Lil Baby is in a lane of his own, and he knows it. As we set up for our conversation, the buzzing young star, who is the latest heavy hitter out of the star-studded Quality Control hip-hop powerhouse, talks candidly with his phone between his ear and his shoulder, while earnestly rummaging his pockets for what turns out to be a red Blow Pop candy. Baby moves with a silent confidence seemingly in everything he does, and especially in his music. The 22-year-old picks things up pretty quickly too; he started rapping just 13 months ago, and he’ll quickly let you know that he’s still got a lot to learn. “I ain't even mastered my craft yet,” he says coolly, when I ask how it feels that he’s found his way in music without enduring the customary struggle rap period. But his lack of experience hasn’t deterred him at all from becoming one of the brightest stars in his hometown of Atlanta and beyond.
From his point of view, Baby’s story is fairly simple: a street cat who loved music just as much as the next guy, but never found a passion for making it. After being convinced by a few key associates that he had what it took to make it in rap, he tried it out and it worked. “I never tried it, wasn't into it. I mean I was into it as far as listening, but not into doing it,” he says. “Like you might love watching basketball, but that don't mean that you'll get on the court.”
During our interview, Baby constantly uses basketball as a metaphor for his rise in music. This ascension includes a slew of well received mixtapes in 2017, featuring tunes like the irresistible Quay Global-produced “My Dawg” and “Freestyle,” and the Drake-featuring “Yes Indeed” which appears on Baby’s newly released Harder Than Ever. If QC is the all-star squad, then Baby is the naturally gifted rookie who gets better with every game on the proverbial hardwood.
With Harder Than Ever dropping, how are you feeling about everything music and careerwise?
[It's my] first release of the year. I'm feeling great; I'm kind of excited about my album that's coming out. More excited than I ever been because I feel like the music is all the way up to par this time. I've grown, and my passion for music has grown. I've become more advanced and I've enhanced my vocabulary. All around artist development.
What were some factors for you developing as an artist?
Just being in it. Every day I'm getting shaped and molded. Keepin' on, being a better artist, and improving on this, improving on that. The more I'm in it, the more I'm practicing and the more I'm advancing. So it's like, my next tape gonna be harder than this one because I'm still new in music period. I'm not nowhere near where I'm gonna be.
In this last year, what have you learned about making music and being in the industry?
I learned everything from the point of not knowing nothing — from scratch. I'm still learning a lot as far as music making; like reverb, and delays, and echoes, and slide that to the left, and drag that, and cut this. I still ain't got all that yet, no way. A lot of artists I know, they can record themselves, but I ain't that advanced yet.
I feel like you came into music and found your way a lot quicker than most artists do.
Yeah, I've been rapping for like 13 months. I ain't even gonna say that I found my style or sound yet because I'm still liable to switch it up. When I go into the booth, depending on the beat, I could come up with something different.
Is there something that you'd ever wanna be other than a musician?
I never wanted to be a musician either. It just happened. Not like I didn't want to be, I just wasn't a musician. It's like you didn't play basketball, people can't be like, Why didn't you play basketball? You just didn't play basketball.
What got you into the music then?
Different people around me saw something that I didn't see or whatever the case may be, so I just tried it on some trying some shit. I already had a wave in Atlanta on a street tip, so I just tried it and, when I did, it took off from there and now here we are today.
“My next tape gonna be harder than this one because I’m still new in music period. I’m not nowhere near where I’m gonna be.”
Culturally, the center of rap music has shifted to Atlanta in your lifetime. What was it like growing up in that?
I ain't really catch the switch because I was living in it. It's not really any weird feeling or nothing because it's normal. It ain't like I moved to Atlanta and got in. I just be doing my everyday things.
Atlanta became one of the biggest sources of music, and now I'm becoming one of the biggest sources in Atlanta.
How did you first link up with QC?
Well, I was already running with Pee [Pierre Thomas] before it was even QC. Used to be at 1479, the little studio before the Migos came, and when the Migos came around, I always been around on a family type thing, but I never wanted to rap. When I started rapping, QC was already where QC is, and I already was a part of it.
You've been labeled as the leader of the new school in Atlanta, and in rap generally. Do you feel a responsibility to carry that?
As far as Atlanta, I'd say that, but as far as the whole game, I can't even declare that. Hopefully, I can say that when it makes sense to. I can't say that when his album sold more than mine, or he streamed more than me, but hopefully real soon it'll be a fact though.
You have a song with Gunna on all your projects, including on Harder Than Ever. Tell me about y'all's relationship, and how does it feel coming up alongside him?
It feels good, it definitely good now that he's taking off too though. At first I was really taking off by myself and he wasn't really taking off. He helped me since I been rapping so I been wanting him to blow forever. I wanted him to be heard, I'm a fan of him. We got a real bond, not like a rap bond. We cool on a whole other note, not even on no rap.
How did the recent Drake collab “Yes Indeed” come about?
Me and Drake first met a long time ago, but we established in 2018 that we were gonna make it happen. We just kicked it, chopped it up or whatever, then he sent me a song. I got on the song and he actually sent it back to let me have it.
I heard that you lost $200,000 to Gucci Mane in dice.
Yeah I did, I never told the full story though; I won that shit back the next day. I wasn't getting no money rappin' [then] but I had a mixtape out. I was getting legit money already though at that point.
How does it feel now that all your money is legit?
I just save my money, man. I don't even try to enjoy it like these other rappers; they having fun and they lit, but they gon' be broke later on. I be savin', I be chillin’. It feels good to know I got it, but it feel better to know I'ma keep it too.