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The only thing that's harder than describing Lil Baby is writing a nut graf about him. When I first heard the graininess of his voice in "My Dawg," I imagined a 35-year-old who was hardened by the streets and who didn't realize that he was too old to be harmonizing in the microphone like that. Over time, his slightly off-kilter style grew on me. Lil Baby was endearing with his singing, honest with his bars, charismatic with a slightly reserved demeanor, and he salted his fresh watermelon slices. The more that you're exposed to Lil Baby, the better his music becomes. All of the subtle nuances begin to expose themselves, painting him as a wounded warrior trying to make sense of being mentally stuck in the trap, while physically flourishing in gold.
Street Gossip is the first post-Drip Harder Baby that's been packaged for commercial release. His debut album dropped in May and was a tight showcase of his compact style that leaves little to the imagination. Drip Harder came in October and exposed him to the flashiness that consumes Gunna's artistry, revealing a world where Baby could keep his street style, while also experimenting with glitz and glamour. Street Gossip is the result of an experiment that mixes the expected world of old and the flashy one of new. It isn't perfect, but Baby's latest is proof that there's something indescribable that makes him magnetic.
At REVOLT, we listen to albums and figure out what's really going on underneath their surfaces. We do this in the form of five takeaways. Here are our takeaways from Street Gossip.
Is Lil Baby stagnant or comfortable?
Lil Baby has to be the least experimental rapper that you'll ever hear streaming from your headphones. He takes a years-old mix of rapping and singing, and does it across every track without reinvention. "Global" is an album opener that could be stripped of the beat and replaced with any of the other 12 tracks -- and it could play the same. It's a shame, too, because it ventures close to straightforward rap on occasions and it's clear that Baby can truly spit. But, instead of making this a reality, he safely plays into his almost melodies that enable him to stick like superglue on 808s and ride off into the sunset.
But, it's hard to tell whether this is a good thing or cause for concern. Sticking with the same artistry isn't often considered stagnancy if it sounds good. It's typically referred to as "giving the people more of what they want." And it's clear, the people gush over Baby's ability to craft these melodic bangers that hold curated playlists hostage. Just listen to the dark brilliance of "This Week" that echoes the vocal arrangements of at least three other songs. Baby has command over this style. So, maybe he's just comfortable instead of lazy. And the people love it, too. So, yeah, there's that.
The Gunna Effect
If you were to grab Young Thug by each ear and yank hard enough, Lil Baby and Gunna would appear. Together, they have all of the oddball qualities of Young Thug. So, it's easier to see why they fit together so well. Lil Baby's the workman with a basic understanding of melody. Gunna is the weirder of the two, as he lays on excess autotune and experiments with unconventional stylings. When people buy into the idea of Drip Harder as one of the year's most important joint albums, it's because they're thinking of it as a Young Thug album with better beats.
Gunna's mastery of autotune seems to have impacted Lil Baby's usage of the technology for the better. On Street Gossip, Baby lays on thicker splashes of it than he has ever before. It thrusts on certain words on the previously mentioned "This Week" and "Section 8" lays it on heavy throughout. It's not quite as prevalent as his frequent collaborator's. But, Baby shows that -- in at least that manner -- he has the capacity for growth. He also channels some of Gunna's machine gun-like flows on occasion, further showcasing just how intertwined the two artists are.
Meek sounds vicious on "Time"
Meek's new album, Championships, makes it clear that the Philadelphia rapper is more inspired than ever before. It's probably because of his enduring legal situation, where he knows that he can be snatched back to prison in the slightest of moments. Championships is a full-on rap onslaught of vicious energy from the Philly streets, reveling in a near endless stream of punchlines that shows he's never missed a step. On Street Gossip, Meek does what Drake -- who he recently made up with and who's also featured on Championships -- does when he hops on a guest feature. He tries to suck the air out of the room.
This scene-stealing contribution comes on "Time," one of the album's best cuts. The production moves furiously like one of China's Fuxing trains with Baby on a mission to keep up with it. Meek comes in swiftly and delivers blow after blow, line after line of dangerous punchline. "Richard Millie cost a quarter milli', I got more than one /FN on me lighter than a bitch feel like a water gun," he raps with the energy of someone with boiling frustrations brimming beneath the tongue. His contribution is quick and overall the song ends much too soon. But, it's fierce enough to be seared in the brain after it's over.
The Atlanta presence is serious
The features are sparse, but nearly everyone here reps the A. 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane offer strong guest features on the bombastic "Anyway." Offset, similarly, delivers a serviceable feature on the slightly slower "Realist In It" with Gucci, who's never sounded more in tune with rap than he does right now. Young Thug on "Section 8" flows over the bouncy production like he seldom does, actually spitting instead of warbling enough to mask the fact that he's not really doing anything. Gunna, of course, holds up his end of the bargain on "Ready." The collective aesthetic curated by these stalwart scenes really shows the strength and fluidity of the Atlanta sound. Baby's beats are just as usable by his fellow scene guys who bring a similar manic energy to the proceedings.
He can be more than turn-up
There are hints of pain in Lil Baby's rhymes and voice. "Chastised," the album's strongest cut, explores these hints of turmoil to the backdrop of inviting bass and the soft plucks of guitar notes. He opens up about his mental state in a way that usually escapes his street reflections. "She can die tomorrow, I prolly wouldn't notice/Try to hold me down, I gotta stay focused," he sings smoothly. Of all the emotions expressed on the track, Baby sounds more paranoid than anything. He talks about his fear of going back broke and the wishes of a teenager he knows, who's looking forward to killing his first person. It's heartbreaking stuff that would make anyone have a panic attack. The fact that he sings about these troubling topics so smoothly is a feat within itself.
Lil Baby's Street Gossip lacks an explosive bone in its body. But, I'm not sure that it's reason for fault, or if that's even the kind of music that Lil Baby creates altogether. His pained mix of rap-singing is a surefire way to create club records with little effort. He commands his style without ever hinting at growth or change, preferring comfort as opposed to the struggle that comes with expanding his sound. Due to this, his music can drag depending on the initial expectations that you bring to it. Street Gossip's power is in its uniformity and its hint that there's a little more to Baby that meets the eye. What else is there might not be visible now, but at least we can listen to this knowing that there's capacity for growth. It helps that Street Gossip sounds damn good, too.
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