Following up the biggest album of your career is tough sledding for any artist. But for rappers? It’s something only Houdini might pull off with ease. Hip-hop is always about what you’re doing now, not what you did yesterday. Just one false move takes you from relevant to irrelevant at the drop of a quarter, nickel, or dime.
Lil Baby finds himself in that very unenviable position. 2020’s My Turn was, in a word, massive. Baby not only refined his hit-making skills but improved his rapping technique and writing. Since its release, Baby found himself the focus of a documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. So yeah, Lil Baby finds himself in a bit of a moment.
It’s Only Me, out Friday, October 14th, is the result of all that pressure, success, and newfound lifestyle for the young ATLien. And what we get is a mixed bag with fleeting moments of good, primarily mired in an uninspired hodgepodge of flat production and repetitive flows.
The album starts promising enough with “Real Spill,” a track built around Baby chronicling how different life is for him at this juncture. He can’t do the same things he used to or go to the same places. But it also finds him speaking about the pressures of being a role model. Not every artist gracefully handles living under a microscope, but Baby gives it his all. “Real Spill” sets the tempo; Baby is hellbent on inspiring the people he grew up with and those coming after him.
That tone carries over through much of the album’s first half. Baby loves reaching back into the community and the fact they, in his words, call him a hero. “Trappin like this shit legal I’m tryna uplift my people/ I used to serve in the Regal I turned ‘em into believers,” he asserts on “Stand On It.”
Eventually, however, the album loses the plot. Which is an easy accomplishment with 23 songs. That’s a lot of music, especially in 2022. An album with that scope needs varying sounds and flows, if not different subject matter. Lil Baby improved from one album to the next and is more technically proficient here than on his last joint. But he lets that skill blot out any emotion. It also stops him from trying new flows. There’s a good chance anyone reading this familiar with Lil Baby knows what they’re getting with the It’s Only Me. Defying expectations rather than meeting them in the middle is paramount for a guy who prides himself on his pen game and ear for beats.