Metro Boomin was easily 2017’s most successful hip-hop producer, with the St Louis-based beatmaker’s sound completely dominating U.S. radio and charts. But even though it appeared like he was on top of the world, the reality was very different — in April, a seemingly jaded Metro announced his retirement from hip-hop.
Unexpectedly, the producer, who has pretty much masterminded the sound of the new wave via forward thinking beats such as Future’s “Mask Off,” Kodak Black’s “Tunnel Vision” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” was MIA. Yet one thing we know about hip-hop is there’s no such thing as retirement, with Metro more likely to be taking a break from the spotlight following disappointing reviews of Double or Nothing, a colorless feature length LP with Big Sean, and in order to get his label Boominati Worldwide up and running. This was confirmed last month when billboards started appearing across New York City and Atlanta depicting Metro Boomin as a “missing person” – cheeky promotion for what would be his debut studio album Not All Heroes Wear Capes.
Using retirement as a marketing tool for a new album can be disastrous; just look at JAY-Z’s post-retirement, career-low comeback Kingdom Come. Thankfully however, Metro Boomin’s six month break hasn’t crept into self-parody like Jigga’s did, with Not All Heroes Wear Capes a potent reminder of why we fell in love with Metro’s beats in the first place.
The album opens at a blistering pace, with an inspired Gucci Mane going from introspective to boisterous (he raps: “Put the Lambo on the elevator, bring it to the den”) on “10AM / Save The World,” a song which ends with a soul sample that sounds like Late Registration-era Kanye West. It’s followed by the broody, sped-up vocal sample at the heart of “Overdue,” a memorable track that finds Travis Scott contemplating whether he “overdid himself.” Towards the end of the track, we start to hear “21” ad-libs, evidence the record’s next superstar guest is raring to go, but also a sign of just how brilliantly this record is sequenced, with each track bleeding into the next in a style reminiscent of Scott’s brilliant Astroworld.
What follows, “Don’t Come Out The House,” is one of the best rap songs of the year, as 21 Savage channels the Ying Yang Twins through a menacing verse that is half-whispered. The haunting beat, which was co-produced by Tay Keith (obviously), has stuttering keys that fit 21’s flow like a glove. This chemistry continues on “10 Freaky Girls,” an instant 21 Savage banger with horns that could get a corpse’s heart beating.
It’s fair to say 21 Savage doesn’t always get the respect he deserves; the Atlanta rapper’s laid-back flow sometimes giving off the false impression he’s lazy on the mic. In reality, he effortlessly rides complex beats that other rappers would struggle to fill, something evident by his three appearances on this record. Metro Boomin and 21 Savage go together like butter and toast, the producer and rapper bringing out the best in one another. The fact 21’s witty verse (where he tellingly raps: “So long as I got Metro, nigga I’m gon’ shine!”) on “No More” (which features Kodak Black and Travis Scott) is also a highlight isn’t a surprise.
It would be lazy, offensive even, to label Metro’s production as trap. His beats manage to feel both minimalist and maximalist at the same time, with Metro creating vast compositions out of what feels like fairly traditional rap production techniques. Whereas other producers might require an orchestra to transport a listener into another world, Metro manages it with just a drum machine or the introduction of an inspired flute sample. Being labeled as a “trap producer” is something Metro clearly hates, with Not All Heroes Wear Capes full of evidence of how much he has grown beyond this tag and developed a grander, more experimental style as a producer.
There are moments where the pace sags, particularly on “Only You”, which features a sickly, uptempo dancehall style. “Borrowed Love” also feels like a desperate attempt for radio spins, while “Lesbian” fails to ignite until the last few seconds, where a lush violin arrangement, reminiscent of something from Nico’s classic Chelsea Girl LP , boldly filters through. Yet despite these missteps, this an album with a calm and considered pace, where a more reflective Metro creates a sound that’s both jubilant and melancholic. The many appearances of Travis Scott help create this atmosphere, his lyrics on “No More” – where he raps “you know the comedown really be soothing” – feel like a mission statement for the album itself.
In an era of DJ Khaled and producer compilation albums that are schizophrenic in nature and basically just a mishmash of guest styles that don’t really mesh together, Metro Boomin should be praised for creating something that’s so consistently engaging. His dominance as hip-hop’s go-to-producer shows no signs of fading and we can only hope he avoids the retirement talk in the future.
- Words: Thomas Hobbs