Within the music industry, New Year’s Day does not matter. It’s a writeoff. The entire music business — labels, publicists, writers like me — has the day off. Most of us spend the day lolling around in a hungover stupor. Nobody really releases music until a couple of weeks into January. Things grind to a halt. But for people outside the music industry, New Year’s Day can matter. Consider: On the first day of 2019, DaBaby, then an unknown regional YouTube rapper, dropped his “Walker Texas Ranger” video, the knowingly ridiculous clip that went viral and introduced him to a whole new audience outside of Charlotte and its environs. Within a few weeks, he was signed. Within a few months, he’d put out a smash debut album. By the end of the year, he was one of the biggest rappers in the world. In retrospect, “Walker Texas Ranger” kicked off a wild string of events and catalyzed a sudden and meteoric rise.
On the first day of 2020, Sada Baby, a Detroit rap energy-bomb, released his Brolik mixtape. This wasn’t exactly the same thing as that “Walker Texas Ranger” video. Brolik didn’t suddenly go viral, and it didn’t come from an unknown quantity. Sada Baby had already had his out-of-nowhere viral moment about a year and a half earlier, when the grainy homemade video for his Drego collab “Bloxk Party” made the rounds. Since then, Sada Baby has been plenty busy; a year before Brolik, he’d released Bartier Bounty, one of 2019’s best rap albums. The music on the Brolik mixtape didn’t signal some sudden new change of direction from Sada Baby. Instead, it was merely another collection of fearsome, mouth-frothing Detroit bangers. And yet it signaled the beginning of something. We’re less than a month into 2020, but Sada Baby is on an absolute tear. 2020 is his.
For the past few months, Sada has been cranking out new videos at a head-spinning rate, usually for tracks that aren’t even on the mixtape. You can check online for a new Sada Baby song every couple of days, and you’ll usually find something. Every last one of those songs has personality. Sada is following his own personal blueprint — he sounds very much like himself, very little like anyone else. On every verse, he seems to pick up speed and confidence. He’ll sometimes start out cool and collected, and then he’ll be yelling at the top of his lungs by the time it’s over. He never gets lost or falls off rhythm. Instead, he builds crescendos.
Sada is also a deranged, delirious shit-talker. He has the rare gift of saying something absolutely disgusting and making it sing. As I’m typing this, the most recent Sada Baby song to hit the internet — “Big Eastside,” which showed up a couple of hours ago — has Sada talking about what he’s going to do to an unnamed white girl: “Should feed that bitch some Fentanyl like ‘that’s payback for slavery.'” That’s morally repugnant as all hell. I laughed. It’s one thing to see that line typed out on the internet. It’s another to hear him say it in the middle of a verse like it’s nothing. Whenever Sada Baby raps, you can expect that kind of instability. He’s always two seconds away from saying something outrageous. It’s not edgelord bullshit. It’s a feverish mind operating filter-free.
That unstable-molecule quality sets Sada Baby apart. He’s an exceptional rapper by just about every metric. He’s enormously confident. He can sound hard as hell. He can spin stories or get vulnerable, hinting at a rough upbringing. When the mood strikes him, he can sing, delivering entire songs in an evocative wounded blues-groan. He can be clever, and he can be quick with the out-of-nowhere cultural references. On that last point, the Brolik track “WWF” is a bugged-out tour de force. In a breathless three minutes, Sada reels off the namechecks: Mr. Fantastic, Green Lantern, Mr. Spock, Sonya Blade, Sonic and Knuckles, Wolverine and Cyclops, Senzu Beans and Destructo Discs, The Mask, Crash Bandicoot, Ravishing Rick Rude. There’s a dazzling three-line sequence made up of nothing but shit-talk through the lens of late-’90s/early-’00s pro wrestling: “Bitch, my white boy loyal, and he royal, William Regal with it / Make this yopper do a Spinaroonie, Booker T them niggas / Make that .40 Diamond Dallas Page, DDT a nigga.”
