There’s this phrase in pro-wrestling terminology: Killing the town. Back before the ’80s WWF takeover, pro wrestling was a regional phenomenon: All of North America divided up into these discrete fiefdoms over which a single promoter would reign. Those promoters would then tour their wrestling rosters around their own corners of the map, running shows in bigger cities and smaller towns, performing for whoever would pay to see them. They’d have a loop, a regular circuit of local-TV tapings and tour stops. And they had to keep their audiences happy.
When a promoter fucked up and didn’t keep a particular audience happy, that promoter killed the town. If he ran too many shows in one too-small town, he killed the town. If he booked a match that his audience hated, he killed the town. If he pushed an unpopular hero over a popular one, or staged a storyline that lost the audience, or didn’t provide a satisfying payoff for a long-simmering feud, he killed the town. And if he killed the town, he ended what had once been a healthy revenue stream. People would just stop paying attention, and they’d stop paying their money, too. It was a serious thing. Nobody wanted to kill the town.
In 2018, Quavo killed the town.
It’s not that hard to figure out why Quavo killed the town. Migos broke out with their YRN mixtape five years ago, but they didn’t suddenly get huge. Instead, they spent years as a moderately popular Atlanta rap group, and their popularity included a whole lot of stuff that couldn’t get them paid. Migos’ staggered quick-tongue triplet flow became a dominant rap style, but you don’t get royalties when other people imitate your flow. They helped popularize the dab, the pretend-you’re-sneezing dance move that has become the sort of thing that first graders do to prove they’re cool. (I know this because I have a first grader. He dabs every time you point a camera at him, and he also owns a T-shirt with a dabbing Tyrannosaurus on it. It says “Dab-A-Saurus Rex.”) But you don’t get paid for helping popularize dance moves, either.
Migos were releasing massively popular mixtape tracks when mixtapes were still free downloads, not major-label albums labelled as something else. They didn’t get streaming royalties for YRN or No Label II. Their first proper album was a total boondoggle, released and partially assembled when one third of the group was in prison. Migos had hits, but they only really broke out a little less than two years ago, when “Bad & Boujee” went supernova and hit #1. Suddenly, they were on arena tours and festival bills. They were always prolific guest-verse rappers, but they suddenly went into overdrive, getting paid to show up on, for instance, a Katy Perry single.
All this time, Migos have been studio monsters. They love rapping together, and they seem to put together verses effortlessly, their energy bouncing off of each other. But they get into issues when they do it too much. At this point, all three Migos, Quavo in particular, are cranking out too much music for anyone to properly process. Back in December, Quavo and Travis Scott released their collaborative album, Huncho Jack, which the world has already forgotten. Barely a month later, Migos followed that one up with Culture II, 24 songs and 106 endless minutes of boilerplate shit talk. Quavo hasn’t slowed down since then; he’s been yammering out more guest appearances than any person could possibly count. And now he’s got a solo album.
Maybe Quavo is worried that his moment is limited. Maybe he thinks he needs to crank out as much music as he possibly can while he’s still hot. Maybe he’s right! Rap music career windows are a lot longer than they once were, but Quavo probably knows that his big golden moment is right now. Or maybe he’s just working at the same rate that he’s always been working, and it just seems like more now because he’s a pop star and his work commands attention.
There is precedent for this kind of thing. Past rap heroes like Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane have released music at ungodly clips, and those tsunamis of songs made them folk heroes. But when Wayne and Gucci were in their prolific primes, they were constantly reinventing the way they rapped, taking obvious and audible joy in the ways that they were putting words together. Quavo, on the other hand, has never sounded more tired. He sounds like he’s just filling up space on his own songs. It’s depressing.
There is no compelling artistic reason for Quavo Huncho, Quavo’s new solo album, to exist. Quavo has nothing to say, and he doesn’t have any fresh or energetic ways to say it. The album looks like a blockbuster. It has an enviable roster of producers: Murda Beatz, Tay Keith, WondaGurl. It has guest appearances from plenty of rap’s biggest stars: Drake, Travis Scott, Cardi B, 21 Savage. Madonna, one of the most historically transformative pop stars still living, shows up on “Champagne Rosé” and basically plays the role of human sound effect. (That guest appearance is a whole other post. What is she doing?) Thanks to “Huncho Dreams,” a quasi-dis aimed at Nicki Minaj, the album even has tabloid appeal. But almost nothing on the album leaves any sort of impression. It’s just replacement-level Atlanta rap music.
Through most of Quavo Huncho’s hour-plus runtime, Quavo raps about money and clothes and cars in increasingly tired and workmanlike ways. Everyone raps about those things, of course. The challenge is to convey the enthusiasm and euphoria of having money for the first time in your life. Quavo used to be great at that. These days, he’s rote and robotic. There are only a few moments on Quavo Huncho where he shows any personality at all. On “Lost,” opposite Kid Cudi, he laments his own zoned-out disconnection. On “Big Bro,” he weirdly plays the elder statesman, cautioning younger rap peers against Fentanyl and posing with guns in Instagram photos. And on “Huncho Dreams,” the song about Nicki, he mostly just sounds like a dick: “Bounce that ass, Nicki / Bounce that ass, Nicki / Shake it like Iggy / Shake it like Iggy / If I hurt your feelings, I am truly sorry / I’m straight out the jungle, no Safaree.”
There are good moments on Quavo Huncho, but most of them have little to do with Quavo himself. There’s a cool Ren-Faire vibe to some of these beats, with their flutes and acoustic guitars. Cardi B, in an extremely brief verse, broadcasts enormous personality all over the place. Drake gets in one more slick line at Kanye West’s expense (“you was in your twenties in the ’90s”). I like the electro chill on “No Cap.” And when Lil Baby shows up on “Lose It,” he radiates the same energy and inventiveness that Quavo hasn’t had since the first Culture. Maybe Quavo can find his way back there someday. Or maybe the town is just dead.
1. Asian Doll: “1017” (Feat. Gucci Mane & Yung Mal)
It’s been years since I’ve heard anyone this fired up to be on a song with Gucci Mane. Listen to her doing his ad-libs! It’s beautiful.
2. 7981Kal: “Trap Addict” (Feat. Illy Dee)
There are a lot of songs that sound a lot like this one. But this one has a drum sound that makes me feel like I just got kicked in the eye. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
3. ALLBLACK: “Heat Check”
In the Bay Area, you still have to work to keep up with hyperspeed bass-bloops. ALLBLACK puts in the work. And I’ll take his version of the “Ha” flow over the lazy one that Quavo tries out on “Flip The Switch.”
4. Problem: “Finna Ball” (Feat. Badd Lucc)
Six years after “Like Whaaat,” these guys still bring the energy out of each other. God bless certain quadrants of West Coast rap for endearingly refusing to evolve too quickly.
5. FMB DZ: “Certified”
In which FMB DZ reveals himself to be something more than the other guy who raps on a lot of Sada Baby tracks.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Craig Bro Dude (@CraigSJ) October 11, 2018