Too Hard

Too Hard

In the infancy of Lil Baby's musical career, rap was more like an annoying chore to him than a developing road to salvation. In an effort to get Baby to take music more seriously, his mentor Young Thug would actually pay him to leave the trap and hit the studio. By the time a 23-year-old Baby had released his fourth mixtape, Too Hard, at the end of 2017, it was clear the investment was paying off. Laced with agile flows, streetwise narratives, and Thugger-indebted melodies, the project was both the purest distillation of the rapper's evolving talent and his most potent argument for his status as Atlanta's next up. Here, you can find some of the most emblematic songs in the Lil Baby continuum. For the project, Baby flaunts a knack for exhilarating anthems and a writer's eye for specifics. On "All of a Sudden," he trades emphatic flexes and death threats with Moneybagg Yo, matching the more experienced rapper with tightly coiled couplets and casual braggadocio. Sliding across a pulsing trap beat, he serves up a similar mosaic of boasts, packaging them in a jumpy flow and a hook that demands to be repeated. The chorus itself is long but infectious, which only enhances the entrancing effect of Baby's sing-song lilt. While Too Hard marked an early point in Lil Baby's development, he was already showcasing an uncommon level of nuance and vulnerability. Cruising over the forlorn strings of "Best of Me," he collapses the distance between crime and consequences—his own and those of innocent bystanders: "Gotta be here for my kid, gotta watch my son get big/Everything I say is no lie, I'm just glad the kid didn't die." As multidimensional as it is entertaining, Too Hard was one of the last moments Lil Baby could be considered anything close to an underdog, and it was a transition he was more than aware he was making. With an easy mix of muted charisma and technical precision, Baby uses his mixtape standout, "Freestyle," to summarize his new position: "Hardly ever in the city/They just know I'm gettin' bigger." By then, it was impossible not to know.

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