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It’s crazy how overlooked and underrated consistency can be. Yet, while it’s easy to take that kind of reliability for granted, its benefits are undeniable.
While some have mused that trap is a dying genre due to its stricter and stricter adherence to formula and I worried at the idea of joint musical projects earlier this year myself, Lil Baby and Gunna’s Drip Harder largely manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of both forms. It does so by embracing two of its major elements: A willingness to indulge the genre’s tropes with a level of commitment and consistency that allows the auteurs to transcend those motifs, and the effervescent chemistry they display in doing so.
Drip Harder is also a testament to the importance and impact of the artist-fan interaction of social media, when it’s done well. The album was formulated when fans continued to harangue Lil Baby and Gunna for more material after the success of their initial collaboration, “Drip Too Hard,” which was built on their existing chemistry from years of association, and perfected by the lack of involvement from major label entanglements. It was of the people and for the people, it’s the egalitarian standard of rap in 2018. “Drip Too Hard” also makes an obligatory appearance here, but nestled comfortably toward the end of the show, allowing Baby and Gunna to strut their musical chops all over the front end.
What sets Drip Harder apart from its musical forebears in the collaborative project arena — projects such as Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho by Quavo and Travis Scott or Super Slimey by Future and Young Thug — is the sense that this was not some slapdash effort, thrown together to appease the the rabid fans banging away on their phone keyboards with “Where’s the album?” comments and tweets, although Super Slimey might be the best analogue for Baby and Gunna’s unique chemistry. Nor is it the overstuffed Culture II offered up by Migos earlier this year which mistook quantity for quality and staying power with cultural importance. No one really ever asked Migos for a 24-track, superhero movie-length trap opera, but fans deliriously anticipated the release of Drip Harder, which was crafted with an eye toward economy and care in the details.
Drip Harder, by contrast to its genre predecessors, clocks in at a relatively smooth, digestible 13 tracks. Because they recognize the primary attraction is the yin-and-yang, push-and-pull of their impressionistic rhyme-slinging (a favorite flex from album opener “Off White VLONE” is “don’t none of my h*es wear Uggs,” which, aside from the distasteful casual misogyny, is such a head-spinner of a boast, you can’t help but sit back and chuckle), the pair ensure their voices — Lil Baby’s nasal whine vs. Gunna’s ragged tenor — are the only ones the listener will hear for the majority of the album. Lil Durk and Nav appear early on, while Gunna’s most immediate stylistic relative Young Thug drops in for a typically unhinged verse on “My Jeans.” And of course, Drake stops by for the clout-blessing closer “Never Recover,” which has already spurred its share of online discussion.
The reason Lil Baby and Gunna work so well, where other projects of Drip Harder‘s ilk just came and went, is how different, yet complimentary the two are. On Huncho Jack, it was damn near impossible to discern just why we needed to hear those two rappers together for a full project. Bless Travis and Quavo forever, but what they do isn’t that dissimilar from each other, so their crooning starts to feel pretty redundant right around the title track of their collaboration, which leaves another eight tracks to slog through, broken up by a lone appearance from fellow Migo Offset. On Drip Harder, Baby and Gunna bring out the best in each other, such as on “Belly,” where Baby’s machine-gun report bounces off Gunna’s stunned slur, generating a ping-pong rhythm that plays smoothly off the hypnotic beat supplied by Turbo, who might be the true star of the album.
While it may not be immediately evident to the casual listener, trap connoisseurs will appreciate the subtle improvement Turbo shows on tracks like “Close Friends” as well. He incorporates a collection of new sounds that would be out of place in the trap sounds of even a year ago. While the album receives considerable sonic support from genre mainstays like Quay Global, Wheezy, and Tay Keith, it’s Turbo who probes the the edges of the trap palette, rooting around for new fjords and deltas to explore in a musical style that has often prided itself on the disposable nature of its beats, with producers bragging that beats take 5 minutes or less to throw together. It’s a sign of expertise, yes, but it’s also a sign of laziness and maybe a little hubris. And while Turbo leads the charge, he brings out the best in his collaborators, especially on the Zaytoven-aping “Underdog,” where Wheezy, RamyOnTheBeat, Mattazik Muzik, and June James all join Turbo in bringing the elaborately composed, piano-based beat to vibrant life.
The one drawback of the album is the one “flaw” many trap albums have displayed this year; if you’re not already a fan of the genre, Drip Harder will do little to engender your affection. It’s not designed to draw new listeners, it was conceived by fans and expertly executed on their behalf — yet there’s nothing here that would turn off a new fan either. If anything, the simplicity of the style makes it even easier to get into it, with repeat listenings slowly revealing the craftsmanship throughout. While a casual listener might not be able to see the results of practice, of musical IQ, of subtle innovation, Lil Baby, Gunna, and their combined fan bases recognize the consistency of the effort they put in and the dividends its paid off so far. Drip Harder might just be the point the rest of the world finally catches on.
Drip Harder is out now via Quality Control Music/Young Stoner Life Records. Get it here.