DaBaby Stumbles on Inconsistent “KIRK”

DaBaby is an interesting figure in hip-hop. On the one hand, his vibrant on-stage persona,  comical music video style, and numerous viral videos have made him instantly recognizable in modern rap. He stood out in a big way in 2019’s XXL Freshman Class, with a strong freestyle and cypher that displayed his excellent technical skills. He’s a seemingly charismatic guy, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed bumping a number of his features and singles he’s dropped throughout 2019  — his appearances on Lil Nas X’s “Panini” remix sticks out in particular.

But on the other hand, DaBaby is a relatively one-dimensional artist. “Baby on Baby”, his 2019 breakthrough album, is solid throughout with a handful of exceptionally catchy tracks. But the project is ultimately bogged down by unnecessary features that distract from DaBaby’s unique rapping style and explosive delivery. His beat choices are more or less aimless throughout and seem to rely on booming sub-bass and basic trap percussion to complement his husky voice. It’s a good album, but it doesn’t have a lot in the way of lyrical content or instrumental diversity.

I was ultimately willing to let a lot of the flaws with “Baby on Baby” slide because singles like “Suge”, “Pony”, “Goin’ Baby”, and “Walker Texas Ranger” are undeniably exciting to listen to. But given all the hype surrounding DaBaby, I was hoping that his follow-up album, “KIRK”, would give me insight into who the artist is as a person rather than just provide another decent, disposable listen. I was encouraged by lead single, “INTRO”, which detailed DaBaby’s perception of the music industry and his come-up through his typically charismatic delivery and funny one-liners. 

Unfortunately, the rest of his subsequent album, “KIRK, doesn’t dig much deeper than that critique. It’s not a bad album, per se, but it definitely has its flaws that seem similar to what prevented “Baby on Baby” from becoming a truly standout album. 

The first major problem I have with “KIRK” is identical to the issue I have with his last project: the over-reliance on features. DaBaby is a strong enough rapper to independently carry a song, and the fact that he doubled the amount of features from “Baby on Baby” is irritating. The feature artists chosen simply do not match up with DaBaby in terms of ability, as Kevin Gates, Lil Baby, Nicki Minaj, Moneybagg Yo, and Migos fail to add anything substantial to the tracks they appear on. These artists were likely included to draw attention and chase streaming numbers, but wound up making the songs less enjoyable for the listener. Lil Baby actually ruins an excellent Kenny Beats instrumental on “TOES”, and Nicki Minaj fails to impress on “iPHONE”. The exceptions to this rule are the features on the track “GOSPEL” which more or less functions as a decent Chance the Rapper posse track and happens to feature DaBaby. Ultimately, these inclusions feel very money-motivated, as if their only intention was to grab headlines and streams. 

“KIRK”, like “Baby on Baby” is at its best when DaBaby is free to let loose over a heavy instrumental. “VIBEZ” is a perfect example of this, as it contains the same manic energy that made his best singles so appealing in the first place. But this central concept becomes repetitive on the remainder of the album with songs like “THERE HE GO” sounding like repeats of earlier tracks. This single dimensionality is my main issue with “KIRK”. DaBaby is clearly talented, but he consistently fails to diversify his sound and subject matter in any meaningful way. “OFF THE RIP” literally sounds like a retread of “Suge” and “Walker Texas Ranger”, and ultimately, I would rather listen to those tracks than anything off of “KIRK”. 

DaBaby is not a bad artist, don’t get me wrong. His level of talent is significantly higher than most of his peers, but he punched below his weight on this album. He failed to showcase much in the way of album-to-album development likely because not very much time has passed between them. I think he’ll be able to bounce back and deliver a stronger product next time around, but I hope he doesn’t become complacent with his recent success. DaBaby absolutely must step out of his comfort zone with his next addition to his portfolio. 

5/10

FAVORITE TRACKS: “INTRO,” “VIBEZ,” “GOSPEL”

LEAST FAVORITE TRACK: “iPHONE”

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