For those outside a certain rap/age demographic, don’t worry: Most everyone at the sold-out Franklin Music Hall hadn’t heard of DaBaby before this year, either.
The 27-year-old rapper from Charlotte, N.C., with the hilariously untrustworthy grin blew up quickly even by internet standards, first with slapstick-filled, Eminem-style videos from last December’s excellent Blank Blank mixtape. His major-label debut, Baby on Baby, bowed just three months later and scored him a Top 10 hit, “Suge,” which was propelled by another silly video. September’s Kirk marked his third album-shaped deliverable in under 12 months, and his first to top Billboard. He may be a goofball, but he doesn’t play around.
That’s why he started his own party with “Suge” on Saturday, in a huge, sparkling Kirk chain and neon jacket, flanked by two oversize, nightmarish babies, like car dealership inflatables come to life. Something about DaBaby’s rat-a-tat, Speedy Gonzalez flow is a throwback, and the echoes and booms of the packed venue rendered it incomprehensible, yet the crowd knew every syllable. This wasn’t lost on the headliner. “I wanna hear my new [songs] word for word!” he exclaimed before “Intro.” (This guy has a hit song called “Intro.”)
Prankster-ish bangers like “Baby Sitter,” “21,” and “Walker, Texas Ranger” are terse, sticky nuggets in themselves, but musically, he’s a high-quality assembly line. Where DaBaby’s an actual innovator is in his presentation, bringing his video team Reel Goats on tour and consequently, the theatrics of an awards-show performance to every stop. Not long into the set, the crowd was treated to sirens, gunshots, and chopper noises before everyone onstage was in orange jumpsuits with a prison backdrop on the screens behind them. “How long are you in for?” the star asked one cohort in character, betraying Lady Gaga-level ambitions.
At one point, the entertainers spent quite some time choosing female audience members to come onstage and emphasized several times that they needed to be “21 and up.” The DJ shouted, “Y’all ready for another movie?” confirming the show’s unique choose-your-own-adventure vibe. Thus, a full-fledged stripper pole was brought onstage for a brief production that found these sometimes-shirtless volunteers dancing on it. If only DaBaby songs weren’t shorter than the time it takes to sign a release form.
But his current single “Bop,” the penultimate tune of the evening, isn’t off the mark when he boasts “I got me a milli / I did it legitly.” A father himself, he didn’t just insist on age-appropriate burlesque but had the house lights come on when a woman passed out and called for some water.
Below the surface of DaBaby’s R-rated material lurks a firm allegiance to succeeding for the right reasons. That is, by proffering shrewd hits, prolific releases, and visuals that keep topping themselves (the video for “Bop” is a rap Broadway musical). Whereupon he signed off by performing “Suge” a second time.