Everything about Quality Control’s new compilation album, Quality Control: Control The Streets Vol. 2, screams hugeness. The album cover paints a scene so massive that it looks almost comically unreal on Spotify, rendered in a tiny square of jpeg. It’s an eagle-eye view of some sort of quasi-military base. Dozens of jets in all different colors, each symbolizing a different member of QC — the label of Migos, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby, to name a few — flank an enormous airport-like structure in the center. We can see a giant helipad and an even larger, brighter “QC” logo emblazoned on the middle of the building’s roof. This is a visualization of wealth, power, and intel; QC sees itself as a covert network of aircraft working together to control the airwaves.
Maybe a year ago this image would’ve held up, when the radio relentlessly played “MotorSport,” “Walk It Talk It,” and “iSpy.” Now, though, it feels more like a shiny fake Yu-Gi-Oh card from Chinatown. Throughout the album, there are intriguing beats and solid rap moments, but the thread between it all is dangerously frayed. If QC really believes they are still running things, they are fooling themselves but nobody else. Under the guise of a “marketing strategy,” what Coach K, one of QC’s founders, calls “Control The 4th Quarter,” QC released so much music this past year that they oversaturated the market. The steady stream of mediocre material leaking into the marketplace chalks up to incontinence, not smart marketing — damp squibs in every quarter, from the Migos solo albums to Lil Yachty’s Nuthin’ 2 Prove. This compilation album delivers another gush of leaky discharge. At 36 tracks and nearly 2 hours long, the overabundant hodgepodge is the musical equivalent of chunk chicken.
It’s not all uninspired, undeveloped gloop, though — there are a few tasty morsels worth forking out of the stew. On “100 Racks,” Offset’s ghostly bars melt perfectly into Playboi Carti’s cotton candy cries, the latter’s exalted “baby voice” stealing the show. Half-whine, half-moan, Carti’s new style has been one of the freshest things in hip-hop this past year; he sounds like a genderless alien creature foaming with lean at the mouth. The song feels like a trip to the masseuse, except the muscle worked on is your mind; the silky synths swathe you like luxurious linen.
On the other end of the thermometer dial sits “Frosted Flakes,” which could serve as the theme song for a boss fight in a Migos-style video game. The sparse instrumental creates gigantic tension, the soundscape shuddering with icy blocks of background synth. For a group that often sounds like they are vocally trampling each other, this track is refreshingly sporadic. I imagine an enormous winter biome dense with huge dark green trees, each Migo in a different quadrant standing at the peak of a towering snowy mountain. They fire commanding vocal exultations at each other, spaced out like a calculated proxy war between ad-lib armies.
Despite many attempts to showcase other members of the QC squad, it’s Migos, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby who dominate with the highlight reel plays. “Baby,” “Virgil,” and “Menace” drip with the unmistakable energy of these core members. While the tracks are all quite simple - there’s nothing sprawling or multilayered like you’d get from someone like Travis Scott, or even like the eccentric beats on Culture II — it is that hungry spirit, the innate vocal charisma that made these rappers famous to begin with, that makes these songs intoxicating. On “Killin’ Time,” Lil Yachty, Offset, and Mango Foo rip through the muck of the rest of the album with a barebones banger produced by EarlOnTheBeat. Stripped down to 808, hi hat, and cowbell, this is the sort of no melody style popularized by rappers like Splurge, DaBaby, and Quin NFN. Yachty’s raspy, textured croak sounds great over these types of beats — like on “Get Dripped” from his last album, also produced by Earl, and DJ Scheme’s “How You Feel? (Freestyle).”
Compilation albums have nothing to prove — they serve as bonus content for fans, shine a light on lesser-known QC counterparts by putting them in the same playlist as the bigger players, and generate a bit of extra revenue. But it hurts QC as a brand when the listening experience is less “Huh, this is surprisingly bad,” and more “Yeah, I expected as much.” Irreparable damage has been done when underwhelming becomes the default expectation. The relentless indulgence of Migos and co. to drop middling tracks and albums speaks more of delusion than success, of a pattern of decay rather than a streak of unfortunate misses. Are we supposed to think of QC as a perennial hip-hop culture creator or a feckless money-hungry machine so dazed by its own glory that it’s content to replay the year 2016 forever?