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Music Features

Review: "The Voice of The Heroes" Demonstrates Why Collab Albums Don't Work Anymore

Lil Baby and Durk's lively bouts of lyricism are enmeshed between hollow flexes and a bloated track list.

The Voice of the Heroes

By: Daniel DeSlover/Shutterstock

In hip-hop in particular, it seems hard for a collaborative effort to truly satisfy the ravenous appetites of its fans.

Young Thug and Chris Brown's joint effort Slime & B was one of the most forgettable releases of 2020, with "Go Crazy's" radio success hinging on a viral dance challenge that barely gained traction. Another surprise collab release from Future and Lil Uzi Vert that same year sounded rushed and tedious and barely turned heads, which was surprising considering the latter was still ripe off his success of Eternal Atake.

From Metro Boomin's joint work with Big Sean and 21 Savage to every DJ Khaled record and the monumental letdown of albums like Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho and Everything Is Love, collab albums since 2011's Watch The Throne's have more often than not hinged their success on the PR power of its stars more than the substance of its records. Albums get sold, social media stirs for a moment, but records like Wrld on Drugs eventually wind up in the discount bin at Wal-Mart. Remember when T-Pain and Lil Wayne made a mixtape together called T-Wayne? Me neither.

So where does TheVoice of the Heroes fall? It's unclear. Lil Baby and Lil Durk's buttery flows blend together nicely and tracks like "Man of My Word" offer energized exchanges that feel like a super-charged battery. Both rappers are known for their vulnerable penmanship, and the emcees sprinkle moments of candid reflections across the album's bloated 18 tracks. Lil Durk's powerful eye for detail radiates on "Still Hood," where he describes bathing in a bucket, sharing a room with a junkie after his uncle got cancer, and how he used to sleep in strangers bathrooms on a duct-taped air mattress while listening to his aunt have sex next door. It's these haunting details that make Durk such a force on the mic, and when mixed with Lil Baby's penchant for social justice and self-motivation, they should create tracks that are powerful and rich with detail.

Lil Baby & Lil Durk - Voice of the Heroes (Official Video)www.youtube.com

But the truth is that these lively bouts of lyricism are enmeshed between so many hollow flexes ("I'm rich as fuck I can do what I wanna / came over sober she left here a stoner") and lines written solely to fill up space("check my net worth, hundred-fifty cash on the pay worth / Google better change my net worth") that it becomes harder and harder to pick out the gems as the project goes on.

"I done had to stand in front of the judge, and tell her I'm a user," Lil Baby raps on "Please," but the tragic sentiment of that statement is quickly buried underneath his follow-up anecdote about how Lil Baby and his money are married and "fuck off as a couple."

The impressive trickle of guest features, strangely, doesn't remedy the album's monotonous bouts. Travis Scott's last-minute verse on "Hats Off" feels scattered and ends so abruptly that it sounds like it had been solely scraped together to appease Travis fans. Meek Mill's choice to substitute his candid sincerity for braggadocious flexes on "Still Runnin" feels like a missed opportunity when the former could have truly elevated the track into something meaningful, and Rod Wave's brief appearance on "Rich Off Pain" doesn't boost the track in the ways one would hope and becomes quickly overshadowed by Durk noting that he'd use a butter knife to break into his aunt's room to steal money.

The only worthwhile appearance is Young Thug, who sounds vibrant and like he's having the time of his life on "Up the Side." The production itself doesn't pull any punches, either. The regular heavy hitters make their appearances (London on da Track, FOREVEROLLING, Murda Beatz) but offer up the same handful of oily bass-driven trap instrumentals that are well within all of their comfort zones.

At times Lil Baby and Lil Durk blend together with powerful empathy, but these moments come watered down by the project's weak flexes and gimmicky spectacles (Durk's veiled threat of violence against Quando Rondo on "Still Runnin" is already gaining traction on the blogs). Then there are moments that feel barely strung together at all, with songs like "Okay" and "That's Facts" feeling copied and pasted together by two artists just trying to cram another album into their busy schedule.

It all together makes those fleeting moments of vulnerability feel heartbreaking because they serve as brief glimpses into what this album could have been had it been given the proper care and attention. But I suppose that's the overall tragedy of collaborative albums, in general. When one passes by without leaving a mark, it feels like you missed the spotting of a shooting star, or worse yet like you had your wish granted and it just didn't change much of anything.

The Voice of the Heroes


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DJ Khaled Feels Right at Home On "Father of Asahd"

But the hit-maker's latest album is not without its flaws

DJ Khaled's role in the rap industry is not always easy to pin down.

He bills himself as a DJ and he's credited as a producer, but it's his role as a hype man that's often the easiest to hear. He loads up almost every song with his signature adlibs, either shouting his name over top of the mix or continuously reminding the listener that every new song is "another one!" Although he isn't incorrect (yes, DJ Khaled, every new song you make is, indeed, another one), the overdubbing of his voice at the beginning, middle, and end of every track gets both redundant and, frankly, pretty annoying.

Despite this, there is no denying that DJ Khaled seldom disappoints as far as his features are concerned. On Father of Asahd, his eleventh studio album, Khaled carries on this tradition of mixing up some incredible collaborations and showcasing talented artists. Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and Big Sean team up on "Jealous;" Nas and Ceelo Green do their thing on "Won't Take My Soul;" Jay-Z and Beyonce team up with Future for "Top Off;" Chance the Rapper and Quavo assist Bieber on the album's first single, "No Brainer;" and, of course, Nispey Hussle and John Legend take us to church on "Higher."

And that's just scratching the surface of all of the features you'll hear on the rest of this 15-track compilation. This album, overall, is one of Khaled's strongest efforts to date. It's a bit grittier and organic, whereas much of Khaled's previous work has been on the glitzier side. It's sometimes felt like he was trying to force his songs into the club with high-budget and in-your-face production. But Father of Asahd is more understated in its production, erring much closer to a harder hip hop sound than you'd hear on 2017's synth-laden Grateful or 2016's autotune-heavy, pop-oriented Major Key.

That being said, Father of Asahd is not without its flaws. The production can feel confused at times. Take "You Stay" with Meek Mill, J Balvin, Lil Baby, and Jeremih, for example. The beat samples (or, more accurately, straight up steals) the beat from Puff Daddy's "Senorita." On top of that, Khaled layered a vocal sample from a Puerto Rican pop song, "No Me Conviene," by La India. This could work in theory. The only problem is that La India's melody is in direct conflict with Puff's instrumental. There are many instances of dissonance. Plus, the timing of the vocal sample was not thoroughly taken into account in relation to how the Puff Daddy beat is looped. The result is an awkward and confusing clash of sounds. Which is unfortunate, because Meek goes on to kill that "Senorita" beat.

All in all, Father of Asahd is definitely worth a listen if you are a big rap and/or R&B fan. Is it the game-changing album that Khaled is capable of one day making? No. But it definitely shows that he is making moves in the direction of his full potential.