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Miguelito might just hit you with a Diamond Cutter on general principle.
Sada Baby was dancing on a windy evening late last year inside the Atlantic Records compound. He’s finishing up a song in a back studio in a dull stretch of the Valley. With what remaining energy is left, he gives an eager camera what it demands: a memeable performance.
The song supplies him room to work. There’s maybe ten people in the room and everyone looks at each other as Sada, born Casada Sorrell, dementedly growls, “keep a K dressed up like the Duke coach.” Once the videographer is satisfied, Sada rests his lanky build on the couch and starts scrolling through his phone. The light from the screen teases the color out of his “Big Squad” chain. A Louis Vuitton belt centers the other LV accessories. Two red bandanas on his right leg break up carefully ripped jeans. The top of his white Air Forces reads “Skuba Steve” in dripping red ink.
It’s hard to focus on anything but the freshly recorded track because every line makes you wish you’d written it. At one point in the song he’s having sex with a woman wearing a raincoat just because she didn’t want to show her ankles. When he wants to, he commands the room with a shake of his self-described, “Red Hot Cheeto” dreads. Still, he only asks the runner on duty to help other guests.
“People say Detroit music got a lot of energy to it,” he says, “I’d say that’s more me though. Everything gotta have energy if I do it: cooking, music, basketball, video games. If I get a chance to play, all that. That’s my thing.” It comes through in his vocals, but it’s most noticeable when he moves to his own songs. The 27-year old from 7 Mile on Detroit’s Eastside has made dancing inseparable from his music. Often, if there’s a dance for a popular record it’s hard to shake the feeling that it spawned from a cynical bullet point on a label memo titled ‘VIRAL STRATEGIES’ (this does not include the resurrective power of Duke Deuce). However, it’s kind of an accident that we even associate Sada Baby with dancing. According to him, the GIFs and imitations came from a few goofy shimmys for a Soul Train line in between the “official” takes for the 2018 “Bloxk Party” video — his nimble breakout track with shipping-and-handling sensei Drego. “Bloxk Party” catapulted both rappers to national stardom, but the truth is that we came dangerously close to never seeing his antics play out on the main stage.
In 2016, he nearly quit rap because three years in, it wasn’t paying. Hustling and working in restaurant kitchens made up the difference. After winning Detroit’s HOT 107.5 rap contest, “Imported From the D,” and getting paid opportunities from it, he latched onto the momentum. A few months later, his single “Stacy” exploded and led to 2017’s impressive Skuba Sada, the start of a six-deep project run where each one gets exponentially bolder. In a late 2016 interview he said, “Muhfuckas been saying I been special since elementary school, but I didn’t know what for…this music is natural.” There’s no doubt he had charisma with the “Stacy” video, even if it’s mild by his current standards.
in the “Blxk Party” video though, Sada Baby is a shirtless, grinning conductor who peppers in “The Robot” as quickly as he glides from lauding Malcolm X to powder presses. That was two years ago and he’s kept his physical catalogue just as fresh. His videos in the final quarter of 2019 showed off some novel moves. Swaying to the beat is too pedestrian, so for “Trap Neva Closed” Sada balls his fists and swings them around his body like he’s conjuring a force field. Even flailing around and comparing his guns to Andy Milonakis on “Lame” he stands cinematic. The energy even bleeds into Lil Yachty during their atmospheric “SB5”, where the younger Atlanta rapper shows off his rhythm to parry Sada’s restraint and beats Billie Eilish to calling most in the cypher liars. It makes sense all of this brings us to a song called “Slide.”
“I just feel like I got good at rapping recently,” he admits, “I feel like I understand my music better than I used to. I didn’t grow up in a musical family so I’m making my own way in this shit.”
“Slide” captures the lunar magnetism of Sada Baby’s music in two minutes and thirty-eight seconds; it’s currently getting close to a million views a week on YouTube. After we see him wide-eyed from a Patron shot, Sada jumps from the back of an ambulance and starts inventing his own line dance through a field of barrel fires. The “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” sample is obvious and while his dance number is simpler than The Gap Band’s original layers, the way he loosely throws his wrist to the steps matches the dismissive bars. He’s been more vulnerable and dexterous on other tracks but “Slide” feels platonic — like it’s reaching for something tangible or REAL. It doesn’t even matter if you realize those terms are bullshit because you’ve already played the song again and started practicing in the mirror.
That day at the studio, he was supposed to finish up a few songs and then make a few stops around L.A. to pick up brand merch during the interview. Someone mentioned the Cookies brand weed shop, but Sada shrugs that off as soon as his manager presents it. “We’re staying here,” he says reclining before the next round in the booth. It’s obvious that Sada Baby is exhausted.
“I just try to stay in the pocket,” he says, fixing some imperfection in the beard that covers his face. “You know, switch up when I run out of string, but it takes a lot out of you to give this kind of effort.”
He goes back to work a few minutes later and it’s clear what he means. There’s no light in the recording booth except a Bic flame meeting a blunt that briefly illuminates his silhouette. He lets the beat ride while he mumbles, trying to slash out a pocket like an overgrown brush. To get it perfect, he asks the engineer to change the studio lights to purple. When his flow runs its course and he switches, it’s almost too fast for the engineer to keep up. He requests edits on previous bars so quickly between punch-ins it takes your brain a beat to register he’s not still rapping. He finished three songs that day in the same hour.
