Sada Baby’s wild ride

The Detroit rapper talks his beginnings, becoming a Blood, avoiding a RICO, and lobster Alfredo

click to enlarge Detroit rapper Sada Baby gained notoriety for hits like "Aktivated" and "Whole Lotta Choppas." - Kahn Santori Davison
Kahn Santori Davison
Detroit rapper Sada Baby gained notoriety for hits like "Aktivated" and "Whole Lotta Choppas."

It’s a festive scene on Detroit’s east side near Van Dyke and the I-94 freeway. The aroma of cannabis can be smelled all the way to Connor as Detroit rapper Sada Baby and about 25 friends and family are having an impromptu summer block party.

Dressed in a long-sleeve Rokit T-shirt, black stonewashed jeans, and a Louis Vuitton polka-dot bandana wrapped around his head, Sada Baby is vibing to music playing from a nearby black SUV while taking sips from a bottle of Don Julio. Nationally known podcaster Bootleg Kev has a film crew on site for an upcoming documentary, and drivers honk their car horns in acknowledgment as they pass by.

Sada Baby greets me with a handshake hug and a smile. I look up at the sky and the sun tells me we only have about an hour of daylight left, so I ask him if we can take the photos first. He obliges, but tells me to follow him a few houses down.

“I don’t want to get the address to the house back there in the background of the photos,” he says. “That’s not where I live, but that’s where my nephews be, so you know how it is.”

Sada turns directly into the best part of the light and gives the camera a look with his dreads hanging slightly over his face. He then turns his head to the side and lifts his upper lip, exposing a set of gold teeth, then closes his eyes and lifts his head to the sun as the rays bounce off his diamond chain.

He walks back to the house, yells to someone to turn the music down, then sits on the front porch next to his man Scoot and talks a little about his early beginnings before he got into the rap game. “I was just living, at work, cooking jobs, selling for this nigga, that nigga, jumping on the Greyhound for cuz,” he says casually.

Born Casada Sorrell, the east-side native says he would be still doing the same if he hadn’t blown up off rap. But Sada has always had the natural ability to stitch bars and punchlines together. “I used to freestyle when I got drunk, and I would be saying some sweet-ass shit, and the next day I wouldn’t remember none of that shit,” he says. “And I used to think, ‘That shit could have been a song or something.’ So I just started going to the studio, and I felt if I’m as good as everyone is insinuating I am, then I should be able to make some money off of this shit.”

He was 100% accurate, his preverbal glow-up moment happening in 2015 when he won DJBJ 3525’s “Imported From the D” talent showcase against a highly favored competitor. “When I watched me take another nigga crowd, take his fans, make them dance that night, I cried on stage and everything,” he says. “It was that night I felt maybe I can be different.”

Sada went on to get noticed on YouTube by releasing song after song after song, clocking views like Salvatore Antibo clocked miles. He signed to fellow Detroiter Tee Grizzley’s Grizzley Gang imprint in 2018, and released the streaming single “Bloxk Party” off his Bartier Bounty mixtape. Sada still calls it his most important project. “To people that’s what I sound like,” he says.

The next sonic grenade Sada tossed was the turnt-up, mosh-pit-ready megahit “Aktivated” in 2019 (certified gold earlier this month). But to classify “Aktivated” as simply a party record would be a disservice, as it’s symbolic of Sada’s versatility and willingness to step outside the Detroit trap rap norm. He uses his raspy voice (but sometimes high-pitched) to turn up in songs like “Slide” and “Little While,” but will also be confrontational and combative in songs like “Pressin” and “Pony Down.” The uniqueness of it is that you always feel like you’re getting his authentic gritty gangster self, no matter the energy of the song.

“I’m always going to be different,” Sada says. He takes a quick sip of Don Julio, turns to Scoot, and asks, “How much effort do I put into doing everything different?”

Scoot responds without hesitation, “150%, probably more.”

“I don’t even wanna like what everyone likes in the group chat!” Sada explains. “It’s a bone in me that makes me do that.”

Another aspect that separates Sada from the pack is his willingness to go shirtless and dance at any given moment on stage or in any music video. Hip-hop has had a love-hate relationship with dancing since the ’90s. A rapper that dances too much risks having their masculinity questioned or simply being labeled as “corny,” and gangster and trap rappers in particular have tended to avoid dancing in order to protect their hardcore personas. But Sada doesn’t give a damn about any of that, and dares anyone to say anything negative about his dancing to his face.

“See, it’s because I’m 6’2’’ and I ain’t no punk,” he says. “I have always had that type of fun because that’s really me. My definition of a gangster is to make sure yo’ people straight and you not being no bitch. I’m a real gangster, flat out! I’m not worried about nothing, bruh. I can dress how the fuck I wanna dress, and I wanna dance, bro! And they be like, ‘Look at this nigga dancing with the tight pants on.’ Oh yeah, and I did it to yo’ mamma! I done seen the worst shit said about me, but it be a fake [Instagram] page though.”

