By Brian Josephs
February 25, 2019 at 07:56 AM EST
Motown and Quality Control Music

Conventional wisdom says Quavo is the star while Migos aficionados will shout about Takeoff being the most technically skilled. Yet, it’s Offset’s album that inspires the most confidence. That’s not just because Quavo’s solo efforts — Quavo Huncho and the Travis Scott collab Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho — felt vapid next to the group’s efforts or because Takeoff’s humbler stardom made The Last Rocket, at best, a cult favorite. Offset has arguably remained the most consistent when the spotlight has shone on him, turning Gucci Mane into an afterthought on his own song and teaming up with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin to drop 2017’s Without Warning, which presented the best horror narrative since Get Out. So there was an understandable collective harrumph when the Sagittarian’s 2018 ended with a cheating scandal and awkward apologies instead of his promised solo effort.

But with more eyes on him thanks to his continued relationship with Cardi B, Offset finally decided it was time to introduce the world to Kiari Kendrell Cephus. Motown Records A&R Carlos Desrosiers told the New York Times in November that in conceptualizing what became Father of 4, he told the rapper he wanted introspection instead of “Patek, Patek.” Vulnerability is catnip for critics, but it’s also a wasteful demand since Offset has a gift for making luxury watch-adjacent raps. Nonetheless, that’s Sincere Offset glaring at you on the album cover with his children photoshopped around him.

Dungeon Family’s omniscient poet Big Rube kicks things off, introducing you to what’s supposed to be 16 tracks of gravitas and humanity. And it is that for a little while. Offset tries to lay himself bare over Metro Boomin’s minor keys on Father of 4’s album-opening title track. While the song could use a little less sweetener, the conversational honesty with which he admits to his first daughter, “I ain’t really know if I was your father/Tell the truth, I really don’t even know your mama,” gives his messages to his children a touching intimacy. Though Offset’s kids continuously pop up — fatherhood is the billed motif, after all — much of Father of 4 is weighed by mortality. Ghosts border these songs as R.I.P.s trail the jewelry mentions. Offset rises through tax brackets and sells out Barclays Arena, yet he’s still a man who misses his grandmother. Her sweetness pops up to juxtapose his corrosion, perhaps most explicitly in the album closer “Came a Long Way”: “I was having dreams of getting rich off of robbin’/F—d around, my grandma got sick couldn’t solve it.” The signature luxury talk is always tied to some sadness.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

But as the album trudges along, there’s a sense that Offset’s big this-is-who-I-am album is just an A&R concept. He flips through the traumas of his life without giving them much psychological context or background, like he’s rapping an unpublished Wikipedia article about himself. The most glaring example is “Don’t Lose Me,” where Offset apologizes to Cardi by naming the things he loves about her — namely, “I love your attitude, moody/I love when you call a nigga stupid/I love that you’re ratchet not boujee.” Ask any fan why they love Cardi and they’ll tell you the same.

But Offset often sounds drained in a way that doesn’t really invite empathy. The Migo switches up his delivery constantly in “North Star” and manages to sound sleepy each time. When CeeLo swings by to attempt a transcendent outro complete with melodramatic imagery (“It’s so lonely in the light, it’s lonely, I repeat/But I cannot cry”), it elicits more confusion than inspiration. At least the other guests do a decent job at acquitting the main star. Yes, J. Cole has a habit of rapping basic common sense branded as “conscious,” but he’s been a solid moralistic counterpoint within trap’s bleakness, which is the case on “How Did I Get Here.” And 21 Savage still has plenty of dark one-liners to spare on “Legacy” (“Why you in the car if you ain’t gone shoot? You another witness dog”).

Father of 4’s Southside- and Metro Boomin-led production exist to mirror Offset’s sullenness, resulting in compositions that echo and cascade with less punch. None of the lush instrumentals pop because its star doesn’t. In the few times they do, you get gems like “Clout.” Anchored by a Cardi B verse that evokes Destiny’s Child and Brandy to express her indignation, Offset’s mournful “They’ll do anything for clout” refrain features a relatable amount of deadpanned disgust.  But it’s unfortunate a song about clout chasers is a highlight from an album introducing a family man.

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