If Nickelodeon made a Drake & Josh spinoff that featured just Drake, would it still be as good? Probably not. Drake & Josh was so fun precisely because of the how the two brothers interacted with each other.
The same applies to Migos, America’s hottest hip hop group. The Atlanta trap trio (Quavo, Offset, Takeoff) works best in tandem, switching flows and ping-ponging ad-libs like some absurd, magical carnival attraction. It’s the same formula every time, but there are enough little stylistic tweaks to keep listeners entertained endlessly.
That’s why Quavo’s solo debut QUAVO HUNCHO is a bit of a head scratcher. If the formula ain’t broke, why fix it?
Quavo hinted that a primary reason was Offset’s marriage to Cardi B: “...It makes you want to grow up. We all can’t stay in the same house no more,” he told Billboard.
It’s also worth mentioning that Quavo’s had the most individual success out of the three Migos, featuring on tons of acclaimed tracks like Post Malone’s “Congratulations”, Drake’s “Portland” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One.”
Out of the three Migos, Quavo has the most radio-friendly tone. Offset always sounds a little sickly, and Takeoff’s voice is too deep and gritty. But Quavo uses AutoTune so he seems almost illusory, like a gurgling gargoyle that’s come alive.
His nickname “huncho” even translates to “leader of the pack,” which gives credence to his status as the unofficial lead Migo.
So it almost makes sense that he’s trying his hand at a solo record - almost.
The album comes across like a victory lap, Quavo saying, “look at how famous I am, look at how many famous people I know… and I can even do it all by myself.” But the last part doesn’t really hold up.
While QUAVO HUNCHO is full of Migos-typical hallmarks - bouncy trap beats, Patek Philippe watch references, “woo” ad-libs, et al - it’s missing the other two, his partners-in-rhyme. At a certain point while listening to Migos tracks, the three seem to blend into one moving, grooving unit; Quavo just isn’t compelling enough to carry 19 full tracks by himself.
There are a couple tracks in particular, “GO ALL THE WAY” and “LOST”, where Quavo ditches the Migos sound in a seriously concerning way.
The former jettisons the smooth, sublime style of instrumental that usually characterizes Migos songs (think “Walk It Talk It”, “Stir Fry”, “MotorSport”) for an abrasive 8-bit-style beat, courtesy of Pharrell. The beat sounds both amateuristic and not at all trap-flavored, more 2004 Usher than 2018 Migos (it’s like a pixelated “Yeah!” circa Confessions).
“LOST” is almost the opposite: mellow and moody, but it’s also nauseating. The performances by Quavo and feature Kid Cudi do not match the low-key tone of the track: Quavo sounds loud and whiny, and Cudi has too much autotune. The synth motifs and various sound effects are also unpleasant. It sounds like both the vocals and the various other sound layers were saturated with too much flanger effect, resulting in everything feeling too “damp” or heavy over the chill beat.
What’s even more frustrating is that the best track on the album probably shouldn’t be credited to Quavo at all, but to Travis Scott.
“RERUN” was teased for nearly two years, first featured in a snippet back in October 2016. After it wasn’t released on either Migos’s Culture or their Culture II, or on the Quavo and Scott collab Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho nor Scott’s solo Astroworld, fans pretty much conceded defeat.
Finally “RERUN” is here, and it’s incredibly intoxicating. The beat is druggy and dreamy, with swirly synths and melodic hums that sound like church hymns (to the pagan trap god, lord AutoTune). Quavo and Scott work together in perfect unison, trading lines on the hook like baton handoffs in a relay.
But it’s Scott who makes a bigger impression, rapping the catchy “I had to come right back and double back like rerun” and relegating Quavo to “yeah, uh” ad-libs. Scott even gets a 50-second beatless break in the middle, where he’s given free reign to steal the show and perform a trademark soliloquy like the one on his fantastic Rodeo-era “Pornography.” The entire psychedelic atmosphere (it makes you feel sort of like you’re in a car riding through your hometown, rain pouring down the windows, thinking wondrously about everything you’ve done) screams Travis Scott, not Quavo or Migos.
