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Quavo ‘Rocket Power’ Album Review

As all of us know too well, grief is shatteringly unpredictable in nature. Sure, it hits hardest in the immediate aftermath of a death, but the healing process is unpredictable and subject to every variable imaginable. It’s like the ocean’s ebbs and flows, with the waves often crashing hard into the shore, while at other times creating little more than a gentle bob at sea. This profound sense of pain animates Quavo’s new LP, Rocket Power, the Atlanta rapper’s most recent project since Only Built for Infinity Links. The collaboration with Migos partner Takeoff further pushed their blood-related creative chemistry under the moniker Unc & Phew.

Links marked a joyful and celebratory period in both men’s lives, an album that found the two artists radiating a natural chemistry that brought out their best—both as individuals and together. The success of the project had the duo on a trajectory to maintain, even potentially eclipse, the acclaim they reached as the Migos.

Then, Takeoff was murdered with a bullet intended for Quavo. And the third Migo, Offset, got into public squabbles with Quavo, leaving the entire triplet empire cracking due to the unimaginable pain the camp was enduring.

With the arrival of Rocket Power, Quavo channels that pain and hurt into a solid return. Unsurprisingly, the album is at its best when Quavo uses the tragedy of his nephew’s death to reflect on his own life, where he’s been, and where he still aims to go. It’s tricky to measure an album by this rubric, but it’s not a coincidence that Quavo sounds the most engaged when he’s grappling with the tragedy that has altered his life forever.

The album kicks off with a monumental bang, as Quavo turns in one of his best solo songs to date with “Fueled Up.” The synths blare out like thunder, sounding dually like an ominous warning, and call to get amped up. Quavo employs his signature triplet flow, giving the song an internal rhythm that functions as the bass and snare on the otherwise percussion-less track. It’s all melody on the intro, and Quavo shows why he’s still one of the best pure stylists in rap when he cuts the brakes and lets himself dictate the tenor of the song.

Huncho offers some tabloid fodder regarding Offset and a tribute to Takeoff, spitting, “Livin’ like a rockstar but we miss one/ My cousin jumped out the car, I had to keep goin’/ Now he tellin’ the whole world that we ain’t blood.” The first line is a salute to his departed groupmate, while the latter references Offset’s May reveal that he isn’t actually related to Quavo nor Takeoff, but was so close to them growing up that they called him a cousin. Quavo, however, seemingly in no mood to tussle after losing his family member, lets bygones be bygones and commits to reconciliation: “N***a, it’s all love, yeah, it’s all love/ I guess we got to be together in this small world.”

There are moments on the album where Quavo coasts, reminding listeners of less consistent efforts like 2018’s QUAVO HUNCHO. These moments of banality come as a shock, especially in relation to songs that feature Takeoff or pay tribute to his life and work. It’s a tricky and sensitive situation this album deals with, but it exists and therefore must be reckoned with.

It’s unfair to want Quavo to do more soul-searching, self-discovery, and reckoning on this album; surely, he’s been through enough, and to ask an artist primarily known for getting the function lit to turn around and make deeply introspective songs about a tragedy he’s still grappling with would be off base and intrusive. In this context, he is much like other Atlanta stars Gunna and Young Thug, who have been forced to reckon with life-altering traumas on record. But Quavo’s introspective side is extremely captivating. Some of the album’s best material comes when Quavo populates his verses with memories of the struggle and triumphs before he became one of the most popular rappers on Earth.

On “Mama Told Me” he recalls, “When I got a step-daddy/ Me and Takeoff, shit, we was stealin’ his weed/ Mama always had a plan/ To get out the hood and advance.” Quavo’s voice takes on more energy as he details all of the lessons his mama’s taught him, bringing a gravitas and aggression to the track that he only unleashes on the rarest of occasions. It’s moments like this that accentuate the songs where he coasts. It, like so many mainstream rap records, could be five songs shorter, and would be more successful if some of this fat was trimmed. Even though some of the material sounds like it was left over for solo work pre-tragedy, or supposed to be on the second Unc & Phew tape, it holds back an album that could have been in the best of the year conversation.

As it stands though, Quavo turns in a record that seemed impossible to make under the circumstances. He honors the life of Takeoff while looking for a way forward. It’s a position you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, yet Quavo handles it with grace. Even when Quavo allows himself moments to shine—an occasional bar to reflect on all the wins he’s had—the reality of his fallen brother in arms is never far from his mind.



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