On the hook of the song “Pop Star,” DaBaby raps, “They probably tell you I went pop,” while subsequently asserting that, although he’s become much more famous, he remains fundamentally the same.
Given where DaBaby was at this time last year, and considering his recent appearances and collaborations on songs with Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, Post Malone, Nicki Minaj, Lizzo, Migos, and Gucci Mane, it’s plain to see his ascent from a relatively regional name to a mainstream hip-hop sensation in a matter of months.
The 27-year-old North Carolina rapper and recent XXL Freshman has been ringing bells around the hiphopsphere as one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the newest wave of New School rappers — a class which includes fellow XXL Freshmen like Megan Thee Stallion, YBN Cordae, and Rico Nasty.
DaBaby’s energy, charisma, sense of humor, and instantly-recognizable style have been frequent points of reference, earning him an ever-growing fanbase and hype from around the industry. Coincidentally, his style has also drawn criticism from those who view his artistry as one-dimensional and repetitive; however, credit has to be given to him for at least cultivating a brand that is distinguishable and identifiable — which cannot be said for a myriad of other trapstars coming up alongside him.
Still, adaptability and progress have always been important ingredients for rapper longevity, and from the onset it seemed as though DaBaby was attempting to switch some things up for his first post-XXL release. His Cypher verse (which he included on this project as the closing track “XXL”), as well as the first single/introductory track “Intro,” showed the Charlotte, NC native pivoting towards more personal content and storytelling. The album’s cover art — an old picture of the rapper as an infant being held by his late father — and the title — Kirk, which is the rapper’s surname — seemed to suggest that DaBaby was moving in an introspective direction.
Unfortunately, those moments proved to be merely marketing, as Kirk is mostly just a retread of the same formula he has employed on his previous work.
DaBaby’s blistering flow and energy remain his bread and butter, but his latest album suffers from sounding too similar to his Baby on Baby album that he just released this past March; in many cases, Kirk sounds like the B-sides record, or a store-brand knockoff, of that album. “Off Rip” is a rehash of the hit song “Suge.” “Bop” sounds like a diet version of “Goin Baby.” “Prolly Heard” sounds like he couldn’t decide which of those songs to imitate and ended up combining them both.
And even though he still churns out decent performances on these songs, the fact that so much of Kirk, save for maybe “Gospel,” sounds like lesser versions of ideas he’s already fleshed out in the past — from the flows and subject matter to the tempo and drum patterns — calls into question the vitality and overall necessity of this album.
Looking back to the song “Under the Sun” from the recent Dreamville album Revenge of the Dreamers III, we can see just how exciting a DaBaby performance can be when his contagious energy and scorching flow are matched with an equally intriguing beat. He might benefit from expanding his horizons — maybe collaborating with various producers outside of his circle that can supplement his talent with something a little more fleshed out and a lot less reliant on the same 808 sound kit.
But yeah, even though DaBaby’s “gone pop,” he hasn’t really changed at all. Unfortunately, if he wants to “stay pop,” he’s gonna have to.