Lil Baby & Gunna set the benchmark for luxury-rap with "Drip Harder."
Lil Baby & Gunna’s Drip Harder comes to us on the eve of a broader discussion. The question that persists: did the labelmates lend enough support to Young Thug’s brash prediction of a YSL takeover? When the outspoken Young Thug drove a discussion on his likeness to Michael Jackson into strange territory, we all emitted a laugh; no love was lost. Would Lil Baby & Gunna inherit the same "game, set and match" mentality which is both a gift and a curse to their mentor?
On Drip Harder, Lil Baby & Gunna were restitute, unyielding, and confident -- they sampled from their own cupboard, staying risk averse in the process. In some respects, the album should be viewed cynically, like an oil and vinegar mixture. But the longer you stare into the painting the more you become transfixed, for there are at least a half-dozen moments Lil Baby & Gunna employ otherworldly chemistry, and that doesn't account for the equally distributed solo experiments on Drip Harder: "Deep End" and "Close Friends" for "Baby," and "Style Stealer" and World Is Yours" for Gunna. "Close Friends," in particular gives Lil Baby a definable character set which he sometimes lacks -- given special authority by the acknowledgment of a "Close Friendship" consummately inspired by Young Thug's own musings on the subject.
Gunna and Baby were right to assume they'd outgrown their stature, not the least because they lack in support from Thugger remains an explicit source of faith -- He knows, in particular, how to sequence the batting order at YSL, and rarely imposes himself unless he's emphatically needed.
And thus, on Drip Harder, Thugger encourages his pupils from afar, allowing Turbo the opportunity to stake his unofficial claim as the third member of the Drip Harder outfit. For reasons that go uncredited far too often, Turbo's chord inflections are consistent; they denote a nuclear strength within the group but in some instances, they do contribute to an unsustainable pace.
Celebrating Turbo The Great as the unsung hero/producer on Drip Harder understates his commitment to the cause. Without Run Dat Back Turbo ascribed to the project, Lil Baby would be stuck shoveling snow. Turbo's "executive producer" role kind feels like a graveyard shift of sorts, in view of the fact post-production is largely overlooked in other sections of the industry. Lil Baby owes much of his arpeggiated style to his residency under Turbo, which by no coincidence at all, bore him 2018's breakout album Harder Than Ever.
Gunna is undeniably different. On Drip Harder, he finds himself on the cusp of a heel-turn, in parts incomprehensible due to a mellow, even tender speaking voice. I do find the juxtaposition of the mellow diffidence and the brash "rich guy" talk rather amusing. Gunna is evidently of two minds when it comes to the level of immersion put towards this lifestyle. I'd say he even approaches his craft with the susceptibility of a waterbug, though I can't possibly say I know him from the mask he wears in public.
Gunna settles into a deadset gaze when he raps, "I left 'em a trace, I drip when I walk," on "World Is Yours," only makes by a revolving door of interests, I won't commit to narcissism, for I fear taking the role of a rapper is loaded with insecurities: primarily the fear of being or sleeping alone. Drip Harder is in all likelihood, more tailored to Lil Baby's strengths, though Gunna maintains a fifty percent interest on all fronts. Lil Baby's predilection towards on branding himself is perhaps the greatest act of service he offers his counterpart, as Gunna goes about his duties like an inpatient in the midst of a sleepless remission.
Before starting up Drip Harder a first time, I made a concerted effort to reset all the mental biases I'd picked up by growing enamored with the album's lead single "Drip Too Hard." I feared my obsession with the song would tamper with objectivity come deadline day. To be fair, my expectation that Gunna and Lil Baby would sustain a Yin-Yang model of confluence over the whole album was perhaps extremely foolish in hindsight. Then again, Lil Baby's readiness to assume greater responsibility on the project more than makes up for any of its deficiencies. Therefore, Drip Harder did prolong what I do believe is a benchmark they will surpass rather easily, at a later time.
Notice how on Drip Harder, the coveted Drake collaboration was singled out as the closing number, resulting in an oddly misshapen ending. Gunna and Lil Baby would have been better served relocating the "unwanted traveler" someplace else, even if it meant kicking him off the short end of the ledge. As a groupable entity, Lil Baby & Gunna have done enough to cement themselves the coveted position implied by their actions/posturing. More importantly, Drip Harder, a presumed team-building exercise, has ironically given rise to an even greater sense of autonomy within the group, for Lil Baby in particular. It's hard to believe that wasn't their intention all along.