It’s not often that an album’s title describes itself perfectly.
On Oct. 30, it was announced that at midnight, just when it turned into Halloween, a totally unexpected collaborative record from some of the biggest names in Atlanta hip-hop would drop.
Naturally, that record was called “Without Warning.”
The surprise collaboration came from the always-dark 21 Savage, Migos member Offset and Atlanta’s producer wunderkind, Metro Boomin.
And here’s the thing: I’ve been burned by the Atlanta hip-hop scene before. These guys love to drop their albums totally unannounced, building up a brief moment of excitement, only to release something pretty disappointing. You don’t need to look further than about two weeks ago to find an example: Young Thug and Future teamed up for the totally unexpected “SUPER SLIMEY,” but it just wasn’t of the quality that I’ve come to expect from either artist.
“Without Warning” isn’t what I’d expect from any of the three artists involved either. The difference is, though, 21 Savage, Offset and Metro all hit this album with some of their best work.
Let’s start with Metro. Behind some of the biggest hits in trap, like Drake and Future’s “Jumpman,” Future’s “Mask Off” and Migos and Lil Uzi Vert’s ubiquitous “Bad and Boujee,” Metro Boomin came into this with nothing to prove. We already knew he could make some of the best beats in the genre.
But what Metro did here was something he really didn’t need to do given his status as trap’s biggest producer: He innovated. Metro got into the Halloween spirit on virtually every track, as many of his instrumentals feel as though they’re trap remixes of 1980s horror flick music.
Just for example, the main instrumental for the 21 Savage solo song “Run Up the Racks” sounds incredibly reminiscent of “Tubular Bells,” (“Exorcist” theme) before ending with synths that sound lifted from “Stranger Things.” It’s hard to overstate how cool the effect is.
These sorts of beats are 21 Savage’s bread and butter. 21’s become known for his slow, mumbled delivery of incredibly dark, violent, almost nihilistic lyrics. In other words, 21 is the Michael Meyers to Metro Boomin’s John Carpenter, and it’s a collaboration that we’ve seen work previously on the pair’s “Savage Mode” mixtape. 21 stalks the beats in a way that’s truly chilling to listen to.
And it’s a great return to form for 21. Earlier this year, he released his debut record, “Issa Album,” which saw Savage use his trademark mumble for his normal topics but also some almost awkward love songs. The effect was exactly like if Michael Meyers stopped his slaughtering to briefly write some love poetry. It was just weird.
But on “Without Warning,” Savage is once again embracing his role as the bad guy, and the hip-hop world is a better place for it.
What about Offset, though? There’s probably no such thing as truly “happy” trap music, but the music Offset makes with the other two Migos is probably the closest thing to pop music in the genre. How could Offset’s notoriously fast triplet flow possibly sound good next to 21 Savage’s drawl?
Somehow, Offset does it. From the moment the album opens with the absolutely astounding “Ghostface Killers,” I realized that Offset was more than able to keep up with the horror rap sounds of 21 Savage and Metro.
If 21 Savage is Michael Meyers on “Without Warning,” Offset is the album’s Freddy Krueger; he’s fast, he’s manic and he’s always one step ahead of the listener.
The most fascinating thing about this record is listening to the ways the two rappers approach the same beat. Offset, delivering some of the best flows of his career, blasts through line after line at speeds that almost feel too fast for the beat. 21 Savage just plods along behind him, never feeling like he’s been left in the dust, but rather just taking a totally different path.
And for his first real foray without the other Migos, Offset proved that he has real star potential, especially on the undeniably catchy “Ric Flair Drip,” the chorus of which has been stuck in my head for over a week.
Are there problems with “Without Warning”? Sure. For one thing, as delightfully creepy as Offset and 21 Savage sound on this thing, some of their lyrics are outstandingly dumb — 21 repeats the word “gang” for an entire bar on “Run Up the Racks.”
On the other hand, though, like I said about “Issa Album,” do you really want Michael Meyers to say smart things? The important thing about trap has always been flow over lyrics, and 21 and Offset are competing for some of the best flows I’ve heard all year.
Horror movie slashers are at their scariest when they feel like unrelenting forces of nature, and that’s exactly how these two emcees sound here. Under the careful control of Metro Boomin, this trio managed to make something incredible.