Photo: Flo Ngala
Busta Rhymes On Being In A "Beautiful Space" & Bringing Together Generations Of Hip-Hop Artists On 'Extinction Level Event 2'
With 'Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God,' Rhymes' first album in 11 years, the world has finally begun to process what his music has been telling us all along
There is really no comparing legendary New York rapper Busta Rhymes. With his dizzying flow, mind-blowing lyrics and commanding voice, he's been shaking up hip-hop culture since 1991 when he stole the show on A Tribe Called Quest's iconic posse cut "Scenario."
With Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God, his ninth solo studio album out now, the global consciousness has finally begun to process what his music has been telling us all along: The system is broken and disaster is imminent. While 2020 has brought overwhelming death and suffering worldwide, it has also come with much needed reevaluation of the way things are. Similarly, the 22-track opus (the Deluxe Edition delivers 30 tracks!) is a hard-hitting cinematic firestorm of destruction; a reflection of our chaotic reality, but not without moments of vulnerability, love and celebration. Rhymes not only showcases his seemingly unlimited creative and vocal power, but that of other greats, including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Rick Ross .
The album comes 11 years after 2009's Back On My B.S. partly because it took the rapper a "a long time to figure out the right support system to nurture and nourish the life and the success" of it. Eventually, he found a home for the album at San Francisco's EMPIRE records. But time does not faze Rhymes at all. "You can't put a timeline on greatness," he told GRAMMY.com.
A few weeks after its critically acclaimed release in October, we caught up with the bad ass New Yorker himself to learn more about the creative process and the long journey behind it as well as the collaborators and the spooky album art. We also asked about his legacy and what he sees as the biggest difference between now and 1998 when he released Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front. Spoiler alert: not a lot has changed.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You unleashed Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God on October 30. What has the response of fans and critics so far felt like for you?
Can you tell me what you've been hearing?
I've heard good stuff, that it's hard. For me, it's crazy that it's your first album in 11 years. It feels like you haven't missed a minute, you're just right back in.
Thank you so much. I've been hearing the words classic and masterpiece. For the first time, it's resonating so abundantly in such a short period of time, in just two weeks. This is the third week now and it's just an incredible feeling to hear this as the general consensus. There is just no way to really describe how incredible it is. So, I am floating on all of the plane of energy right now.
This year is crazy and the themes of the album—destruction, plague, chaos—feel very real. I'm really curious about the timeline of the album and what was going through your mind as you were working on it. I'm also wondering what was the spark that first got you back in the studio.
I never left the studio, that's the thing. This has been a narrative of mine since my solo career began, which is why my albums have been called The Coming, When Disaster Strikes, Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front (E.L.E.), Anarchy, Genesis and It Ain't Safe No More. This is just another chapter to the same book of E.L.E., so to speak. I went into this album with the intention of it being an Extinction Level Event 2, but I didn't confirm that probably until about four and a half to five years into the recording of the album once I knew I had the pieces that substantiated and warranted it being called that. I'd never done a sequel album in my entire career.
It was going to be the Extinction Level Event 2 way before COVID-19. I bought the album artwork two and a half to three years prior to the COVID shutdown. I include all 10 pieces of art in the album packaging of the CD booklet, and same with the vinyl. I met the young lady, an artist by the name of Chanelle Rose, through Swizz Beatz and the No Commission movement, which is pro-artists—the mantra is "for the artists by the artist." Swizz curated this initiative and always would introduce me to different incredible artists. When he introduced me to Chanelle Rose's work, it was about four years ago. I fell in love with what I was seeing from her immediately, and I bought the 10-piece collection from her. It took her a year to make it; one piece takes two months because she draws it with a ballpoint pen. It's just incredible what she does, I couldn't believe it.
When I saw these big skeleton figures with these masks on them, obviously, at the time when I purchased the art collection in it, there was no COVID issue. It was speaking to me in a whole 'nother way about what the corrupt politicians should truly look like when you strip the flesh off of them. They're all in masks, and they all have these agendas that have never really benefitted my people. The insensitive evil and wickedness that plays a significant role to the oppression of my people and a lot of other people. That has been the ongoing narrative since the beginning of time, since the United States was born. The masks always deceived the sh*t they're doing to everybody else, that they're protecting themselves from. That's metaphorically what the pictures said to me.
