2020 couldn’t stop DaBaby’s rock star year

The Charlotte rapper dominated music charts and remained a trending topic in an unprecedented year.
DaBaby-2020-Grammys-photo-AP

Similar to 2019, DaBaby dominated the music charts and pop culture in 2020. Despite a global pandemic that crippled the entertainment industry, the 29-year-old Charlotte rapper, born Jonathan Kirk, continued to find success and remain a trending topic. 

Top of the rap game

As 2019 wound down, DaBaby earned his first two Grammy nominations for his hit song “Suge.” Ultimately he didn’t win, but his trajectory was still on the rise.

In February, music executive Sean “Diddy” Combs tapped DaBaby as a judge for the “Making the Band” reboot auditions. However, MTV canceled the Charlotte casting calls due to the pandemic. 

In April, he released “Blame it on Baby,” his second consecutive album to reach No. 1 on Billboard charts. Along with his solo success, DaBaby was also featured on several songs this year. At one point, he occupied three of the top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, including the single “Rockstar.”

The hit song, featuring rapper Roddy Rich, was named Billboard’s Song of the Summer and spent seven weeks at No. 1. It is nominated for three Grammy awards, most notably, Song of the Year. 

DaBaby-Billboard-chart-2020
Image via Billboard

Legal issues: Blame it on Baby?

When asked why he named the album “Blame it on Baby,” DaBaby said, “They’re going to blame it on Baby anyway, so we’re going to embrace it with open arms.” 

He’s faced multiple run-ins with the law since last December. Right before Christmas 2019, CMPD arrested and charged him with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and resisting an officer following a concert at Bojangles Coliseum. CMPD dropped the charges and issued the rapper two citations instead. 

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A week later, he was arrested in Miami for allegedly assaulting and robbing a promoter during a payment dispute following a performance. Then, he was jailed for two days due to a warrant in Texas stemming from an altercation inside an airport. The battery charge from the Miami arrest was later dropped. Video evidence led to the dismissal of the Texas case.

According to an October story reported by the Charlotte Ledger, there have been more than 30 calls for service at an Iredell County residence believed to be DaBaby’s $2.3 million estate in Troutman, a small town north of Charlotte. Per Iredell County’s emergency communications office, the calls included 14 instances of burglar alarms going off, four noise complaints and at least two domestic arguments.

Black Lives Matter and voting

One of DaBaby’s most powerful statements of the year came through his music. 

The “Rockstar” remix, for instance, featured a verse about police brutality. The music video, which debuted at the 2020 BET Awards, begins with DaBaby rapping with his head on the ground as an officer presses a knee into his neck – a reminder of the final images of George Floyd alive in the custody of Minneapolis Police officers.

Scenes of protests, shirts and signs with “Black Lives Matter” and the names of high-profile victims of police brutality are littered throughout the performance. 

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On Juneteenth, DaBaby hosted “Black Lives BEEN Matter,” a panel featuring Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, Charlotte City Councilman Braxton Winston, former Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis and community organizer Kristie Puckett-Williams among others. 

During the dialogue, DaBaby focused on past interactions with Charlotte law enforcement and the need for police reform and more accountability immediately. Also, he acknowledged the power of voting rights while getting candid about educating himself more on the subject.

He spoke of using his platform to help make positive changes for his community. 

DaBaby-Vote-Baby-Vote-2020
Rapper and Charlotte native DaBaby hosted a voters registration drive in the Derita neighborhood in October 2020. Photo: QCity Metro

Ahead of November’s general election, the rapper created the Vote Baby Vote Initiative and partnered with the #NoCap2020 campaign to encourage North Carolinians to vote. On Election Day, DaBaby visited polling locations, met with voters and gave away swag items. 

Family tragedy 

While DaBaby was making appearances across Charlotte getting people to vote, a family tragedy occurred.

On Nov. 3, CMPD responded to reports of a shooting in a parking lot in University City. When cops arrived at the scene, they found DaBaby’s older brother, Glenn Johnson, 34, in a car with a gunshot wound. He was rushed to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.  

DaBaby took to social media to mourn the loss of his brother. In one tweet, he advocated for mental health — leaving many to believe reports that his brother took his own life:

“#MentalHealthAwareness 
If you can’t get over depression GET HELP, you see a loved one struggling get them help, they refuse the help, MAKE em get treated anyway.
You suffer from PTSD take that s*** serious & get help!
I’m bouta get a therapist my damn self!”

He released an EP about two weeks later, titled “My Brother’s Keeper (Long Live G),” as a tribute to Johnson. One of the tracks, “Gucci Peacoat,” references the coat DaBaby wore during his Election Day appearances – the same day Johnson died. The music video shows footage from Johnson’s funeral. In the song, DaBaby confirmed that his brother did take his life. 

Looking ahead

The 2021 Grammys Awards take place on Jan. 31, and DaBaby has four nominations. Will it be the year he receives his first Grammy win? 

Will he tour in 2021? DaBaby planned to go on tour this year to accompany his latest album, but the pandemic canceled his plans. He estimated a loss of at least $7 million. As of Dec. 27, his website listed only one upcoming concert scheduled in the U.S.

DaBaby-concert
DaBaby during his performance at the Winter Block Party concert on Dec. 23, 2019. Photo: Bulls Eye Photography

Can he turn Billion Dollar Baby Ent. into a premiere hip hop label? If so, can that help elevate Charlotte’s music scene into one of the more desirable destinations in the South for artists?

In a recent XXL Magazine article, DaBaby said he plans to retire from rap in five years. He wants to focus on developing artists signed to his Billion Dollar Baby Ent. record label, which is currently located in Charlotte. He currently has multiple Charlotte-area artists signed to his label.

He released his first three studio albums in a little over a year. How many projects will he release in 2021? 

Kallan Louis
Kallan Louis is a writer and consultant for qcitymetro.com. He does a lot, but never feels like he’s doing enough. His life can be described as a Venn Diagram: News media, Black culture and sports. He’s always on TV, but rarely seen.

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