97 Till Infinity

Rising Detroit MC 97BabyJay has been walking hard from the jump, and as 2022 begins to pull back its curtains, he is ready to bask in the glow that comes from hard-work and perseverance

Comin straight out of Detroit, 97BabyJay popped out into the world in 1997. He was raised on W Warren Outer Drive, off Exit 8, on the edge of Detroit’s city limits. The neighborhood was bordered on all sides by suburbs, whose large single-family homes stood in stark contrast to the neighborhood BabyJay was growing up in. For Jay, this physical divide was as imposing as the mental divide; the differences between cars, housing, and general quality of life serving as the base logs fueling his inner fire from a young age. This divide was understood by his parents, who did their best to give Jay the best childhood they possibly could, “Shit was smooth but mufuckas didn’t have everything”, said BabyJay, “Same shit as everybody else around me”. Being a teacher allowed BabyJay’s mother to take him out of Detroit Public Schools, and into a more suburban school system, called Westland. Every year, his mom would have to fight with the DPS school board for that right. Actions which BabyJay appreciated but didn’t fully understand until he had his own children and wanted to ensure they had the best of everything he could provide.

BabyJay was brought up listening to classic 90’s hip-hop, courtesy of his dad, who kept legends like Biggie, Tupac, and Bone Thugs in rotation bumping through his speakers. He was also tapped into the Detroit music scene at the time, especially the star-studded Doughboyz Cashout group, and Street Lore Lauren. It was around the time he was going through middle school that BabyJay decided he wanted to try his hand at making music. He was given a classic Casio Keyboard, and immediately began plunking around on it, not exactly sure what he was doing as he tried to recreate sounds he had heard. It quickly became evident that BabyJay was naturally adept at making music as he ran through soundtracks of his favorite movies. BabyJay would sit for hours alone, working through track after track until he was able to run through entire soundtracks, hitting each note perfectly on time to recreate those soundscapes. This attention to detail and willingness put in the work, even before he knew what he was trying to get out of it, set BabyJay apart and helped send him down his current life path.

It wasn’t long until BabyJay’s desire to create music pushed him away from replicating the work of others to whipping up beats on his own. As he went through high school, BabyJay slowly built up his skillset, making a couple of beats every month at the crib and then taking them to school to show them off to the homies and get feedback. It was a labor of love for BabyJay, and the love that he received at school from showing off his beats proved to him that he had a talent. At the time, no one knew that BabyJay wanted to rap, they just thought he knew his way around a keyboard. He had been writing his own lyrics for a bit, filling up notebooks that he kept tucked away in his room. One day, his mom was cleaning up his room and came across the notebooks. After she sat down and read through them, she waited until BabyJay got home to sit him down and go full mom-mode. “She acted like she was pissed,” BabyJay explained, “But she wasn’t really mad. She actually thought it was pretty decent, she was just in full-parent mode. It’s not like your family knows the real you always”. For BabyJay, those notebooks were filled with lyrics that were representative of the world around him. It was a world that might rightfully give a parent a second of pause when reading, but what was understood from the jump was that BabyJay wasn’t glorifying any action or situation, never that. It was a kid attempting to understand the crumbling infrastructure and urban decay that had twisted their roots deep into Detroit’s core. Simply put, whatever he raps about, he’s been through.

In 2015, BabyJay graduated from high school and immediately transitioned his focus to music. He had an older cousin named Dominique who had a studio set up in his basement, and one day BabyJay got his courage up and asked if he could come over and record. “He thought that I was gonna get on a Kendrick or J. Cole type beat,” said BabyJay, “But I got in there and talked my shit and had him looking like damn, that was dope”. It was game on from there, with BabyJay spending as much time as he possibly could over at Dominique’s spot learning the ins and outs of recording music. It felt like his real life was coming together, having moved on from high school with plans to go to Southwest Community College, and spending all his free time grinding on turning the vision in his head to reality. One day, BabyJay was sitting in his living room looking over what he thought was the most complete, hardest hitting song he had written so far when he looked up and saw his cousin in handcuffs on the local news. Just like that, the wave of momentum BabyJay had felt himself riding crashed onto the beach hard, leaving BabyJay bruised, a little disoriented, and unsure of what his next moves were. He had released a handful of songs and was catching some buzz as K.O.K.E. aka Keep On Killin ‘Em, around the city, but he was now without his mentor in the music game. After taking a minute to pull himself together, true to the soldier-mentality he brings to the table, 97BabyJay picked himself up, shook off the dirt, picked up his now even-heavier bag, and kept moving forward.

