DaBaby’s sophomore album “KIRK” retains his fast-flowing, high-tempo, signature style but fails to innovate himself enough in an increasingly saturated hip-hop landscape with new artists. His failure to decide whether it is a victory lap after a breakthrough year or a pensive reflection on the loss of a loved one ultimately slows the album.
Charlotte rapper DaBaby, born Jonathan Kirk, has arguably been hip-hop’s biggest breakout star in 2019. First reaching the mainstream with his song “Walker Texas Ranger,” inspired by the same country-trap fusion as Lil Nas X, DaBaby has become both a chart staple and a heavily in-demand featured artist.
Kirk has cultivated a distinctive style of fast-paced flows over energetic beats, topped off with lyrics that feature a joke seemingly every other bar. This style earned him a top-five hit with “Suge” earlier this year and a top-10 album with March’s “Baby on Baby.” However, he has shown little variance in his admittedly successful formula up to this point.
Nevertheless, DaBaby’s stardom has continued to rise. He was named an XXL Freshman on XXL Magazine’s list of rap talents to watch out for in June of this year and has featured on songs by Chance the Rapper, Post Malone and YG. He has also collaborated with other breakout stars in 2019, including Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion.
“KIRK” serves as DaBaby’s sophomore album and his first since his meteoric rise to fame within the rap world. The album’s cover art features DaBaby, fittingly, as an infant in his father’s lap. The LP is dedicated to his late father, who passed away earlier this year right as the rapper began to reach musical stardom.
The opening track “INTRO,” which is also the album’s lead single, reflects on the artist’s rise to fame and his father’s example for how DaBaby seeks to raise his own daughter. The track offers a beautifully poignant message and sees Kirk eschew his punchline-heavy rapping in favor of introspection over a gospel-inspired backing beat.
While this track represents the potential for DaBaby’s new direction, the rest of the album returns to the sound that made him a nationwide star earlier this year. The next three tracks are all DaBaby by the numbers, featuring fast flows, catchy hooks and ear-grabbing punchlines.
DaBaby quickly realizes this repetitive sound cannot support an entire album on its own, though, as he begins to lean more heavily upon his features. “POP STAR,” featuring trap crooner Kevin Gates, has DaBaby showing off his singing chops, proclaiming “They prolly tell you I went pop / Until a n—a play with me and he get popped.”
“GOSPEL,” which features vocals from Chance The Rapper, Gucci Mane and YK Osiris, sees DaBaby reflect on his relationship with his daughter and his place within the rap game over another upbeat gospel-style beat. Shockingly, the album’s best feature comes from DaBaby’s close friend Stunna 4 Vegas, as his distinct delivery adds punch and meaning to his lyrics that no other feature matches.
Even though the LP boasts other features from hip-hop A-listers like Nicki Minaj, Gucci Mane and Migos, most of the features seem to phone in their verses and fall short of their true potential. While DaBaby does try to add variation to his style on these tracks, the new direction fails to capitalize on what makes DaBaby interesting in the hip-hop landscape.
The album’s final track “XXL” is a repeat of his fiery XXL Freshman freestyle earlier this year and sees him ponder on his newfound status within the rap game and how much his life has changed within the span of a few months. Bars like “Every time that the DJ play ‘Suge’ / N—-s throw up they arms like a mothaf—-n racetrack” emphasize DaBaby’s successes and solidify his signature style.
“KIRK” is an all-around solid follow-up album for the budding rap star. He does enough across the LP to maintain his signature sound while attempting to show his range as a musician, albeit to varying degrees of success.
However, the album’s true failure comes in its lyrical content. Besides “INTRO,” no track offers a proper reflection on the role his father played. The few tracks that do attempt to delve into this relationship distract from the overall message with punchline-style bars that do little to enhance the LP besides offering a one-off remark of mild humor and wit.
Nevertheless, “KIRK” will not slow DaBaby’s ascent to rap superstardom. However, the scope of his influence will be ultimately limited unless he continues to expand his lyrical content to make music that is personalized by his experiences to help him stand out in a crowded rap field.