Metro Boomin returns to reaffirm his status as the John Carpenter of hip hop.
In hip hop retirement is a term frequently declared but rarely exercised. Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Lupe Fiasco are all guilty of this tradition. However, when Metro Boomin announced his ‘retirement’ in April the producer quite literally disappeared from the public eye. His absence transcended from album credits to the charts (and collaborative projects suffered as a result). Perhaps a break was deserved; Metro’s busy 2017 fostered the fright-night thriller Without Warning, an album worthy of comparison to classic Halloween movies. Accompanied by cryptic promotion days before release, it is time for Metro Boomin to take total control with his debut solo album.
Like the album art suggests, Metro Boomin is back with a bang. Not All Heroes Wear Capes illustrates that Metro Boomin is not a producer, but a director, accompanied by a cast that stick to the script electronically registered in the samples, strings and structure of an antiheroic symphony.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes boasts familiar faces as the album’s posterboys. Multiple appearances from Travis Scott, 21 Savage, Gunna, Swae Lee and Young Thug strips any ‘compilation’ properties producer-albums tend to inherit. The cinematic journey begins with “10AM / Save the World”, acting as hushed opening credits to a superhero movie. Gucci Mane’s nonchalant vocals serves as narration to Metro Boomin’s galaxy, ensuring the track conceals the grandeur that follows.
Similar to Without Warning, the grandeur lies in the minacious production, while the guest appearances compliment the eerie atmosphere Metro Boomin orchestrates. Not All Heroes Wear Capes swarms the senses with dark keys and foreboding strings alongside vintage samples. Co-stars to Boomin’s motion picture is Travis Scott and 21 Savage, whom seamlessly mesh with the foreboding production on songs like “Overdue” and “10 Freaky Girls”.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes pays close attention to structure and transitions, the selling point behind its cinematic texture. Metro Boomin’s signature ‘Part A / Part B’ arrangements introduce a variety of musical ideas in a single track rather than stressing one melody for three minutes. This is the case with the ending of “Overdue”, introducing melancholic strings that connect the following song, “Don’t Come Out the House”. Although captivating by itself, Travis Scott’s “Only 1” interlude perfectly segues into one of the album’s many standouts, “Lesbian” with Gunna and Young Thug. “Lesbian” embodies the ‘Part A / Part B’ arrangement, relaying back and forth between starry-eyed twinkles and percussive thuds to compose irresistible melodies.
21 Savage costars to recapture the gore of Without Warning and Savage Mode on a handful of tracks, notably “Don’t Come Out the House” and “10 Freaky Girls”. The former song balances cutthroat threats with humorous one-liners (“I had a wet dream about beef” / “Rappers think they It but they really just clowns”), while the horns of “10 Freaky Girls” thump alongside 21 Savage’s signature flows.
Scattered across the album are further highlights. The minimalist “Dreamcatcher” captures the nature of the song title, particularly by the time it reaches climax. Swae Lee’s celestial vocals are the key to the track’s dreamy aura alongside the infectious hook (“I know what you’re into”). “Up to Something” is a slurring throwback to Travis Scott and Young Thug’s 2014 collaboration “Skyfall”. Thug’s performance is reminiscent of the lauded Barter 6, a logical indication of the track’s age.
“No More” featuring Travis Scott, 21 Savage and Kodak Black is the album’s climactic scene before the ending credits, a despairing ode to the trio’s submission to intoxication. The cut is the album’s epitome of Metro Boomin’s respect for structure. Rather than Travis Scott redundantly recruited for each hook, each artist takes a hook after their verse before all three artists perform the hook in succession during the song’s finale. Although a minor detail, it is vital in elevating the enjoyment of the song, and showcases the advanced mediation of Metro Boomin as an orchestrator.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes complies with its ominous ambience until it opts to nervously step outside the comfort zone in the final third. The poppy “Borrowed Love” and “Only You” distract from album’s dark tone, and are awkwardly placed within the mise-en-scène of the 44 minutes. The former song reaches satisfactory status thanks to Swae Lee’s performance, and is enjoyable independently from the context of the album, while “Only You” distastefully bends a knee to the 2018 dancehall trend. Both songs narrowly prevent Not All Heroes Wear Capes from the cohesion Without Warning possessed.
For Metro Boomin, production speak louder than words. His advanced, structural take on trap music continues to be refreshing, maintaining its wicked edge for longer than expected. Despite the numerous standout guests, this is Metro Boomin’s album, one of the few conductors behind the boards that possesses a voice without saying a word.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Best tracks: “No More”, “Lesbian”, “Overdue”, “Dreamcatcher”, “10 Freaky Girls”, “Only 1 (Interlude)”, “No Complaints”