As winter transitioned into spring and 2016 began growing older, 97BabyJay kept his buzz growing under the name K.O.K.E. (pronounced COKE) by teaming up with a few of his homies to form the SchemeTeam, and retitling himself SchemeTeam K.O.K.E. He was all in; doing shows, dropping songs on a regular basis, and for a while it seemed like BabyJay had put together the right pieces to keep himself moving up in the industry. But every show that he went to, it seemed like whoever was announcing SchemeTeam’s arrival on stage pronounced his name wrong, or didn’t explain it before yelling it out, leaving those in attendance to think they were listening to a dude whose name sounded like he was outside fiending for some snow. The combination of SchemeTeam falling apart when BabyJay’s homie decided to step away from music, and the dickheadedness of listeners/audience members, led BabyJay to decide that it was time to strip away anything that wasn’t purely himself. He had always been true to himself in regards to what he spit on track. From that moment on, he would simply be 97BabyJay, a young man coming out of Detroit, moving down to Atlanta to make a new life for him and his new family, willing to do whatever it took to ensure a prosperous life for all.

Riding high off of the buzz he had been building around Detroit, 97BabyJay moved to Atlanta expecting the doors to be open as soon as he touched down. No more relying on SayCheese or Lyrical Lemonade to break his music, and definitely no more getting hoe’d on for being an artist out of Detroit. In BabyJay’s mind, being in the A, a veritable music celebrity factory, meant that all he had to do was show up and walk around. That it would just be a matter of time until he would run into someone much higher on the rung than himself and they would be so impressed with his talent that they immediately would give him the shot he felt that he had already earned. Instead, reality smacked BabyJay in the head harder than a stressed college student ripping a dart before a make or break final exam. What became clear to BabyJay was that artists in Atlanta chasing after their dream went balls to the wall with work-ethic, maintaining a focus on their careers above all else. For every public step he saw, he began to understand there was an entire flight or two of stairs that had been run up. Between that realization, and the birth of his son, Nasir, BabyJay dedicated himself to the game, deciding to put forth every bit of energy possible into making his dreams truly turn into reality. 

The year 2021 saw 97BabyJay dropping singles on a regular basis, doing his best to find his footing again in the studio. As 2022 begins to stretch its legs, 97BabyJay has found himself putting in the hours at the studio again. He linked up with producer Drumz&Rosez, finding an immediate chemistry when they happened to link up by chance one night after BabyJay went to Studio 194 in Atlanta looking to record without a producer in tow. The two hit it off, and have been locked in together ever since; with plans to drop an EP entitled 97 Roses sometime during summer 2022. It seems like the puzzle is coming together again for 97, who plans to capitalize on the success of the singles that he spent 2021 dropping by putting together videos and continuing to release singles on a regular basis. Seeing as 97BabyJay is signed to himself, on NBTG (Never Betray The Gang), pushing himself is a full-time focus. One thing that hasn’t changed, is his belief in himself. BabyJay continues to work on building his new label, pushing merchandise and growing his revenue streams. It seems inevitable that 97BabyJay will end up seeing his dreams unfold before his eyes, especially given that he is more committed than ever to putting every fiber of his being into making it happen.

As an uninformed listener, it might be easy to pigeonhole 97 as another Detroit artist rockin buffs talkin his shit over a slapp beat. But listening deeper, it becomes clear that he is someone with a desire to continually evolve his artistic image as he grows as a person. Transitioning his life down to Atlanta, having kids, expanding his circle of collaborators, all have made major impacts on 97’s overall viewpoint on life. It is clear that while he may be young, he has a hell of a solid head on his shoulders. However, no matter how much he pushes forward, 97BabyJay will forever remain true to those roots still deep in the soil on W Warren Outer Drive, a Detroit baby forever. Make sure to follow 97BabyJay on all of his socials to keep up to date with those video drops, as well as the NBTG official Instagram to stay fitted in the latest NBTG gear.

Instagram: @97BabyJay

Twitter: @97BabyJay1

NBTG Insta: @nbtgthelabel

Jake Zinda

24 years old, from Wisconsin Hip-Hop Journalist @CMAG N.S.C.T.D.

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