The recording process reveals more about his music than expected. It’s self-propulsive because he’s actually pushing himself physically. When he comes out of the booth, it’s like he finished exercising. His pace and delivery are athletic in a way that reminds you why you watch sports; to awe at micro-adjustments happening in nanoseconds to reveal something singular. Sada Baby’s music compels listeners to leave their seats like Roy Jones Jr. combos when they send a body to the canvas or Andre Dummond’s limbs as they somehow come down with the rebound or Serena Williams’ forehand when it humbles gold medalists.
It gives Sada an almost antagonistic relationship with his subjects and topics, like he’s trying to one-up the people who invented the cartoon characters or position athletes, so that for the song’s duration, their achievements are measured by how well they capture an aspect of Sada Baby. On Brolik, his latest project, he says he doesn’t wear masks, not for logistical reasons, but because Jim Carrey doesn’t have street credibility and Carrey wore one in ‘94. That line comes on a song called “WWF”, where the signature moves of Booker T and Jake “the Snake” Roberts are dished out for Sada’s enemies.
These precise hyperbolic flourishes aren’t the sum of his catalogue. Sada shows in flashes that he has the range, vocally and thematically, to track the murky roots of his psyche and often it comes back to his mother. According to Sada, he left his mom’s house at 17 (“SB5”) and whatever caused that split can’t “be smoothed out” so he moves around it (“The Cave Ep. 7”). “On Gang” from early 2019’s Bartier Bounty draws a line from his mother drunkenly beating him “for her pain” and how that informs his addictive tendencies. He’s self-aware even with all the left-field references and uses that awareness to predict future behavior with warped tautologies (“I might break her heart if I break her heart”; “If you get shot for no reason, it ain’t for no reason”).
We sit down at a coffee table in the building’s lobby and the only change in demeanor is he’s slightly more tired. It’s a little over a half hour, covering mostly benign things.
Since you almost went to culinary school, where’s the best food in Detroit?
Sada Baby: LeCulture, a black-owned business, is great. We got lots of Chaldeans in Detroit and there’s lot of places in their area of town. Honestly, the strip club got the best food.
Which strip club?
Sada Baby: All of ‘em.
Talk about your alter egos.
Sada Baby: Well, my main one, Skuba Ruffin, is cause I identify with David Ruffin’s personality. I liked featuring myself as Skuba Ruffin the way Andre 3000 played all the members of the band in the “Hey Ya” video.
I’d like to see your take on James Brown.
Sada Baby: Eh, I can see that a little bit cause of the antics but, musically, my stuff comes more from Al Green.
You seem to like referencing cartoons, so I assume you watched a lot over the years.
Sada Baby: Oh yeah, Dragon Ball Z, Ben Ten, [Mighty Morhpin’] Power Rangers, Rocko’s Modern Life, Doug, Cat Dog, Looney Tunes, all the WB shit really. Some of my rapping is even like the cartoons I reference. That storytelling comes from watching a lot of them.
Did you read much as a kid?
Sada Baby: All the time. I liked Greek mythology and the complexity of it.
Was there a moment when you realized rap was the right choice?
Sada Baby: Damn near like every other day. I know what I’m supposed to be doing.
Do you still get the same fulfillment almost seven years in?
Sada Baby: It’s the same, I enjoy doing it. I love my job. If I wasn’t rappin I’d be somewhere with an attitude…somewhere mad as hell.
Who is an artist you listen to that no one would expect?
Sada Baby: Jesse McCartney.
Do you remember the first dance you learned?
Sada Baby: Probably the Tootsie Roll. I did a lot of line dancing too cause it’s what relatives used to make you do.
Any particular motives for flipping old tracks?
Sada Baby: It’s still good music. Nothing wrong with listening to the same old song, but now I can remake it and say shit I wanna say. You notice on the “Skanilla Ice,” I start doing “Ice Ice Baby” then hit them with “Naw nigga fuck that” to start my verse. That was a little move me and the homies would do freestyling over old beats in high school.
Say all Detroit rap disappeared except five albums. Which ones should survive?
Sada Baby: Team Eastside – Welcome to Our Side
Blade Icewood – Blood, Sweat & Tears
Icewear Vezzo – Clarity
Doughboyz Cashout – We Run the City
Eastside Chedda Boyz – Makin Chedda on the Eastside
Same question, but for your songs.
Sada Baby: “Sticks and Stones”
“Pimp Named Drip Dat”
He doesn’t seem interested in explaining his responses or defending any theses. Sada’s respectful, but instead of pretending like the Q&A is going to reveal something profound, he asks me to come back the next day and watch him record more. The request makes sense; Sada Baby routinely undermines what a rapper is “supposed to do”. Rappers brag about wrecking foreign cars but Sada says “Ubers over Ruccis, I don’t driiive”. (He’ll still make the driver whip like Crash Bandicoot though) He stands out by referencing unique NBA players like Lauri Markannen and Bison Dele and then brags about not watching The Finals (“Skub N Skilla Show”).
Artists typically guard their recording time but Sada Baby lets you watch because he knows he’s nearing perfection. When I show up the following day, it’s the same scene except he’s feeling red lights instead of purple. It’s early in the day and he’s focused, even after hosting a club the night before. “I can’t even remember what club it was to tell you the truth,” Sada says before chuckling, “It’s stuff to do in between studios.” I ask how he wants Detroit to remember him. He says, “The most different nigga to come outta there, besides Eminem. [I want] a whole trail of greatness at an incomparable level.”