On his 2020 album My Turn, Lil Baby embodied a heavyweight boxer the night before his title shot. But his latest, It’s Only Me, is the championship defense against some dude they pulled off the street to lose. While his rapping was hungry then, now he’s extremely comfortable. It makes sense: As it stands, Lil Baby is one of the biggest rappers on Earth. He’s got commercials, a Budweiser World Cup theme, a major look in a new book about Atlanta rap history, and a whole ass documentary about his life at 27 years old. In that film, Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby, which came out this summer, the story is more about his popularity than the music itself. When it was time to talk about My Turn, they might as well have had the director turn the camera on himself, shrug, and say, “Hey, it’s a Lil Baby album and people really liked it. I don’t know what else to tell you.” That way of thinking feels ingrained in It’s Only Me, as if all Lil Baby had to do was show up and rap. Nobody will care about the missing subtleties, right?
But those nuances do matter. One of Baby’s gifts is the way he can manipulate language with his voice, turning a forgettable line into words to live by, depending on how intensely, passively, or melodically he raps. This isn’t a Jack Harlow situation, where folks are more into the idea that he’s a good hang, rather than how effective the songs are. The nuts and bolts of the singsongy rhythms matter. Lil Baby is at his best when he’s using those tricks to switch between moods, but there’s just one on It’s Only Me, and it’s indifference: not in the too-cool-to-care kind of way, but in the way when words have no weight behind them. On “From Now On,” his bar about buying too many houses stands out solely because it’s a wild problem to have, but it’s not tied to any emotion. This happens a lot across the record: He gloats about dinner with Kris Jenner on the intro, or about blowing a bag on new veneers on “Everything.” He doesn’t seem to be trying all that hard, and ends up sounding as hollow as when Tracy Morgan’s 30 Rock character did a stand-up routine about how people eat their lobster in St. Barts.