When DJ Drama and DJ Khaled first thrust their names into the national conversation in the mid-2000s, there was never an expectation that these guys could craft good albums. What they were doing, and still find ways to do, was in many ways the most cynical take on what sells a rap album since the glory days of No Limit and Bad Boy. While both DJs possess great value in their local communities (especially Drama, whose Gangsta Grillz series continues to facilitate many artists’ best, most free work), their approach to album making amounts to little more than rappers and producers as commodities, as dollar signs listed on the back of a jewel case enticing the vagrant big box browser to scan their eyes across 40 radio famous, internet-famous and mixtape-famous rappers and assume that ridiculous number of recognizable figures might somehow result in a cohesive product. This was a formula that Drama somewhat shied away from on last year’s Third Power, opting mostly for solos and duets, but being his most ignored release to date it only makes sense that he’d return to grandiosity. But is he able to bring himself back to the at least somewhat revelatory heights of his Gangsta Grillz (The Album) debut, or should we really start to think about closing this chapter of DJ-helmed LPs?
As usual, Quality Street Music serves as a vehicle for Drama to shine a light on some artists you may not have payed much attention to before while embarrassing and making caricatures of others, resulting in an unbalanced effort that reeks of songs constructed through emails and mix-and-matching rather than any real chemistry. The inevitable result of this sort of album-, or even song-making, is that rappers are going to be left in the dark as to how their peers are approaching a track, resulting in disjointed tracks that feel as commodified as they likely were. It’s a style that just makes you more frustrated when a genuinely entertaining verse or rears its head, like Fabolous’s verse that opens the album before dissolving into Yo Gotti by numbers wrapped around a terribly plain T-Pain hook, or “My Moment” featuring two of radio’s hottest presences in 2 Chainz and Meek Mill, which much like Drake’s “I’m on One” for DJ Khaled feels like a favor extended to Drama for helping them get where they are.
It’s easier to point out the songs that don’t quite work or completely miss their mark, so we might as well celebrate the few tracks that click. “Clouds” is exactly the sort of smooth, highway music you’d expect from a Rick Ross, Curren$y and Pusha T collaboration even if it doesn’t amount to much other than the cool those guys’ vocals embody. “So Many Girls” is a pair of non-Wale or non-Tyga verses from being a hit, to the point it’s a decent guilty pleasure should you opt in to Quality Street Music in the first place. And if you fancy yourself a crunk mother-effer it’s going to be hard to avoid “I’ma Hata”, the 1017 banger produced by TM88 that brings Twitter’s most famous hater, Tyler the Creator, along with Waka Flocka Flame and Brick Squad weed carrier Debo for a diabolically mean little banger. Of course Tyler can’t really keep up with those two since he’s essentially a character actor on the mic at this point, but dropping him in the middle provides an unexpected and refreshing change of pace while playing to the persona he’s cultivated. Credit’s also due to “Real Niggas in a Building”, which follows the DJ Mustard formula to a tee via extreme swag overload and unlimited head bop potential. Despite being one of the simplest tracks available here, it’s also one of the most immediately enjoyable and enduring offerings from Quality Street Music.
But these are fleeting moments contained in the middle, surrounded by that expectedly bland intro and the sort of groupthink that makes “Pledge of Allegiance” possible, a collaboration between Wiz Khalifa and B.o.B. (with vocal help from Planet VI, formerly Rock City) that celebrates their major label success by pledging to throw their money to the sky. That’s boring, nothing more to it. “Same Ol’ Story” joins underground superstar ScHoolboy Q with Kid Ink, Childish Gambino (huh?) and Cory Gunz to cut what amounts to an extremely capable high school talent show track. Like the tracks that open the album, the cut just undermines how engaging some of these personalities can be and imagines them instead on a rickety stage in front of 20 local hip-hop fans more interested in getting drunk and meeting girls than paying attention to the music. And inevitably that’s the effect Quality Street Music, and nearly every LP of its ilk since the late-90s, has on all of its tracks whether intentional or not. It’s an inconsequential blur, commodity after commodity being swiped across the scan line, thrown into a brown paper bag and wheeled out to the trunk, ready for shipment. My advice, as always, would be to seek out these artists’ solo projects instead, many of which are hosted by Drama and available on the internet for free. At least that way you’d be getting much more than your money’s worth.
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// Notes from the Road
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