BabyTron Finds His Own Weird Little Lane
Event-rap can be fun, but it can be oppressive, too. Rap’s A-list megastars exist off in their own distant-imagination island, light years removed from the twists and mutations of the genre’s day-to-day existence. Drake and Kanye West clearly do everything in their power to stay on top of the zeitgeist, and it’s always fun to see a Fivio Foreign or a Westside Gunn get a chance to show out on a Kanye record. But guys like Drake and Kanye aren’t moving rap forward, and they haven’t moved rap forward in years. Instead, rap evolves in little blips and blurps — regional sub-scenes, online micro-trends. It’s messy and chaotic, and it usually takes observers a long time to realize that things have been changing. The big stars suck up all the attention, especially in weird little bursts like the one week, just now, that both Kanye and Drake released noisy, overlong big-deal new albums. In moments like that, it’s even harder to take back and notice that, for instance, BabyTron is out here rapping like a fucking fool.
BabyTron, formerly known as ShittyBoyz BabyTron, comes from the Detroit suburb of Ypsilanti, but where most of us are concerned, he really comes from the internet. When BabyTron first emerged from the dense, teeming Michigan rap underground a couple of years ago, the sheer novelty of this kid was part of the appeal. In 2019, BabyTron rose up alongside similarly inclined Detroit scam-rappers like Teejayx6, and all their talk about credit card chips and VPNs felt like a whole new frontier in crime-life rap music. But BabyTron was also a skinny little kid with a hesher dirt-stache and an early-Bieber bowl cut, a fascinatingly unlikely figure. (BabyTron’s race is mixed, but he definitely looked white.) BabyTron never came off like he belonged, but he never seemed out of his element, either.
BabyTron raps about weed and clothes and anime and wanting a Nardwuar interview. He speed-mutters his syllables, but he still stays in the pocket of the extremely Detroit beats that he chooses. When the teenage BabyTron talked about his criminal exploits, it never sounded forced, since those criminal exploits usually involved internet fraud. (It was like: Yeah, this kid probably will rob me. He looks like he knows how to do things with computers.) BabyTron also carried himself with a slightly awkward sort of swagger. As the Detroit rap sound has moved away from scammer talk and back into IRL violence, BabyTron hasn’t changed, but he’s grown more confident. He no longer seems like a strange representative of a scene, or even a group. Instead, BabyTron has grown into a weird and singular figure who’s found his own lane. (The other ShittyBoyz, TrDee and StanWill, are both good, too, and they’re both in the same lane. BabyTron still stands out.)
These days, BabyTron has his whole thing figured out. He makes music constantly. Every week, he’ll have at least one new video up online; it’s usually more like three or four. He’ll work with other Michigan rappers, or with rappers like Lil Yachty who are explicitly riding the Michigan style. He raps with a lazy speed — always rushing his delivery but always sounding slightly bored, too. His lyrics are dense with references and punchlines, and you can rely on him to say some shit that you’re not expecting him to say. He loves beats made from samples of synthy, triumphant ’80s dance-pop — Freeez, Taylor Dayne, Shana — though sometimes he’ll flip an early-’00s Jaheim R&B hit or, like, the theme song from The Office.
He’s funny. I love the way BabyTron puts words together. “European sneakers, pull up shooting shit like Türkoğlu/ The engine barking like a hellhound when I’m skrrting through.” “Real shit talker, think I need a hundred Tic Tacs.” “Got her eating balls, on some Hungry Hungry Hippo shit.” BabyTron never ventures outside his comfort zone, and he never gets into anything deeper or more emotional than deep-bench NBA and shonen and pro wrestling namechecks. BabyTron is clearly competing with himself, constantly trying to come up with the wildest shit that he can say. I love that.
Earlier this summer, BabyTron released his Luka Troncic mixtape — 24 songs in just over an hour. Next month, he’ll follow that up with his new Bin Reaper 2 tape, and that will probably be just as overloaded. BabyTron doesn’t really make hits. A lot of the time, his songs don’t even have hooks. I don’t think he has any YouTube videos with views in the millions, and he doesn’t seem remotely interested in transcending his current space. Instead, he just raps, constantly. You have to admire the work ethic.
I don’t think BabyTron has made any truly great songs yet, and I don’t think it matters much. He’s still a great rapper. For me, the best way to hear BabyTron’s music isn’t by playing his mixtapes. It’s hearing one song at a time in single-serving YouTube doses, keeping an ear on the constant stream of new songs and new punchlines. I don’t know how long BabyTron can keep this pace up, or when he might try for something less hyper-regional. Right now, though, BabyTron is in a magical place.
1. Maxo Kream & Tyler, The Creator – “Big Persona”
When Odd Future first showed up, they had bangers. Over the years, Tyler has moved away from making bangers, and I love hearing him return to the form. Those horns are crazy.
2. Big Sick & Kwengface – “Rock With It”
Bless these UK drill guys for keeping the memory of Dem Franchize Boyz’ “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” alive. I love that song.
3. Dappy, M24, & Backward Gee – “Antigua”
When Drake goes into his little mini-grime phases and starts rapping in a fake British accent, it’s always goofy, but I always understand it. If you listen to enough of this stuff, you might start rapping in a fake British accent, too. Can’t help it! It’s fun!
4. Young Los, Young Slo-Be, & Bla$ta – “Demon Hours”
Young Los would make a good horror-movie heavy. “Ohhhh, I heard his soul got evicted” is great creepy shit.
5. Rx Nephew – “3.5 To My Name”
Rochester’s Rx Nephew makes so much music that it’s hard to keep up, but when I do tune in, he walks a tricky line between hard and weird. Consider this track, where Nephew growls about tasting cocaine in vomit over ambient gurgles.