has. The very first line on Bartier Bounty is about Sada Baby selling drugs to his relatives: “Perky on me, bite down / Auntie want the price down / I can’t do it for her cuz I need my money right now.” This is not thoughtful rap music. This is hard, instinctive, nasty rap music.

Sada Baby does not rap about respecting women. He doesn’t rap about respecting human life, either. Instead, he presents well-worn street-life clichés. But he finds these weird, oblique ways to present those clichés, and that’s what makes him riveting. There are lines on Bartier Bounty that you have to sit with and consider for a moment: “I’m in every bitch crib like a fire stick / I’m in every bitch crib like some Ugg boots,” “All my niggas thoroughbred, big-body, horse-fed / Do ‘em like I’m Corleone, sleeping with his horse head,” “She sucking so much dick I need an extra me.” An extra me! Here’s how Sada Baby describes his gun: “That motherfucker keep going like the Little Engine That Could.” It’s the subject matter you expect, presented in ways that you would never even think to expect.

Bartier Bounty is not a big-ticket rap album. There’s only one out-of-town guest on the album, and that’s Hoodrich Pablo Juan, a very good Atlanta trap rapper who can’t even begin to keep up. There are no big-name producers, either. (The only name I recognize in the credits is Helluva, and that’s because he produced Payface, a mixtape from Sada Baby’s fellow Detroit rapper Payroll Giovanni, a couple of years ago.) The mixtape’s sound is pure Detroit: cheap synth melodies, clean lines, big blat-fart basslines that sound like they were imported from the early-’90s Bay Area. It’s a great example of a rapper staying in his lane and excelling there.

After “Bloxk Party” went viral, I thought there was a good chance that Sada Baby could become a national star. He’s such a huge personality that it’s hard to believe any locality could contain him. But Sada Baby has not started showing up on the guest-rapper circuit outside the Detroit underground, and you won’t find his name on the posters for big rap festivals like Rolling Loud. Maybe that’ll still happen. Bartier Bounty has any number of songs that could go viral, and thanks to an association with rising Detroit star Tee Grizzley, it’s also got major-label distribution. But it moves like an underground album that has no ambitions to be anything but an underground album. And so it works as a reminder that regional underground sounds can exist, that everybody doesn’t need a guest verse from a fucking Migo.

And yet there’s nothing limited about Bartier Bounty. It’s long — 20 songs, just shy of an hour — and it consists almost entirely of Sada Baby talking shit over Detroit-style beats. That should get boring or oppressive. It never does. There are no skippable tracks on Bartier Bounty. It’s a huge, propulsive album, and that’s just because it’s a pure showcase for Sada Baby, who’s talented enough to carry it all by himself. On “Dumbass,” he spends a dizzying series of bars on the same rhyme, coming up with sideways reference after sideways reference: “Trap looking like the lunch line by the Combos,” “Hit a opp with the ugly shot like I’m Lonzo,” “.40 make him do the funny dance like Alphonso.” Hunnnnh! String enough moments like that together, and you can’t help but make a great rap album.

In a FADER interview last year, Sada Baby answered a question about where all the dancing in his videos comes from: “From watching 22 years of videos of motherfuckers not dancing.” We need a guy who thinks like that. There’s one quick moment on Bartier Bounty where Sada Baby lets his image crack for just half a second: “I just remember when I was depressed / Now I’m here, and I’m the best.” He’s right. He’s here, and he’s the best. And he can sing, too.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Maxo Kream: “Meet Again”
An absolutely devastating epistle to an incarcerated friend, and a heavy document of all the stresses and anxieties and heartbreaks that must with the package when you live the criminal life.

2. 2 Chainz: “Stay Woke Freestyle”
I am a man of simple pleasures, and if 2 Chainz wants to rap “yellow wrist snotty, garage got a lobby” over the “Swag Surfin'” beat, I am not going to argue. His kids think he’s awesome!

3. GoldLink: “Got Muscle” (Feat. PeeWee Longway & WaveIQ)
Rap collaborations: They can still surprise you!

4. Thouxanbanfauni & UnoTheActivist: “Choppa Down”
The best thing about the whole SoundCloud-rap wave is that we can all rest secure in the knowledge that kids are still into ominous piano loops. If ominous piano loops ever went out of fashion, I don’t know what the fuck I’d do.

5. Don Q: “I’m Not Joyner”
Yo may be interested to learn that Don Q and Tory Lanez are currently feuding with each other. I have no idea what this is all about, and I don’t care enough to dive down whatever internet rabbit holes I’d have to explore to learn. But the random, out-of-nowhere dis track is a rap staple, and it’s arguably even more fun when you don’t have any idea what the backstory is. (The backstory, as far as I can tell, is just that Don Q thinks Tory Lanez stole some of his lyrics in a Funkmaster Flex freestyle, which seems like small potatoes, but this perceived infraction has already resulted in at least three dis tracks.)

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO