Joint albums have become all the rage in hip-hop. There have been any number of attempts at Best Of Both Worlds-style pairings of two rappers who ostensibly complement one another released, planned, or rumored since Jay-Z and Kanye West shook up the world with Watch The Throne. However, very few have lived up to the hype surrounding their initial announcements.
What A Time To Be Alive, a much-ballyhooed collaboration album between Drake and Future, turned out to be mostly ho-hum, while Super Slimey, likewise a Future co-production — this time with Young Thug — also turned out to be more flash than substance. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have long been rumored to be working on a joint project, but good luck finding it on any label’s docket.
The truth is, for one reason or another, these things rarely meet fans’ lofty expectations; the vibe doesn’t work with both acts involved, the styles don’t mesh, or one artist ends up carrying the other for the majority of the project. 21 Savage, Offset, and Metro Boomin‘s Without Warning is just another in the increasing line of projects that work better on paper than in the final execution.
Part of the problem is that such collaborations actually do work well with one or two tracks. They are intriguing novelties which catch the listener’s attention and temporarily unite fanbases (or serve fans that exist in the overlap between the two), and often times, the pairings push each side to a new respective height or dimension of their own unique style. However, when this effect is stretched over the course of ten to fifteen tracks or thirty minutes to an hour, the initial spark of curiosity is lost. Usually, both artists lapse back into their own comfortable veins, co-existing but not exactly cooperating, and neither elevating the other or allowing their self to be elevated.
That’s exactly what happens on Without Warning. To be sure, both 21 Savage and Offset are entertaining enough on their own and for different reasons. Savage’s lethargic flow and snarled threats lend him the affect of an apathetic, remorseless serial killer, a la Michael Myers of Halloween fame, whose violent acts are committed as off-handedly as possible. Meanwhile, Offset is a ball of energy, bouncing off the walls of the beat with his clipped, precisely measured couplets firing off in controlled bursts like a Marine’s rifle. They provide each other a nice, yin-and-yang, push-and-pull dynamic that should serve to balance and — ahem — offset their respective styles.
Instead, they just sound like two rappers creating two separate takes on Metro Boomin’s excellently eerie production, and then an engineer slapped the two verses from each together. They rarely interact on the records, which is one of the aspects of Offset’s delivery that’s made him such a joy in the past twelve months or so. The way he and his Migos cohorts relay-race over beats tends to cover up his flaws as a lyricist (with Takeoff usually picking up where he leaves off), but whereas he takes energy from his bandmates on Migos projects, here, he and 21 sound stuck in neutral.