Babeo Baggins no longer exists. When I call to interview them, the nonbinary singer and musician tells me to call them BB instead. It might seem premature for an artist who only recently became famous, rising to prominence as a member of the Tumblr-born rap collective Barf Troop, to change their stage name. But deciding to go by just their initials is a development that coincides with BB’srecent shift from rap to country music, and like so much else in the artist’s life, it isn’t set in stone.
“My name is going to transition to something else [eventually], I don’t want to say too much about it right now,” BB tells me. Though they do say that they will reveal a new stage name, the next evolution of Babeo Baggins, during their upcoming tour.
It’s challenging even figuring out how to refer to BB at this point, mid-rebranding. They haven’t completely eschewed the name Babeo Baggins, as BB’s newest music, the heart-aching country ballads “Transformation” and “Mice or Men,” shows up under it on Spotify and other streaming services. There’s no clear place to draw a line between Babeo and BB. It makes sense that the nonbinary, pansexual, mixed-race singer is comfortable inhabiting the overlap. In a world that’s often hyper-focused on labels, BB embodies nonconformity to any perceived norms.
In 2015, when Barf Troop appeared on the radar, young, social-media-savvy music fans were won over by their confrontational, gender-subverting hip-hop. Barf Troop was rap for the generation that grew up discussing queer theory online; the group’s members, made up of cis women and non-binary artists, began as a group of friends on Tumblr. They made quirky DIY music, winking at the over-the-top caricatures of sexuality and violence that so many male rappers embrace. “Vomit on these hoes, upchuck or get fucked,” Baggins chanted on “Garbage Pail Princess,” their voice sweet as a schoolyard nursery rhyme. Barf Troop generated plenty of buzz and seemed poised for a breakthrough, but today most of the band’s discography has disappeared from the Internet, and you might be hard pressed to name one of its songs.
Meanwhile, BB has had one foot in the world of country music since 2016, when they released an EP, Love Songs for Tough Guys, that marked the beginning of their shift in genre. Collaborating with Drake to cover Nico’s “These Days,” Baggins departed from their Barf Troop singsong to show off a vocal talent ranging from whispery, ethereal harmonies to poignant crooning. In December of 2017, their song “Slow Dance,” another tuneful tearjerker, this one a plea for the love of an uninterested woman, appeared in an episode of the cartoon Adventure Time. This summer, BB has been fully focused on their country music, putting the finishing touches on two new EPs, preparing to debut a music video for “Mice or Men,” and planning a tour.
There’s a lot of sonic distance between the in-your-face bravado of Babeo Baggins (“I got hoes in different area codes / Yeah, these fellas eat my pussy, then they pay my tolls,” they rapped on their 2015 mixtape Positive) and the heartfelt melodies of BB (“I seem to love the pain ’cause it’s the only thing that don’t go away,” they murmur on “Transformation”). Without the Barf Troop swagger and silliness, BB’s songs are as intimate as unexpected eye contact.
Although they say their new songs are their favorites, they emphasize that this work comes from the same place their rap songs did. “Barf Troop was a more aggressive energy, and the new stuff is more soft-spoken, but whatever I’m writing is always an expression of me as an artist,” BB says. “I stand for the same things now as I did then: supporting queer people, making space for trans artists. The only thing that’s really changed is the music.”