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Lil Baby coasts along his lengthy third studio album, aware of his prodigious status but rarely backing it up like he has in the past.

Atlanta’s continued to lead the wave of the latest big rap-stars. At the apex has been Lil Baby, nurtured under the parallel wings of Young Thug and Quality Control Music, justifying his cosigns along the way. Catchy trap hits seared through projects Harder Than Ever, Drip Harder and Street Gossip, all three released in 2018 alone. That output set him up perfectly for 2020’s My Turn, a quadruple-platinum certified album home to some of the biggest rap songs of recent years. This time round, there’s a base to brag; his latest album’s cover plays on the online Mount Rushmore debates in hip hop communities, featuring Lil Baby’s face four times from a child to adult. In his humble opinion, the all-time status is all but secured.

With those bold claims in mind, the Atlantan leaves more to be desired. It’s Only Me finds Lil Baby switching between first and second gear, coasting through familiar trap beats without the stamp of hits.

Photography: Carlos “Kaito” Araujo

It’s Only Me finds consistency in familiarity. Everything on offer is passable and playable, making for an album that’s hard to hate and tough to praise. Signature producer Quay Global is absent from the entire album, leaving beat duty with the likes of newcomers G1, Kaigoinkrazy, and the seasoned Tay Keith, ATL Jacob and Murda Beatz. It doesn’t leave the album with much killer production, resulting in coasting performances by Baby that are indistinguishable. “Stand on It” and “Danger” use the muddy Tee Grizzley bass in identical fashion, though it is the latter attempt that goes off better. Plenty beats elsewhere lack no melody to surround the trap percussion, an issue that plagues the second half of the 23-track album (“FR”, “Shiest Talk”, “Stop Playin”, “Back and Forth”).

It’s Only Me offers some decent material amongst the crowd. Though it’s surprising how much the braver cuts leave a weak impression. “Pop Out” with Nardo Wick starts off typical but grabs ears with its abrupt beat switch and Nardo’s whispered threats. But the impact wears off after just a few listens. The same is the case for other tracks that reach for that alarming attitude. “From Now On” with Future is a mid-tempo offering that finds a total disconnect between the two rappers, while urgent, tired keys are found across “Not Finished”, “Everything” and “Heyy”.

Instead, Baby opts for mellow trap ballads, which end up being the better & more distinguishable cuts. “California Breeze” is as peaceful as its name suggests, nailing a calming sample and a memorable hook—the main ingredient missing from the majority of It’s Only Me. “No Fly Zone” and “Russian Roulette” share the same properties, far from being career bests but doing enough to stand out amongst an album of filler.

Ironically, with the album title in mind, the guest appearances do not earn their welcome. Familiar faces turn up for verses; Future, Young Thug, EST Gee, Pooh Shiesty and the aforementioned Nardo Wick. Aside from Nardo Wick and newcomer Fridayy, nobody’s performance is instrumental to the song’s enjoyment. It’s also concerning how Baby couldn’t grab better names that he’s already worked with; J. Cole, Travis Scott, or any of the popping female rappers could’ve easily added a thicker dynamic.

Baby and his style can get away with cruising through a track. It’s essentially the appeal of midtempo, trap trench baby tales. But there needs to be a handful of hits to surround the fodder. It’s Only Me is an album chock full of album cuts, possessing zero to no star power in its best tracks. The album rollout proves Lil Baby was struggling to work out his lead singles and tracklist, dropping enjoyable singles such as “Right On”, “Frozen” and “Detox”, but ultimately omitting them from the final product. The only single from the pack that was included is “In a Minute”, and is unsurprisingly the best song on the album. Instead, Baby’s team opted to go for the awkward half-hit “Heyy”. In the era where you’d like every stream to count, it’s perplexing how they would throw away a combined 120 million streams (on Spotify alone).

In the end, the choices on It’s Only Me are to the cost of making a serious wave, coasting through pleasant but routine tunes that are grade below expectations. If Lil Baby truly feels that he’s in a league of his own, it was predictable to remain in his safe zone.

6 / 10

Best tracks: “In a Minute”, “California Breeze”, “Danger”, “No Fly Zone”, “Russian Roulette”