Critical Voices: Metro Boomin, Without Warning

November 13, 2017

The first time Metro Boomin’s tag mumbles across his new album, Without Warning, it’s slower than normal. The syrupy “Metro Boomin want some more” indicates a mood, something eerie. In fact, Boomin may be the only producer in trap iconic enough to alter his tag and have it be an event.

Leland Tyler Wayne, known professionally as Metro Boomin, is the 24-year-old patriarch of the Atlanta trap movement. Traditionally, trap as a sub-genre was held together by rapping about trapping and drug paraphernalia over a beat of tight cymbal and thumping bass synths. However, Atlanta trap is specific— it is ominous, pessimistic, and heavy. The homogeneity of the modern, Atlanta influenced production style can likely be traced back to Boomin, whose aggressive work on Future’s Dirty Sprite 2 and 21 Savage’s Savage Mode became genre defining.

Boomin’s production on Without Warning is the logical continuation of two years of his carefully cultivated sound, for better or worse. Many of the tracks on this album are tired explorations of ideas he’s introduced previously, and his retreading of these ideas tends to comes off as stale. However, there are sparks throughout Without Warning that exemplify why this style caught fire in the first place. Boomin recruited Offset and 21 Savage, two Atlanta natives, to rap over the tape. The pairing is intriguing because the two singers represent opposite takes on Boomin’s trap; Offset exhibits a mastery of the technical and percussive aspect of trap, and 21 focuses on the nihilistic and dark moods that the sound invites. The result is a mixed bag.

The first song on Without Warning, “Ghostface Killers,” exhibits how Offset and 21’s strengths can work with each other and with Boomin’s production. The beat rolls in quietly, bell chimes, and a dark organ carries the majority of the instrumental until Offset jumps in on the hook. His autotuned delivery is influenced by Boomin’s glitzy production on previous Travis Scott albums, and the fiery speed he rattles the hook off with perfectly carries the song. 21, typically lethargic and thoughtful with his pacing, refuses to be washed out by Offset and delivers an ear-catching and varied verse. Travis Scott’s presence on this track, as the closing verse, makes perfect sense; the influence of his previous autotuned work with Boomin drips all over this mixtape.

This duo doesn’t make good on their partnership in every song. In fact, the tension between their two styles— technical and rapid-fire to relaxed and lethargic — ruins certain numbers. The track “Mad Stalkers” exemplifies this problem. The beat is a droning keyboard jangle, with snare and trap hits to break up the monotony, but it’s easy to lose 21 as he mumbles the chorus when Offset shoots a machine-gun verse. Offset’s verse is blistering in its technical proficiency and rhythmic variety, and it may be his highest moment on the tape. But the high of the verse goes nowhere, as it flows immediately into the murmured chorus. 21 seems to lack the ability to follow up a verse like that with similar energy.

Ironically, the weakest songs on the tape are those without Offset. Where 21 and Boomin have succeeded before when matching sparse production to 21’s hedonistic mumblings, they fail on these two occasions because the gimmick is tired and 21 comes through with some of his weakest bars to date. His viscous stick worked before because he stood out. His delivery was slow but methodical, and his threats and violence had a weight to them because they seemed to carry a level of truth. On songs like “Run Up the Racks,” 21 resorts to cliched descriptions of debauchery and opulence that fail to stand out from other mumble rapping this year. Normally, a weak verse could be saved by interesting production, but the beat provides neither an interesting sample or rhythm for 21 to fall back on or use to his advantage.

While this project has its valleys, its highs are high. Songs like “Ghostface Killers,” “Ric Flair Drip,” and “Still Serving” show why this style of rap still holds clout in the genre: they are all unmitigated bangers, with exciting verses, gloomy instrumentals, and memorable hooks. The catchy and interesting choruses, as well as the repetitive nature of the beats in trap music, allow for these songs to sink their teeth deeply into the listener. Unfortunately, these songs are successful because of how perfectly they retread Boomin’s formulaic structure, and are largely carried by their performers, rather than their producer.

Without Warning finds Boomin aping his own catalogue of trap-style. The production on this album polishes his use of non-traditional instruments, namely bells and organs, and extremely sparse instrumentation, an idea he’s been using since last summer. Without Warning is some of Metro’s darkest and catchiest work in trap yet, but it lacks any real novelty. Boomin is a monolithic figure in rap, but he needs to continue to innovate and produce hits to warrant putting his name on the box.

Voice’s Choices: Ghostface Killers and Still Serving

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