Migos' ever-widening catalogue gets 19 tracks deeper with the release of Quavo's solo debut. Is it "for keeps?"
Before “Bad and Boujee” reintroduced Migos as rightful superstars, calls for a Quavo solo album had already begun. After the release of their underperforming debut Yung Rich Nation in 2015, the group, made up of Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff, hit a slow patch. As the trio failed to match the success of their string of early hits that began with the 2013 breakthrough “Versace,” fans began to diagnose the stall. With Quavo being the most natural hook-writer of the three and beginning to turn in a number of memorable features, the question of whether or not a solo career was the best path ahead for the Atlanta rapper came into play -- perhaps the concept of the “rap group” was not due for a reemergence after all? The blazing ascent of “Bad and Boujee” quickly put that theory to rest. Not only did it give the trio the biggest hit of their career, it posited Offset, who supplies the immensely quotable hook, lasting nearly as long as a verse, as a leading man just as capable as the more melodically-inclined Quavo. It was far from the first time this dynamic (not to mention the quiet power of Takeoff) had been presented within Migos’ already vast catalogue of material up to that point, but it was a scalable moment that proved that the act was still a viable commercial force, and in fact had not even reached their peak yet.
The years since have given fans more material than they know what to do with, as Migos released the concise-by-their-standards Culture in 2017, before capping the year with the sprawling Quality Control: Control The Streets Vol. 1 compilation. At the top of 2018, they delivered Culture II, a 2-hour long director’s cut worth of new music that felt at least partially symptomatic of the stream-gaming inflation of albums over the last year or so. As popular as they remain, it’s hard not to feel a certain fatigue given the omnipresence of the group. Surprisingly, it’s at the height of this saturation that Quavo has decided to fulfill the requests of fans for a solo venture.
At 19 tracks, Quavo’s Quavo Huncho already feels like a supply that overestimates the demand. It’s a hurdle, especially considering the growing frustration with over-long albums, but one that could be cleared if it were to properly introduce Quavo as a solo artist with a unique sound independent of his group. Unfortunately, the project only flirts with this concept.
Giving Quavo two to three verses per track is a reminder that while the rapper is Migos' most immediately charismatic member, he’s also the least technically proficient of the collective. The dexterous triplet flows that populate much of the group’s catalogue are missing on Huncho, replaced with casually stylish staccato raps swimming amongst some hauntingly reverberated backing melodies. This effect was one of Culture’s great strengths, but here it feels like an isolated element of an already perfect formula. Rather than building on that satisfying palette, the album often coasts on it. There are moments of pure rap thrill however, most notably on “Hit The Switch,” where Quavo launches into the familiar unconventionality of Juvenile’s “Ha” flow, showing fans a playful rap nerd side (“I like this shit, this shit take me back to the '99, 2000”) that gives further dimension to his personality.
Despite a few moments of Quavo's singular qualities shining through, more often than not, Huncho is what a Migos album would sound like if Offset and Takeoff called in sick. Thankfully, Quavo calls in some substitutes who are willing to do more than simply put on a movie for the class. Lil Baby’s urgent, emotional rapping on “Lose It” is an album highlight, and 21 Savage delivers some truly hilarious punchlines on “Pass Out” (“I can show you how to make a band like Diddy”). When Quavo is able to contrast and feed off the energy of his guests, the songs tend to pack a stronger punch, indicating that he may still be in the developmental stages as a solo artist. Unlike Migos' projects, there is a tendency for slower BPMs throughout, mimicking the crawl of a Travis Scott album more than the typical Culture fare at times. The tempo choice gives the project a dreary backdrop that sometimes works against the rapper’s party-starting appeal. When the beats hit a head-nodding forward momentum like on “Shine” or “Workin’ Me,” the boost in energy is palpable.
As an artist who has flexed his pop muscle on tracks like The Social Experiment’s “Familiar,” Post Malone’s “Congratulations,” and Calvin Harris’ “Slide,” Quavo Huncho feels like a missed opportunity to flesh out the Quavo’s hookier tendencies. “Swing,” an Afrobeats-inspired cut with Fifth Harmony’s Normani and Nigerian superstar Davido, is a step in the right direction, but it seems like a better fit for Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee than Quavo’s more punchy style. “Champagne Rose” is another valiant attempt at covering new ground, earning a bizarre, hypnotic hook from Madonna, but ultimately doesn’t make as strong an impression as it could with such star power behind it. The Pharrell-produced “Go All The Way,” meanwhile, is interesting in its ambition, with Quavo using his voice in new ways as he creates a rhythmic vocoder-like refrain that nods to P-funk, but it never reaches the infectious catchiness of “Stir Fry.”
The takeaway from Huncho should not be that there is simply no need for Quavo solo material, but there won’t be a call for more of it until the rapper gives us an idea of what solo Quavo sounds like. Until then, we can rest assured that Culture III will give us a more balanced version of the Migos’ tried-and-true formula.