Rap is built on collaboration. There’s nothing more satisfying than two big names putting their collective energy into a pot and cooking up something they couldn’t achieve on their own. The last few years have seen the rap collab album resurface in a new way and it seems like everyone’s rushing to get their piece of the pie. In 2017, we saw Young Thug and Future link up on Super Slimey, and producer Metro Boomin took charge on Without Warning, Double Or Nothing and Perfect Timing. This year, the cards were reshuffled: old friends rendezvoused, and new players emerged. Here’s the best, the worst and the most disappointing rap collab albums of 2018.
Key! & Kenny Beats – 777
There’s been no sound more enjoyable this year than “woah, Kenny!”, the producer tag of EDM prodigy-turned-rap superstar, Kenny Beats. The last couple of years have seen the hip-hop producer rise above and beyond: Metro Boomin has enough clout to land a #1 album, Zaytoven soundtracked the most cursed commercial starring Cher and Future. This year, Kenny Beats looks on track to rise to their level.
Kenny was inescapable this year. If you’ve listened to new projects from Vince Staples or Ski Mask The Slump God, you’d have some idea of his thunderous sound. In an interview with Pitchfork, Kenny revealed the key his style: moulding his sound for the artist he’s working with – “For me, it’s about custom tailoring.” It’s how we get the punk rock of Rico Nasty’s Trust Issues, or the glitchy, “most-fucked-up-thing-on-your-computer” production for his JPEGMAFIA collab.
On 777, he teams up with Key! and lays down some sickly-sweet trap beats. Key! is more than capable of holding his own but he’s nothing without the production; Kenny builds the architecture for some super solid trap heat that’s sure to rattle some windshields. 777 may be dual-billed, but Kenny Beats is the name you’ll want to remember.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS (Kanye West & Kid Cudi) – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Kanye makes album like most of us do uni assignments – starting them a week before the due date, finishing them seconds before midnight, and then spending the next month wishing we could go back and fix some things up. Of course, Kanye being Kanye, he does have the power to do this. The week before KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kanye dropped ye and has continued to tweak it beyond its release – just like he did with The Life Of Pablo before it.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS, the third release in Kanye’s Wyoming Sessions pentalogy, hasn’t received any post-release patches – and it doesn’t need any. It’s the best thing with Kanye’s name on it this side of the decade, an infinitely replayable labyrinth of hums and screams decorated around declarations of freedom and power. Once it’s on, it’s nearly impossible to turn off.
Kid Cudi has been kicking around on every Kanye album for the past ten years so it’s about time they linked up for good. Without Cudi, Welcome To Heartbreak wouldn’t hit nearly as hard, and without Kanye, there’d be no Erase Me – they bring the best out of each other. Cudi is typically flagged as the Robin to Kanye’s Batman, but on KSG its Cudi’s distinct, grizzly vocals that do the heavy lifting. Cudi’s been around the bend and came back better for it; Kanye’s faced the same troubles, but he got lost along the way. Kanye’s verses work just fine, but even he can’t remember the words to them.
KSG is all about (e)motion; moving through the pain. It’s an album built on moments of catharsis for both the listener and for the artists. “I’m so, I’m so reborn / I’m moving forward, keep moving forward,” Cudi continually spins, building a mantra. Kanye finds his own release early, wilding out in the middle of opener Feel The Love. It’s hard to pull yourself out of the trance they’ve orchestrated. One play and you’re hypnotised.
Lil Baby & Gunna – Drip Harder
If each Young Thug clone is ultimately a facet of Thug’s style, Lil Baby and Gunna are his worst tendencies.
It’s unfair that we live in a world where we get one Frank Ocean song every hundred eternities and a new Lil Baby album every season. It’s unfair that we live in a world where, of all up-and-coming trap stars, Gunna is the one that lands a feature on the new Mariah Carey album.
These are the guys that you dread seeing on any new tracklist announcement because they bring down the quality of an album purely by being on it. These are the guys whose albums get half-heartedly promoted with a pity post on Gucci Mane’s Instagram that you know nobody actually listens to.
Drip Harder is what old heads think “mumble rap” sounds like. Gunna sounds he got his wisdom teeth pulled before every song and is still woozy from the gas, incapable of putting together a sentence with an eon of creativity. Lil Baby rode his Drake Stimulus Package to the charts and then just gave up on doing anything unique. This album invented the phrase “phoned in".
