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Lil Baby Eyes His Legacy: 'My Life Feels Like a Responsibility'

Hit singles made Lil Baby a star. Community outreach made him a hero. As he grows his business, the onetime Atlanta hustler is still putting in the work.

8/3/2021 5:07:00 PM

Hit singles and high-profile collaborations made LilBaby4PF a star. Community outreach made him a hero. As he grows his business, the onetime Atlanta hustler is still putting in the work and eyeing his legacy. Read the BBPowerPlayers cover story here:

Hit singles made Lil Baby a star. Community outreach made him a hero. As he grows his business, the onetime Atlanta hustler is still putting in the work.

AB+DMPolo Ralph Lauren T-shirt, AMIRI jacket and pants.Baby’s eye for talent isn’t based on whether the music sounds polished or not — he prides himself on building personal relationships with his artists and judging authenticity before moving forward with them on the business front. “Most of the people that I sign come from my walk of life,” he says. “I got to feel your vibe because I ain’t on no ‘studio rapper’ s--t.”

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His early wins as an executive haven’t gone unnoticed. In July, Motown Records agreed to a label partnership with 4PF, giving Baby the freedom to sign, develop and launch the careers of a new generation of creative artists. “I look at him, and I think a lot about JAY-Z and the way Jay put out music on a consistent basis at the beginning of his career,” says Motown Records chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam. “Seeing where he came from — quiet in the back, but really pulling all the strings and making all the business moves and decisions — there’s a lot of similarities there.”

And much like with JAY-Z, Baby’s business acumen has impressed executives outside the music industry as well, including billionaire and Philadelphia 76ers partner Michael Rubin, who recently invited the rapper to perform at his Fourth of July party on Long Island. The two men have built a friendship based on their shared love of music and business, and Baby has taken a special interest in Rubin’s REFORM Alliance initiative, which focuses on criminal justice reform. Co-founders JAY-Z and Meek Mill have landed major victories for the organization, most notably in 2020 when they got California Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign into law AB 1950, a bill that will limit adult probation sentence maximums to one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies. headtopics.com

“[Baby] is always asking the right questions and looking for new opportunities to learn and expand his skill set,” says Rubin. “I truly believe that he has the potential to make a meaningful impact on our world — way beyond the music industry — and become a leader for the next generation.”

AB+DMLil Baby photographed on July 15, 2021 at Ambient + Studio in Atlanta.According to Thomas, Baby’s rhymes about social change resonate because they’re grounded in personal experience. A song like “The Bigger Picture” doesn’t speak about the need for police reform from a removed perspective; in the opening verse, Baby recounts how his own mother was devastated when police told her that her son wasn’t leaving his jail cell. “None of us are trust-fund babies,” says Thomas. “There’s a lot of opportunities out there, but in the Black community, it still is what it is. You have to be from here and understand this culture we come from. And [Baby’s] the real definition of what Atlanta is and what it is to be a Black man making it out.”

Baby’s origins remain his badge of honor, not just in the studio but in the boardroom. “I maintain all the street principles: You got to give respect to get respect,” he says. “My grandma used to tell me, ‘You’re a first-class citizen.’ I know in these rooms they assume for me to be a thug or a rapper. But I’m going in as a first-class citizen.”

“Le Baby! Le Baby!”In June, Lil Baby was in Paris, hanging out with NBA superstar James Harden during Fashion Week, when paparazzi surrounded the two as they were leaving their hotel. The yells of one particularly enthusiastic reporterbecame viral gold headtopics.com

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as a frazzled Baby delivered a half-hearted smile before heading out with Harden.But the trip wasn’t all lighthearted social media fodder. Baby was arrested while in Paris and taken into police custody on charges of carrying marijuana. (He was released the same day and ordered to pay a fine.) “The whole Paris experience let me know I got to get bigger overseas,” he says matter-of-factly. “Not saying to not go to jail for breaking the law, but for the police to know who I am.”

Lil Baby: Photos From The Billboard Cover ShootParisian police may not have recognized him, but the 14,000-plus fans who attended his concerts during his stay in Europe certainly did. Though he admits to not rehearsing often over the course of the pandemic, Baby received an adrenaline rush after performing overseas in July every night. He’s looking forward to fine-tuning his stage show once he launches the Back Outside Tour with Lil Durk, beginning in September, but he’ll get some practice this summer, as a headliner at the 10th annual Made in America Festival and also as a top-line performer at Rolling Loud in New York and Los Angeles. “I’m going to be better prepared for the tour,” says Baby confidently. “Right now, my goal is to make my show the craziest s--t on Earth. Like Rolling Loud, I’m trying to make my sets crazy. What else would I be doing — vacation?” At Rolling Loud Miami in July, Baby prioritized the 4PF brand, bringing out Rodriguez and 42 Dugg to assist on different tracks.

Meanwhile, he’s also piecing together his as-yet-untitled third solo album, for which he’s making one key change to his previous creative process: writing out his lyrics, after previously freestyling all of them. “I’m in a whole different head space than I was at with

My Turn— I’m going to be at a different level every time I drop because I’m at different levels in life,” he says. Though he remains tight-lipped about further details of his forthcoming album, he says his dream collaboration, with André 3000 — whom Baby describes as “a cold motherf--ker” — is in the works. “I talked to somebody who be talking to him, and he’s on it right now. We’re in third-party communications.” headtopics.com

AB+DMLil Baby photographed on July 15, 2021 at Ambient + Studio in Atlanta.As both his fans and business partners have learned at this point, trusting Baby’s instincts — and his reputation for more than following through on them — is a no-brainer as he prepares for his next chapter. “The thing about Baby is, he’s going to watch, learn, listen, let you speak and pay attention, but he’s also going to do the work,” says Habtemariam. “He’s going to show up and be there.”

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