Untrapped flirts with greatness in its initial stretch, but soon frustratingly settles into lionization and depthless narrative.
There’s a solid half-hour stretch where Untrapped briefly flirts with greatness; or, at the very least, comes close to being something a little more substantial than the typical PR-friendly music doc about an up-and-coming rapper with “Lil” in front of their name. The MC in question this time around is one Lil Baby, who’s not so much a budding talent from the ATL as he is in full artistic bloom: right now, he’s arguably at his commercial and cultural peak, selling out arenas across the country (with the assistance of Lil Durk on a co-headline tour) and casually collaborating with the likes of Drake and Ye. But before we even get into the studio for the first time — as the doc reiterates over and over again, Baby became interested in rapping relatively late in his life — there has to be some basic context provided for why any of this matters, or why Baby’s story in particular does. Director Karam Gill, thusly, establishes a thematic throughline almost immediately: we get a gripping portrait of the socioeconomic conditions that shaped Baby’s upbringing (absentee father/single-mother household) and are constantly told throughout how miraculous it was how anyone could make it out of that environment. It’s an effective strategy, and one that favors and commends personal growth over the easy trappings of mainstream success; more importantly, it instills some semblance of momentum once things begin to heat up, that all of his hard work with no immediate benefit has finally paid off. This methodology also places a strong emphasis on the authenticity of Lil Baby’s raps, which grants him clemency to act as both a wise street sage and a dope boy whenever the situation calls: no matter what angle you wish to take with him, he’s somehow coming out on top.
This is, ultimately and rather unfortunately, where Untrapped begins to stall: when it shifts focus away from Baby’s surroundings and onto Baby himself, the film begins to unabashedly engage in pure lionization. Which would be fine if the subject in question was truly game for some bald-face myth-making. Truth be told, Baby’s a complete cipher of a presence; when he’s not rapping, he’s so bland and monotone you can really ascribe any philosophy onto his vague words of supposed wisdom. The most interesting thing about Baby is that he has a sign in his basement that says “Lil Baby’s Mancave” on it. He doesn’t even candidly speak to the camera (the two times he tries, he’s interrupted by his label’s CEO), just a bunch of friends and family who want us to know that, even from the jump, there was something “different” about Baby. Unless you have keen foresight into the circumstances of his upbringing, you’d be hard-pressed to root for this guy. The underdog narrative they try pushing for him becomes especially shaky after Baby finally gets some radio play, which results in some of his highest-charting songs and projects, and essentially provides the “riches” of this rages-to-riches narrative. But that’s not enough, as Baby is such an apparent once-in-a-generation artist — “The Bigger Picture,” in particular, is treated like a monumental rallying cry against years of racial oppression (might as well call him Martin “Baby” Luther King Jr., if we’re taking our lead from the tenor of this doc) — that he, and Quality Control Music, deserve not only financial compensation but establishment backing as well. When My Turn receives zero Grammy nominations, the doc acts like it’s the greatest act of injustice since… well, the very thing Baby was rapping about on “The Bigger Picture.” One minute it’s a travesty, the next we are invited into a run-through of the Grammy’s biggest blunders (Macklemore beating Kendrick is discussed in the same hushed tone as if it were Trump beating Hillary again), proving how irrelevant they are. Which one is it, Untrapped? The supposed snub doesn’t deter Baby; he still performs at the Grammys (he later won one with the help of Kanye and The Weeknd, but that would deflate the supposed outrage) and he’s still one of the hottest rappers in the world. Considering all he’s come from, there’s never a doubt as to whether he deserves what he’s gotten. But Untrapped frustratingly isn’t interested in probing the artist much beyond that easy narrative.
You can currently stream Karam Gill’s Untrapped: The Story of Lil Baby on Amazon Prime Video.