My knowledge of professional wrestling is limited to a few good years of watching WCW during elementary school when the sport was far more captivating than Power Rangers. I can still recall a few notable names―Macho Man Randy Savage, André the Giant, Rey Mysterio, Sting, and of course, Goldberg―but no one left a mark on my starry, violent hungry eyes like Harlem Heat. The tag team duo made up of Booker T and Sugar Ray were big, black, and brolic, two brothers who would make Shaft and Shaq think twice before speaking the tongue of fisticuffs. They were the personification of badass—power and tenacity in the flesh. Even when they lost, which they did often enough, you still felt like you witnessed something epic.
Twenty-something years later, whenever a joint rap album is announced, I think of Harlem Heat. Unfortunately, tag team partnerships in rap rarely leave a lasting legacy. Jay and Ye complimented one another well on Watch the Throne. It was a spectacle and a moment to remember, but the alignment of two superstars at their peak should have had more replay value. Drake and Future’s What a Time To Be Alive was released, the internet had a moment, and life moved on. Young Thug and Future was fun, but they're far from the next Jaylib.
Mainstream rap is long overdue for two popular artists to make a full project that sounds like watching world champion tag team wrestlers bring down the house.
Admittedly, 21 Savage and Offset coming together with Metro Boomin for a 10-track album entitled Without Warning didn’t accelerate my heartbeat. The high volume of new music―especially trap music―being released these days feels like blocks clustering at the top of Tetris. The art of saturation isn’t exclusive to BROCKHAMPTON.
Despite not being juiced for their pre-Halloween release, the trifecta of Metro, Offset, and 21 has the potential to be a winning combination. Offset is the Steph Curry of feature verses in 2017 and by far the most impressive Migo of the year, while 21 has turned in more than a few strong performances this year. Both are capable of making records that translate in the hood and Hollywood, on the charts and in the clubs. The next big viral hit or banger could be upon us. Metro’s beats add points to their promise; if he supplies enough boom this could be far more entertaining than the previous pairs that have come and gone faster than a roadrunner on amphetamines.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Let this be the start of joint albums being great again.
1. "Ghostface Killers" ft. Travis Scott
Sounds like an ominous bell ringing. Think Hunchback of Notre Dame but instead of the Notre Dame Cathedral he’s seeing spaceships with Fabo in Bankhead. I’m feeling the song title. Demented keys. A slowed-down Metro Boomin drop. Okay, Offset came on calm but aggressive. I'm liking this already. The gun sounds. I love these drums. Metro Boomin has updated his sound, leaning back toward the darker tone of Savage Mode. Perfect room for Offset to do the kickflip rhyme schemes. We need to put Offset in the rap equivalent of the Winter X-Games, the Tony Hawk of rappers. The production sounds like it just beat a case. I guess that’s Travis, it’s hard to tell because whenever a Migo is around he starts to just blend in with them. 21!! Mean mug tone. Kim Jong reference. He switched up the cadence, that was sweet. Heavy beats are perfect for his mood. I was wrong, just Offset on the hook. Travis! Sorta wish he wasn’t on this. Not a bad verse but the intro is starting to feel a bit long. The dog on the album cover is frightening. Offset and 21 sound good alongside one another.
2. "Rap Saved Me" ft. Quavo
BASS! Heavy bass. Metro's bass weighs a ton. 21 sounds like he’s between two different realities the way his vocals are floating in the background. Migo ad-libs. Will all these Metro beats sound like they're on Death Row? I’m not mad. The best thing about Migos collaborations is hearing their ad-libs while other rappers rap. They’re like the best friend who is always prepared to lend you a hat to perfect your fit. 21 with the slower flow. Offset and 21 are well-balanced, they sound synced. Offset got tagged in and came in with a wild dropkick. Okay, I see a promising bop. “From the gutter, rap saved me.” I hear you, Savage. This is some straight out the trap rap music. I like this much more than the intro but I wish it was faster. Quavo came on with the Quavo Wonder hums. Trap music’s Stevie. Whose backing vocals? Those harmonies were fire. Quavo's verse was short, I wish he would’ve just done the harmonies. Felt way too quick. Offset doing 21’s ad-libs still the best part, though.
