Quavo and Travis Scott's collab project may be shallow and vapid, but that doesn't stop it from being a good time.
2017 seems to have seen a greater-than-usual number of high-profile stars linking up for collaborative albums. We could sit around and guess why that's been the case (easier to guarantee streams but not sales, fewer beefs than usual, the pure fun of working with friends, etc.) but it's far more interesting analyze what these collab albums have yielded.
Single-producer projects are one thing, such as the series of short albums Metro Boomin has helmed this year, but a team-up between rappers usually seems to be the harder sell. Even if a producer and rapper seem like an odd couple (like Metro and Big Sean may), you still get a singularly-curated atmosphere and a rapper acting with no one in his or her way. Putting multiple vocalists together in the studio for a full project is always more of a gamble. Unless the artists go way back like Starlito and Don Trip, or come from the same world like DJ Quik and Problem, it seems like going for something low-stakes is a safer bet than more ambitious aims. In other words, give me the first Run The Jewels album over the third one any day.
Luckily, low stakes is exactly what Travis Scott and Quavo seem to be going for on their long-rumored joint release, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho. These songs aren't about much more than stunting, hanging out in Dubai, and at least in the last song's case, brotherhood. That's totally fine. Quavo never slips into the Northside come up struggles that Migos' music so often deals with, and Trav never gets too gothic or lost in the sauce, both wisely deciding to save that weightier stuff for their day jobs. They're originally from different worlds, but they've recently found themselves in the same excess and luxury-filled one, and they recognize that. Quavo and Travis Scott's common ground lies in penthouses and private jets, not trap houses or bedroom studios, so that's where Huncho Jack largely takes place.
The only light contrast comes courtesy of the artwork and production, the former of which comes from famed Hunter S. Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman, and the latter of which is led by Scott's mentor/right hand man Mike Dean, and also features contributions from Southside, Murda Beatz, Buddah Bless, !llmind, Vinylz, and others. Both of these lend a psychedelic desert vibe to the album, as if the thing was conceived in the midst of an acid trip in Joshua Tree National Park. Between the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-referencing cover, an Otis Redding sample, and Mike Dean's spaghetti western-style synths on a handful of tracks, Huncho Jack brushes up against a '60s cowboy or Easy Rider aesthetic, but only just so, like wearing a cowboy hat to the club or abruptly switching to American Spirits. This is more up Travis' alley than Quavo's, but it's so incidental and fleeting that it doesn't disrupt either guy's footing.
Vocally, Quavo and Trav stick to their shared territory as well. Quavo doesn't slip into rapid fire triplet flows that often (to be fair, he's taken to letting Offset and Takeoff handle most of those while he drives the melody) and Travis never splits the earth open and lets tracks fall into DJ Screw-on-peyote witch masses, a la Drake's "Company" or his and Quavo's Rodeo collab "Oh My Dis Side." Instead, we're reminded how much of Culture sounded influenced by Travis Scott, and how much of Scott's career has sounded influenced by every prominent Atlanta rapper. In fact, there are multiple moments when you have to strain your ears to discern whose backing vocals are whose. Neither guy wields their full pop potential— don't expect any of these track to perform well on the charts— but Travis is the least derivative he's been since Days Before Rodeo and Quavo proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's capable of carrying projects as a singer and rapper. That's about the best we could have reasonably hoped for.
Huncho Jack's heavy reliance on ~vibes~ and seamless collaboration does offer some pitfalls though. For one, it's got a preposterous amount of reverb and echo on the vocals, perhaps more than I've ever heard on any other rap album. At a certain point it's like, We get it guys, you do drugs. Slathering effect after effect on the vocals is a good way to convey trippiness, but at a certain point it's beating a dead horse. One benefit of this is that it often distracts from the lyrics, which save for a few exceptions, seem almost like an afterthought on Huncho Jack. That's fine— I'd prefer a bald-faced admittance that this collab album is fun-first, bars-second over hearing these guys repeatedly trading 32-bar verses— but after the millionth sip after sip, pill after pill, or rhyme of "Mo" with "North," you wish they'd at least vary the vocabulary a bit. The lyrical gems all come in the form of unique one-liners like "Wrists like fins on dolphins," or "Save your salt for slugs," or "R.I.P. Ben Franklin that's my best friend," rather than strung-together sentiments or rhyme schemes.
In these regards, Huncho Jack is akin to a childhood Christmas present that's shiny and on-trend, you play with it for one day or week and then it might sit forgotten in your closet for a few years. Both Quavo and Travis have better music ahead of them, but for now, Huncho Jack is a good stocking stuffer.