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The Atlanta conductor assembles the trap Avengers and Suicide Squad for his subdued sophomore album, lurking sheepishly in the shadows of Metro’s Gotham City.
Trap’s favourite producer sticks to the mission through thick and thin. It’s not been an easy year for the 29-year-old, enduring the tragic loss of his mother which escalated online concerns for his mental health. But business resumes as usual, cooking up the sequel to his 2018 debut solo album, Not All Heroes Wear Capes, a cinematic trap orchestration, and succeeding 2020’s Savage Mode II with 21 Savage.
Heroes & Villains takes Metro Boomin’s flair to the bare bones, a minimal, subdued soundtrack to the producer’s comic book vision.
The hero concept continues from his 2018 effort. This time round, the concept is fleshed out to create a contrast between the heroes and the villains. Each guest artist represents one of the two camps, a detail that has intention rather than a label. It calls for bone-chilling cuts like “Superhero” with Future, arguably the star of the album through his fierce cadences, signature horrorcore on “Walk Em Down” with 21 Savage, and the intense “Metro Spider” with Young Thug. The answer to Heroes & Villains’ quality is simple: Metro Boomin is too seasoned to deliver an average album. His dark production style always allows plenty pockets for the vocalists to shine, constructing an Atlantan Gotham City that cannot be found in any other trap producer’s work.
Heroes & Villains is consistently enjoyable, though searches for maximum impact. The production is the most skeletal we’ve ever heard Metro, excessively subdued in songs like “Trance” and “Lock on Me”. There’s no sensational beat that holds a candle to production like Without Warning’s “Rap Saved Me” or the layers of “Don’t Come Out the House”. The closest moments are the first twenty seconds of “Umbrella” and closer “Feel the Fiyaaaah”, the former of which should have returned at some point in the song. With such addictive beats in his catalogue, Heroes & Villains feels like Metro not putting his best foot forward. As a result, the majority of Heroes & Villains is enjoyable songs that struggle to individualise their highlights.
Vocally, we are privy to a tight pack of familiar faces. The rappers on display bring low-spirit melodies, which aren’t heightened by the lack of layers in Metro’s production. Don Toliver’s nasal drive dominates three tracks, while Travis Scott remains in gear one on three of his four appearances. Moments of energy come courtesy of Young Thug and the late Takeoff’s first posthumous verse. When there is a new voice, they are shoehorned onto a disconnected strand of a track that would’ve benefited without it (Chris Brown on “Superhero”, Mustafa on “Walk Em Down / Don’t Kill Civilians)”. It causes a lack of hits, something that Not All Heroes Wear Capes was chock full of.
It means one must treat Heroes & Villains like a holistic experience, driven by its tight theme, and Metro’s muted but irresistible sound that keeps the album’s engine running. He remains a conductor, waving his wand to summon a trap album that may not be his personal best but is robust enough to upstage most albums of its kind this year.
7 / 10
Best tracks: “Superhero (Heroes & Villains)”, “Metro Spider”, “Creepin’”, “Niagara Falls (Foot or 2)”, “Umbrella”