DaBaby opened up his new album, KIRK, with a ruse of sorts. While the Charlotte artist rose to the forefront of hip hop this summer - and consequently, of mainstream music - he attracted accusations of being a one-trick pony. “All DaBaby songs sound the same” became a common chant. The archetypal DaBaby song features him delivering, with crystalline enunciation, playful boasts that eagerly hop from one 808 to the next. It also became a common understanding that most of his ostensible detractors were truly closeted fans. There was an undeniable charm to DaBaby’s music that obliged listeners to bop along. 

When DaBaby dropped KIRK’s “INTRO” as its first single, it scanned as an attempt to shut people up. He didn’t return with the uncontainable cheer that characterized past tracks. While this tone certainly wouldn’t have been suitable for a song detailing the loss of his father in March, “INTRO” also showed that he was willing to take on another breed of beat. Another meme spawned by previous DaBaby releases referenced how he leaves instrumentals no room to breathe before he starts running around them, shouting his rhymes. Any build-up is quickly and abruptly interrupted by a beat drop. DaBaby raps from the moment “INTRO” begins, but the drums only come in 20 seconds later. This move eschewed a pattern in his discography. For the first 20 seconds, DaBaby is rapping with as much verve as ever, but he’s solely cushioned by vocal harmonies with a fuzzy softness to them. His commitment to unfolding a narrative on this song is also rather rare. Overall, the subdued nature of the song is what made it come across as if DaBaby was pushing his report card in front of your nose, proving that he is capable of getting A’s in multiple subjects. 

The ruse arises when the reflective intro sluggishly fades out and DaBaby jumps in with “OFF THE RIP.” DaBaby’s flow immediately starts bouncing on the drums like the Pixar lamp after doing a line. The first bar self-referentially addresses those who joke about the early timestamps at which DaBaby chooses to start spitting in his songs. “Straight off the rip, you know I don’t wait for the drop.” From there, it’s off to the races. DaBaby plows through the 2-minute track with the momentum of a Mack Truck. “INTRO” was DaBaby throwing a dog a bone before excitedly returning to what he prefers to do and, arguably, what he does best. 

“BOP” and “VIBEZ” are just as ebullient and ferocious as “OFF THE RIP,” the initiator of the madness. “BOP” sees DaBaby breaking the fourth wall once again. “Ay, when you gon’ switch the flow? I thought you’d never ask,” he says, enacting a conversation with his critics. He taunts them and then proceeds with the same flow. This quip serves as a way for DaBaby to clarify that, even if it may seem that he’s reacting to the attention and input of others, he’s really the one writing the script. By appropriating the chirps of the masses, he gets to play both sides. How are you going to mock him for going mainstream when he dedicates a whole song on his project to launching the same critique at himself? The hook for “POP STAR” opens with, “They prolly tell you I went Pop / Until a n**** play with me and he get popped / I’m on front row at BET without my Glock.” Why carry when you have already disarmed your opponents? He can consecutively hop on Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,”Post Malone’s “Enemies” and Lil Nas X’s “Panini” - three of the biggest pop songs by the three of the biggest pop artists right now - and still shrug off any claims that he’s selling out. 

In fact, he’s so confident that he’s in control of his trajectory that he’ll even follow his plea that he hasn’t gone pop with the poppiest song on the album, “GOSPEL.” DaBaby gives his most sing-songy chorus to date, backed by bright piano chords and YK Osiris’ nasally R&B-runs. “GOSPEL” is definitely out of place on KIRK, but it will satisfy a certain demographic and rake in streams and DaBaby has no shame in that. Next song. 

In the middle of the record, you encounter a slew of features that, at times, impede DaBaby’s hard-to-match energy. While Kenny Beats lends his impressive drumwork to “TOES,” and both Lil Baby and Moneybagg Yo offer stellar verses, the final product comes out somewhat stale. DaBaby may be strongest when he’s sprinting to the finish line on his own and doesn’t have to maneuver the passing of a baton. However, his collaboration with Nicki Minaj, “iPHONE,” evades this potential trouble. Their tones complement each other nicely and Nicki provides a verse that incorporates all her signature elements in their strongest forms. DaBaby pens a hook that is fun and infectious enough that this song could have sufficiently substituted “GOSPEL” as the album’s poppy contribution. 

When DaBaby reclaims the reins on the backend of KIRK, he prospers. There’s space for his big-headedness to inflate and consume a track whole. Over the rumbling thumps of “PROLLY HEARD,” DaBaby swaggers with lines like, “Gucci Mane in 06, swing my door” and “Gotta give me six figures to go out.” In the chorus, he emphasizes that he has the luxury of choice, which could be considered as the overarching theme of the album (if you feel inclined to pinpoint one). Similar to how it is solely up to him whether he is going to feed fans’ curiosities by switching up his flows or his sound, his options aren't limited in the realm of women. “These bitches be waitin’ in line after shows / I don’t want fuck with her, let my bro hit her.” It’s crucial to the appeal of DaBaby that he remains unfazed by all predicaments, as unwavering as the wide grin that he perpetually wears. His slightly villainous, yet immensely likeable, persona reaches a peak and finds its theme music on “THERE HE GO.” He continues his nasty braggadocio, matching London On Da Track’s menacing instrumental. 

After DaBaby shared a video of himself hyperactively dancing to “VIBEZ,” a tweet went viral that reposted it with the comment: “I feel bad for everyone who babysat him. I just know they were stressed.” In ways other than his cherubic face, DaBaby resembles an unruly child. His dynamism and desires threaten to knock over anything in his path. His attitude and self-assurance cannot be mitigated by any judgement or reprimand. He’ll keep doing what he wants, even if that happens to be repeatedly making the same song, because he knows that we can’t help but come along for the ride anyway. It’s all too enthralling not too.