Fear and Loathing in Dubai: “Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho”

(Capitol Records)

One of the best parts of any album is the artwork. In contrast to other artistic mediums like painting, an album’s cover art reflects its music, evoking emotions and setting the tone before you press play.

Travis Scott and Quavo, the rap heavy-hitters who paired up on “Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho,” a collaborative album, released Dec. 21, made a bold choice for their project’s cover art, enlisting the help of professional illustrator Ralph Steadman.

Steadman, best known for his work with American author Hunter S. Thompson, having illustrated the covers of books such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” evoked his trademark spookiness in the artwork.

The cover is barren, with a white background and thin, black lines used to create the setting of a desert and a distant cityscape, with Travis and Quavo in the foreground.

The two rappers wear grim, twisted expressions, and resemble zombies who just ran through the Gucci store.

This ominous artwork, contrasted with the bright colors of the rappers’ outfits, set the mood for the opening track, “Modern Slavery,” which begins with a soulful Otis Redding sample before Quavo’s first lines, “All these damn chains, modern slavery / But this ain’t 1800 so they paid me.”

The rappers trade bars on most of the songs, covering topics from the burden of fame on their shoulders to the weight of the jewelry flooding their wrists, necks, teeth, fingers, heads, shoulders, knees and toes.

One of the standout tracks for me was “Motorcycle Patches,” which features a pulsing bass and one of the catchiest hooks of the year. Travis raps about his days on the streets of his hometown Houston, where he earned his stripes as a musician.

Other highlights on the project include “Dubai Shit,” which opens with a beautiful, unexpected feature from Swedish rapper Yung Lean and “Saint,” where the rappers revel in the fruits of their labor: “Lookin’ at this mansion I bought / It just came with fifteen rooms and a vault.”

Some critics of the new wave of rap, who complain of not being able to understand the lyrics, or feel the artists only rap about shallow, materialistic things, may judge this album prematurely, as Travis and Quavo have both become massively popular amidst a wave of these so-called “mumble rappers.”

I think those critics would be surprised by both the clarity in delivery from the duo, as well as the range of themes and topics they managed to touch on over the album’s 41-minute runtime.

The album’s production also shined. With collaborations from Murda Beatz, Southside, TM88 and Cardo Got Wings, the project unifies several of trap rap’s most prominent producers into one cohesive unit. The samples all accent the songs perfectly, and the drums are among the best in the business.

“Huncho Jack,” did well on the business end of the spectrum. Debuting at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in its first week of release, the album maintained that popularity, selling 90,000 units by Dec. 28.

Overall, I would say this is a fantastic project for anyone tentative about exploring the trap rap genre, as two of its most talented and decorated artists, along with a pantheon of primo producers, bring out the best in each-others’ styles, and in the genre itself.

 

Grade: A – A team of trap titans link up to bring the art of the genre to the forefront.

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