21 Savage and Offset — the latter known recently to some as the best third of Migos, and known to others as Cardi B’s fiancé — released a surprise joint project on Halloween produced by Metro Boomin. It’s called Without Warning, and you’re welcome to think that any one of its 10 tracks towers above the other nine. But let’s not be obtuse: The king-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of the bunch is “Ric Flair Drip,” which is just under three minutes of Offset fly-pressing a hyphy-ish beat while accounting for all his jewelry and expensive cars that never leave the driveway. (“Put the iron on it, if a nigga my opponent / My car five hundred and I don’t put no miles on it.”) He also mentions Audemars Piguets, Jet Skis, Valentino boots, and other things well above the average person’s means.
We’ll assume that 21 knew better than to yank Offset’s tether while his costar was busy levitating on “Ric Flair Drip,” but the fact remains that the best song on Without Warning has only two of the three billed stars on it. The second-best song is up for debate: It could be “Still Serving,” referring to 21’s uncle, who still hasn’t gone legit at the ripe old age of 49, or maybe “Darth Vader,” on which our antiheroes grapple with the day-to-day inconveniences that go along with being so bankable and culturally relevant. Offset chirps about installing surveillance cameras in his house; 21 chuckles at his accountant’s apparent concern over the money he splashed on new Tom Ford. (“I ain’t got no troubles with these finances, dog.”) It’s one of a precious few instances in the tape’s 33-minute run time when 21 and Offset seem in sync — and when 21 kind of wins, even though he’s rhyming “all” with “all”:
From the robbin’ to the trappin’ I done done it all (facts)
Weed, hard, soft, nigga I done sold it all (oh god)
I’ma keep it real, I done cuffed some hoes and all (damn)
He took the stand, I can’t believe this nigga told it all
This lack of cohesion was the issue for two other notable Atlantans, Future and Young Thug, when they released a joint project in October. The mixtape, called Super Slimey, is a cold fusion of Future’s monstrous “Super” alter ego and Thug’s preferred term for “gang gang.” Knowingly or otherwise, it was Metro who sparked the feud between Future and Thug, which made this project seem more a fantasy than a possibility before the Future-assisted “Relationship” on Beautiful Thugger Girls. What Metro’s absence here means is anyone’s guess, but the backdrop is handled by Slime Season and Dirty Sprite standbys like Mike WILL Made-It, Wheezy, and Southside, among others. Similarly to Offset and 21, Future and Young are probably better off on their own — see Thug warbling about paying tuition on “Killed Before” and Future at his heartbreaking, hedonistic best on “4 da Gang.” However, they do complement each other on unexpectedly gutting efforts like “Group Home” and “200.” On occasions like “All da Smoke,” one or the other — in this case Thug, who seems less featured on this song than dangling off of it — was being pulled from the comfort of their pocket. The energy on songs like “Mink Flow” and “No Cap” is nearly competitive, and aside from their solo outings, it’s tempting to think about who was carrying whom.
Adding up the respective magnetism of everyone involved, Without Warning, like Super Slimey, was always going to be an event. With 2016’s eerie, brooding Savage Mode in mind, when Epic Records tweeted the cover — a barking Rottweiler, nothing to do with the 1980 flick that inspired Predator — you’d think it’d be “Savage Mode II, now with more Offset!” But it turns out the two aren’t all that great when occupying the same space, which follows; the prospect of more recognizable names together goes over smoother than the actual execution of it. Hark back to What a Time to Be Alive and consider the sheer awkwardness of Drake talking about how he might take Quentin to Follies on “Digital Dash,” right after Future talked about popping pills and drinking Actavis to quiet his demons.
To make a collab album feel genuinely collaborative and then to make that album good is a feat that took Jay-Z and Kanye West a year, and a shared vision, to pull off. They did, obviously, and the run from “Niggas in Paris” to “Gotta Have It” is among the most incendiary of this decade. Still, Watch the Throne is no one’s idea of the very best Kanye or Jay album, and that chemical experiment isn’t even repeatable without ample time and resources, a controlled environment, and favorable celestial conditions. WATTBA, which was recorded in six days, very much felt recorded in six days, absent the care that would normally attend either a Future or Drake project.
For a mixtape, this is fine. Without Warning is fine. And Super Slimey, when we look back on it after the passing of time, will probably also be remembered as fine. And it’s fair to say that either might have been improved with greater focus or quality control. The test of a mixtape isn’t always one of staying power or legacy; sometimes the moments are enough. “Mad Stalkers” is the most at-home that Offset could hope to be on an ostensibly 21 Savage–driven song. “Drip on Me” is a tear-jerking work of nonfiction; we should all feel horrible about not being there for Future when he caught a felony, even if we don’t know what the felony was for. We should also, most importantly, consider: If you have the coupe but you never drive it, did you even spend 500 on it?