If nothing else, 2017 was an exciting year for music, including albums from big names like Drake, Kendrick, and Migos. Creating the most hype around their arrival were the number of collaboration albums that were released. For fans, seeing two of your favorite artists making an entire album together is a most exciting prospect. Thus, when we heard last year that albums were being released by Future and Young Thug, 21 Savage and Offset, and Travis Scott and Quavo, people were in high spirits and with high expectations. However, fans’ hopes for exceptional albums featuring prime performances from prominent rappers were disappointed by mediocre, bland albums that seemed to have been made hastily and with little care or effort. That’s not to say that these albums were bad, but that they fell short of the expectations we had for such star-studded collaborations.
The standard for collaboration albums is set by Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne and Drake and Future’s What a Time to Be Alive. These two tapes saw success because they not only highlighted the individual strengths of each artist but also pushed them to experiment with new dimensions not possible on their own. WTT brought out a rarely seen emotional side of Jay and saw the beginning of the braggadocious, arrogant Ye that has been his brand since then. In addition to the lyrics, the album showcased samples and beats that were foreign to either of their solo styles. WATTBA had the same effect on Drake, though to a slightly lesser degree; while the trap scene was not necessarily entirely new for him, this collaboration gave him the opportunity to take a trip to Pluto with Future and make an entire album without the pop and R&B tracks that are his forte. WATTBA allowed him to earn some much needed “street cred” and send some final shots at Meek Mill, as he did in his “30 for 30 Freestyle.” Future sounded pretty much the same as always on this album, but nonetheless, he did a good job continuing to utilize the style with which he had been tremendously successful in the past.
Fast forward two years, Future teams up with Young Thug on Super Slimey. This was a promising combo given their similar styles in production but vastly contrasting vocals. Again, Future doesn’t budge from his characteristic style, sticking more to the trap theme of FUTURE and less to the emotional, R&B theme of HNDRXX (which was clearly the better of the two albums), both released earlier in the year. But here’s the problem: Thugger does not experiment with anything new either. Coming off of Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls, his first ever “singing” album, one might expect that he would try to be innovative and unconventional on this collaboration, but that is not at all the case. The result was an incredibly repetitive and mundane album. The songs certainly weren’t awful – if any of them had been released as singles, they might have done pretty well – but when thirteen songs that all sound exactly the same are released together, it’s very easy to lose interest. In fact, the only song that stood out on the album was “Patek Water,” which was the only exception because Offset gave the album what it desperately needed – a standout verse.
The second of these albums to be released was Without Warning (aptly named, as it was not announced until the day of its release) by 21 Savage and Offset. Without Warning also has the problem of sounding repetitive, but it has one other underlying issue as well: the combination of 21 Savage and Offset doesn’t make much sense. Unlike either Kanye and Jay-Z or Drake and Future, these two artists don’t have a long history working together or a precedent of any exceptional chemistry. Although WTT and Without Warning have been compared to each other by Complex News (as a joke obviously), the latter does not come close to the genius of Jay-Z and Kanye. They had only appeared together twice before (on “Gucci On My” and “No Flags”), and both previous collaborations also included other rappers. 21 and Offset are both great artists, and they each brought their individual talents to the album, but that was just about it. The collaboration did nothing to enhance or expand what they could do on their own. The best song of the album (and arguably of the year), Ric Flair Drip, was a solo track from Offset, and the next two most popular songs each had another artist to lend a verse—“Ghostface Killers” featuring Travis Scott and “Rap Saved Me” featuring Quavo. Any purely Offset and 21 Savage track was entertaining, but uninspiring at best.
With 2017 almost over, Quavo and Travis Scott finally dropped their highly anticipated collaboration album, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, after months of teasing it. These two have a successful history of working together on several tracks. Huncho and La Flame both utilize heavy autotune, and Travis’s more gothic tone is complemented by Quavo’s effervescence in a sublime manner, as is best demonstrated on “Oh My, Dis Side.” However, on Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, we see almost none of this. It is little more than a conventional trap album, lacking in ambition and the chemistry the two have shown in the past. It seemed like Travis and Quavo were rushed while making this tape, both more concerned with Astroworld and Culture II, respectively, while Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho was just a small side project. There still were a few good songs, such as “Saint,” “Modern Slavery,” and “Eye 2 Eye,” but as a whole, it certainly did not live up to our expectations for a Travis Scott-Quavo collaboration.
Although collaboration albums might have disappointed on the whole in 2017, one collaboration stood head and shoulders above the rest. Two hip-hop heavyweights, Fabolous and Jadakiss, came in with their highly anticipated Friday on Elm Street and produced an album completely different from the other three collaborations in 2017. Despite the name of the album, the “scary movie” theme didn’t go past the intro, a pleasing decision that 21 and Offset could have benefitted from also making. From the endless punchlines and calm, cool, and collected flow coming from Fabolous, to the rough and powerful raps voiced by Jadakiss, these two veteran New York rappers prove once again why their music has been able to remain relevant and consistent for many years. Unlike the other collaboration albums released in 2017, their differences gelled together smoothly and these two rappers pushed each other to produce their best raps for the fans. Some stand-out songs on the album were “Stand Up,” “Soul Food,” ‘Talk about It,” and “Principles,” just to name a few. These songs don’t rely heavily on autotune and trap beats, which dominate the rap industry today. Despite all of this, the songs are still appealing to hip-hop fans who are interested in deep messages in their music, social consciousness, and actual BARS that make you want to pause and go back just to react the same way the first time you heard it. Overall, the album is easily the best collaboration of 2017 and is one of the most underrated hip-hop albums of the year.