Downtown Atlanta, Georgia during the first week of October is a special time. Annually, the A3C Music Conference and Hip-Hop Festival attracts thousands to experience and absorb panels and showcases within the city’s very heart. It’s a five-day cluster of beauty for any lover of the culture and this year was no different.
On October 4, the second day of the festival, the highly anticipated album Drip Harder, a collaborative project from Quality Control's star rookie Lil Baby and YSL’s soaring rocket Gunna, sprung a leak before its Friday release date. Neither artist was booked to perform at the festival, but to be in Atlanta’s downtown area was to encounter their presence, voices, and vibes.
There wasn’t a street corner across the city that didn’t tremble underneath Tay Keith’s diabolical production on “Never Recover”; to sit in the city’s never-ending traffic was to hear “Run dat back, Turbo,” the producer tag that appears on seven of the album's 13 records, on repeat.
Dominating the speakers of an entire city the same weekend that brought new albums from T.I. and Sheck Wes was the perfect metaphor for the duo’s undeniable dominance. Drip Harder was the people’s album. Early first-week sales projections have only further solidified their large and ever-growing fanfare.
Joint albums are tricky. Bringing together two solo rappers and creating a bridge for their star qualities to exist as a singular entity is like having two popular painters share a small canvas. There’s limited room to make magic happen, but plenty of opportunities to create disorder. Over the past year, we've seen more excitement over collaborative album announcements than we have musical results (see Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho), a recurring disappointment and trend that has continued since JAY-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne.
Where Lil Baby and Gunna benefit on Drip Harder is from being rappers of the moment. The two emerged during the era of No Cap trap music, they've collaborated frequently during their respective rises, and have proven capable of communicating musically with distinct personalities that naturally mesh. The first three tracks on the album—“Off White VLONE,” “Business Is Business,” and “Belly”—are a thrilling trifecta that displays how their flows, melodies, content, and cadences all successfully work in unison as if the two are operating as one.
Previous releases like “Sold Out Dates,” “Life Goes On,” and “Our Year” were early previews of the promising work ahead. Baby’s authentic street reflection and Gunna’s infectious charisma give the pair their winning contrast. The natural chemistry between Baby and Gunna reminds me of an early Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. The two could’ve been to Chicago what Lil Baby and Gunna are to Atlanta if “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Suitcase,” and “Tweakin'” were followed by a full-length effort. Neither Baby nor Gunna—similar to Chance and Vic—needed to craft Drip Harder to boost already-successful solo careers, but doing so has created a moment that will always be remembered by their fans.
While Drip Harder is the lasting influence of Baby and Gunna's popular predecessors—Future, Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Migos—the album's features (Drake, Thugger, Lil Durk) serve only to make the album a bigger event. Their supporting roles never once remove the spotlight from the main co-stars.
As for the production, what Metro Boomin was to What a Time To Be Alive is what engineer, producer, and executive producer Turbo is to Drip Harder. The pace, cohesion, and consistent energy on Drip Harder is a credit to the palette's architect. Throughout the album's 39-minute runtime, the only song that doesn’t instantly strike is “Seals Pills.” Every other song—including four solo records—adds value to the listening experience in some fashion. As a newcomer still making a name for himself, Turbo is positioning himself to stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside cohorts Wheezy and Quay Global.
The winning formula for collaboration is finding the partner that compliments your specialties. Drip Harder is one of the best package deals since Goten and Trunks, lemonade and sweet tea, seatbelts and airbags. Think of Lil Baby and Gunna as Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys. The two acclaimed comedic actors didn’t rewrite the buddy cop flick narrative but were able to insert themselves into the lexicon through sheer charisma and style. They were able to sell themselves together just as well as selling themselves apart.
Drip Harder is the Bad Boys of 2018. Yes, there are predictable clichés and moments of déjà vu, but what allows the album to shine is how it makes what moves separately feel as if it was always meant to be whole.
By Yoh, aka lil Yoh, aka @Yoh31.
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