How DaBaby Used Videos to Dominate 2019
Jonathan Kirk gets it.
In an age where tunes can become as disposable as 1990's vacation cameras, where music gets streamed for a hot minute and then floats out to stream, whether they know it or not, listeners crave something else from an artist in order to stick.
Yeah, DaBaby got bars, but plenty of dudes got bars. Yeah, DaBaby was prolific this year, spilling two full-length albums plus a scattering of spicy, timely, ride-the-wave features and remixes (Post Malone, Lil Nas X, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion). But tons of artists churn out content on the regular.
What separated the 28-year-old from the rest of his XXL Freshman class in 2019 was his ability to not only deliver dope songs with some bop in it but, just as critically, to win us over with his personality. And ensure that personality wasn’t of the self-serious cookie-cutter mold.
Sure, DaBaby’s upbeat cadences and ear for bouncy production are key to elevating him from the sad-face invasion pushed forth by so many rappers du jour, but just as integral to Kirk's full-court-press marketing campaign was his onslaught of highly creative visuals.
DaBaby’s music videos—of which, there is already a thick canon (no nude leaks)—are well-shot, original, colorful and, most importantly, fun. Kirk takes his craft and career seriously, but not himself. How refreshing is that?
The goofy clip for breakthrough smash “Suge”—one of two DaBaby tracks highlighted on Jay-Z’s handpicked best-of-2019 playlist—has tallied up more than 185 million views on YouTube.
Directors Reel Goats, DaBaby’s go-to visual factory, took inspiration from an iconic sitcom.
“I was just like, ‘Shit. You know how funny it would be to have known what Suge Knight was like in an office setting?’" one of the Reel Goats said in a Complex interview earlier this year. "My mind was solely focused on The Office for a while, and then [DaBaby] kept saying, ‘I want to be a mailman.’”
So, we got both: DaBaby rifling through stamped packages like, don’t worry, UPS is hiring, and DaBaby in an inflated tight shirt and chain intimidating office workers like a Death Row boss on steroids. Simultaneously, he takes the piss out of himself and one of the most notorious characters in hip-hop history. How could any viewer get mad through the laughter?
Plus, DaBaby is investing in his ideas.
“I paid for every video I ever shot,” the artist told Rolling Stone. “$100,000 budget, $70,000, $60,000, I’ve probably spent like half a million dollars on videos this year, by myself, just me. I ain’t willing to settle for less. If you’re capable of being this caliber of an artist, do I want to settle for doing shit like this just to keep some money in my pocket and spend it on bullshit or something?”
In “Baby Sitter,” which employs a mock live studio audience, DaBaby and Offset chomp on giant salad bowls full of Lucky Charms and hit on a very attractive hired nanny. “Walker Texas Ranger” plays out like a comedy-action-western flick. “Goin Baby” takes flight on the PJ, with baby dolls plastered to the interior of the plane. And “Off the Rip” has our diminutive, diamond-encrusted hero rapping from the hood of a moving convertible.
Even DaBaby’s most grave production, the video for family-dedicated Kirk’s “Intro,” balances the caskets and hard-hitting subject matter with the lightness of his running across a convoy of revved-up four-wheelers in the wilderness.
Sure, there are some of the usual rap video tropes at work. Money is flashed, candy paint gleams and butt cheeks wobble. But there is a glee in the excess, fun in fantasy. DaBaby embraces a playful type of overt flaunt, a type of energetic, goofball humor that reaches back to Ludacris in his prime, feeling like a midget is hanging from his necklace.
With his blinding jewelry, trademarked stutter steps (“I can’t really dance/I be jiggin'”), and toothy, sparkling grin flashed with frequency, DaBaby has embraced his raunchy, uber-confident cartoonish on-camera persona.
He’s one third Speedy Gonzalez, one third Scrooge McDuck, one-third Quagmire. Giggiddy giggidy. It’s an addictive cocktail that, when filtered through an expressive face, even spurred U.S. champion boxer Teofimo Lopez to mimic’s DaBaby’s bop after a second-round knockout this month.
Kirk has come of age in an era where he's savvy enough to leverage social media and douse gasoline on viral fire. He regularly posts footage of his energetic live performances on Instagram, created an offshoot industry with his dancey Triller videos and made art imitate life after his fight with fellow North Carolina rapper Cam Coldhart in a Louis Vuitton store got posted online. The scrap concluded with Cam bloodied and embarrassed, pants around his ankles. DaBaby turned that moment into the kicker for his “Carpet Burn” video, in which he plays a philandering plumber gets confronted post-coitus by his sexy client’s boyfriend. Hilarity ensues.
The pony-featuring “Pony” is a wonderfully bizarre twist on Scarface, replete with a Tony Montana wig, a Donald Trump piñata, miniature alligators and a sneaky flutist in the bushes.
“Bop” might take the cake, however, as Kirk expands his budgets alongside his ideas. This one-take triumph of choreography has lured more than 105 million viewers on YouTube to a hip-hop musical on Broadway. (The upside-down twerking doesn’t hurt.) The masked Jabbawockeez dance crew pops up partway through the closed-street performance and joined DaBaby for his killer rendition of the single on Saturday Night Live earlier this month.
DaBaby also donned an inflatable, Blood-red muscle shirt for his performance of “Suge” on SNL, building upon a string of binge-able clips to end 2019 strong, from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to FaceTiming a live concert from the plane when a travel issue prevented him from hitting the stage in hometown Charlotte.
Yes, DaBaby’s visuals keep us guessing. More impressively, they keep us entertained, mostly because he looks like he’s having just as much creating them, reminding us that, sometimes, it okay to act a fool.
“I want people to walk away from my set thinking, ‘Damn, I had a good-ass time. I don't care how long it took.’ The crew, the cast, we don’t want anybody to feel like they didn’t have a good ass-time on set,” Reel Goats said about working on DaBaby’s babies.
“It’s positive. It’s fun. It’s keeping the energy.”
Yeah, yeah. —Luke Fox
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