Much of the discussion around producer-helmed rap albums favors the so-called boom-bap variety. Where fans clamor for their favorite lyricists to lock in with one producer, like Nas and Hit-Boy, Gibbs and Madlib, or Black Thought and Danger Mouse on Cheat Codes. It makes sense that the classic two-person dynamic is reflected in traditionalist hip-hop — but that’s not the extent of its potential, as trap music ingenue Metro-Boomin demonstrated on his recent album, HEROES & VILLAINS.
The 15-track project re-affirms the potential for new terrain within the trap sound. An 808-dominated soundscape wades and unfurls into different aesthetics on Metro’s skillful whim. Of course, trap music blended with pop music throughout the 2010s, but HEROES AND VILLAINS manages to feel like a trap album with mass appeal rather than the other way around. Eschewing glossy features, Metro locked in with several frequent collaborators he helped turn into rap megastars over the years. The result is a trap soundtrack fit for a Christopher Nolan film.
The project further entrenches Metro’s genius and shows that world-building is possible with trap, a genre too prone to albums that feel like strictly hit-or-miss playlists. Born Leland Tyler Wayne, the St. Louis – born producer already has a slew of collaborative projects under his belt. Including the breakout Savage Mode with 21 Savage and 2017’s, Without Warning, where 21 and Offset hurled their threats into the frame of his Halloween-themed canvas. And while Double or Nothing with Big Sean, and Savage Mode II, both falter at points, Metro’s production was never the issue. Instead, when the project is intent on shrouding listeners in a specific mood, such as Without Warning or Savage Mode, he delivers.
Trap music sometimes faces a stigma from detractors who downplay the genre as featuring only party tracks, dismissing the craft of Metro’s frequent collaborators like Future, Young Thug, and Travis Scott. However, Metro’s track record has made him more than just a hitmaker that artists go to for the centerpiece of their projects. He helps artists build from the ground up in a way that trap producers aren’t lauded enough for. At just 29, he already deserves to be considered in the pantheon of the genre’s great producers.
HEROES & VILLAINS builds on his legacy by emulating the highs of his previous work. He and co-producers like Honorable C-Note, Alan Ritter, and David x Eli express the musicality of trap with how easily they shift the album’s 808-based percussion into other sonic aesthetics. “Trance,” for instance, segues from deep, clubby drums into punchy trap drums. And Metro managed to keep things fresh. “Feel The Fiyaah” would have been a fine song if it rested on the Peabo Bryson sample as a simple loop. But Metro turned the music into something greater with movement, adding a bassline at the end of the late Takeoff’s standout verse, then using Rocky’s propensity for pitched-down refrains as a pivot point to take the production in different directions. And on “Creepin,” Metro plays with tempo and juxtaposes the slow-burning trap that’s The Weeknd’s wheelhouse with an interpolation of Mario Winans’ 2004 “I Don’t Wanna Know” classic. This technique states a case for the genre’s legitimacy in the Black music canon.
Metro stirred intrigue for HEROES & VILLAINS on the week of release with intelligent marketing, slowly rolling out the proverbial cast on social media with graphics that celebrate his collaborators as the outsized comic book heroes they sound like on record. The moment harkened to Dreamville’s digital Revenge of The Dreamers 3 invitations, which raised awareness for the album by word-of-mouth and collective speculation on who the following announcement would be. This approach created a viral moment that wasn’t solely about the figurative movie director Metro, but costars like Young Thug and Gunna, who had a hilarious news anchor turn in a HEROES & VILLAINS promo video.
By contrast, the DJ Khaled album has become a predictable annual project that’s consistently failed under the weight of its expectations. But here, Metro decides to augment the producer-led concept album by creating a world around the collective, giving them sonic purpose beyond playing for another hit record. Of course, every compilation album doesn’t need to be a concept album. But on HEROES & VILLAINS, it helped orient the listener and resulted in a project where Metro pushed the boundaries of trap and stoked excitement for where he’ll take the genre next.