I thought that those were the perfect images for Extinction Level Event 2 and then the irony of it is COVID happened and now everybody's being [told] to wear masks. That felt prophetic. That reassured me all the more to why I needed to really dive into bringing the album home as we were going into the second phase of the recording process.
That's really such a journey. When did you first start working on the songs for this, and when did you wrap up?
I started in 2009, and I wrapped up sometime in August 2020.
How do you feel like you shifted during the process of making this project?
I think for the first time in this career of mine, I've gotten to a place of comfort where I've been able to feel good enough about sharing things on a personal level and in a vulnerable way that I've never had prior to this album. It took years for me to get to that place and once you find that it's a very fulfilling thing to be able to share. You help remind people that they're not alone in these realities that a lot of us are never and will never be exempt from going through. It also reminds people that it's okay to talk about it. I think a lot of the times, especially as Black men, we don't get the opportunity to really be allowed to share when we're hurting or when we are afraid or when we are in need of help.
I think even more so now than ever, with everything that everybody is going through, we need to make a conscious effort to show people it's okay to say, "I need somebody to help what I'm going through right now." Or "I just need some support. I'm a little insecure about something. I just need someone to listen." I wanted to share a lot of that. I think that comes with maturity, with growth, with being a man, and understanding what it is to be a man as opposed to thinking you're one. A lot of times people think they're grown men and they still have a lot of learning left to do before they can actually walk in that space. They tell you that you were a man legally when you're 18. That's such a lie.
I'm just in a really beautiful space, still a work in progress. I think we never completely figure it out. While we're learning as we go along, we still also got to be great listeners and that's where I'm at in my life. I'm always willing to learn, and to teach and share, and that's what I'm trying to give through this music and through this album, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God. We need to have a good balance of informative content, and we also still need to remember what it is to laugh, live, love and learn and have some fun. We need to recharge because being in the battlefield dealing with this crazy sh*t every day, we need to go back home relaxed and refueled so we can get back in to it with the energy and strength that we need to continue to fight the good fight.
On the album, you brought in some of the younger rap and R&B greats, like Kendrick Lamar, Rapsody and Anderson .Paak. What was it like working with them and was it an intentional mentorship sort of decision?
I definitely didn't do it because I was mentoring any of them. I did it because I'm a huge fan of all three of them. They would give me sh*t that I felt like I was hugely inspired by. They're such incredible talents. I mean, when Rapsody and I did ["Best I Can"] together [about a troubled relationship between a father and a mother], she gave me the song with the track and the verse all ready. She created the whole creative direction, which was genius because I'm the one with the kids and she doesn't have any. It was just beautiful to see her look at things from a perspective of being on the outside looking in, but being so close to the situation in real life. That she can actually illustrate a perspective about this reality, that is one that has never been illustrated in this way on a record—since the beginning of hip-hop's birth and conceiving, we always hear about how the fathers are deadbeats.
I grew up without my father, but you never hear about how a woman is apologetic for all of the vindictive things she did to a man that's trying to actually be a damn good father. Through all of the humiliation and disrespect, he actually still sticks it out and makes sure that nothing comes between him and his child. That's important and needs to be heard and it's a reality that a lot of fathers needed to hear and a lot of women needed to hear. It creates a dialogue that I think is needed.
Kendrick Lamar is my favorite MC in the world. Anderson .Paak is one of the most brilliant minds that I've ever met as an MC and as a R&B artist, as a performing artist. All three of them are like super powers to me. I wasn't trying to mentor them because they are so great. If there would be any mentoring that would be needed, it would have to come from them.
And to have an opportunity to work with them and with my alumni of artists and artists that are elder statesmen to me, like Bell Biv Devoe and Rakim. I wanted to show the world that I got three incredible generations of our culture on one body of work. Look how incredible and amazing we all can sound together, as long as we continue to bridge these gaps. That's what I was trying to do, show the world that we are the timeless greats. You can't put a timeline on greatness.
"You can't put a timeline on greatness."
That's real. What do you see as the biggest differences between 1998 when you dropped Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front and now?
