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Why Future trusts Metro Boomin

Metro Boomin and Future perform during 2023 MTV Video Music Awards. The producer and rapper have linked for two sprawling new albums this year, released weeks apart.
Theo Wargo
Getty Images for MTV
Metro Boomin and Future perform during 2023 MTV Video Music Awards. The producer and rapper have linked for two sprawling new albums this year, released weeks apart.

Only a few months into Metro Boomin's first year at Morehouse, the full-time student and part-time producer found himself at a crossroads. He had migrated to the trap capital from St. Louis, his stage name an amalgamation of his hometown's bus line and Brick Squad rapper OJ da Juiceman's emphatic description of his beats, and enrolled in fall 2012. Now, he was caught between his mother's wishes and his hip-hop ambitions: A collaboration with the buzzing Atlanta rapper Future, "Karate Chop" had become a cult hit and was threatening to change the balance of his freshman life. Every day, he would venture out of class and into studio sessions with either Future or Gucci Mane, and every day it grew more difficult to balance both. Eventually, he chose to invest in the beats he was making, in part spurred by Future's work ethic. "He'll always push me," Metro told Complex. "Like, I'll always think I'm working hard, he'll be, like, 'Metro, you're not working hard enough. You need this many beats.' "

The push paid off big for both artists. Metro Boomin has become a key architect of modern rap, and his decadelong partnership with Future has dramatically shaped both careers. Metro produced most of the seminal Future album, DS2, his Drake team-up, What a Time to Be Alive, and the crossover hit "Mask Off." In 2016, the nature of their working relationship was spelled out explicitly to many when Kanye West debuted songs from his album The Life of Pablo to thousands at Madison Square Garden and many more streaming at home. Just before the drop on "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" was a Future exclamation: "If young Metro don't trust you, I'm gon' shoot you." In the subsequent years, they have continued their hitmaking streak working mostly apart. Future has tallied five No. 1 albums since 2017, as well as four Top 5 collaborations with Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Zaytoven and the late Juice WRLD. Metro Boomin has earned top billing on two albums with 21 Savage (one with Offset) and another with Big Sean, helmed the soundtrack for last year's Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and released two solo No. 1 albums.

Now each a star in his own right, Future and Metro have reunited for two new albums in recent weeks — We Don't Trust You (March 22) and We Still Don't Trust You (April 12), each alluding to that declaration turned producer tag turned call sign. Few rappers have been more prolifically great than Future, and he has rarely taken a supporting role in his work, but on these songs, Metro Boomin emerges as a marshaling force, one worth putting faith in. The albums demonstrate just how significantly the balance of this partnership has shifted, and the headliner that Metro has become.

Metro Boomin doesn't really have a public-facing persona. Most rap producers don't, but most rap producers also aren't solo artists in their own right; their behind-the-boards work is often perceived as a function carried out in deference to performers. There are producers who have found stardom as rappers — Dre, Kanye, RZA — but Metro is one of few in history to become a star without operating as an "entertainer" in a traditional capacity; most who have tried similar shifts have stumbled. (The only recent self-starter, DJ Khaled, is still something of a mascot, mastering his own universe by leaning hard into caricature — and he's managed all of this without really being a producer, either.) Metro doesn't seem to covet the spotlight, nor is he built for it. Instead, his brand is based on his production's supreme clarity of purpose. In the monthslong tease of his reunion with Future, he insisted that a quote of his calling it the "ultimate project" had been mischaracterized, saying: "This is why I don't really do press or interviews often. We just let the work speak." In that vein, a Metro Boomin beat comes with some assurances: It is authoritative and self-evident, and not just because of the tags. Even amid its many variations, it is defined by its boom.

Though the exchange between Metro and Future has evolved past its original equilibrium, they can still be effective as a pair. Despite all he's achieved as a maestro, Metro requires a mouthpiece, and Future, as an evasive, enshrouded figure, has always been the best avatar of that reticence. For his part, Future gets to explore the full dimensionality of his autotuned yips and murmurs inside Metro production. The strobing beats have often brought out the duality of his voice, its most alien qualities ("Lil One," "Jersey," "Wesley Presley") and its most human ones ("I Won," "My Collection," "All Right"), allowing for a greater range of motion.

These two new albums, though, catch the duo at a curious intersection in their respective paths. Metro has never been more in command of his skills, as both beat maker and impresario. Future, while still versatile, has grown a little emotionally and lyrically stunted in recent years. On a surface level, his maneuvers aren't out of step with his early catalog, but the soul that used to possess his songs feels diminished, blunted by repetition and hardened by suspicion and cynicism. "Finding love got me more paranoid / I can't tell who real anymore," he raps on "Runnin Outta Time"; "Livin' in the trenches, it's survival of the fittest," he adds on "Everyday Hustle." His best stuff had a certain reluctant, lightheaded, lean-induced vulnerability ("Codeine Crazy," "March Madness," "Just Like Bruddas") or the croaked gregariousness of a freewheeling international pimp (I think often of how he fell in love with a girl from France and took a few "Pakistanians" to lunch in the span of a few bars on "31 Days"). These days, he is still going to exotic places and surrounded by beautiful women, but there is little sense of texture, of what is happening in the room or beneath his hedonistic veneer.