Lil Baby and Gunna are nothing but Young Thug’s children. When Thug shows up on My Jeans, it’s a long-awaited moment of relief and it makes you question why you’re still listening to Drip Harder at all. Just put any iteration of Slime Season on instead.
THE CARTERS (Beyoncé & JAY-Z) – EVERYTHING IS LOVE
It’s hard to believe we live in the timeline where a joint Beyoncé/JAY-Z album debuted at #2 behind 5 Seconds Of Summer on the Billboard charts, but EVERYTHING IS LOVE’s commercial disappointment isn’t one of Bey’s 99 hypothetical problems. On NICE, she raps with ferocity, “If I gave two fucks, two fucks about streaming numbers / Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify.”
It’s also hard to believe we live in the timeline where a joint Beyoncé/JAY-Z album exists at all. EIL might be a far fall from the sky-high peaks of the royal couple’s respective previous albums, but it’s not as if they have anything left to prove. (They shot a music video in the damn Louvre… that’s game over.) It’s a musical renewing of vows that’s content with just being out in the world.
EIL’s highlights include an array of cheeky lyrics – hearing Migos lyrics come out of Beyoncé’s mouth; her affirmation that she’s never seen a ceiling in her whole life; JAY-Z candidly telling Bey to chill after she lays his infidelity out in a handful of bars – but its lowlights are infinitely worse. This was Beyoncé’s first album not to debut at #1.
Future & Juice WRLD – Future & Juice WRLD Present… WRLD ON DRUGS
Dissociative boys, unite!
Imagine this scenario: Future just released a collab album with Juice WRLD, and you’re listening to it, and you’re enjoying it, and then you get to Fine China and you’re relieved because Juice WRLD finally comes in with a hook that’s catchy as hell, and then he goes: “Then I jump in the pussy like a lake, I'm a diver / And her last man was a pussy, had a vagina.” What do you do?
My first order of business would be to find whoever let Juice WRLD get away with that trash chorus on Fine China and fire them. It’s a total earworm of a melody bolstered by embarrassingly juvenile lyricism – the type of lyrics you couldn’t defend if they came on shuffle in the car with your parents.
WRLD ON DRUGS is a collab album where the two joining forces sound better on their own. The solo tracks here are the standouts – just like on Future & Young Thug’s Super Slimey last year. On the songs where the two rappers unite, it sounds like Future has had Juice WRLD foisted on him by a relative, a distant cousin hoping to ride Future’s coattails to drug-addled fame. It’s a little worrying when the best collaboration on here is between Future and Lil Wayne on Oxy (where Future gets to revive that high, squeamish pitch that he flaunted to much fanfare on King’s Dead.)
If nothing else, the two occasionally find a similar wavelength and manage an ounce of personality that supersedes Lil Baby & Gunna’s monotony. Realer And Realer, Red Bentley and 7 AM Freestyle are your go-to tracks.
Metro Boomin – NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES
After a nearly a year-long sabbatical (in which his Instagram bio plainly read “Retired record producer/DJ”), Metro Boomin returned to the limelight in the latter months of 2018 with a bunch of tongue-in-cheek billboards, a new attitude and backed with a roster of trap’s current VIPs. Metro doused 2017 with two of the biggest collab albums of the year – the spooky Without Warning with Offset and 21 Savage, and the lacklustre Double Or Nothing with Big Sean – and then disappeared. Some cited disillusion with the industry, others speculated just another long-drawn marketing scheme, but whatever reason kept Metro behind closed doors this year gave him just the right amount of time to hone his craft.
NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES is more than your usual beat tape: there’s a feeling of cohesion serviced through Metro’s transitions, which smooths the landing between tracks like a built-in Spotify crossfade. Overdue returns Travis Scott to flexing over Metro beats, but before you know it, you’re thrown straight into album opus, Don’t Come Out the House, which reunites Metro with his partner in crime, 21 Savage. There’s no denying the rapport the two have; Metro is the Timbaland to 21’s Justin Timberlake, and Savage Mode might be their FutureSex/LoveSounds.
Nothing on the album tops 21 Savage whispering his usual schtick in ASMR mode before telling us “Y'all must thought that I was gon' whisper the whole time.” (Of course, an instant meme.) There are enough 808s to sink your teeth into, and the trap cavalcade that Metro assembles all show up, but it’s hard not to wish this was straight up Savage Mode 2.