There are other tracks where Quavo is flexed on by his guests as well, like “PASS OUT” and “LOSE IT.”
The former has a tight, imposing trap beat, and features 21 Savage’s typical deadpan, menacing flow, which sounds far more fitting than Quavo’s somewhat weaker, wavering tone.
Similarly, on “LOSE IT”, featured rapper Lil Baby goes off. He spits his entire verse in what feels like one breath. Lil Baby also has a very idiosyncratic vocal style, like a Young Thug with vocal Parkinson’s disease: it’s extremely frenetic, volume shaking up and down seemingly by the millisecond; this does not favor Quavo at all when his style is pretty trap-typical and, in this track, offensively boring.
There are a good number of excellent Quavo solo tracks, though. “BIGGEST ALLEY OOP”, “WORKIN ME” and “BUBBLE GUM” are all brilliant, and highlight Quavo’s potential to perform well if he chooses the right beat.
“BIGGEST ALLEY OOP” is built on an absolutely dirty, stank face-inducing flute-driven beat. Quavo rides the wave with an aptly aggressive, enjoyably braggadocious verve.
Both “WORKIN ME” and “BUBBLE GUM” were singles released before QUAVO HUNCHO came out. The former has an especially stimulating instrumental, punchy and hypnotic; Quavo supports the drums with his own humming, and he harmonizes it to perfection with AutoTune. “BUBBLE GUM” is simpler, but the beat still sounds fresh and Quavo’s flow is superb.
While QUAVO HUNCHO overall seems to be a little half-baked, it appears to be more of an experiment than anything else. Offset and Takeoff have announced intentions to release solo albums as well, and the entire band is not breaking up yet because they’ve declared plans to put out a third Culture installment next year.
If anything, we (and Migos) should be concerned about the oversaturation of their sound. We’ve already been given an almost unmanageable quantity of tracks over the past couple years, and a boatload more will surely capsize public favor.
Quavo tries hard but comes up a little short. Hey, at least we finally have "RERUN."
TOP TRACKS: "BIGGEST ALLEY OOP", "WORKIN ME", "RERUN", "BUBBLE GUM"
BOTTOM TRACKS: "GIVE IT TO EM", "GO ALL THE WAY", "BIG BRO", "SWING", "LOST"
Who is Brockhampton?
In the hip-hop sphere, it was near impossible to escape them last year. The rap group rose to eminence through releasing three fantastic albums (the SATURATION trilogy) in one year, a feat that garnered them massive critical-acclaim and a dedicated fanbase.
Brockhampton embodies the mentality of the digital age and participatory culture: the group’s leader, Kevin Abstract, under the pseudonym “harry styles” made a post titled “Anybody wanna make a band?” on the online forum KanyeToThe in 2013; the rest is history.
The group is unique for a number of reasons.
First, they consist of fifteen members - an amalgamation of vocalists, producers, directors and designers. They’ve dubbed themselves a “boy band,” which is an interesting attempt to reclaim the derogatory term and instead use it to connote a group of friendly, lovable dudes.
They’re also unique in that they feel like a breath of fresh air in respect to modern rap’s gravitation towards bleak, ghettocentric themes and misogynistic subject matter.
Instead, Brockhampton albums mix in elements of everything: idyllic pop jaunts, groovy club bangers, majestic R&B ballads and more. And their music is a lyrical safe space, one where Abstract raps about “being gay” and others demand that listeners must respect women.
Both aspects have especially helped them develop a solid fanbase. They draw a crowd of music connoisseurs and LGBTQ-tumblr users, the former respecting their experimentalism and the latter loving their progressive idiosyncrasies.
