Lil Baby & 42 Dugg’s “We Paid” Is The Summer Anthem We Need
It’s been 14 years since Tom Cruise did the Yung Joc motorcycle dance. In the summer of 2006, Cruise was out on the promotional trail behind Mission: Impossible III, and he put in an appearance on the late, lamented BET video-countdown show 106 & Park. That day on the show, one of the big videos in the countdown was “It’s Goin’ Down,” the breakout hit from the Atlanta rapper Yung Joc. Cruise, watching the video, did what everybody did the first time they saw the “It’s Goin Down” video: He absentmindedly mimed along with Joc’s revving-a-motorcycle dance. Then host Big Tigger and M:I III co-star Ving Rhames made a big thing out of it. Cruise, visibly humiliated and delighted in equal measure, did his not-great very best to replicate the dance. The studio audience went nuts. The video of Cruise doing the Joc dance remains, quite possibly, the best thing on YouTube. I still think about it all the time.
This was inevitable. It wasn’t necessarily fated to be Cruise, but some extremely famous person was going to get caught in public attempting the motorcycle dance in the summer of 2006. “It’s Goin’ Down” was everywhere that summer, and so was the dance. That spring, I saw Joc open for T.I. at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and Joc performed “It’s Goin’ Down” twice, at the beginning and the end of his 15-minute set. Shortly thereafter, Joc was a surprise guest at the Hot 97 Summer Jam in New Jersey. Introducing Joc to a football stadium full of New York rap fans, Jim Jones said something like this: “Y’all like that little dance that he do?”
Everyone liked that little dance. “It’s Goin’ Down” was a huge hit that peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. But 14 years is a long time. Yung Joc went on to rap on a #1 T-Pain hit in 2007, but he hasn’t had a charting single since the 2011 Yo Gotti/Stuey Rock collab “I Know What She Like,” which peaked at #91 on the R&B chart. Earlier this year, footage of Joc driving for a ride-share app went viral. These days, Joc’s name is once again in a hit single, but it’s not in the way he might hope. In the first line of the snowballing smash “We Paid,” the tiny, squeaky-voiced Detroit rapper 42 Dugg invokes the fleeting nature of the motorcycle dance: “Before I go broke like Joc, I’ma fuck with that dog like Vick.”
42 Dugg is not the first person to rap about Yung Joc going broke; Gucci Mane said something similar on the 2012 Future collab “Fuck The World,” when Joc had only just dropped off the charts. And Joc is presumably not broke, at least in the way that I understand the term. He hosts a morning radio show in Atlanta, and he’s on one of the VH1 Love & Hip-Hop reality shows. I’d love to be as broke as Joc. In a video posted in response to that 42 Dugg line, Joc flashes a big wad of hundreds at the camera. He also admits that he likes “We Paid.” How could he not? Everybody likes “We Paid.”
When “We Paid” hit YouTube early in May, it was not an event. Lil Baby, 42 Dugg’s collaborator on the song, had just released the stuffed album My Turn, and he hadn’t stopped cranking out guest verses. 42 Dugg was not yet a brand name. On first listen, “We Paid” sounded like one more vaguely melodic slow-creep Atlanta trap song in a world full of them. It’s a spacious, casual song: Some light lyrical flexing, a few drum hits, piano hits and synth tones deployed quietly and effectively. The song never announces itself. But “We Paid” sticks with you. The first 10 or 15 times I heard it, I probably barely noticed. But sometime in the last few weeks, I’ve figured out that I love “We Paid.” A lot of people love “We Paid.”
The minimalism of “We Paid” works for it. 42 Dugg and Lil Baby are complementary rappers — two deceptively gifted technical stylists whose flows are both catchy and intricate. They both talk a whole lot of shit on “We Paid,” and their voices weave in and out of each other, finding a hypnotic call-and-response groove. Baby raps about spending money on his friends. Dugg raps about spending money on himself. Both of them gather steam and force as they keep rapping. There’s something profoundly satisfying about the tension-and-release dynamics of “We Paid,” the way it builds up to the hook — “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah we paid.” In the video, Baby and Dugg and friends burn rubber in expensive cars around some woodsy and secluded neighborhood, looking cool as hell.
