The music industry has always been about managing the conflict between artists and business. The current climate of the business side can leave much to be desired for some. Streams are the focus. Social media platforms are the number one strategy for creating a buzz - it’s a core component of any artist’s marketing. It’s easy to understand why fans and listeners alike have become disenfranchised. Interests in beefs and feuds (synthetic or otherwise), or varying sources of controversy and gossip seem to have trumped your traditional billing of talent from yesteryear. Labels aren’t stupid of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity after all. Indeed, strong cases can be made for artists having their creativity stifled and being locked in golden handcuffs.
This phenomena is further exacerbated in the world of hip-hop, as what was once a niche genre has now catapulted far and wide into areas of the mainstream that even The Notorious B.I.G. himself couldn’t have predicted. Hip-hop (and it’s sub-genres) has borne the brunt of this industry-wide “problem” and subsequent criticisms, with both fair and unfair accusations. These range from being called an oversaturated market, lacking in originality and constantly being labelled inauthentic.
Hip-hop having it’s integrity as an art form questioned is nothing new per se. “Thug Music”, “Gang Culture”, “Misogynistic”; Hip-hop has overcome generalised accusations rooted in hostility, ignorance and just plain old hating on many an occasion, past and present. Only time will tell if “Mumble Rap” joins these as yet another soundbite in a long line of plots to downplay a powerful force in music and culture. Of course, some valid criticisms prove true. Many current artists produce sub-par music with a very obvious shelf-life and are unable to cut it at the top. They tend to dwindle away in their natural course (Cole tried to warn you), but not every contributor should be painted with the same brush. As with everything else in life, the strong will survive and cream will rise to the top.
The artists that last will, as always, be the ones who hit the sweet spot of maintaining their artistic integrity whilst accepting that they need their work to be marketable, which brings me on to Lil Baby. He has been the man of the moment in hip-hop for the past couple of years or so, with 2021 being no exception. With 9 projects to his name in the space of 5 years and counting, both as a solo artist or collaboratively, Lil Baby seems to have entered the race at 100mph without even looking at his brake pedals yet - he probably has no idea where they’re located. Whether he’s dropping solo work, collaborating with his regular confidants or hopping on features, he produces solid verses and hooks that yield a level of consistency many have fallen short of.
His flow is magnetic, his distinct delivery is intoxicating and his confidence has no limit. Quite simply, he makes hot songs in bulk. He is a rap superstar who’s rousing a generation of fans with his hunger to grow and make music that’s symbolic of his time. At 27 years of age, he’s featured on every single mainstream album of note at the start of this decade. The likes of Kanye West, J. Cole, Drake and Polo G have sought his input and expertise in the past 2 years alone to supplement his already impressive catalogue and track record. But there’s method to Lil Baby’s madness, and it’s clear to see why he is such a hot commodity that attracts so much attention.
Lil Baby has bet on himself and gone all in, and you can draw many parallels between his movements and that of a successful entrepreneur. In his lyrics, he regularly explores themes of hardship, breaking out of poverty and dealing with his fame as it scales. His debut album, “Harder Than Ever”, off the back of his mixtape furore, captures this ascent throughout. Lil Baby appears to realise he’s carving a lane for himself and doubles down throughout the project. His song “Fit In” is a sombre reflection of such where he shows his range on the microphone and in the studio. Lil Baby appears to be on board with the current climate, whether by design or by coincidence.
He may not be a wordsmith with his lyrics in the mould of predecessors from older eras, but Lil Baby knows how to put his style of song together with ease and get his message across. He’s a hustler on a mission, and this resonates across the board in multiple walks of life. His music is fast paced when it needs to be, and reflective on other occasions. This adaptability to satisfy stakeholders from all corners - fans, listeners, executives or otherwise - will keep in him high in demand (case in point, his “Hurricane” verse off DONDA - who’d have thought he could do gospel rap too?).
The music industry was and always will be a business first, something I’ve discussed from both perspectives in two of my previous articles linked below. But the way I see it, whatever the free market asks of him, Lil Baby duly obliges and gives you a guaranteed product that provides a solid output and return. Like he says, he’s only going in where he fits in. Just like any successful entrepreneur, he is a businessman with a goal who doesn’t settle or compromise on his winning formula. In that sense, he keeps his artistic integrity intact, as he satisfies his own ambition and anybody who joins forces with him.
It’s a shame that those who are “the best” don’t necessarily make it or have the recognition for their talents as such, and we’d like to think that this will improve sooner rather than later. But then again, what industry in the world offers pure meritocracy anyway? Is it a music problem, or is it just how the world works? Is it the music industry that specifically needs changing, or is it people, culture and the system? Talent and ability will find ways to shine, albeit with more abstract approaches, but Lil Baby seems to have found the remedy for these uncertainties in true entrepreneurial fashion, applying a methodical product-market fit that even my boys down at Rational VC would be proud of!
Do yourself justice, utilise your mind.
I like Lil Baby’s music. It’s to be appreciated for what it is. I think he unfairly gets thrown into the same bag as other artists, which goes back to what was said in this post’s third paragraph. Nevertheless, if I’m kicking back for a night in, getting pumped for the gym or just keeping something energetic playing in the background of a long drive, he’s an artist I turn to in order to satisfy multiple requirements or moods. He’s got hits and a lot of gems scattered across his work, and while he may have lapses of inconsistencies or songs that were a bad match, I place him at the positive tail end of current, active artists. He’s no slouch lyrically either, and knows how to make his product sound and feel good. “Fit In” is a track that gives me a lot of replay value, and although his first album had some songs that didn’t work, this was one of the highlights reminiscent of the formulas that made his mixtape catalogue enjoyable.
I have “Fit In” included in my “WhosAria Presents… The Lounge - The Hip-Hop Lounge Music Playlist: Vol. 2” playlist which you can listen to on Apple or Spotify alongside other volumes and concept playlists. Like, follow and share my profiles/playlists to stay up-to-date with all of my current and future playlist collections.
Written by: @WhosAria