Metro Boomin "Heroes & Villains" Album Review

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Metro Boomin and his all-star cast make it clear that the hero is back to reinvigorate trap music in style.

Hip-hop’s obsession with grading, categorizing, and sweeping statements can be as burdensome as it is flattering, especially when the consensus is that you’re one of the finest in your field. 

As soon as you’re dubbed the “greatest” of an era, time frame, or particular movement, the pressure that this accolade exerts is immense. Suddenly, great is no longer good enough and slip-ups are all but unfathomable to those who believe you have the recipe to make seminal music with every outing. Saddled with this kind of pressure, it’s understandable that many people will wilt. Coupled with the decreasing hunger and tenacity that comes with success, gaining such a degree of reverence too soon can actually be destructive. Suddenly, you’re operating from a vastly different airspace than the one in which you initially thrived. Yet for those who can never lose sight of how and why they embarked on their creative journey in the first place, the added sense of occasion that’s hard-wired into every body of work is anything but demotivating.

In the case of Metro Boomin, the fact that he’s been assigned such subtitles as “the most trusted guy in rap” and the defining producer of a generation since his early 20’s has done nothing to deter him from seeking to continually deliver work that is not only of the highest standard but quite literally alters perceptions of what is sonically possible within his own universe.

A man who leads with the heartening ideology of Why would I wanna do something that I did?, Metro Boomin isn’t a producer who’d off-handedly release any product to the world in order to flood the market. After all, this is a guy who’d already obtained a platinum-selling solo project by age 25 with Not All Heroes Wear Capes. Perhaps, most impressively of all, this is the very same St. Louis-born man who besieged ATL to the extent that his sound practically became the thudding heartbeat of its music scene. 

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 02: Metro Boomin attends Metro Boomin "Heros & Villains" Official Album release Party on December 2, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.(Photo by Prince Williams/Wireimage)

So, while it’s fair to say that Metro has very little to prove at this point and could coast by making beats from time-to-time, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have the desire to create and realize his own vision in long form. Five years on from his debut standalone project and two years after the release of Savage Mode II, Metro’s latest record, Heroes & Villains is inherently bittersweet and was almost derailed entirely by the tragic death of his mother. Suddenly bereft of his biggest supporter, a talk with his aunt reaffirmed his faith in the power of music. 

“[She] was just like, ‘Everything you’re feeling right now, you could channel that”, Metro Boomin recalled her telling him. “That’s when a lot of the most impactful art and music has ever been made.’"

The result was Heroes & Villains. Although it was made under the all-encompassing shadow of sorrow, it’s safe to say that Metro followed a proud hip-hop tradition of turning tragedy into triumph on this blockbuster, tour-de-force of a project. 

Metro Boomin is best known for his contributions to the world of trap, but his a persistent desire for him to push his sound in recent years has done its part to prevent any stagnation. “As the ambassador-representative of what’s going on, I look at it like a real responsibility," he recently informed GQ. It’s no exaggeration to say that he certainly lived up to that manifesto with his production across the project. 

Opening with “On Time”, the magnanimous tones of A$AP Rocky signal Metro’s re-entry into our solar system. Built on exultant vocal harmonies as John Legend plays the lead in his very own choir, a sample of a speech from embattled Homelander of The Boys speaks to the duality of man that resides at the heart of the project. 

Lines such as “you need me to save you, I am the only one who possibly can" not only speaks to the gravity of Metro returning as a conquering hero but acts as a symbolic nod to the ingenuity that he brings to the game. He may relish the power that he wields yet knows that what he does is for the greater good of hip-hop’s creative climate.

Segueing with style to spare into the Pluto-led “Superhero”, its 808s and intimidatingly distorted horns permit Future to float like he’s been catapulted back to the days of DS2. 

It’s clear that phoning it in couldn’t have been further from Metro’s mind. Across Heroes & Villains near 50-minute runtime, Metro maximizes the efficacy of every hi-hat and recurring synth motif without ever making them outstay their welcome. Aside from what he’s physically doing behind the boards, the project is also the site of Metro pushing artists into new terrain in one instance, while providing a sleek new take on their trademark style in the very next breath. 

For Travis Scott, “Raindrops” invokes the psychedelically-subdued cloud-rap sound of his Rodeo days, before “Trance” sees him and Thugger do battle with poignant violin stabs. The pulsating four-on-the-floor beat on "Trance" forces La Flame to edge closer to the work of frequent Daft Punk collaborator Romanthony on the outro than anything we’ve heard from him in the past. 