Brockhampton’s first test came in May this year, when the band’s number-two rapper Ameer Vann was accused of sexual assault. The situation was especially nauseating considering the band’s progressive pretensions. They did the right thing, though, and removed Vann from the group. All eyes became set on how they would bounce back.
They’ve arrived with their best work yet, iridescence, a truly iridescent 15-track LP that is Brockhampton at their most enjoyably confident, meaningfully vulnerable and sonically pleasant, ever.
What makes Brockhampton distinct is that everything is done in-house, meaning they don’t outsource any manpower: they produce the beats, they direct the videos, they come up with and execute the concepts and they don’t have many features on tracks. It’s all Brockhampton, all the time, which gives the band its own sound. When Brockhampton comes on, you know it’s Brockhampton.
And while they’ve had problems in the past with their albums sounding all over the place, iridescence is coherent and consistent. They take their own sound and elevate it, balancing chunky basslines, elegant strings and penetrating vocal performances together to make what feels like one long, yet succinct, statement about musical progression and the process of becoming a star. Brockhampton has experienced the rise to stardom in barely a year, and they’re still climbing; this album is their immediate response.
Iridescence further expands on their previous efforts to remodel the idea of the rap song, as practically every track snubs structure in favor of a more theatrical feel. The beat switches are as multitudinous as a play would have acts and there are as many vocalists in each song as a Broadway show would have cast members.
That sort of blueprint leads to some pretty crazy tracks.
My favorite is “WEIGHT” which feels like an entire album packed into four minutes. It begins with the most sobering verse on the entire LP with Abstract confessing fears that he’s “the worst in the boyband” and then telling us how he felt when he first knew he was gay: “I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming.” The track then breaks down into a magnificent drum n’ bass section. After, we get fantastic verses by Dom McLennon and Joba, and the beat chills into a mellow, nostalgia-tinged slow burn that makes you think wow, what was that?
Brockhampton’s seamless tone switches are especially prevalent as well on “TONYA,” a track that makes use of seven vocalists and contains four different beats/moods. The song is based on the film I, Tonya that dramatized the life of Tonya Harding, the famous ice skater who became embroiled in a career-destroying controversy. “TONYA” is at once haunting and beautiful: Abstract delivers one of his best faux-hooks, “My ghosts still haunt ya, my life is I, Tonya” that describes his fears of Brockhampton’s fame spiraling out of control, and the woe of one of his best friends lying to him, vis-à-vis Vann’s scandal.
Everything on iridescence is rooted in vulnerability, but Brockhampton keeps it interesting by varying the energy levels. “WEIGHT,” “TONYA,” and other tracks like “THUG LIFE,” “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” “TAPE” and “SAN MARCOS” are soft, smile-and-cry appeals to the soul.
But there are also more violent cuts, too, in a sort of releasing-through-unleashing fashion. One of these is “J’OUVERT,” perhaps Brockhampton’s hardest-hitting song to date. The bassline sounds deranged, like a pulsing computer that’s overloaded and spilling its guts out, sputtering a stream of synthetic blood with an unearthly, mechanic rigidity. My favorite bit of the beat is the distorted, bird-like siren motif that gives the track a disturbing, unnerving texture. All the vocalists rap with cutthroat moxie, especially Joba, who’s practically screaming into the microphone.
“NEW ORLEANS” is another killer. The track has 7 rappers and it sounds dangerously claustrophobic, like they’re all bouncing around in one room and the walls are twisting and stretching in time with the synthline. By the end, you’ll need some fresh air.
Iridescence represents a lot more than just “Brockhampton’s fourth album.”
It’s the realization that they weren’t just a one-off trend, and it proves to us, and them, that they had what it took to overcome Vann’s controversy.
Brockhampton has mastered their sound; beats, boy band spontaneity and all.
TOP: "WEIGHT", "LOOPHOLE", "J'OUVERT", "VIVID", "SAN MARCOS", "TONYA", "FABRIC"
BOTTOM: "THUG LIFE", "BERLIN", "SOMETHING ABOUT HIM"