By the time Lil Baby releases his next album, he’ll most likely be 30 years old with nearly a decade worth of experience in the rap game under his belt. What’s left of his youthful exuberance will most likely be gone and replaced with aging wisdom. He may even dim his flashy and braggadocious demeanor just a bit as he approaches somewhat of an elder statesman status. It’s something we saw with Schoolboy Q as he transitioned from Oxymoron to Blank Face to Crash Talk. The accuracy behind this forecast for Lil Baby remains to be seen, but on his newly released third album It’s Only Me, he arrives as an approaching rap veteran who long settled into his position as one of hip-hop’s most sought-after names.
Lil Baby secured that position in 2020 with the release of My Turn. His chart-topping sophomore album begins with the Atlanta native as aggressive as ever. Baby races against the beat on “Get Ugly” while he foreshadows the downfall of his opposers in sinister quips. The opening of My Turn schemed for chaos too much for it to be only grand and triumphant, and it sought to warn of Baby’s entrance as much as it signaled the beginning of new times for past crown bearers. Two years later, “Real Spill” kicks off It’s Only Me with a reflective, rather than aspirational Lil Baby. Timid production with a pitched-up sample of Sade’s “The Big Unknown” injects a pinch of emotion that weaves itself into Lil Baby’s account of his successful lifestyle, one he painfully worked hard for. “You can say whatever but if I change it’s for the better,” he professes. “That sh*t was painful but I ain’t let up, I left a stain in the ghetto.” He ends the second verse with an honest reaction toward these riches. “I bust out cryin’ and I wasn’t sad, it’s just a little feelin’ you get when you make it.”
With It’s Only Me, Lil Baby swaps his flair and flash – the qualities that made My Turn and his other projects magnetizing for the eye and infectious to the ear – for polished precision. Close-minded to any disagreements with his third album’s title, Lil Baby just wants you to listen to every word he’s saying. Following the moment of reflection on “Real Spill,” Baby uses his next at-bat, “Stand On It,” to animate the morals and values that serve as chisels in constructing the man he is today. Records like “California Breeze” and “Waterfall Flow” work to capture Baby’s carefree approach nowadays as both songs come as a result of his present-day comfort. Sure, the grind continues, but the hustle of yesterday allows for a moment to enjoy an exotic destination away from home. So as “California Breeze” soaks in the coastal sun and as “Waterfall Flow” graciously absorbs the dazzling lights of a new city, it becomes more and more clear that Baby is content with his shine so long as it comes.
Let it be known that despite it being a more timid body of work, It’s Only Me is far from boring or uneventful. For starters, guest acts splattered throughout the project provide little jolts of energy that perk the ear up. Lil Baby and Future are a mischievous duo on the prowl on “From Now On” while Young Thug, a voice we haven’t heard something new from in months, opts to match Lil Baby’s militant stature on “Never Hating.” Lil Baby and Rylo Rodriguez’s “Cost To Be Alive” joins the growing list of strong collaborations between the two rappers and the album’s most unique moment comes earlier on “Forever.” It bleeds with emotion, thanks to a haunting hook from singer Fridayy and verses from Baby that pour out his heartbreak to linger like the song’s thundering bass that rattles between the ears for prolonged periods. That record strikes as a much better attempt at speaking about love than the Jeremih-featured “Stop Playin” which would’ve been much better if Baby approached it on his own like the 2018 fan-favorite “Close Friends.” That slip-up is made up for through solo entries like the high-octane “Never Finished,” the reinforcing “Double Down,” and “Top Priority” which rests on a penthouse floor above the clouds.
For Lil Baby, It’s Only Me seems to be the result of peace and a more settled lifestyle. The Atlanta star doesn’t have to scrap and fight for his position and respect because he’s already earned it. We can’t fault him for taking his foot off the gas to enjoy the view up in the hills or by the coast. Hustle culture may tell you otherwise, but there are days when one can pause the work and rest their feet. The flash and flair of My Turn and Harder Than Ever are certainly missed this time around, but there’s still promise that it’ll be back at a future date. The reduced spectacle and glamour of his third album don’t necessarily result in a bad project. As mentioned, there are plenty of pockets to enjoy from top to bottom. However, the change in speed does result in less memorable moments compared to his last two albums and we can only hope they make a return the next go around.
It’s Only Me is out now via Quality Control Music/Motown Records. You can stream it here.