The biggest difference between then and now, to me, is technology. A lot of the sh*t I was talking about then and a lot of the issues that we faced as a people then, none of that has changed now. We're still in the same horrible crisis of a situation as far as Black and brown people are concerned. I think the difference, in a way, now is that it is a little more directly affecting white people in a negative way. Because of this COVID thing and the narrative of it and the shutting down of the entire planet, it has now compromised the comfort level of every nationality and race.
Unfortunately, the reality is a lot of things that were the same then have probably even gotten worse now. We didn't have social media in 1998. [Now, on social media] you can watch Black people getting killed every two to three days and there's no accountability. The worst part about it is that we didn't have these phones where we could watch this person getting killed on film, on repeat, from an uncensored Instagram post. We only saw it on the news. The kids are seeing this around the clock. It's an unbelievably unfortunate crisis as a result of technology and the systematic fery that has been implemented by design, by the powers that be. So again, this never changed, this is what it's been since the beginning. It's just magnified with how it's being put in our faces and how it is completely shifting the conscious and the subconscious thought processes. It has given birth to generations of valueless perspectives on life, as the generations are born into seeing this sht as a normalized thing. It's horribly unfortunate.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
That's a good question because I got so much left to do. [Laughs.] I don't know, because I have huge plans to do so many things outside of music that will contribute in a major way to the legacy I would love to leave. But as far as music is concerned, I want my legacy to be that I am held in a godly regard when it comes to being an artist; A significant contributor to the culture and a true MC and a profound climate shifter of the culture. And one of the best to ever do this sh*t. If I left out anything, I'll let you fill in the blanks. [Laughs.]
Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images
Lil Yachty Wants You To Be "Ready For Everything" At The Field Trip Tour
As Lil Yachty hits the road for his 42-date global tour, the rapper details how he'll be bringing his trippy album 'Let's Start Here' to life — and why he feels like his seven-year career is only just getting started.
Fans first got to know Lil Yachty for his catchy, sing-songy tunes like "One Night" and "Minnesota," rap songs that sound like the rapper's once-signature red braids: bright and attention-getting. But as the man who once dubbed himself the "king of the teens" has now become a father in his (gasp!) mid-20s, his musical horizons have expanded.
While Lil Boat is still making catchy tracks (see his minute-and-a-half long earworm "Poland," released last fall), his latest album is something else entirely. Inspired by big statement LPs like Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon, Lil Yachty's Let's Start Here is a psychedelic record created with members of Chairlift and MGMT, as well as Mac DeMarco, Alex G and a handful of other out-of-the-norm collaborators. While the style change may have been unexpected for many, it came out exactly as Yachty envisioned it.
"It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong," he says. "I'm grateful for the response. It's nice to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about."
Yachty's most recent release, a four-song single pack featuring the swirling "TESLA," brings him back to a more traditional hip-hop style — by Lil Boat standards, anyway. But even with the four new tracks sprinkled throughout the set list, he's still determined to share the sound and vibe of Let's Start Here with his listeners.
The Field Trip Tour, which Lil Yachty kicked off in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21, brings the album's trippy vision to the stage. The rapper recruited an all-women band for his latest trek, which includes Lea Grace Swinson and Romana R. Saintil on vocals, Monica Carter on drums, Téja Veal on bass, Quenequia Graves on guitar, and Kennedy Avery Smith on keys.
"My life is surrounded by women," Yachty explains. "I feel like they are the most important aspect to this world and that they don't get enough credit or shine — especially Black women."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Yachty as he was on his way to rehearsal to chat about the tour, the album, and what he learned from four old British guys.
You made your band auditions public by announcing them on social media, which is not the usual way of going about these things. When you had the auditions, what was it like? How many people showed up?
Hundreds of women came from all over. People sent in auditions online. It was so fun to hear so much music and see talent and meet so many different personalities. I felt like Simon Cowell.
Other than musical ability, what were you looking for?
It was nothing more than talent. There would be multiple people with extreme talent, so then it became your own creative spunk: what did you do that made me say, "Oh, okay. I like this. I like this"? I wanted a badass group.
What was behind the decision to put the call out for women only?
My life is surrounded by women — my two assistants, my mother as a manager, a lot of my friends are women. Women really help me throughout my day.