Right now, Lil Baby might be the biggest rapper in the world. My Turn came out in early March, and it’s showing serious staying power, overshadowing albums from Lil Baby’s peers like Gunna and Lil Uzi Vert and DaBaby. As I write this, My Turn is spending its fourth week at #1 on the Billboard albums chart; Bob Dylan’s Rough And Rowdy Ways was not quite rough or rowdy enough to dethrone it. Last week, “The Bigger Picture,” Lil Baby’s thoughtful and striking standalone protest song, debuted at #3 on the Hot 100. This week, “The Bigger Picture” remains in the top 10, while “We Paid,” more of a slow-building hit, has climbed up to #18. In fact, there are six Lil Baby tracks on the Hot 100 right now. Two of them feature 42 Dugg.
42 Dugg is someone you’re going to need to know. Dion Marquise Hayes comes from Detroit, and he’s 25 years old. Like Lil Baby before him, Dugg only started rapping after serving out a prison sentence that he was given as a teenager. (Baby did two years for marijuana possession. Dugg did six years for carjacking and gun possession.) Dugg started taking rap seriously while in solitary confinement, and he kicked off his career after finishing his prison stint in 2017. “Dugg” is his childhood nickname. “42” is a Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy reference.
Dugg released his first mixtape and scored a couple of regional underground viral hits in 2018. He connected with Lil Baby after shooting dice with him, and he’s been signed to Baby’s 4PF label and to Collective Music Group, the label run by Memphis rap godfather and previous Yung Joc collaborator Yo Gotti, since last year. Dugg, like Baby, does a lot of sing-rapping and uses a lot of Auto-Tune. But in a lot of ways, Dugg is a pure product of the Detroit underground — a yammering wiseass who excels over cheap, tinny digital basslines. On Young & Turnt, Vol. 2, the mixtape that he released back in March, Dugg collaborates with Detroit underground fixtures like Babyface Ray and Bandgang Masoe, and most of the songs hover around the two-minute mark. Dugg’s also got a great little sonic signature: He whistles on his track intros. Dugg sounds perfectly comfortable rapping with Lil Baby, but he’s managed to approach crossover stardom without sacrificing his fundamental Detroit-ness. That’s exciting.
In a lot of ways, 42 Dugg’s success is a testament to what Lil Baby has managed to accomplish. Baby has now crossed the crucial threshold where he can help elevate new stars himself. Lil Baby is 25 years old, and he’s barely three years into his rap career. He’s an unlikely superstar — quiet, pensive, clearly uncomfortable when he gets too much attention. Baby rarely does interviews. Even when he flexes, his verses tend to be heavy on narrative and feeling.
Baby connects hard on songs like “The Bigger Picture” and “Emotionally Scarred,” tracks about internal struggles. But he’s also capable of talking fly shit. On “We Paid,” he and 42 Dugg talk fly shit beautifully. “We Paid” is a gimmick-free underground rap throwdown from one newly minted star and one guy who could become one. Its success — a success achieved without memes or chart-hustling tricks or big-name remixes — is encouraging. If “We Paid” keeps growing, if it truly becomes a dominant hit, all of us will be better off — even Yung Joc.
1. Guapdad 4000 – “Lil Scammer That Could” (Feat. Denzel Curry)
Before “Lil Scammer,” I had Guapdad 4000 pegged as a pretty entertaining gimmicky court-jester type. The first time I hit play on “Lil Scammer,” I was jerking my shoulders and wrinkling my whole face up by the 30-second mark. Denzel Curry, one of the best we’ve got, barely keeps up with Guapdad on this thing. The kid has something.
2. Jack Harlow – “Whats Poppin (Remix)” (Feat. DaBaby, Tory Lanez, & Lil Wayne)
Jack Harlow handled this whole unexpected-hit thing with panache. In its original form, “Whats Poppin” is pretty decent swag-rap with a strong hook and a tough, playful beat. In its remix, it’s a monster. Harlow puts in a new verse and raps his ass off, and all the guests absolutely go in. DaBaby is the champion here, but Wayne finds a great groove, and Tory Lanez brings a surprising intensity. Everyone overperforms, and I’m left thinking that, what the hell, maybe I like Jack Harlow.
3. Steelz & AD – “Slang D”
That beat is just offensive. My sensibilities are hurt. What did I ever do to that bassline? Or those drums? Or that piano on the hook?
4. GlockBoyz TeeJaee & OnFully – “Wack Jumper” (Feat. The Godfather & Bandgang Lonnie Bands)
The playful little string loop. The propulsive glide of the drums. The sensation of a whole lot of rappers I’ve never even heard of talking shit over each other, everyone fluidly trading off verses with ease. This thing was great even before Bandgang Lonnie Bands showed up at the end, bringing elite-level wrestling and basketball references.
5. Germ – “Walked In”
This must be a tough summer to be a rapper named Germ. Germ is making do.