No one has quite made a splash in the ever-shifting waters of the music industry the way DaBaby has. The first rapper to emerge out of North Carolina on a national level since J. Cole and Petey Pablo, DaBaby shot to the top of the rap stratosphere in just four short years. Even though he’s only been rapping since 2014, the 28-year-old’s talent has placed him among the upper echelon of rap’s new generation.
In 2019, he had his breakout moment with the release of his debut studio album, Baby on Baby, and his chart-topping smash hit, “Suge.” Sure enough, after the album dropped, DaBaby was on — and he hasn’t slowed down since. He nabbed a spot amongst XXL’s 2019 Freshman class, dropped off a steady stream of singles, including “Cash $hit” with Megan Thee Stallion, “Baby” with Lil Baby, and hopped on Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” remix, also appearing on J. Cole’s Dreamville flagship Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation album before returning with his sophomore effort, KIRK, all within the same year.
Just before the coronavirus pandemic has halted much of the music industry, DaBaby dropped his third album, Blame It on Baby, at the top of 2020. The project’s seventh track, “Rockstar” featuring Roddy Ricch, was an immediate hit, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
And now, DaBaby is joining the 2020 BET Awards in what will undoubtedly be a can’t-miss performance. The rapper is also up for four awards, including Album of the Year and Male Hip Hop Artist.
Get acquainted with the young CEO-in-the making ahead of his performance on Sunday (June 28). Here are 7 facts you should know about his career and ascent.
Before Jonathan Lyndale Kirk broke through on the mainstream level with his debut studio album, Baby on Baby, the rhymer used to go by the name of Baby Jesus when he was still on the come-up in North Carolina. On his 2016 mixtape, God’s Work: Resurrected, he revealed his new moniker on the tape’s intro, "DaBaby." He spoke to Rolling Stone about the name change in 2017, telling the publication he dropped the name because it had become too much of a “distraction” from his music.
Admittedly, the 28-year-old told XXL he spent much of youth caught up in the streets. Bored of the lifestyle, he traded it for rap because he saw it as a way to positively influence and inspire others.
“I was the one teaching people things, I just always had a way with my words and I always spoke with substance,” he explained. “I figured what better way to touch people and change people's lives than with music because a lot of the things that I listen to before I started rapping — I started rapping in 2014 — they were rapping about my actual life.”
Amid his rise, there were rumors that Roc Nation had expressed some interest in the “Suge” rapper. He confirmed that he inked some sort of deal with the label during an appearance on The Breakfast Club in March 2019, although it wasn’t for very long. Not long after, DaBaby parted ways from Roc Nation for undisclosed reasons. “For whatever reason, it was getting off to a slow start. We parted ways respectfully,” he revealed. Fortunately, fate worked out DaBaby’s favor as Interscope eventually came knocking in January 2019, and he’s been with the label ever since.
Amid DaBaby’s breakout 2019, there was some minor speculation cropped up over the rapper’s seeming bachelorhood after a yearbook photo of him surfaced online. During a separate appearance on The Breakfast Club in October that year, DaBaby cleared up the rumors, explaining one of his close friends from high school was in a yearbook class where the friend in question slid in the quote (“...my beautiful wife, Ashley Kirk”) in the book as a lighthearted prank. It later became an inside joke between the two, and still is to this day.
When Rolling Stone asked him his top pick for who would play him in a biopic, DaBaby couldn’t imagine anyone else but Denzel Washington, “Might need Denzel to go back in a time machine,” he joked to the publication.
Although he ultimately dropped out of college, DaBaby credited those years as being a turning point in his life that inspired him to get his act together. “It had me in a different environment,” DaBaby told Rolling Stone. “It was something I had to adapt to. At first, I’m like, ‘What the f**k am I doing here?’ I did what I did for two years, and then I went back to the city. I came back a grown man.”
The 28-year-old recounted the tale on The Breakfast Club. He had just signed a record deal and was waiting for his advance to clear in his bank account. “I asked [my label], ‘It's been two to three weeks. Where that check at?’ I want to know it’s there. I want to know if I’m really living like that. I don’t want to record no more. I’m tired of this and broke as hell spending all this money on flights and stuff. [They] was like ‘It’s in there.’ I was like ‘Why you ain’t tell me?’ I pull up at the ATM...I’m downplaying it in case it ain’t there,” DaBaby hilariously recollected. Sure enough, the money was there and DaBaby immediately went to the studio that night and recorded “Suge.”
Be sure to tune in for the BET Awards on Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.
(Photo by Liliane Lathan/Getty Images for BET)