I just think that women are so powerful. I feel like they rule the world. They are the most important aspect to this world and they don't get enough credit or shine, especially black women. So that was my aura behind it. I just wanted to showcase that women can shred just as good as men.
Is the band going to be performing on your older rap material as well, in addition to the album cuts?
No. I'm not a big fan of rendition rap songs. I think the feeling is in the beat, the feeling is in the instrumentation. When you have to reconstruct it, the bounce gets lost a bit.
Tell me about the rehearsal process once you selected the band members. What was that like?
They're all so talented, so they all learned it very quick. I gave [the music] to them early, and gave them the stems. When it was day one, they all knew the songs. Even my new guitarist that came in later than everyone, she came in knowing the music.
The rehearsal project for this tour was a little different, because I'm reconstructing the whole album. I'm moving everything around and changing all the transitions and trying to make it trippy. So it's a process of me figuring out how I want to do things. But they're so talented and so smart, all I have to do is tell them what I want, and they'll do it instantly.
Like yesterday, I wanted a solo on the end of a song called "The Alchemist." Because at the end of [the album version] is this [singer Brittany] Fousheé breakdown and she's singing in a falsetto. But I took her vocals off and I wanted a solo. And [a band member] was working through it yesterday and it wasn't quite there. But I'm on the way to rehearsal now, and I know when I walk in this room, it'll be done. It'll be crazy. So they all take it very serious and they care, and I love them so much.
The festival shows you've done so far have had everyone in Bantu knot hairstyles, sometimes with face paint. Is that going to be the look for this tour?
No, I don't think so.
What was the thinking behind that look?
I was getting really deep into the world of '70s bands, '60s bands. Just unison: moving as one, looking like one, feeling like one. A family, a group, a team. You see us, we're all together.
When you play rap shows, so much of what you're doing is keeping a high-energy mood—getting the crowd going, starting mosh pits. With the new songs, it's about a diversity of feelings. What was that like for you as a band leader?
I'll tell you, it was not easy. I've been in this industry for seven years, and my shows have been high-energy for seven years. So the first time I went on a stage and performed Let's Start Here, I felt like, "Oh wow, they hate me. Do they hate this?" Plus I have in-ears, so I can't hear the crowd cheering. I don't perform with in-ears when I do rap shows.
It took me some time to get used to the switch. Tyler, the Creator once had a talk with me and explained to me that, it's not that they don't f— with you, it's that they're taking it in. They're comprehending you. They're processing and enjoying it. That clicked in me and I got a better understanding of what's going on.
What is it like in the same show to go from the Let's Start Here material to the rap stuff?
It's a relief, because that's going to my world. It's super easy for me. It's like flipping the switch and taking it to the moon.
Now that it's been the better part of a year since Let's Start Here came out, how are you feeling about it? What sense do you have of the reaction to it?
Since before it came out, when I was making it, I always felt so strongly because it was something that I felt inside. It felt future-forward, it felt different, it felt original, it felt fresh, it felt strong.
I'm grateful for the response. It's nice. It's not what you do it for, but it is extra credit. It's nice to get that love and to have people resonate with a body of work that you've worked so hard on and you care so deeply about.
Have you felt peoples' reactions change over the past few months?
Well, this is the first time when people are like, "Man, that album changed my life" or "It took me to a different place." People love my music — always have — but this reaction is, "Man, this album, man, it really took me there."
It did what it was supposed to do, which was transcend people. If you are on that side of the world and you're into that type of stuff, it did its job, its course — the same course as Dark Side of the Moon, which is to take you on a journey, an experience.
What was it about Dark Side that grabbed you?
Everything. The cover, the sounds, the transitions, the vocals, the lyrics, the age of Pink Floyd when they made it. I could go on. I got into deep fascination. It was so many things. It's just pure talent.
I've read that you studied Pink Floyd quite a bit, watching interviews and documentaries. What were some of the things you learned from that process and brought to Let's Start Here?
So many things. The most important element was that I wanted to create a body of work that felt cohesive and that transcended people, and that was a fun experience that could take you away from life.
I was curious about the song ":(failure:(," where you give a speech about failing. What were your inspirations for that?