Sada’s willingness to entertain without any inhibitions has translated perfectly into his performances. Fans get the same shirtless “Rowdy” Roddy Piper-esque Sada on stage that’s in his videos.

“I ain’t never rehearsed,” he says. “I do whatever dance move or whatever routine comes out on that day, that song, that natural moment, just the natural energy. I just know I gotta go until the last song, I don’t quit. I be tired, chest hurting, but these people paid to see me.”

A March 12 show at the Fox Theatre was so wild that it was briefly paused, with staff turning the house lights on, after Sada Baby says he brought more than 260 people on stage — leading to rumors that the rapper was banned from ever performing at the theater again. Sada denies the rumors, as does a rep from venue operator 313 Presents.

His manager Eastside Juan, standing nearby, weighs in. “Each person we brought out had their own entourage,” he says. “So it wasn’t just on us. Since he is who he is, they point the finger at us. Everybody that touched the mic had their own entourage. … It ain’t like us to just be going somewhere being rude saying, ‘fuck yo’ money, we here.’ We don’t carry ourselves like that.”

Sada Baby credits his father for his perspective on giving a dynamic live performance.

“My daddy had told me the best concert he ever went to [Busta Rhymes] will never be his favorite rapper, because his favorite rapper [Jay-Z] was too cool to give him a good concert,” Sada says.

Last year Sada’s father passed away. He’s still dealing with the loss, as his father had been one of his biggest supporters. “If he was alive he’d be right here,” he says somberly. “I don’t come out of the house certain days because of that shit.”

Sada turns 30 this year, and I ask him what the 30-year-old Sada Baby would tell the 22-year-old Sada. He pauses for two seconds and responds. “Don’t drink no lean and don’t sign to Tee,” he says. “Even though a lot of good shit still came from the Tee shit. But I could have did it without him. I should have just held out a little bit longer. A nigga didn’t do nothing but grab me up to slow me down anyway. But you know, everything happens for a reason.”

Sada doesn’t mince words regarding his regretful decision to sign to Grizzley Gang. But he says he doesn’t hold any hostility or bad energy toward his former friend.

“I’m a real street nigga bro, I don’t have a real street beef with that nigga, you know what I’m saying?” he says. “I don’t have no super duper hate for no nigga walking around here … it’s just not in my interest to be giving attention and thinking about him in that light. Like it’s dumb to be like, ‘I just can’t wait until I see him again so we can be mean to each other,’ you feel me? Or waiting to see him on the internet so I can comment some bullshit about him, you know what I’m saying? The relationship is something that can’t be repaired, and it’s something that happened, and it’s over with. I wish all the best to him.”

click to enlarge Sada Baby onstage during the 313 Day concert at the Garden Theater. - Kahn Santori Davison
Kahn Santori Davison
Sada Baby onstage during the 313 Day concert at the Garden Theater.

Asylum Records took over his contract fully (via Warner) after Sada changed attorneys and used a sunset clause to get out of the Grizzley Gang deal. “The distribution deal was already through them,” he says. “But it’s more now, we’re tied in a little bit deeper now. I can Facetime [Asylum president Gabrielle Peluso] right now, you feel me?”

In the fall of 2020, Sada released “Whole Lotta Choppas,” his most popular song to date. The banger, which samples Tag Team’s 1993 single, “Whoomp! (There It Is),” instantly became a TikTok fave, resulting in the somewhat surreal sight of suburban white women dancing a choreographed routine as part of the “Whole Lotta Choppas Challenge,” swinging their shoulders to the beat of the song, and pointing their fingers to the sound of a gunshot. The track peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“I knew ‘Whole Lotta Choppas’ was the one,” he says. “I held that shit for two years. I wouldn’t let the label get it. That was intentional. I didn’t know it was going to be as big as it is. I knew it wasn’t a song that I was going to rush and put out. Part of it was the ‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’ shit, and they would have wanted a lot of money. I knew it was a fire song. I just didn't want to give it out for no reason, and I feel I put it out at the right time.”

It feels like these first seven years of Sada’s music career have flown by in a blink. He’s now a bonafide rap star, nationally known, and easily one of the top five most recognizable hip-hop artists from Detroit. (I’ll leave you all to debate who the other four are.) According to Sada, the pressure to stay grinding after you’ve gained success is far more challenging than the struggles that come when you’re first starting out.

“The hardest part is to keep going regardless,” he says. “Not the part before where I’m essentially in the bucket fighting with niggas for notreity and progression of popularity from one’s stature in our area, which is music. That wasn’t hard, because I knew something big was coming.”

Sada views his status as a win for him and his whole team of friends and aspiring artists. His door and heart is open for anyone in his circle that has any kind of music or entrepreneurial aspirations that he can help with, he says.

