Review: ‘Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho’

The long-awaited collaborative album between Travis Scott and Quavo plays it incredibly safe.

Travis Scott and Quavo set the rap world alight with the announcement of a collaborative project in late 2016. It made sense for the two to come together; they’ve dominated 2017 as solo acts with their melodic guest appearances, while 2015’s “Oh My / Dis Side” was the sole proof that the two could churn out a timeless hit. The album’s enigmatic rollout was perhaps the most frustrating rollout for fans in recent times (in line with Kanye’s messy The Life of Pablo release), with the duo tweeting every so often that the album was on its way. With a day before release, the awful cover art and track listing made a few heads scratch. But from the amount of time the album spent in creation, the high expectations were justified.

However, the genius of “Oh My / Dis Side” is nowhere to seen. Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho quickly establishes itself as one of the most underwhelming rap releases to round off the year.

The fact all five of my album predictions came true says a lot about how formulaic Huncho Jack is. The problem isn’t that Huncho Jack is totally unlistenable, the problem is it sounds like one big 40-minute song. Across the 13 tracks, Quavo and Travis Scott recycle the same stop-start flow, same delivery and maintain the same dry tone. For a casual rap listener, this provides no complaints, but fans of Travis Scott are aware of the artistic pockets he is able to enter. The 2017 music market has been filled with too much trap music for a high-profiled release to provide a project this generic.

Although there’s no unbearable material on the album, you have to try like the songs and fish for positives rather than effortlessly enjoy them.  Between the few moments of satisfaction, Huncho Jack is filled with tracks you can barely differentiate between. Towards the back end of the album, “Saint Laurent Mask”, “Moon Rock” and “How U Feel” are played in succession and supply no memorability. If you really try, tracks like “Dubai Shit” are slightly enjoyable but feature non-existent hooks, not to mention that Offset’s unnecessary guest appearance yields a mere 4 bars. Out of 20+ recorded tracks it is hard to fathom these were the best of the lot.

Huncho Jack opens up with an Otis Redding sample, which is very reminiscent of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis” off Watch the Throne. It gave a brief indication that Huncho Jack would be providing something different, but the song is forgettable and over before you know it. With a title like “Modern Slavery”, a signature, dark Travis Scott sound would have fit the track well, but these stylistic possibilities are rarely considered.

Structurally, Huncho Jack is as basic as it comes, delivering unfinished and unpolished songs with little replay value. A handful of tracks barely exceed the 3 minute mark. When they do exceed the mark you wish they would end earlier because of the repetitiveness of the so-called “hooks” and verses that use the same stop and start flow over every single track, whether it’s on “Go” (“Go, go, go, go”) or “Saint Laurent Mask” (“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”), often courtesy to Quavo.

If Huncho Jack was supposed to bring anything to the table it was melodic choruses. It’s quite ironic that Travis and Quavo are regarded the most melodic hookmakers of the new rap generation yet provide zero catchy, memorable choruses. By the time you realise this the project is crying for a well-crafted, two-part song like “Oh My / Dis Side” to save the album from being consistently average.

Similar to SUPER SLIMEY, the production is flat and lacks melody. Surprisingly, the production tailors more to Quavo than to Travis. Super producer Metro Boomin is nowhere to be seen in the album credits; it’s no coincidence Metro executive-produced the best collaborative album of the year and was absent from the more average offerings. Tracks like “Saint Laurent Mask” feature the most generic Migos-styled trap production, while the closing track “Best Man” recycles Migos’ “Out Yo Way” off Culture. The track only maintains some of my interest because it is the only moment where Travis lays a straightforward rap verse without Auto-Tune.

There is a portion on the title track “Huncho Jack” where the beat intensifies and exits mediocrity, but this is only for a brief moment and the song returns to simplicity. This part is the only display of ambitious beat-crafting on the album, making you wonder that Travis must have kept the better beats for himself and AstroWorld.

Before the release, the performance of Quavo was in the back of my mind, who aimlessly croons from verse to verse with zero variation in delivery. Quavo does not possess the level of creativity that a Young Thug possesses to maintain your attention for a 13-track album – not to mention that he blatantly reuses the “left hand in the pot” line from “Eye 2 Eye” in the closing track. Quavo is not the only performer at fault here, as it appears if Travis Scott dumbed down to Quavo’s level, who sounds bored and lacks his usual creativity for the majority of the project.

Luckily, there are moments that save Huncho Jack from being a below-average project. A few tracks are equipped with memorability; “Black & Chinese” is an uptempo banger with an acceptable hook and high replay value. “Saint” follows suit in similar fashion with one of the few beats that suit Travis. “Go” attempts to add itself to this class of bangers but is spoilt by Quavo’s stale performance, and “Eye 2 Eye” is a grower thanks to the performances rather than the beat.

The standout cut is “Where U From”, featuring ukulele strums in the production that sonically matches Travis’ Texas-inspired style. There’s a rare element of melody here where Travis provides the best moment of the song with his infectious half of the hook (“Too much of alcohol, we need more options / Need more dancers, oh, we way too poppin'”). The former two songs could have lead to something even better if they were longer than 2 and a half minutes.

Unlike other collab projects this year, there are no issues with chemistry over here. Travis and Quavo sound in place on every cut, solidifying why this collaboration made sense. The blend of their Auto-Tuned vocals is what often maintains attention on the mediocre songs, though the aesthetic is often let down by their lazy performances.

It’s safe to say that Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho isn’t the high-calibre body of work expected from an artist as creative as Travis Scott and an artist as melodic as Quavo. The few songs that are memorable are surrounded by songs with flat production, repetitive flows, unmemorable hooks, a lack of melody and poor song structure. Huncho Jack is an average album that meets the basic criteria, but simultaneously proves that both artists’ attention is elsewhere. Cue Culture II and AstroWorld.

Rating: 6 / 10

Favourite tracks:  “Saint”, “Eye 2 Eye”, “Black & Chinese”, “Where U From”

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