At first I wanted [":(failure:("] to be a poem, and I wanted my friend to say it. We tried it out, but his voice was so f—ing deep. And his poem was so dark — it was about death and s—. I was like, Damn, n—, lighten up. But then I was just like, you know what, I'll do it, and I'll speak about something very near and dear to me, which was failure. I felt like it would resonate with people more.
Sometimes I feel like I'm growing so fast and getting so old, and maturing and evolving so quickly, and so many opportunities come into my life. You go on tour, and then you start working on an album, and you run out of time to do certain things. It's like, "Are we going to be together? If not, I have other things to do."
I think that's where it comes from. I don't have all day to play around. Too many things to do. Then it transpires to feel like I'm running out of time.
I love "drive ME crazy!" I was wondering if there are any particular male/female duets that you looked at as a model when designing that song.
Fleetwood Mac. Again, with all the inspirations for these songs, I still did my twist on them. So I don't want people to go and be like, "Oh, that sounds nothing like a Fleetwood Mac song." I wasn't trying to copy a Fleetwood Mac song. It just inspired me to make a song in that feeling, in that world.
When you began your career, you were the "king of the teens." Now you're a father in your mid-twenties. Who's your audience these days? Is it the people who were teens when you started your career, who are now in their 20s like you, or is it a new crop of teenagers?
I think now it's from the 12-year-olds to the 40-year-olds. My last festival, I had 50-year-olds in my show. That was so amazing. In the front row, there was an 11-year-old asking for my sneakers, and then in the back, it was 50- and 60-year-olds. It was crazy. The age demographic is insane.
Whenever I'm leaving somewhere, I like to have the window down and see people. [At my last festival] these 60-year-olds were leaving. They're like, "Man, your album, we love it. That show was so great." And that's awesome, because I love [that my music can] touch everyone.
You've been opening your recent shows with "the BLACK seminole." What does that phrase mean to you? How does it relate to the sound of the song and the rest of the lyrics?
It's saying, "I'm a warrior, I am a king, I am a sex symbol, I am everything good and bad with man, and I'm Black, unapologetically." That's what it's about.
Any final thoughts about the tour?
Just that it's an experience. You're not walking into a rinky-dink [show with] some DJ. This is going to be a show.
I feel like it's the start of my career. I just want people to come in with an open mindset. Not expecting anything, ready for everything.
Image courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum
GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7
The new exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration that features artifacts from legendary artists including the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, and more.
The GRAMMY Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this fall with the newly announced Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, an immersive, interactive, 5,000-square foot experience celebrating the multifaceted world of hip-hop and the global impact and influence of the genre and culture. Launching Saturday, Oct. 7, and running through Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, the exhibit will feature expansive exhibits exploring hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history as well as artifacts from hip-hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and many more.
Additionally, the exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Sonic Playground, featuring five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to partake in DJing, rapping and sampling, all essential elements comprising hip-hop culture. Additional virtual and in-person education and community engagement programs will be announced at a later date.
Exploring the countless ways hip-hop music and culture has dominated popular culture over the last 50 years, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit was curated by a team of four co-curators who bring a deep knowledge of hip-hop, academic rigor and creativity to the project. They include:
Felicia Angeja Viator, associate professor of history, San Francisco State University, author of ‘To Live And Defy In LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America,’ and one of the first women DJs in the Bay Area hip-hop scene
Adam Bradley, Professor of English and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA, and co-editor of ‘The Anthology of Rap’
Jason King, Dean, USC Thornton School of Music and former chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU
Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Music, and author of ‘Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm’
The co-curators worked in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons as well as a 20-member Advisory Board.
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is an educational journey through several key themes:
Innovation: Explore how hip-hop artists have innovatively used technology, from transforming turntables into musical instruments to pioneering sampling techniques.
Sounds of Hip-Hop: Experience the diverse sounds of hip-hop in four themed studios, showcasing the evolution of production, the intersection of hip-hop and car culture, the craft of hip-hop lyrics, and the influence of R&B.
Fashion: Dive into the world of hip-hop fashion, featuring iconic clothing, jewelry and style.
Regionalism: Discover 14 hip-hop scenes across the United States, showcasing the importance of local and regional contributions.
