Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1 was the tale of two multifarious rap personalities on the rise, finding similarities in their capabilities, and mixing together because a third party told them that they were greater than the sum of their parts. Of course, the pair in question were Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, the most flamboyant rap crackpots of the decade, and the third omniscient figure was Birdman, on a quest to replace his scion Lil Wayne after a brief period of simmering differences. Thug and Quan had shown flashes of brilliance on Travis Scott’s “Mamacita” and Quan’s “Fuck Out My Face” and proved that friendship outside of the booth did indeed amount to more than Instagram huddle-ups and featured verses of the poorest efforts. Birdman’s voice on the project amounted to a sneering chuckle over the course of the 19 tracks since he orchestrated the scenario – signing two of the hottest rising iconoclasts to his newest collective, Rich Gang. On opener “Givenchy,” Birdman talks his shit harder than the final 30 seconds of “I’m A Stunna,” with “boolin with a biddy” sounding not just goofy as hell, but like a reasonable manner of passing one’s time. He deserved those self-pats on the back; the friendly union created one of the best mixtapes of, dare we say, the last two decades.
Four years later, the union between Thug and Quan has fizzled. Quan’s battled the revolving door of obscurity on more than one occasion while Thug has become one of rap’s most notable, and important, iconoclasts. That two of Thugger’s spawn are the ones to attempt to best his vision with their own joint project is proof that we’re in the midst of a simulation – the offspring being Gunna and Lil Baby, the project, of course, is Drip Harder. It’s not as strong as their primogenitor’s efforts, but the chemistry is there, if that means anything.
Gunna’s flow is a well-oiled machine, getting the most mileage for its buck on the market. Lil Baby is purposefully unpolished, with sputters, gasps, and hesitations that make for a welcome contrast whenever the two exist in the same sonic space. The best example of this is “Life Goes On” from the latter’s Harder Than Ever; Baby’s croon-adjacent stylings move at a breakneck pace sending the track into the atmosphere before Gunna comes in calmly, firmly grasping the string and pulling it down to bring it back to Earth. Drip Harder is this song about 13 times harder; a collection of spirited tracks that find a balance in the duo’s contrasting aesthetics to create bombastic, mustache-twirling anthems – at the expense of weak beats and a creeping feeling of seen-it-all-before.
The overall tone of the album is that of mercurial angst. Being that they’re children of Thugger, it would make sense to expect a whimsical journey through some of the brightest, weirdest instrumentals that exist this side of Ariana Grande. Drip Harder is on the opposite end of the spectrum, peddling a brutal, bass-heavy pedigree. The dark beats match the similarly bleak lyricism; the dynamic duo sound enigmatic about their success, appearing distant and disappointed. “Deep End” is fast-paced and disorienting, with Baby’s vocals sounding increasingly desperate and anxious. “World Is Yours” takes its name from the final shot of Scarface, when Tony Montana falls into the serene blue water that gets quickly engulfed with red blood. Its emptiness feels purposeful as Gunna rattles off the deep end about his money and power.
While the two sound perfectly in sync, the production, often times, seems to escape them. Their predecessors made frequent use of the kind of eclectic beats that were frequently surprising, yet not outside of the atmosphere that they cultivated by being purveyors of the weird. Their willingness to tackle off-kilter beats made Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1 an immensely absorbing experience that depended on the element of surprise at every which turn to continuously churn out stellar music. Drip Harder, with its familiar setup, ultimately lacks this element of surprise. Since we’re already expecting high-level functioning, the production needs to be hard enough to shock us out of our comfort zone. But frequently, it doesn’t. Beats range from boilerplate post-trap trunk bruisers to dark Metro Boomin-inspired backends with more furled eyebrows. Executive producer Turbo is a frequent collaborator of both, and “Drip Too Hard” is an exciting, turbulent, monster of a beat. But perhaps Lil Baby and Gunna have actually outgrown their go-to man’s creations. “Off White Vlone” rings with a hollowness that the addicting beat loop almost hides, but its short runtime draws more attention to its trappings. “Belly” relies completely on sinister bass to overshadow the sloppiness of the ambience pushing onwards in the background.
While the beats aren’t the best, the seamless weaving in and out by the mixtape’s star attractions are magical. They twirl around each other so majestically, playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses and picking up any slack left between them. Just as you start to get flustered with one voice, the other swoops in and pulls you over the audio obstacle. “I Am” is the best example of this, with Lil Baby immediately embracing the speculative production with an optimistic intent before Gunna jogs in and lays waste to the growing annoyance with Baby’s three-note sonic repertoire. The balancing act is flawless.
When you combine the boilerplate production and the predictably great flows, things ultimately feel… familiar. It’s good, not great. Not exactly memorable, but you won’t kick it out of your car rotation just yet. It’s missing that “oomph,” that genre-changing feel that you’d expect from two stalwarts coming together like this. Drip Harder is an album spurned out of brotherly love, not necessity. They hit all the beats the they wanted to, employed the beatsmith that got them to where they are right now, and delivered bigger, more expensive versions of the flows that we’ve become accustomed to. And that’s it – the formula’s intact and they’ll be damned if they muck it up. That works for a good surface level listen, but if you’re looking for the next level of Gunna and Lil Baby, Drip Harder isn’t it. At least we know that Gunna and Lil Baby work great together, but it’s not like we didn’t know that before.