Future's most memorable moments here are when his hubris reaches the heavens. "Turn a bad girl good, I got the power of messiah," he sings on "This Sunday." He takes it even further on "Mile High Memories": "It could be God himself; anyone after me is a downgrade," he yelps over an arena-rock riff. "Came to the Party" has him pop into an event just to show off the outfit he's wearing and the woman he's with, and it's that superficial swagger that defines his role in these songs. The rest falls on Metro, who doesn't just build the venue he's in, but brings the party itself, and he makes sure that Future is always sitting in VIP. About a minute into the overcast "Ice Attack," a second spiraling beat emerges, one synth whirling around another like a ribbon on a maypole, and Future dutifully navigates its cadence as bubbling 808 bass rips sputter beneath. The sinister knock of "Crossed Out" and "Crazy Clientele" is so striking it draws Future back into the domineering trap mode of his early mixtapes. The sheer number of dynamic beats on view here is overwhelming, the "never stop creating" ethos the two artists bonded over seemingly locked in overdrive: two albums in three weeks, totaling two and a half hours, with the second being a double disc. The albums are bloated, but not aimlessly so. They feel designed to make the listener marvel at the productivity, and in a beat maker's world, curation is often secondary to volume and breadth.

The full extent of Metro Boomin's capabilities as a producer can perhaps best be heard in his service to the guests on these albums. "Everyday Hustle" is a horn and soul procession fit for the leathery splendor of Rick Ross. "Like That," an "Eazy-Duz-It"/"Everlasting Bass" mashup, is amped up enough to put a battery in Kendrick's back. The streaking cathedral bells and choral trap of "Type S***" welcome both the vocal overlays of Travis Scott and the ghoulish contortions of Playboi Carti. "All to Myself" ushers The Weeknd into a protective mode with its body-rolling Isley Brothers homage. "Red Leather" offers plaintive, J. Cole-friendly guitar licks. It's no wonder artists are ready to ride for the producer — so ready, in fact, that many of them appear prepared to back him in a standoff with the biggest star in rap.

We Don't Trust You arrived, with much fanfare, as a platform for Kendrick to challenge Drake in his fiery "Like That" verse. Beef between Metro and Drake has been simmering for a while (the particulars aren't that compelling), and in the wake of that verse, an unofficial anti-Drake coalition has convened. Rick Ross showed his support, and has since been vocally antagonizing him, in a song and online. On We Still Don't Trust You, The Weeknd joins the fray, singing, "They could never diss my brothers, baby / When they got leaks in they operation / I thank God that I never signed my life away," referring to his brief connection with Drake's OVO label. Later, A$AP Rocky enters the mix: "Still don't trust you, it's always us, never them / Heard you dropped your latest s*** / Funny how it just came and went," he raps, after leveraging his relationships with Rihanna and the mother of Drake's son for bragging rights. All are former Drake collaborators, and yet they seem united against him. Even J. Cole, who was a side attraction in the "Like That" exchange, deleted his Kendrick response and appears on this album as a sort of peace offering.

Drake has certainly earned the ire of his colleagues, not just for his incessant, indirect barbs and private schemes, but because he has been insurmountable for a long time and a real fatigue has set in. Siccing Kendrick on Drake in a surprise feature was quite the flex, one that built buzz for both albums and put murmured sentiments out into the open. Last week, I wrote that for Drake to let this provocation goad him into battle would be high-risk and low-reward: Kendrick is built for this kind of thing, and Drake would have to overcome his lingering rep as a softer, less forward and less technical kind of MC, all of which hurt you in the disinformation war that is rap beef. That, of course, was before salvos from The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky landed on We Still Don't Trust You, making this a multifront bombardment. The picture now looks less like titans of different worlds clashing and more like a schoolyard jumping, performed at Metro's request.

Drake is clearly aware of this dynamic, and so the tactic he deploys in a response leaked over the weekend, "Push Ups (Drop & Give Me Fifty)," is a clever one: He makes the case that his opponents are aiming at a perch they cannot reach, and that in banding together, they only demonstrate his supremacy. "What the f***, is this a 20-v-one, n****?" he asks, selling his annoyance before addressing Kendrick directly: "You done rolled deep to this, it's not f***in' deep enough / Beggin' Kai Cenat, boy, you not f***in' beatin' us / Numbers-wise, I'm out of here, you not f***in' creepin' up / Money-wise, I'm out of here, you not f***in' sneakin' up." There is only one outright burn for Metro himself: "Shut ya ho ass up and make some drums, n****." It is meant as a slight, to consign him to the background while the performers hash this out, but it is unwittingly a mark of what makes Metro special: his ability to take up so much airtime simply by keeping to himself and his drums.

As for Future, that he doesn't speak a word across these two albums that could even be construed as a shot at Drake lends credence to the idea that, on this stage, he is simply the man in front of the man. This is Metro's beef, these are Metro's albums, and in this context, the now-famous tag — if he don't trust you, I'm gon' shoot you — is a rallying cry. His stature now is not unlike the mob don with whom everyone wants to curry favor, understanding that being in his good graces pays off. Seeing how well it has worked out for Future, who wouldn't follow suit?

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sheldon Pearce
[Copyright 2024 NPR]