Entrepreneurialism: Learn about the transformation of hip-hop from a back-to-school party in the Bronx to a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Media: Discover the role of media in shaping hip-hop's development, from radio stations to pioneering shows like "Yo! MTV Raps."
Community: Explore how hip-hop has brought people together over the last 50 years, with an interactive ‘Hip-Hop America’ playlist featuring 200 songs that trace the genre's evolution.
Highlights from Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit include:
The Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic 5001 Flavors custom red leather peacoat he wore in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s music video "Players Anthem"
Kurtis Blow's original handwritten lyrics for his 1980 hit single, "The Breaks," the first gold-certified rap song
Tupac Shakur's handwritten essay "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," circa 1992
Two outfits designed by Dapper Dan, Harlem fashion icon: 1) a half-length black leather jacket worn by Melle Mel (Melvin Glover, b. 1961) in performance at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards; and a black-and-yellow leather bucket hat and jacket worn by New York hip-hop artist Busy Bee (David James Parker)
Egyptian Lover's gold Roland 808, the beat-making tool
LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat
Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is a key event taking place as the world is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year. The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc DJed a birthday party inside the recreation room of an apartment building located on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, New York City. This history-making date marks the birth of hip-hop and is the reason why we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary this year. The 50th anniversary of hip-hop means artists, fans, and the music industry at-large are celebrating the momentous milestone via hip-hop concerts, exhibits, tours, documentaries, podcasts, and more around the globe across 2023.
Visit the GRAMMY Museum website for more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'
Five years after his first solo release, Quavo's 'Rocket Power' explores loss, faith, and memories of the artist's late nephew Takeoff — a poignant tribute that marks a new creative plane for the Georgia-born artist.
Tragedy struck the hip-hop world in November 2022 when Migos star Takeoff was killed during an early morning shootout in Houston. Among the hardest hit by the loss was one-third of the famed trio and his uncle Quavo, who witnessed the shooting and sat by Takeoff's side as he passed outside a nearby bowling alley.
Since Takeoff's death, Quavo has largely stepped away from public view. He first resurfaced with an emotional tribute to his late nephew, "Without You," in January, sporadically releasing four more singles in subsequent months. But on Aug. 18, Quavo delivered his biggest tribute yet: the aptly titled album, Rocket Power, which explores the emotional scars that have formed nearly a year after Takeoff's passing.
Arriving nearly five years after his debut solo album, 2018's Quavo Huncho, Rocket Power is a welcomed sign of Quavo's artistic maturation. The 32-year-old rapper melds his effortless melodicism and hit-making powers to create a cohesive body of work filled with soul-stirring jams and ear-catching trap bangers.
To welcome Huncho's newest solo effort, we compiled five early takeaways from the 18-track project Rocket Power.
The Album Honors Takeoff's Life From Childhood To The GRAMMY Stage
From the intro "Fueled Up" to the album's closing track, Rocket Power points to the life and legacy of Takeoff, who's featured on songs "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins." On songs like "Hold Me," Quavo details the misery and emotional pain he and others have faced in the months following Takeoff's unexpected death: "I just need you to hold me/ Listen and feel my heart closely." Quavo also points to other instrumental figures in his life, asking them to come to his aid in moments of darkness.
On the title track, "Rocket Power," Quavo acknowledges the gut-wrenching thoughts and vulnerability he's experienced in this time of grief, and the toll it's placed on both him and his family. "Thinking about my nephew while I'm rolling some trees/ Mama said she's crying, and she's crying in her sleep."
While references to Takeoff's passing are sprinkled throughout the project, "Patty Cake" gifts Migos fans a welcomed look back at the two artist's influence and chemistry. And for many, hearing Taekoff's voice on the interlude "Narkedo Speaks" (which is pulled from a Drink Champs interview) reflects the kind of figure he was in rap: "I ain't even have a plan B, I made myself not have a plan B on purpose/Just so I can fulfill my plan A."
Limited Features Magnify Takeoff Tribute
Rocket Power only includes five features, a vast difference from Quavo's debut album, which boasted features on over half of its 19 tracks.