3. "Ric Flair Drip"
Wooooo! Knocking. I like this. It’s bouncy keys and a stern bassline. Snare crackin'. Offset is water whipping. He’s fooling. We need Offset on more beats like this, incredible placement. He’s comfortable, dripping in Ric Flair cool and Migos magnetism. If they run with a single, this has to be it. OHHHHH! THAT BASS. The beat has more moves than Michael Jackson in a dance battle. Offset’s charisma has truly improved. He has a presence that’s hard to deny. With the right beat underneath the flow, he’s going to skate smoother than Clifford Harris at Cascade on a Sunday Night. Halloween keys to close out the record. The lack of a Ric Flair “Woo” is my only issue with this one.
4. "My Choppa Hate N****s"
Without Warning by far has the best song titles. Sheesh! These drums. Loving that sample loop in the back and the pattern. 21’s traditional flow. He has some good one-liners. “I call it KKK cause my chopper hate niggas,” this is a Dave Chappelle skit in the form of a hook. Easy to imagine Dave and 21 making magic together. Game of Thrones reference was fire and I don’t even watch the show. Opening the morgue line is also a couple of fire emojis. The second verse is already becoming one of my favorite 21 verses of 2017. Sad this one is ending. It’s a vibe. A dark vibe but the best 21 songs feel like soundtracks for deleted Menace II Society scenes. I’d watch a MIIS reboot with 21 playing O-Dog and Offset as Caine. I do like how well 21 plays the Halloween theme, which has been pretty consistent throughout his career. The Slaughter King would make for a great horror film villain.
Flawless sequencing. Very smooth transitions. Wolf howls. These keys are sprinkling. Offset chanting. Bass drops. Bouncing like a baby suffering from chronic hiccups. Yeah, this is cool. Freddie Krueger reference. 21 and Offset are way more fun than listening to Immortal Technique's “Dance With the Devil” as my Halloween tribute. I like Offset, but I swear he raps just a few seconds too fast for any quotes. No 21 on this one? I like how well the solo records work with the album's sequencing. It gives the feeling that the solo records weren’t in the stash but made during the project’s creation. I don’t like this one much, but I love that smooth transition.
6. "Mad Stalkers"
21 leading this one. Drums are drooling. It's hitting hard enough to cause Sleeping Beauty to awake. “Baby bottles ain’t no bibs” hahaha. Did he say they're drinking 4 Lokos? I’m not one to count another man’s pocket but I’m not still drinking Lokos after going No. 1 in the country. Offset must respect himself more. Okay, they're slowly losing me. The album needs more bangers. More energy. It needs something to really pull me back in. This is a good hook from 21, simple but his voice is perfect for this beat. I wish he would've just made it somewhat catchy. The verse sounds good; it should have made the IssaAlbum. “I’ll probably leave you before I leave the lean,” whoa whoa whoa. So disrespectful. Did not like his flow slowing down at the end. He took off for a second there. I hated when the drums faded out, whoever programmed them really outdid themselves. Some strange sounds. Metro went deep in his bag to give this album a Halloween feel.
Savage came on the record talking cash shit. “Ain’t no limit on the debit,” a bar. 21 got hurricanes on his neck, lol. “You can build a beat, fuck it I'm about to build a thot” is hilarious. Fam. Wow. Offset probably should’ve done the hook. I like how Offset is keeping it smooth. Chemistry is so effortless. They don’t throw each other’s energy off like Future and Thug, but Thug and Future are more interesting rappers. “I don’t do beef with a peasant,” and he closed the verse about being bigger than Elvis. Well, Elvis didn’t make “Bad and Boujee.”
