In a viral video from 2017, a rapper named DaBaby wears a gigantic diaper — very on brand. He's shirtless, a towel over his head and Air Jordan 9s on his feet, scrolling his phone with a double cup in his hands. His entourage all wear shirts with a baby on them while South by Southwest attendees walk nearby. DaBaby turns to the camera, grinning at the ingenuity of his name. "DaBaby, DaBaby, DaBaby, DaBaby," he chants before returning to sipping his cup.
At the time, this moment was the headline and the punchline: a rapper, wearing a diaper, is demanding attention. But now, DaBaby — whose sophomore album Kirk debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last month — has it, and not because of the diaper. Instead, his charisma, looks, personality, and so much more that have made him one of rap's brightest stars in 2019.
This year, DaBaby's seen 20 songs chart on the Billboard Hot 100. He's making reportedly six figures per feature — he's racked up dozens of them, including on tracks with Post Malone and Gucci Mane as well as remixes with Lizzo and Lil Nas X — and he's become perhaps the most prominent face of XXL's Freshman Class of 2019. You may know him from "Suge," the perky and reckless platinum single from his debut studio album. It came with a hilarious video that channeled the comedic genius of both Ludacris and Busta Rhymes. But the music itself carries so much of what makes DaBaby a magnetic figure.
DaBaby's high-octane brand of rap radiates confidence. His style feels like he's telling jokes in a crowded high-school lunchroom, not letting laughs interrupt him as he hits punchline after punchline. Nowhere is this more visible (sonically and visually) than in the video for "Vibez," where he smirks while screaming the verse as ladies attempt to rip him to shreds so that they can all get a piece. His music is a reflection of him as a person, and it's easy to see why so many people have become fans.
Long before DaBaby’s music was floating down your timeline this year, you probably saw his face. The 27-year-old rapper frequently went somewhat viral for his perfectly symmetrical face, sharp jawline, and classically handsome appearance. Combine the fact that he wears clothes fitted to his muscular physique, is always groomed with a small mustache and goatee to maintain a youthful appearance (he also revealed that he just can't grow a beard) and is never seen without a fresh haircut, and you have a winning recipe for visual marketability.
"DaBaby's physical appeal adds to his hype in the same manner teenage girls created mania in the 2000s for B2K and Bow Wow, building a fandom beyond the music," says freelance journalist and DaBaby stan DeMicia Inman. "The allure of him makes some fans want a chance with him and others want to adapt his mannerisms to build their own roster of hopeful romantics."
Looks aside, it's also important to see that he's been orchestrating this kind of takeover from the start. DaBaby started rapping in 2015 under the name Baby Jesus and released his first mixtape, Nonfiction. He abandoned the controversial name in 2017 around the time that he wore the diaper to SXSW. It was a wild look, but it worked: People started talking more about him, wondering who this wild guy was. In a recent interview with "The Breakfast Club," DaBaby called the stunt "premeditated" marketing and compared it to Tekashi 6ix9ine's rainbow-colored hair. It showed that he was cognizant of the current rap and viral climates and he knew how to navigate them. That would come into play as he continued his ascent.
Look at your timeline again. If you don't immediately see DaBaby, keep scrolling. Eventually, you'll likely find a video from popular video app Triller that depicts DaBaby dancing to one of his songs, showing off his teeth and, most likely, some confident and sexy moves. There's this one, where he waltzes around a hotel with his chains on, and this one, in which he dances around (also shirtless) with his kids. He's made Triller, which has been around since 2015, into a necessity for rising rappers looking to show off how much they like to have fun with their music.
Earlier this month, he collaborated with a social-media comedian Jeffrey Obenga, also known as Mufasa and Cousin Skeether, and walked and jumped across streets while sparking blunts and having a good time. It’s been constantly shared on newsfeeds since. "I did a funny dance video to his song two weeks before and he reposted it," Obenga says. "A few weeks later, I went to his meet and greet in D.C. and once he walked out, he recognized me from the video. He thanked me for making the video and told me how dope it was, then came up with an idea to do a video for his new song 'Bop.'"
Accessibility is at the heart of DaBaby's charisma. Because he's so open and honest with his portrayal of his character, it's easy to identify with. It's similar to the 2019 lightning strike of Megan Thee Stallion, who shows love to people she respects, communicates with fans through different social media channels, and shows she's also a goofball that can have fun. It's no wonder that the two have collaborated before — their team-up on "Cash Shit" shows how they can both stand on tables and control the sway of a party through demands and barking lyricism — and in a recent interview, DaBaby said that he'd love to make a joint album with Megan.
In the meantime, we have Kirk, an introspective album about having fun that distills DaBaby's entire appeal down to 13 songs. It's no accident that he's the focus of the room, in real life and through screens, whenever he enters. In this way, he really is like a baby — no diaper needed. You just can't look away.