Among the artists featured on the project — which includes Future, Young Thug, Hunxho and BabyDrill — the most significant moments come from the artist the album honors. With Takeoff's presence on "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins," the songs flash to his often understated talents and role as the Migos' lyrical foreman. It also points to how instrumental he was in Quavo's life, as the rapper touches on their past memories growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
With fewer features, Quavo's vision for Rocket Power pierces through more vividly, and the project's more intimate and conceptualized moments reach their apex. While stars like Young Thug and Future elevate tracks like "Focused" and "Back Where It Begins," songs like "11.11" and "Not Done Yet" would lose much of its emotional fuel with another artist's presence.
Rumors Aside, Offset And Quavo's Relationship Appears To Be On The Upswing
It's hard to ignore Offset's absence on Rocket Power. He's not featured nor mentioned throughout much of the album, but "11.11" provided fans with some clarity on the status of their relationship.
Following the 2022 release of Quavo and Takeoff's collaborative album, Only Built For Infinity Links (which was released just weeks before Takeoff's passing), rumors about a falling out between Quavo and Offset emerged. The two first alleviated reports of their feud — including that they fought backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs — by reuniting for a performance at the 2023 BET Awards in June.
And nearly two months after their reunion, Quavo further suggests he and Offset are in a better place on "11.11": "5:30 Huncho and Set get up early, and go out and go get that bag together (Set)/ Who the f— gonna put us together, can't nobody put this s— back together/ So stay the f— out of the middle, lil fella/ We always goin' be that/ We fam forever (Migos)."
Quavo Leans Further Into His Faith
Throughout the album, Quavo points to his faith as a source of emotional strength and how it's tethered his family together in the wake of recent tragedy. On "Not Done Yet," the artist raps, "Giving it all I got, don't know what God got for me (God)/ Holding my head up high, I hope y'all really proud of me (High)."
While the "Lost" rapper has never shied away from his faith, Rocket Power is the most Quavo has ever melded it into his music. As much as it's a snapshot of his current mental state, the religious references point to the new creative plane Quavo is currently on.
Quavo Is A Legitimate Solo Star
Following Quavo Huncho, some hip-hop fans questioned Quavo's ability to carry an album as a solo artist. But if there were any doubts, drop them. He's unquestionably a star capable of carrying on his own.
While Quavo is credited for his infectious hooks and street hits, Rocket Power proves he can effectively draw from his life experiences and transfer those emotions to create gut-wrenching records. It also proves he can effectively pair these kinds of records together into a larger conceptual project, and expand his artistry beyond his melodic mastery.
Throughout the album, Quavo firmly commands each of the 18 tracks. He delivers a harmonious (and effective) mix of stadium-level anthems, emotion-fueled sentiments, and hard-hitting trap songs — proving that he'll not only continue the legacy he and Takeoff built together, but continue to evolve creatively on his own.
Photo: Courtesy of Asha Imuno
Hip-Hop Re:Defined: Watch Asha Imuno Personalize Kendrick Lamar's "i" With A Sparkling New Chorus
Rap newcomer Asha Imuno offers an upbeat cover of Kendrick Lamar's GRAMMY-winning hit "i," one of the many tracks that inspired the sound for Imuno's upcoming project, 'PINS & NEEDLES.'
Growing up in Compton, California, Kendrick Lamar never thought he would see the day he was happy, confident and, most importantly, hopeful. But his lead single from 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly, "i," proves that reality wasn't so far-fetched — even when confronted with gun violence and police brutality.
In this episode of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, rap newcomer Asha Imuno delivers his rendition of "i," which won Lamar both Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2015 GRAMMYs. Though the original track's groovy instrumental remains, Imuno adds a personal touch to his cover with a new chorus.
"And I love myself/ The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs/ And I love myself/ But they can do what they want, whenever they want, I don't mind," he sings. "And I love myself/ He said I gotta get up, there's more to life than suicide."
Imuno is a longtime fan of Lamar, and according to a press statement, his upcoming album, PINS & NEEDLES, was heavily inspired by Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. On June 14, Imuno released the first single from the debut project, "PUSHING BUTTONS."
Press play on the video above to hear Asha Imuno's uplifting cover of Kendrick Lamar's "i," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, a limited series celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary.