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Bali Baby - Baylor Swift Music Album Reviews

Bali Baby - Baylor Swift Music Album Reviews
As its title suggests, the Atlanta rapper’s album is pop-focused and geared for emo. She sounds reborn, retrofitting her scrappy rap with Technicolor pop-punk for songs about overcoming heartbreak.

The Bali Baby introduced on Baylor Swift is a brand new model. Anyone familiar with the three tapes the 20-year-old Atlanta rapper (by way of North Carolina) released in 2017, or perhaps just one of her more popular songs—like “Iggady,” “Banana Clip,” or “Pretty”—won’t recognize this version of her. Bali has pivoted away from her natural no-hook trap before, but not even the more melody-focused 2018 EP, Bali Blanco, foreshadowed a transformation of this magnitude.

As the title suggests, the album is pop-focused and geared for emo; the artwork implies this shift, depicting the outline of a Stratocaster, a photo collage, and a journal with “DO NOT READ” on its cover. These hint at some long-established signifiers of teenage angst, a lovestruck girl scribbling her inner-most thoughts inside the sanctum that is her bedroom noodling at a guitar and screaming them into songs. The implication is that pop rock allows for a rawness that rap does not. “I love rock-pop music,” Bali told XXL last month. “I listen to every song on Guitar Hero.” Baylor Swift leans into that interest to fashion a brand new identity. Bali sounds reborn, retrofitting her scrappy rap with Technicolor pop-punk for songs about overcoming heartbreak.

Produced entirely by New York beatmaker and frequent collaborator Chicken, Baylor Swift is a high stakes emotional investment more daring than anything coming from her peers in Atlanta. Bali said the album “tells the tale of a broken-hearted girl who put her all into the mic,” and this plays out in an arc over the course of eight tracks. A few times, headphones become symbols of escape, of drifting away and disappearing into song, where the memory of an ex can’t find you. Her music mines that same withdrawal, finding a simple comfort in just getting this out of her system, like she’s wailing into a pillow and purging the impurities from her body. From the outset, she laments lost love, how quickly feelings that were once so intense can fade (“Now every time you touch me, it doesn’t feel as strong as it used to!”), but by the end, she’s acceptant, albeit still bruised. “Yes, I know I’m gon’ forgive her/’Cause that’s how I wash the pain away,” she sings on “Killer.” It’s a slow-building catharsis full of rewarding turns, in sound and temperament.

As a rapper, Bali is usually peppy and playfully confrontational. She brandishes weapons and impishly makes light of her enemies (“Bounce on your tits if they’re looking like racks/I set a trap ‘cause these bitches is rats”). But as a singer on Baylor Swift, she is an aggrieved lover swaying from dependent to indignant. The opener, “Introduction,” is designed to throw the album’s first-time listeners off the scent. Atop squelching synths, she raps as she always has, literally reintroducing herself with clever parallels like “Bitches copy me, just need to cop a fucking feature/I’m a perfect picture, niggas say I’m Mona Lisa.” The album really starts with the nasally “Backseat,” which has drawn comparisons to everyone from Avril Lavigne to Rebecca Black. From there, Baylor Swift spirals outward into a moody post-rap mash-up of guitars and synths.

There is a punchy rap intermission, “WWW,” slotted in, meant as a reminder that she does, in fact, still rap—“So I see y’all forgot I had motherfucking bars so I had to bring it back out real quick, you dig?” she says in the song’s intro—before she ventures even further out for a four-song suite spanning glitchy bedroom pop. She navigates this sonic mélange just as she navigates the challenging romance explored in her lyrics: thoughtfully and with great finesse. She understands the limits of her voice and never pushes too hard, at times letting the pitchiness or the distortion of her vocals speak for her. “There’s a few things I know for sure/And one of them is: loving you is way too hard,” she bawls on “Few Things,” dragging out some syllables as she’s nearly swallowed up by incoming waves of sound. She refuses to resign herself to an endless cycle of pain: “There’s a few things I know: That I will not die without your love/I’ll miss you a lot, but I’ll be fine.”

Since Lil Wayne’s Rebirth exploded preconceptions about rocking while hip-hop, moving the goalposts for rappers making music they decidedly classify “rock,” the seams in rap-rock have become harder to find (See: Trippie Redd or Lil Tracy or Princess Nokia). Where does rap end and rock begin for these young artists? These rappers don’t draw lines between their rap personas and their rock aspirations, they just adjust as it suits their mood and their music. Someone like Lil Uzi Vert is a near-perfect synthesis of pop punk and rap, the love child of Wayne and Paramore, and the late Lil Peep was finding the middle-ground between Future and Brand New. But Bali’s influences are somewhat harder to trace. Her characterization of pop rock as “stuff that was on Guitar Hero” implies a distillation of sounds. Somewhere along the line, she decided that “rock,” for her, simply meant emotional honesty, being true to herself and her feelings. Across the candid songs of Baylor Swift, the Atlanta shapeshifter embraces the healing power of self-actualization.

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