Back in the spring of 2016, an 18-year-old girl from Atlanta named Bali Baby logged onto SoundCloud and uploaded her first ever song: “Designer.” (“I fucked that ho in my designer / she a whiner.”) In this song, she raps over a slot machine synth playing a tritone—a dissonant harmonic interval historically known as the “chord of evil” that connotes pure dread and begs for resolution. Liszt used the tritone to evoke a sense of hell in his “Dante Sonata.” Ambulances blast the tritone from their sirens to tell you to get out of the way.
The tritone suits Bali well. Since the release of “Designer,” she has more often than not appeared as a kind of schoolgirl Harley Quinn, a psychotic agent of chaos who flaunts her sexual conquests of men and women alike, dyes her hair a new color every other week, and frequently punctuates her bars with a hair-raising, high-pitched “muah!” that might as well be a kiss of death. When in this mode, her attitude and aesthetic are each equal parts playful and demonic. On the cover of her 2017 mixtape Bali’s Play 2, she gently cradles a Chucky doll. On the cover of Brazy Bali, she holds a knife in one hand and the head of a woman in the other.
But Bali does not always fashion herself as a succubus of the trap. She has already taken more than one creative left turn and indicated that she is just as interested in talking about love as she is about empty sex. On Bubbles Bali, she celebrates her infatuation with the girl she’s seeing and basks in a sunny palette indebted to Lil Yachty. Earlier this year, she put out the unflinchingly pop-punk mixtape Baylor Swift, which chronicled her efforts to overcome heartbreak and ultimately constituted one of the most daring attempts to bridge rock and rap in recent memory. Bali Baby may only be two and half years into her career, but she has already demonstrated an adventurous spirit surpassing that of just about every emerging rapper in the country.
That said, her new mixtape RESURRECTION does not showcase that adventurous spirit so much as her effervescent personality. Rather than building on the vulnerability and daring sound of Baylor Swift, RESURRECTION reverts to Bali’s default mood—the ruthlessly flexing Two-Face in a skull brassiere, the woman- and man-eating spawn of Satan. “When I get done with you, you’re gonna repent,” she warns. With nine songs and a run time of less than twenty minutes, RESURRECTION is pure Halloween mischief, a low-stakes mad dash through Bali’s haunted house. (She hosted a Halloween release party in New York. “Listening Party was LIT,” she wrote on Instagram. “I had lollipops with my face in them & drinks named after my songs AND I SIGNED 20 TITS.”)
It is tempting to draw parallels between RESURRECTION and last Halloween’s Without Warning, the collaborative mixtape from Metro Boomin, Offset, and 21 Savage, as well as the Metro/21 joint mixtape Savage Mode. The adequately eerie beats cobbled together by Bali’s circle of producers inevitably falter when put side-by-side next to the gothic horrors of Without Warning and the surreal, sun-bleached hellscape of Savage Mode. Bali is the manic ying to 21 Savage’s depressive yang, and together they whirl around a shared passion for children’s literature and folklore. Bali spends much of RESURRECTION attempting to one-up 21’s classic “I sit back and read like Cat in the Hat” quip. She spends a full song comparing herself to Bloody Mary, the spirit said to appear when you whisper her name three times into a darkened mirror. She spends another song comparing herself to the wolf from “The Three Little Pigs.” She references nursery rhymes to illustrate her agility during sex (“She jumping on that purple pickle, Jack Be Nimble”) and Laura Ingalls Wilder novels to son her elders (“Old heads still talking like ‘House on the Prairie’”).
Bali’s worst trait as a rapper, by far, is her insistence on using metaphor and simile in what feels like 90% of her lyrics. When used in moderation, these sorts of devices can easily delight the listener. When coupled with the Bali’s unimaginative rhyme schemes, they grow stale almost immediately. She manages to run this shtick on the ground within the mixtape’s first minute with a 12-line run of words that rhyme with “-atter.” “Yes, I’m preaching to ’em like I’m a pastor/ No, don’t make me mad like I am the Hatter/ Eat a nigga just like he on a platter”—don’t worry, there are nine more lines just like these. As Bali demonstrates on RESURRECTION, the “I’m X like Y” formula is hashtag rap’s even more obnoxious cousin.
That RESURRECTION often transcends its lazy rhymes and wordplay is a credit to Bali’s unusually magnetic vocal presence. She raps like she’s maniacally grinning and roguishly shimmying her shoulder like Lil Uzi Vert when she’s in the booth recording takes. Take, “Amber Alert,” a song that knocks hard enough to give you whiplash. Here, Bali is at her best, using throwaway lines like “My money tall like a tower” to build momentum towards the cathartic release of the hook. The stomach-dropping, hairpin-turn inflections she applies to nearly every word only reinforces the sense that she is an unstable element, somehow unhuman, a force to be reckoned with.
- Words: Daniel Schwartz