Atlanta’s Lil Baby’s hunger is so potent it’s like his tapeworms have tapeworms. The former dope boy hustled his way from scrappy mixtape phenom to venerable Grammy winner. The urgency in his lithe delivery makes every one of his songs — even the loose, turn-up joints — feel like a motivational come-up credo. Amid all the hedonism of 2018‘s “Drip Too Hard,” there’s a relentless and energizing focus on nonstop grinding. And 2020’s “The Bigger Picture,” which addressed police brutality in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, turned a dark chapter in American history into a fruitful opportunity for raising awareness, leaving listeners activated and inspired. Naturally, the excellent documentary, Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby (which premiered on Amazon last Friday) gives us an intimate and gripping glimpse of one of rap’s brightest young stars.
The film opens with a scene depicting Lil Baby starting his day in a dressing-room trailer on the morning of his performance at the 2021 Grammys. As he laces up his Jordans and dons his jewelry, the first words out of his mouth are “I dreamed about this shit as a kid … I’mma be a real millionaire.” You’re immediately won over by his chutzpah: While most of us are groggily refreshing the snooze button, Lil Baby is already up talking about the sacrifices that come with being a boss and providing for his loved ones.
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Indeed, for all his gritty street allure, Lil Baby radiates a sense of compassion that makes him seem all the more relatable. This is expressed early in the film in a brief vignette that shows him on one of his rare days off, at home with his kids. And when he confesses, between scenes of him and his son, Jason, playing outside, “I could fuck up, and he could be like me,” it’s clear that family comes first to him: He wants to be a good father for his kids, if only because he never had one growing up. It’s affectionate moments like these that stand out and endear you to Lil Baby, whom filmmaker Karam Gill does a great job of humanizing.
After some wistful reminiscences from his mother — intercut with footage from old family videos — a historian from the University of Atlanta helps provide context for the Atlanta that shaped the artist born Dominique Armani Jones. In 1990, just four years before he was born, the city, in preparation for the 1996 Olympics, set up a special task force (to ostensibly safeguard its citizens) that waged war on African Americans. Also, there were cuts in the federal housing budget that left poor residents displaced. Lil Baby, whose family faced eviction, we’re reminded, started moving weight.
Quality Control CEO Pierre “Pee” Thomas, in an illuminating segment in the documentary, talks about how he remembers seeing Lil Baby in the trap house during his time in the underworld. Thomas, who left the streets and wanted to provide opportunities for disenfranchised youth, affirms that the 27-year-old’s charm made him want to sign him instantly. The film details how Lil Baby diligently parlayed his corner-tested hustles into a passion for music.
All this fascinating backstory builds to the film’s climax on the night of the biggest performance of Lil Baby’s career — the very event we see him preparing for at the beginning. With his whole community behind him, and now the world, Lil Baby is joyously basking in his moment. The hunger and persistence have paid off in a major way. Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby makes us feel thrilled to witness his unbelievable journey.
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