Now nearly a decade since first rising to fame and becoming one of the most influential figures in shaping the trap music takeover of the years since, the original trap maestro is one of the only people left continuing to innovate with the genre – something that he continues to show on his solo and curated projects. Now on the sophomore project bearing nothing but his own name in the headline – though both of his collaborative projects with 21 Savage have certainly stood the test of time – Metro recruits an all-star roster of his most frequent collaborators, bringing the best out of each of them with his dynamic and extravagant production style. While a couple of these artists are massive enough that they’re mostly on Auto-pilot, not delivering a stellar performance each time they appear, the true star of the show is Metro’s superhuman beat-making abilities that still hold our attention all of these years later. While his music might sound villainous, Metro Boomin cements himself as a trap superhero.
A project with a title like HEROES & VILLAINS gets an appropriately dramatic opener when Metro Boomin invites John Legend to belt like a longtime gospel singer over a prominent string section and a thunderous stomp-clap beat – that, of course, transitions flawlessly to an exhilarating hi-hat roll. If there’s anything Metro Boomin knows how to do, it’s set the tone – and Morgan Freeman returns from Savage Mode II to do the same as well. The first full track “Superhero (Heroes & Villains)” is the perfect space for Future to lean into a lurching, slower flow over one of the most eerie and creeping beats of the year – Future has been seriously lacking this year when it comes to features, but he truly just needed a beat like this one. The beauty of a Metro Boomin beat is that they often appear simple on the surface until you really focus on them, listening for the embellishments and switch-ups that make it all the more engaging – like the little chime notes, the percussion changes or the main melody suddenly adopting a more echoey, angelic quality. Chris Brown takes a brief, piano-backed beat switch at the end and sounds decent – I suppose he’s the villain in this scenario. “Too Many Nights” relegates Future to the brief end-tag role, giving most of its late-night sound to Don Toliver’s woozy delivery. It’s one of the examples of when the melody isn’t the catchiest, but it’s still an engaging world to get lost in. There still aren’t many as good as Toliver at selling a less structured, more vibe-heavy track, while Metro offers a new spin on the flute-backed trap beat – they’re not the focus, you barely notice them, but they help to create the overall cold and icy atmosphere.
The track “Raindrops (Insane)” is a solo showcase for Travis Scott – and one of his four appearances on the project – that almost sounds like Travis sent Metro an isolated melody with nothing attached and he took it upon himself to try to fit in as many slightly different ways as he could to produce a trap instrumental around it. The track does feel a little disjointed as a result, but Scott’s vocals come through in such an all-encompassing, crispy way and the instrumental lets listeners in on the maestro’s process. “Umbrella” is the first appearance of 21 Savage – who also gets four tracks as he continues to prove himself and Metro to be hip-hop’s perfect match – as he teams up with his cousin Young Nudy for one of the hardest-hitting songs here. 21 Savage does exactly what he does best over two verses, Nudy’s more nasal tone serving as a great contrast as the two get menacing over Metro pounding the lowest notes on the piano. The piano parts continuing to improvise throughout the track do so much, while the hi-hats knock my brain from side to side. “Trance,” with Travis Scott and Young Thug, feels like one of the least essential songs on the album – it’s certainly one of the most normal ones. Both artists turn in decent verses over one of Metro’s more standard beats – save for some eyebrow-raising bars from Scott – but the random instruments going off in the back are always a treat, especially the brief violin here.
The track “Around Me,” with Don Toliver, is another one where it’s a lot more about what Metro himself is doing than his guest artist. One of the most party-ready tracks here, it feels like Metro is blending his worlds of trap and the pop production he’s been venturing into in recent years. We get some blaring synths and hi-hats dropping like bombs, but bits where it’s just bass hits and different drum tones than he’d normally use as well. “Metro Spider,” on the other hand, might be the best guest performance on the album, drawing the attention away from the production. Over some horror-inspired children’s choirs in the back, it almost feels like Thug is taking his time to feel out the rhythmic pockets, escalating his energy in a nonstop crescendo as he does until the very end of the track while shifting through different voices and cramming in more syllables. “I Can’t Save You” is a brief continuation that picks up where it left off and goes into punishingly hard overdrive, Future’s deeper voice coming in to send it home as the sirens and pounding bass start blaring. The calm down is “Creepin’,” which finds The Weeknd essentially delivering a cover of Mario Winans’ classic “I Don’t Wanna Know” and sounding heavenly while doing it. Metro gives the track a modernized trap update, while 21 Savage provides a fun verse paying homage to the Diddy flow. The slow hi-hats added to this classic melody might make you levitate.
Many hip-hop fans know that the beat for “Niagara Falls (Foot Or 2)” has been teased for a long time, and the finished product doesn’t disappoint. The piano trap beat and string section could get stuck in your head alone, but the catchy hook from Travis as he switches registers like Young Thug before him pushes it over the edge, 21 Savage adding another great verse near the front. Savage appears for a final time on “Walk Em Down (Don’t Kill Civilians),” a song that takes a cold-hearted 21 track and a somber R&B cut from Mustafa, both sounding great, and jams them together for a 5-minute track that feels highly disjointed by the end. “Lock On Me” is another average one near the end with another standard beat and not much from Future to support another very catchy hook from Travis Scott, while “Feel the Fiyaaaah” is a triumphant closer of chopped-up soul samples. A$AP Rocky sounds like he has a giant grin on his face the whole time, while it’s a no-brainer move to put Takeoff on the end, even if it’s far from his best verse.
Music trends can be highly fickle, but Metro Boomin’s brand of trap music has lasted longer than anyone ever expected because of the level of quality he can put out on projects like these. Even with some massive rappers who we’ve heard on hundreds of tracks and might seem like they’re past their prime at this point, his beats liven something up in them and keep the spirit alive.
Favourite Tracks: Umbrella, Creepin’, Superhero (Heroes & Villains), Metro Spider, Niagara Falls (Foot Or 2)
Least Favourite Track: Trance