21-savage-offset-metro

Everything Clicks on the Witchy ‘Without Warning’

OK, now this is what we’re talking about. Did Super Slimey have you wondering whether ATL trap music is *still* capable of ruling everything around us? Well just take a listen to Without Warning—the collab project by 21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin that’s not unlike a horror movie soundtrack. Both came out spur of the moment, but on this album, everything clicks and everyone snaps.

From the jump it’s a party, sustaining real momentum from Offset’s opening verse on “Ghostface Killers” all the way through track 10. The rappers have had chemistry since “Start Dying” on 21’s debut Slaughter Tape from 2015, and they demonstrate that here over beats laced with faraway screams and sedated-sounding wolves howling at the moon. It’s a flow thing: Offset’s scampering rhyme patterns and 21’s one-shot-one-kill approach are complementary. Listen to the way they fit together on “Ghostface Killers,” and how much the featured artist Travis Scott is a guest in their world.

 

Rather than breaking up the motion, 21 and Offset’s solo cuts sound like they belong together on this album. The standout is “Ric Flair Drip,” Offset’s best song in a breakout year, a very West Coast-y groove which leads right into 21’s “My Choppa Hate N****s”—a steel-toed Savage Mode reboot that exceeds its source material. Songs like “Choppa” are why YouTube commenters are calling this 21’s best album. And you know what? Youtube commenters are not always wrong! This does feel like his album to a degree, since Metro’s beats reside for the most part in the same industrially textured, haunted-house chamber he and 21 created together.

 

Neither 21 nor Offset have gotten their due as lyricists from the Old Head Rap Establishment, but both come off original and engaging here. Offset tries many flows and pulls them all off. 21 lands deadpan one-twos all over the place. You can hear his lip curl on “Mad Stalkers” when he says “you call that shit extended clip / we call that bitch a dick.” On “Darth Vader” when he says, “I got Tom Ford all on my buckle / I talk to my accountant and I chuckle,” his character is in full effect and he’s having fun with it.

Musically, Metro kills every beat, whether in that 100 bpm “Ric Flair Drip,” tempo—which I didn’t anticipate from him—or the 135 bpm trap shit, or the 120 bpm (he’s Boomin all over the place). The atmosphere is consistent regardless of pace, continuing the understated, decaying vibe of Savage Mode. Songs like the almost motionless “Still Serving” could have been on that album. But then “Rap Saved Me” is something else, a surging combination of engine rumbles and backwards synths. To that, Quavo adds the kind of wordless melodic songwriting you only do when you’re feeling yourself. And he fits right in.

As an added bonus, the sequencing on the album is good. Tracks connect to make a larger impact. Listen to the way “Choppa” trails off with 21 mumbling about hockey masks and Friday the 13th, and how that leads into “Nightmare,” with Offset’s chorus about they’re gonna get you in your sleep—that’s perfect. Smart Halloween DJs will figure out a way to play “Nightmare” back to back with Will Smith & DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “Nightmare on My Street.”

It’s a bit weird to joyfully toast an album that’s so dark, and contains a lot of murder/guns talk. But what’s most apparent here is two artists in love with their art, rapping from gangster/villain points of view. Both are experiencing crazy levels of success they might never have imagined, both are carving their own unique lanes through rap while staying true to their styles. It seems to have worked out naturally that they make music that can be extremely Halloween-ish, and that’s the day we get Without Warning. What else can you say about why this project works? Sometimes shit lines up, and that’s a beautiful thing.

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