Elsewhere, the reverberating, poised piano of “Umbrella” gives 21 Savage the chance to resummon the macabre energy of the Savage Mode team-up, alongside a highly complimentary verse from his cousin Young Nudy. By no means is this 21’s only guest appearance but it’s a testament to the mutual respect and trust that the two have in each other. Metro Boomin later crafts a foreboding soundscape for 21 to unabashedly flex on with “Walk Em Down (Don’t Kill Civilians) -- accented with the mournful vocals of Mustafa -- that will live on as one of the project’s surefire defining moments. 

Metro expertly aligns The Weeknd’s pained, transcendent vocals with Mario Winan’s “I Don’t Wanna Know” and the famed sample of Enya’s "Boadicea" that gave The Fugees one of their biggest hits on “Creepin." He opts to keep the integrity, sparseness, and ambiance of the original R&B classic while updating it for a new generation, a welcomed surprise that left every listener pleasantly dumbfounded on the first listen. At the same time, 21 pushes himself out of the austere street storytelling into a place of vulnerability which is not only thrilling to witness but hard to imagine him undertaking for anyone else but his close collaborator. 

Metro Boomin's capacity to coax greatness out of his core acts is well known, but it’s still encouraging to see that he hasn’t lost his knack for tampering with an artist’s DNA as if they were born to be on his beats. Among the typically exhilarating turns from his tried-and-tested platoon of talent, Don Toliver is one man who seizes every moment that he has on the project. So, when it came time to take the lead on the mesmeric, spacious world of “Around Me," it’s no surprise that he brought his A-game and continued to steadily switch up as the beat evolved. 

Metro's trunk-rattling production and infectious refrains make his approach clear on the project. Any track could conceivably be a single, but the album is just as thrilling in its linear setting. Where many producer albums are intended to be fragmented, Metro was set on sequencing and sustaining a vibe that eventually brings listeners to a crescendo. 

INDIO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: 21 Savage and Metro Boomin perform at the Sahara Tent at 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival weekend 1 - day 2 on April 16, 2022 in Indio, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Coachella)

In recent interviews, he has claimed that the project was modeled by Dr. Dre’s 2001. The similarities register in both the production's cinematic gravity to the tight-knit crew of collaborators that make up the album. However, one critique that’s been leveled at the album is that he should’ve incorporated some newer talents into the roster. But, to make this argument is ultimately to overlook the thematic underpinning of the project. Heroes & Villains is devised in much of the same way as a movie, complete with its protagonists & antagonists. The features on the project act more like an ensemble cast rather than a random assortment of names picked from a hat.

Naturally, many of the all-stars of his career are accounted for. Future, 21 Savage, and Young Thug are essentially his de facto Avengers or Justice League. Meanwhile, Travis Scott, Don Toliver (who Metro has claimed is akin to the Nate Dogg of the project) & ASAP Rocky are the newer recruits to his crack team, appearing as if from another franchise entirely. 

On the subject of Jeffery, his delivery over the thunderous “Metro Spider” is almost unrivaled across the project. A track that features one of his most fired-up verses in years can’t be anything other than heartbreaking to hear Thug proclaim, "If anything happens, my kids got Ms so everything’s alright."

But while the rappers naturally take a lot of the limelight, they aren’t the only ones who are allowed to stunt with their versatility and technical know-how. Case in point, the seamless transition from “Metro Spider” to “Can’t Save You” with Future & Don Toliver is one that shows the length & breadth of Metro’s imagination. Then, the scintillating guitar strains of “Lock On Me” with Trav and Future prove that he's finding ways to work within the existing confines of trap without rehashing what's been done before. It's these moments that reaffirm that there’s just nobody doing it like Metro. 

As forward-thinking as the project is, it no less ends on a nostalgic, almost dewy-eyed note. Metro leads “Feel The Fiyaaah" through a deft re-envisioning of an old Peabo Bryson joint á la pink polo Kanye. Meanwhile, Flacko’s opening verse is authoritative without ever threatening to overwhelm the instrumental nor detract attention from the man whose moment this really is. It’s almost fitting that Takeoff’s first posthumous track is one that shows off his exemplary and often overlooked rhyming ability in all its glory. Though he was initially slated to be on three tracks on the album before his untimely passing, the late, great Rocket Man enlists an alphabetical flow and propulsive pattern on "Feel The Fiyaaah" that would have MF DOOM or Grand Puba tipping their caps to his dazzling wordplay. 

On his sophomore solo project, Metro Boomin and his all-star cast make it clear that the hero is back to reinvigorate trap music. And what’s more, he did it in style. A project which delivered on all of its promise and pomp & circumstance, its consistency and replay value certainly won’t slow down the GOAT producer calls, either. If anything, this is an album that has sufficient range and consistent quality that will undoubtedly intensify them.  

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