Metro Boomin Brings a New Wrinkle to the Producer Compilation

On 'Heroes & Villains,' Metro Boomin created a tight knit supergroup of his greatest collaborators over the course of his already storied, Hall of Fame worthy career, Abe Beame writes.
By    December 12, 2022

Photo via Boominati Worldwide/Republic Records/UMG Recordings

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Abe Beame knows the truth: that the Barclays Center is the worst arena in America.

What constitutes rap’s first producer compilation? An in-demand producer attaining the recognition and clout to have their name featured first on a tape is an age old flex/right of passage. I spoke to the great rap historian/encyclopedia Dart Adams, who believes the first came in 1987, with Hurby Azor’s The House That Rap Built. This was followed a year later by what may be the 80s most famous and influential producer compilation, Marly Marl’s In Control Vol. 1.

These tapes set the template, with the producer of the hour emptying his rolodex and calling on an impressive roster of friends and collaborators to deliver an all-star mix over their original production. They also serve as markers of moments in time, when their big, splashy lineups of the era-defining artists are in peak form, rapping over the work of a great collaborator/producer controlling the airwaves.

Over the years, the genre would shift and mutate. Is a DJ’s mixtape – featuring original content from a wide sampling of artists over curated beats paired specifically and mixed by the DJ – a producer’s compilation? (I’d argue, no!) How about a label mix like the great Ruff Ryders compilations? (If one producer with a hot hand is behind a great majority of the tracks, yes!) How the hell do you define whatever it is DJ Khaled does? (Unclear!)

There are some producer compilations we should’ve gotten but never did (Would’ve loved a Preemo tape at his zenith in 95), some that underwhelmed (Timbaland, using his compilations as dumping grounds for several beats that probably should’ve stayed on the cutting room floor), and some masterpieces (Is Prince Paul’s brilliant concept album A Prince Among Thieves a producer compilation? Why not?!) But somehow, over 30 years into the history of the medium, we’ve never seen anything quite like what 29-year-old Atlanta by way of St. Louis product Metro Boomin has pulled off with his album of the year contender, Heroes & Villains.

Metro doesn’t line up a series of disposable, one-off artist features in the fashion that has come in vogue over the last decade. Think of it as the Khaledification of the producer compilation – cobbling together discordant, splashy guest stars with prefabricated tracks and hoping for one or two event hits to push streams. Instead, Metro has delivered a cohesive album with a thematic concept, sound, and mood. But it’s also a triumph of orchestration, because he briefly creates a tight knit supergroup of his greatest collaborators. These group members keep recurring on the album in different permutations. Metro essentially casts himself as the RZA, moving his Clan members around like chess pieces and completely reimagining the producer compilation form.

But it’s more than just a novel approach. Somehow, Metro got all-time performances out of his lineups. It’s not just a starry guestlist, but like a basketball fanatic putting together an impossible, all-time fantasy squad over beers (“Magic in 87, Ewing in 93, LeBron in 2013.”) Young Metro either coaxes or simply lucked into the best version of each collaborator. He gets 2015 Future at the peak of his mixtape run: icy , faded, and bouncing. He gets Travis somewhere between Birds in the Trap and Astroworld, moving nimbly between crooning and spitting and crushing every cadence and melody. He gets Young Thug, both on his track with Travis and on his own in a solo, ODB-like star performance, babbling fire beamed out of the Jefferey era. He gets arguably his closest collaborator, 21 Savage, closing out an incredible 4th quarter run in vintage dead eyed, monotone form. Young guns like Don Tolliver and Mustafa the Poet make the most of their call ups from AAA ball, the actual one-off cameos from the Weeknd, Chris Brown, Gunna, A$AP Rocky, and of course, Takeoff, are perfectly placed and utilized in their sequencing. Almost every song could be a hit, and some most likely will be, but they also flow in the traditional, increasingly antiquated sense of the album as a sit-down experience.

Considered as a whole, the project achieves a singularity and personality the producer compilation has rarely, if ever seen. It’s of a piece for Metro – a producer who always has moved with uncommon self possession, working more often with close collaborators than the mercurial, gun for hire, whoever is hottest at the moment approach that many producers follow when they achieve a similar level of success. With Heroes & Villains, Metro has done more than contribute a hit, or even his sound to the culture, he has tweaked an old model, perhaps in a lasting way, for producers and their collaborators to express themselves.

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