“This shit right here is nothing but layups, alley-oops for anybody around me that act like they wanna give a fuck,” he says. “Then it’s up to people to do something. It’s up to you to do something with the opportunity of being around, you can use it for bad or you can use it for good. Personally, I like having the door open all the time. I make it my business for my people to know this shit for us, for all of us!”

Lately, it seems the amount of rappers facing legal troubles has hit an all-time high. In May, Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Gunna were charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. To make a long story short, authorities claim they’ve been financing and participating in a series of crimes via their YSL record label (which authorities contend is a gang). Sada himself is a two-time felon who’s been arrested a dozen times. But he says he’s made sure to take the necessary steps to pivot away from illegal activities and to avoid unintentionally incriminating himself or his friends. He stopped using guns in his videos when he got off probation three years ago, and he separates his gang affiliations from his friends and family.

Sada is a Deadpool-style antihero, and he also wears red.

“I’ma’ Blood, you know what I’m saying? Campanella Park Piru Blood,” he says, adding, “These niggas right here not no Bloods. And I ain’t never came over here pushing my flag on them. … Naw bro, because it would make it look like I’m inciting the appearance of the most gang activity in the world … Noooooo brother, that ain’t what’s happening here.”

While Detroit has always had gangs, it hasn’t had the type of gang culture seen in Los Angeles and Chicago. Sada understands that many people have found his decision to join the Bloods confusing, but it’s a decision he continues to stand by.

“I started gang-bangin’ when I was 25, nigga, literally,” he says. “My big dogs were into it, I fell off into it, some shit happened to where it was serious, and it made me fall in love with it a little bit more. And I’m the nigga that made it official in this bitch. So yeah, it is what it is. A nigga can be just as perplexed as I was. I didn’t feel I was going to wake up and be a Blood one day at 25, but bitch, it happened. And don’t disrespect it. And that shit serious. And it’s the heaviest.”

click to enlarge “I’m always going to be different,” Sada Baby says. - Kahn Santori Davison
Kahn Santori Davison
“I’m always going to be different,” Sada Baby says.

Everything aside, Sada still releases his diverse array of music at a dragonfly-type pace. One June 10, Sada released Skuba Sada 2.5, which had all the color, energy, and Sadaisms fans have come to expect and love. The sexually infused “Bob Stick” borrows a few chords from Slick Rick’s “Children Story” to create another perfect club banger. He somehow got Snoop Dogg to step away from his never-ending pitchman gigs for the head-nodder “2 Freaks,” and he raps high-pitched and high-powered on “Blickelodeon” (a cut that truly makes you want to drive 100 mph on the freeway, butt-naked).

Sada has created hits with several well-known producers, but cites Von Jose the Plug as his favorite. “Me and him came up together,” he says. “That’s really my friend. I’m always excited when me and him get a chance to sit down and do some new shit together.”

Over the last 18 months Detroit’s hip-hop scene has been hotter than the exhaust pipe on a Dodge Challenger. Rappers Babyface Ray and BabyTron were part of the XXL 2022 Freshman Class, Baby Money signed with Quality Control in February, Icewear Vezzo has his own potato chips, and every nationally known rapper has a favorite Detroit rapper.

“You just gotta be proud!” Sada Baby says. “The niggas here been could rap, it’s just about what people wanted to pay attention to. They like the punchlines. It’s like they kind of gravitate back to the New York shit because niggas wanna hear bars, but they don’t wanna hear boring-ass bars like New York shit be. That’s why New York rappers don’t sound like New York rappers no more; it’s drill.”

I remind Sada he told me in our last interview that lobster Alfredo was his favorite dish to make from his days working as a chef at Joe Muer Seafood. He laughs. “The lobster Alfredo is still my favorite thing to make,” he says. “I have fun making pasta from scratch, like making my own sauce. I told my people I was going to start making 25 orders of some shit and pop it on Instagram like, ‘first come, first serve.’ The package shit will come with an autograph, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Sada doesn’t know exactly when those Instagram pop-ups will start (though he has been known to randomly post clips of himself making tacos), but he plans on staying committed to giving fans his most authentic self on stage and off.

“This me on stage, it just ain’t no music on,” he says. “That shit natural to me. I have this temperament, talking like this until it’s time to turn up. I’m the same nigga, and I don’t have to be on stage for me to turn up!”

Sada Baby performs on Friday, July 22 at Rowan City Park, 114 E. Broadway Ave., Muskegon Heights. Gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $50 and are available at eventbrite.com.

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About The Author

Kahn Santori Davison

Kahn Santori Davison is from Detroit, Michigan. He's a husband and father of four and a self-described, "Kid who loves rap music." He's been featured on Hip-Hop Evolution and Hip-Hop Uncovered. He's also a Cave Canem fellow, author of the poetry book Blaze (Willow Books), a recipient of a 2015 Kresge Literary...
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