Very few collaborative albums live up to their hype, but this rarely prevents artists from trying. The past month has seen the release of Gunna and Lil Baby’s Drip Harder and Future and Juice WRLD’s World On Drugs. Both were solid, but neither seemed to exceed what each of the pairings could have achieved on their own, which is surprising considering the success of Gunna and Lil Baby’s past collaborations. A deeper look into past collab projects from other artists indicates that very few actually live up to expectations, especially the ones coming from big name artists at the peak of their careers. But there are a few exceptions — Drake and Future’s What a Time to Be Alive and Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne stand out. The majority of these other collab albums aren’t bad, though, they’re just forgettable, and oftentimes doomed from the start due to high expectations, poor timing, lack of album depth and weak production.
In December 2016, Travis Scott and Quavo announced their collab album Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho. The album wasn’t released until a year later, despite both artists frequently teasing its release for months on end. During this time, Quavo dominated the Billboard charts, including a run where he occupied 10 spots on the Hot 100 simultaneously, only the third rapper to do so. During this time, Travis Scott also teased his own album, Astroworld, but consistently refused to release anything from either project. When paired with the success of their earlier collab songs such as “Oh My Dis Side” and “Pick Up the Phone,” this had the effect of warping the expectations for both projects, creating an amount of hype that no project could ever live up to. When the album finally released in December 2017, the reaction was predictably lukewarm, and the album sits nearly forgotten less than a year later. 2018 saw the release of two collab albums that had been rumoured for years with the release of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s Everything Is Love and Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts. Both fell victim to expectations, simply because the idea of their existence had reached a sort of mythical status that no album could ever match, and although both albums are solid, they certainly aren’t as good as they should be considering the chemistry of the artists making them.
Another issue that plagues collab albums is a lack of depth within the album, something that ruined Gunna and Lil Baby’s Drip Harder. This is a shame considering their chemistry is unmatched in the rap industry today; after all, Gunna taught Lil Baby how to rap, and the two are each other’s most frequent collaborators. Their collaborative album, however, sounded exactly like all of their previous songs together, except this project was 13 songs long and only had about four quality songs. This issue isn’t unique to them either; it’s hard to make an album with multiple different sounds on it when working with someone else because that requires a major shift from what the two artists had previously accomplished. This is part of the reason why Drake and Future’s What a Time to Be Alive is such a good album — it has the expected high energy songs like “Jumpman” and “Digital Dash,” but it also has some slow-burning songs like “Diamonds Dancing” and “Live From the Gutter.”
The production behind the album is another crucial aspect of the success. Unlike solo albums, collab albums often lack a specific vision and can attempt to recreate one sound throughout the entire album. When both the artists and the producers do this, the album sounds repetitive, which is what killed Drip Harder. Keeping one or two producers for the majority of the project generally prevents this — What a Time to Be Alive featured production from either Metro Boomin or Southside on eight of the 11 tracks. Of course, producers themselves can partner with artists to create their own collab albums, such as Nav and Metro Boomin’s Perfect Timing; 21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin’s Without Warning; and Vince Staples and Larry Fisherman’s (Mac Miller) Stolen Youth LP.
One important thing to note about producer/artist collab albums is that they generally occur early in the artist’s career and face much less pressure and expectations than other collab albums do. Savage Mode by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin served as mainstream rap’s first introduction to 21 Savage, and it’s generally highly rated, although not quite at the same level as Watch the Throne. The same thing happened with Vince Staples and Larry Fisherman’s Stolen Youth LP, which essentially acted as a double debut project considering how it was the first full length project Vince Staples had put out and the first project Mac Miller had produced in its entirety. G Herbo and Southside’s Swervo is a producer/artist collab that almost reaches the level of What a Time to Be Alive but falls just short. G Herbo is an aggressive rapper, and Southside is the perfect producer to match. They prove to be perfect complements who haven’t experimented together enough to find their own cohesive sound. That said, if they were to release another album in the future after they’ve developed chemistry together, I have no doubt this would be a top tier collab album. One last note, though, is that good production can’t make up for everything — just look at Big Sean and Metro Boomin’s Double or Nothing album, which may be the worst collab project of the last decade.
What does this mean for some of the major collab albums that are expected to come within the next year, such as Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert’s 16*29, Tame Impala and Theophilus London’s Theo Impala, and A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator’s Wang$AP? It’s almost impossible that any of these projects match expectations, regardless of their content. For Wang$AP, there will always be the feeling that Tyler, the Creator’s collab projects should be with Odd Future, the collective he used to be a part of that split up in 2015. For 16*29, the album has been announced and leaked repeatedly since September 2017, so despite Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi’s chemistry, the album isn’t going to be as new as it should be, nor will it match the hype they’ve unintentionally built around it.
I predict, however, that Theo Impala will be the best collab album of the year and potentially one of the best of all time should it be released, considering its timing and lack of expectations due to its being a cross-genre collab album. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s an emerging trend of cross-genre collab albums considering Travis Scott’s recent work with Tame Impala and John Mayer, as well as the recent rise of genre bending emo rap with artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD.
Daniel Moran is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.