At the beginning of each year, Complex crowns an artist the Best Rapper Alive. It’s an honor reserved for the best rapper of the previous year, and the qualifications remain the same each time. The winner must be firing on all cylinders when it comes to overall impact, technical skill, cultural relevance, and quality of music. In any given year, the artist who most completely checks these boxes earns the distinction as the Best Rapper Alive, joining a list of honorees that dates back to 1979.
For 2020, that rapper is Lil Baby. Not only did he release the most-consumed album of the year, he did it in a true-to-himself manner that drew heavy critical praise and adoration from fans. Lil Baby outsold pop stars like Taylor Swift, but he didn’t water down his sound or resort to gimmicks to reach a new peak of commercial success. Less than five years after beginning to rap, he refined what he had already been doing well on his first seven projects and executed on a higher level than ever before.
Catching up with Complex about being named 2020’s Best Rapper Alive, Lil Baby sounds confident, speaking with the measured tone of someone who has accomplished some of their biggest goals but knows they still have room for growth. “Now that I’m in that conversation, I feel like I’m going where I’m supposed to be going,” he points out matter-of-factly. “This is the way I envision myself going.”
Striving to build on his momentum in 2021, he says he’s working on new music and plans to drop a solo album this year, unless he ends up choosing to release a joint album with a collaborator like Gunna instead. Until then, he reveals that he’s in a stage of reinventing himself as a person and believes he’s still “in the learning process” as a rapper. “I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered my craft, even with My Turn,” he notes.
Complex got on the line with Lil Baby for a conversation about being 2020’s Best Rapper Alive, who he believes is the best rapper of all time, his plans for 2021, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below. Read more about why we named Lil Baby the Best Rapper Alive here.
Complex just named you 2020’s Best Rapper Alive. Have you always wanted to be known as the best?
Well, in a sense, I didn’t [always] want to be a rapper. But I’m rapping. So if I’m going to be a rapper, my whole thing was, I don’t want people to just fuck with me because I’m Lil Baby and I get money. I really wanted my music to be good.
When people think back on the year you had in 2020, what do you hope stands out most?
I never really thought about that, because I plan on this year being bigger than last year, and so on and so on. So it ain’t like I’m thinking of 2020 as the highest point of my career. It’s been the highest so far, but so has every other year.
In November, you tweeted about being in album mode. How is album mode for this next project different from when you were making My Turn?
No difference. I just got more money. That’s it. I’m in the same headspace, as far as my recording process. I don’t feel like I’ve got to go harder than My Turn. When I’m recording, I have that same process as I did with My Turn. I'm just recording. You know, I just started rapping. Now, it's been my fourth year rapping, and I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered my craft, even with My Turn. So it's not hard for me to go in a booth and make better songs than I had on My Turn, because I’m still in the learning process.
“The only way I don’t drop an album in 2021 is if I drop a joint album, like a Drip Harder 2.”
Is the new music shaping up differently? Are you trying new things?
Not intentionally, but the people around me are telling me that they can see the growth. I don’t go in the booth and be like, “I’mma try something different.” I just go with it. And I’m becoming somebody different; I’ve become a whole big superstar. I had the big album. A lot of stuff is different in my life, so maybe I do rap different. But in my head, I haven’t done it deliberately.
Do you want to drop another album in 2021?
For sure. I want to drop. There’s give and take on both sides: keep dropping or waiting. The only way I don’t drop an album in 2021 is if I drop a joint album, like a Drip Harder 2. Something like that.
I wanted to ask about joint albums. You’ve been very close with Young Thug since the beginning of your career. Have you two ever talked about making a collaborative album together?
Actually, one time we had a little talk about me, Thug, Future, and Gunna making a mixtape together. That was in the talks. We've got so many songs that if we just put it together, it can go. But I think me and Gunna's series was already so hard that I don't think me and Thug would do it. I don't know.
“The best rapper of all time? Lil Wayne. I don’t see nobody better than Lil Wayne, period.”
How many songs do you think you’ve made with Young Thug that aren’t out?
You know, when I first started rapping, I used to record at Thug’s studio. So I made a lot of songs with him, like my first week rapping. And from then on, when we see each other, we rap, so there's no telling how many songs there are. Thug might be a person who got some crazy old verses of mine when I just started.
We just named you the Best Rapper Alive for 2020, which puts you in great company. Who, in your mind, is the best rapper of all time?
The best rapper of all time? Lil Wayne.
Why do you say that?
I don’t see nobody better than Lil Wayne, period.
Last year, you flew out to Wyoming to make music with Kanye after he called you his favorite rapper. Did he give you any advice?
I’m more of an observer, so he didn’t really have to give me no advice, verbally. But I learned so much from him in a couple of days, just seeing the way he worked and seeing what he has going on. We didn't really have a talk where he just gave me game, because he literally showed me everything right in my face.
In 2020, you started collaborating with pop artists like Mariah the Scientist. Who is a pop star you would want to collaborate with next?
That’d be crazy. Have you guys ever talked about working together?
I ain’t never talked to Rihanna. But if I could pick anybody, that’s who it would be.
“Even when I’m on social media, I don’t really post the real. I probably give 20% of the real me to the public.”
You ended 2020 by taking a step back from social media and deactivating your Instagram. Why did you want to do that?
You know, a lot of people be lying, like, “If I could delete my Instagram, I would.” I was in one of those spaces where it’s like, I want to do that. My Instagram helped me a lot, don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, it’s a big distraction for me, too. And I’m in a stage of reinventing myself as a person, so I just decided to take a break for a minute. But the type of person that I’m reinventing is going to kind of require me to be on the internet and on Instagram. I’ve got endorsements and stuff which will require me to post something. But for the most part, I’m trying to step back from the internet, because that’s a whole other world.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you right now?
Honestly, I think people get a whole lot of stuff wrong about me, due to the fact that even when I’m on social media, I don’t really post the real. I probably give 20% of the real me to the public.
What’s one goal you’ve set for yourself in 2021?
Have enough money to make my 100 million dollar move.