‘Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby’ review: an illuminating look at a rap superstar striving for change

A rare inside look into the life of a modern rap hero

Lil Baby is often labelled a “reluctant star”. Known for a dislike of interviews and indifference to the spotlight, the biggest draw then for Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby, a new Amazon Prime Video documentary telling the Atlanta rapper’s tale, is that we get such a rare inside look at what truly makes the star tick.

Directed by Karam Gill (responsible for last year’s Tekashi 6ix9ine docu-series), Untrapped combines home videos, tour footage and talking-head interviews with Baby himself, family members, associates, plus rap peers (including Young Thug and Drake). The doc succeeds in bringing us closer to the rapper than we’ve ever been before, mapping out Baby’s journey from inner-city poverty and teen years spent “hustling” on the streets to his eventual journey to rap’s top tier and ongoing plight for social change.

The telling of Baby’s early life is illuminating. It offers his lived experience as well as an insight into the historical background of oppression and inequality in the US to show how the rapper – a childhood “genius” who would ace exams even though he never showed up to class – would eventually be incarcerated by the age of 20. As his childhood friend Mohawke puts it: “Getting out of poverty is hard when you don’t know the best way.”

After being persuaded to leave the streets behind for a career in music (admitting that he never wanted to be a rapper, Baby notes: “I couldn’t go back to prison, I had to at least try [rapping]”), Baby’s rising fame feels like a product of both hard work and an ability to capture an essence in his bars that resonates with millions. “Most rappers are telling your story, [but] your story is real,” Quality Control Music label head Coach K recalls telling him.

Throughout Untrapped, Baby seems to take every new career milestone in his stride, and you get a sense that this slight nonchalance is down to the fact that his focus goes beyond music. The documentary illustrates how the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement were catalysts in Baby using his voice positively. “I had the biggest album in the world, but something felt empty. I had to look inwards,” he explains, as the film documents the making of his acclaimed police brutality protest song ‘The Bigger Picture’.

Baby truly seems to see the bigger picture, too, always appearing grounded and humble despite his rocketing wealth and status. As journalist Charles Holmes says in the doc: “For Lil Baby, music got him out. The sad part is that there’s a million Lil Babies in America.” It’s this latter reason that Baby appears so focussed on giving back.

Lil Baby
Lil Baby CREDIT: Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

The film’s most poignant moment, however, comes when Baby bumps into the mother of an old classmate at a convenience store. As she explains what her son is up to now, he asks her to say hi from him, beaming with perhaps the biggest smile we see in the entire doc. When she asks who he is, he simply gives his birth name and then adds with a wry smile: “He’s gonna know who I am”.

Back in the car, he says to the camera: “Ain’t nothing like where you come from, I get chills from that.” It’s a scene that sums Baby up and echoes a sentiment he told NME back in 2021: “To me, it’s not about the fame game – it’s more about real life.”

Details

  • Director: Karam Gill
  • Starring: Lil Baby
  • Release date: August 26 (available to stream on Amazon Prime Video)
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