8. "Run Up the Racks"
Slow buildup. Southside tag. I know the drop is about to rattle my entire desk. All the producers who contributed must’ve searched for their most ominous keys for this album. This entire project sounds like a haunted house where you get chased by SoundCloud rappers and the not-so-friendly neighborhood gangbangers instead of monsters. Metro tag. “Went Platinum independent then I signed my deal nigga,” stunt Savage, stunt. This is one for the trunk. Love a Kobe lyric. The heaviness is like if they sampled the presence of gravity. Without Warning is like a Savage Mode sequel for those that preferred that sound over 21’s Issa. I appreciate 21 stopping the beat to say "Free the homies," he's such a gentlemen. Simple hook. Can see the appeal. Beat breakdown at the end is insanity. If you had to live in that part of the beat I’m certain your door would be kicked in every night.
9. "Still Serving"
Absolutely evil. This beat sounds like death lurking around a dirty corner. 21 Savage sound like he’s at home, completely comfortable in the madness. His uncle still serving at the age of 49, a true savage. Stunt raps on stunt raps. I can’t get over how this beat is making me feel. If I was in my car I would lock the doors and roll up the windows. I like how 21 approaches rap, it’s not the most technical but he always executes well. If he gets more inventive with his style, he might be able to extend his shelf life. The tempo is too chill, it needs a bit more pulse to really come to life. This is the standout Offset. He’s dancing with the flow. I’m impressed when he shows up like this. These two are the strangest match but all these songs sound tailored for tag team triumph. Cool closing.
10. "Darth Vader"
They kept this album short. It goes by fast but also makes you wish they would have switched things up more. Another stellar title. I bet 21 has an incredible movie collection. Eh, kinda disappointed in the beat. "Darth Vader" deserved the “Still Serving” beat. The father of Luke needs a more earth-shaking sound. Eh, not too into this Offset verse. I'm starting to miss the other two Migos. Their solo performances are good in doses, but together is when the magic happens. “From the robbing to the trapping I’ve done it all,” “He took the stand, I can’t believe this nigga took the stand and all." 21 is putting the record on his back and is taking it to the hole. Yeah, this is his touchdown performance. Okay, Savage is in real estate. “My dog lost his life and it changed me.” He makes the simplest lines sound so haunting and harrowing. When you believe a rapper, the authentic life bars always hit. Also note that he requests for all kids to be cleared out before doing a drive-by, a gangster with a soft spot for the innocent.
What Offset and 21 Savage were able to do here that many of their contemporaries failed to accomplish is to find a common ground. Without Warning feels like shared territory, a guided tour through a haunted house they constructed together.
The production swells, booms, and blasts with the heaviness of Bigfoot playing an intense match of Dance Dance Revolution. Halloween likely influenced the depth of their darkness as most of these songs feel more like slow bangers that inspire first-round knockouts and not party-starting anthems. This evens out the fact that Offset is the superior rapper, but 21 never feels out of place. Without Warning is a co-owned castle and they both roam as kings. The castle just isn't that spectacular.
While cohesive, the album lacks any variety. The beats are diverse in approach, but in color and style are taken from the same palette. There are no risks taken, no attempts to push these two out of their comfort zone. Their comfort doesn’t come off as lazy, but relaxed, the feeling of being in familiar territory with little desire to leave. It's no coincidence that the tempo on “Ric Flair Drip” was unlike the rest of the project and how that pushed Offset to turn in his most lively performance. More bangers of this caliber would’ve surged more energy into the project.
For Halloween novelty, Without Warning is an unexpected treat. A slice of a haunted trap, with both Offset’s elastic flows and 21’s savagery on display. Ultimately, the album does everything right but remain captivating. There are a few bars, a couple of interesting sounds and flows, but nothing new or especially exciting comes from this union.
My search for the hip-hop equivalent to Harlem Heat continues.
Early Favorites: "Ric Flair Drip," "Ghostface Kiillers," "Still Serving"
Early Not-So-Favorites: "Nightmare," "Disrespectful"
By Yoh, aka Darth Yohder, aka @Yoh31