Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana
I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, I confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washed-ness.
Snoop Dogg’s emergence as a household name in the early ’90s was a watershed moment: Not only did it mark the arrival of one of music’s most resilient and long-lasting stars, but it created a line of demarcation between generations. And it was all in the name. Raise your hand if you had a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, or Bill Cosby in your life intentionally butcher the rapper’s name to make a point about That Damn Rap Music.
I don’t even have to look; I can guarantee your hand is up. At some point, someone in your life said — with equal parts disbelief, disdain, and ridicule — that you listen to too much “Snoop Doggy Doo-Doo” or “Snoopy Doo” or “Scooby Doo” or “Hot Diggity Dog” or… you get the picture. It was like a reflex for older folks to clown this crazy-looking rapper with the cartoonish name.
Thirty years later, I’ve got some bad news for you: Now you are that uncle.
Don’t believe me? Raise your hand if you’ve ever made up a rap name to mock someone younger than you. You’ve probably said “Lil Tink Tink” or “Yung Shea Butter” or something that was somehow even cornier than when your elders made fun of Snoop. Sure, there are rappers with Lil and Yung in their names, even hieroglyphics and emoji and — shit, now I’m doing it. But that’s besides the point! Name mockery is just the most obvious symptom of the generational anxiety fueling old-head criticism of new-school rap.
“This is a bridge too far!” groaned Injured While Getting Out of Bed Twitter, likely while trying on oversized Avirex jackets or stuffing licorice root into their JanSport backpacks.
Critiquing millennial rappers and their names had its pinnacle moment sometime in early 2019, when Charlotte’s DaBaby and Atlanta’s Lil Baby became rap sensations right around the same time. “Two rappers with ‘Baby’ in their name? This is a bridge too far!” groaned Injured While Getting Out of Bed Twitter, likely while trying on oversized Avirex jackets or stuffing licorice root into their JanSport backpacks.
I’ve spoken to more than a few people my age who say things like “I’m not listening to no damn rapper named DaBaby” — while forgetting the fact that they bumped Baby, Big Baby Jesus, and Da Bush Babees. (Not to mention names like Fu-Schnickens, Yaggfu Front, and Saafir the Saucee Nomad.) But here’s the tough truth we have to realize: Both “Baby” rappers are fucking incredible, and your misguided gatekeeper-ass B-boy stance only means you miss out on some truly enjoyable cultural moments.
Let’s start with DaBaby, the Charlotte native with the ASMR voice who was 2019’s undeniable MVP and Rookie of the Year. He should be easy enough for you to get into given that he’s 1) understandable and 2) has a flow that can stand toe-to-toe with any rapper out right now.
Just look at him eating up this track with J. Cole:
Admit it: That’s some rapping-ass rapping. Add to that the fact that DaBaby is charismatic as hell, even live — check his recent SNL performance — and you’ve got potential for a long career, assuming he can stop beating people up in public long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
The other “baby” rapper, Lil Baby, is more emblematic of the new sound of rap your old ass seems to hate. The sound that, for the past 10 years or so, has been not-so-affectionately labeled “mumble rap” — when one syllable collides with the next until each sentence is just a human centipede of phonemes.
Lil Baby and his ilk aren’t really there for the words though; at least not in the way you spherical-lyrical-miracle types think about it. It’s about the melodies, the union between harmony and the beat. If you want verbal dexterity you can nod your head to, listen to GZA in the car. But if you’ve had a few drinks and want something loud and fun, Lil Baby may be the one. He’s responsible for the infectious monster of a single, “Drip Too Hard.” The song slaps. Seriously: You have to try really hard not to not like it.
Sadly, trying hard not to like it is actually a phenomenon I’ve encountered multiple times while encouraging people my age and older to give the new generation a chance. Young Thug is one of the most creative artists out, constantly experimenting with sounds, cadences, and metaphors. Roddy Ricch is a straight-up hitmaker. Migos are fun as hell. Rae Sremmurd’s Sremmlife is a legitimate classic album. People who refuse to listen to these artists because they don’t fit what they consider to be “real” music are missing out on something special. What’s the point of actively avoiding something you may enjoy?
If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but that decision should be about what hits your ears, not what you think fits into the box you’ve created or the self-image no one else cares about. Today’s kids — the ones who are just like you were then — are looking to these artists because of a connection. We can be better than some of our parents were and embrace what they love instead of ridiculing them for it.
Remember how dope it was when you broke your parents down and got them to like a song or album you liked? Remember the way that music brought you together? Remember feeling seen? We can do that without yelling about this generation’s “Snoop Diggity Dogg.” You may end up liking what you hear.
So are you too old for rappers with “Baby” in their names? Or rappers named Lil Uzi Vert, or rappers who you don’t always understand? No, of course not. Just make sure you don’t pull a muscle trying to hit the woah while you listen.