But if you spend enough time with Sada Baby, the thing you walk away with isn’t individual lines or even individual songs. It’s the totality of it, the overwhelming erratic energy. Sada Baby is rapping like he needs to scream every idea he has out into the world while he’s still got time. This could just be because he’s got music saved up. Sada Baby has said that he’s recently gotten out of a bad label situation. These days, he’s no longer signed with fellow Detroit native Tee Grizzley’s Grizzley Gang label. Maybe that’s why he’s dropping so many videos right now. But the effect is one of total urgency — an all-time run taking shape before our eyes.
Sada Baby is not DaBaby. DaBaby is a ridiculously good-looking, party-friendly tough guy with a gift for making cartoonish viral video content. Sada Baby is an entertainer, too. He can be funny in videos. He can randomly show up in your timeline, for instance, singing along to a Nickelback song on-camera. But Sada Baby is also more of a wild-eyed weirdo than DaBaby will ever be. I’m not sure if he’ll ever become a pop musician. Sada Baby mostly thrives in the chaotic context of Detroit rap, which has been endearingly frozen in time for years. If Sada Baby does suddenly blow up and go national, as DaBaby did, maybe something will be lost.
I’m also not totally sure that too many people in rap want to work with Sada Baby. The national figures who have made songs with Sada Baby — Lil Yachty, G Herbo, BlocBoy JB, Hoodrich Pablo Juan — always try hard, and they never come anywhere near overshadowing Sada Baby. Do people want to be upstaged like that? I don’t know. Sada Baby clearly can rap on non-Detroit beats; he made that clear on his recent all-business episode of the Kenny Beats freestyle series The Cave. But the Detroit-specific low-budget intensity of Sada Baby’s presentation is key to his appeal. Sada Baby should not have to switch up his style to appeal to the rest of the world. The rest of the world should see what he’s doing and come to him.
There’s something beautiful about the fact that Brolik — for my money, the best album of 2020 thus far, in any genre — isn’t on any of the legit streaming services. Instead, you can only find the mixtape at DatPiff, the old online mixtape clearinghouse site. This is appropriate. Sada Baby recalls a chaotic, exciting time in recent rap history — a time before the streaming services took over and moved us all toward smoothed-out melodic trap. (Most of the songs from those videos aren’t on the streaming services, either; they’re YouTube exclusives.) Sada Baby isn’t playing the game. If you’re going to find him, you’re going to find him on his terms.
At the beginning of 2021, maybe Brolik and Sada Baby’s surrounding video blitz will look like a statement of impending takeover, just as DaBaby’s “Walker Texas Ranger” video looks now. But I think it’s more likely that we’ll look at this whole thing as simply a great moment for underground regional rap music. Sada Baby doesn’t have to get famous to validate this whole thing. He’s already great. If the world sleeps, that’s the world’s problem.
1. Nafe Smallz, Yxng Bane, Blade Brown, & Scrapz – “Faith In My Killy”
I wish I could sound as cool as a bored British person. This song is pretty.
2. Plu2o Nash – “Live At The Roxy” (Feat. Lucki & Drego)
The Chicago producer Plu2o Nash has been making music with Lucki for years. He knows how to showcase Lucki’s disconsolate mutter, and he has evidently now figured out that Lucki’s disconsolate mutter works pretty great next to Detroit underground mainstay Drego’s low-key jumpiness.
3. Icewear Vezzo – “Exclusive”
It’s not just Sada Baby. It’s not just Drego and Beno, either. It’s not just Fmb Dz, Teejayx6, Kasher Quon, ShittyBoyz BabyTron, BandGang Lonnie Bands, Payroll Giovanni, and Babyface Ray. Things are happening in Detroit right now. If Detroit is not the most exciting scene in rap, then I don’t know what is.
4. Octavian – “Death Of A Traitor”
We’re at a weird point in history right now where American rappers are taking stylistic cues from UK rappers. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. And honestly, American rappers should be taking cues from UK rappers. This shit is hypnotic.
5. Pouya & Boobie Lootaveli – “Get Money (Take Money)”
Boobie Lootaveli: “I been saying ‘motherfuck 12′ since pre-birth.” Boobie Lootaveli has been harder than you since before he was even born. He hated cops when he was a zygote. Incredible. God bless the G-funk synth-whine, which is somehow still not dead.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
Tyler to Ken Ehrlich pic.twitter.com/UlcQeIznV0
— Joe Coscarelli (@joecoscarelli) January 27, 2020