By: Doug Schultz
Merry Christmas hip-hop heads! If you’re like me, you’ve listened to A Dipset Christmas 471 times since Black Friday (as is tradition), and thus were extremely excited to mix things up with Jack Huncho, Huncho Jack, a surprise album from perhaps the two biggest artists of 2017.
And, if you’re like me, you finished JHHJ, added “Modern Slavery” and “Eye 2 Eye” to whatever your existing playlist was, went about your day, and never felt compelled to listen to it again.
And that’s fine. This is, after all, basically just two friends making music together and sharing it with the world for free, so it’s not like there’s any room for complaining. And to judge this as an true album or as a lynchpin in either of these guys’ discography isn’t really fair without any knowledge of the future. However, given the collective stature of Quavo/Travis in hip-hop right now, it’s also fair to be a little disappointed that this is what they were able to come up with, and perhaps be a bit concerned about the trajectory of their music going forward.
Let’s start with Quavo – I’m actually not worried about him, which is less of an endorsement of him than it is apathy. Here’s my guess on how his 2018 will go:
- He’s going to do another hundred features next year, and a lot of them will be fun, and most of them will be forgettable, and we’ll all still like him.
- There will be more new Migos music and there will be a month where they’re all we listen to, even though they’re just using the same lyrics from Culture and we just don’t care.
- Migos will replace Takeoff with some dude named Earl and none of us will notice.
I’m more troubled about Travis – largely because my opinion of him is so high and it’s too early in his career to sound as generic as he does on JHHJ. To do some level setting here, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is the only album that’s actually saved on my iPhone. I once described Rodeo to a friend as a “Nouveau-Houston-Trap” version of Phantom of the Opera. So yeah, I’m all in on Travis. He’s perhaps the most unique sonic influence on hip-hop’s current landscape; every single time someone features Travis $cott on their song, it feels like a distinctly Travis $cott song, even when it’s not. At least , this was the case UNTIL Jack Huncho, and that’s the cause for concern, because I’m worried it’s a symptom of a larger problem with the wave of hip-hop that has dominated 2017.
There’s not really any disputing that Migos, and probably more largely, Metro Boomin’, have been the driving influence over most of the notable rap releases this year. Even if they haven’t been directly involved, their fingerprints have been all over just about everything of consequence that has released. And all of it has largely been approved and embraced by the general public, which in itself is not an issue. But as a result, we’ve seen artists who don’t really fit that sound gravitate towards it, from extremes like Katy Perry/Calvin Harris/Justin Bieber/Fallout Boy to most recently Big Sean (and it’s no coincidence that Double or Nothing also fell flat a few weeks ago).
I don’t blame anyone for trying to team up with Migos or Boomin’ or for trying to replicate their sound; why wouldn’t you if it’s popular and you want to be successful? Quick anecdote to illustrate this: I was at the Falcons/Seahawks playoff game last year and on the jumbotron they showed a child holding a cardboard cutout of Future’s face – and the crowd went BANANAS. For a cardboard cutout. I’m convinced that if Future ran for Mayor of Atlanta tomorrow he would win easily. So I get why someone would want to get in on that action.
The problem with this though is the more pervasive this current rap wave gets, the more watered down it gets and the more standard it sounds. I’m not going to go so far as to say “all rap sounds the same nowadays” like your uncle who only listens to Grandmaster Flash, but I will ask you this question:
If you were to take all of the instrumentals from Issa, Without Warning, Culture, Double or Nothing, Huncho Jack, Perfect Timing, Droptopwop, Ransom 2, and FUTURE (NOT HNDRXX) and put them into a shuffled playlist, would you be able to tell which songs are from which album?
This is what concerns me – the Atlanta Trap sound has been so successful and tempting for artists that they can’t help themselves from getting involved with it, and as a result they’re getting sucked into a black hole of sameness. This, in my opinion, is what happened to Travis $cott on Huncho and is why the album felt so “meh.” And this, by my memory, is the first time I’ve felt this way about something he’s been involved with.
The scary thing about Travis sounding generic is that his influence over the sound of a song is probably his greatest attribute; it’s not like he’s going on HOT97 to rip a 10-minute freestyle or going to lyrically explore the intricacies of the United States’ current social makeup. So if he’s not the central creative force of the composition of a song, he’s basically another dude on autotune talking about drugs and boobies.
Projecting long term, I would say that the worst-case scenario would be something similar to the career arc of Wale. 2007-2011 Wale was absurd. He was prolific, brought the DC/Go-Go sound to the national mainstream (which was completely different from everyone else at the time), and was at the top level of his peers from a lyrical originality perspective. Then, once he signed with Maybach Music, things took a major turn. Think about the thematic bedrock of that group: Rick Ross (drugs), Meek Mill (drugs), Pill (drugs), and Wale (?).
Signing with Maybach made sense for his career advancement (more money/fame/resources/etc.), but was a major step back for him creatively, similar to the way artists are sprinting to Atlanta now. Since he didn’t fit with the rest of the label, he largely got shoehorned into love-songs or forgettable verses on group cuts. Eventually I think Wale figured some of this out and it seems he’s tried to adjust course, but I don’t think there’s any arguing that he’s not the force that many of us thought he would be. There’s no one in a barbershop putting Wale in their top-15-GOAT list, which seven short years ago wasn’t an unreasonable possibility.
Hopefully this won’t be the case with Travis – that he becomes so enamored with the Atlanta-Trap sound, he loses sight of what makes him so unique and spectacular as an artist. And before I get skewered for sounding the alarm bells over nothing, I want to clarify that I’m not predicting this; only that it’s a possibility that concerns me. It’s equally likely that this was just a project that Travis did with his friend and he’ll go back to his normal excellence moving forward.
My preference is that Travis $cott is the black hole, rather than the one getting swallowed up by it, because hip-hop will be better for it.
Album Rating: 4/10