Offset Tries to Right His Wrongs on Underwhelming Solo Effort ‘Father of 4’
As music evolves over time, certain artists drift in and out of the spotlight, and at any given time, there are usually a select few who seem to embody a given genre more than any others. In the hip-hop world of 2019, one of those that come to mind is Migos, who have made trap take on an unprecedented appeal, inspiring countless copycats, and making once provincial rapping styles now a universal phenomenon. Perhaps most notable out of Migos’ three members is Offset, partly due to his relationship with a defining character of the times, Cardi B. The two tied the knot, and Cardi famously performed, twerking and all, pregnant with their child, albeit to the sad end of a breakup announced online last year. Now, Offset has delivered an apology album — and any interpretation of the term that you can imagine will probably suffice. Titled “Father of 4,” the new record refers to his predicament of having fathered four children from four different women. It’s a set of typical trap songs with the usual subject matter, interspersed with bits of whining and pleading to Cardi B, who herself makes an appearance on the album, making things all the more novelly confounding. It’s positively refreshing in the sense that the two are at good enough terms with one another to collaborate. As such, it’s a demonstration of resilience, forgiveness, and fortitude. On the other hand, it’s a cheap and tawdry production that seems, more likely than not, a half-hearted exploitation of a media-friendly story to an end that doesn’t quite deliver what it promises.
The title track starts things off with a spoken word intro from featured artist Big Rube. Among his many striking lines is “How can I make choices I’ve yet to discover we have?” and one can only hope that he isn’t referring to Offset’s titular predicament, as one, two, even three children out of wedlock should have given Offset a vague idea of the choices that he has. Rube somewhat addresses this, continuing, “But not to trivialize your belief in the semi-fictionalized / I am who you see / What you hear is part of me.” And fair enough. Like most rappers do, Offset and his recruited entourage are likely putting on an act for most of the record, and one can reasonably only take it at face value. What follows is a series of apologies from Offset, including such platitudes as “I was 17 years old when I had you” and “Sorry I wasn’t there for all your birthdays.” He addresses his four kids — Jordan, Kody, Kalea, and Kulture, and the opening track stands out for how unguardedly personal it is. Kody’s part stand out, with the lyrics, “My son Kody, he three, rappin’ already like me / Ridin’ in the car, you don’t play me, then he gon’ scream.” It’s one thing for a decidedly softcore rapper like Will Smith to drop lines like this, but for a self-professed gangster like Offset, it is something of an unexpected move, and quite laudable for its sincerity.
The expected course ensues, and “How Did I Get Here” follows with a muttering, hardly coherent intro, and an archetypal trap beat. To his credit, Offset immediately owns it, channeling tormenting thoughts into an easy delivery that belies the contained gravity. His “-er” enunciations are a striking feature, and a mark of hip-hop evolution, as fifteen years ago, no serious rapper would have been caught dead pronouncing words with a grotic “r.” At one point, we find Offset at his most philosophical, asking, “How did I get right here?” It’s a legit question, yet unanswered. J. Cole is featured on this track, and he absolutely kills it. His energy is a refreshing change from Offset’s laidback flow — which isn’t to discount what Offset does. Off is an absolute master in his element, to the extent that he stamps his style so indelibly on this album that it practically eclipses any other voices attempting to voice an utterance. But leave it to Cole to come through.
There’s a leavening of mood on “Lick,” with Offset taking up a more cheery, sing-songey flow — almost like a millennial expression of the same aesthetic as Wu Tang’s “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man.” He runs through the perennial rag-to-riches story, fitting words to his manner of delivery with a striking irony. This song starts a thread that runs through the rest of the album — the typical trap “Hey” and “Swerve” adlibs, delivered in two distinct forms — a chest-pounding, tough guy voice, and a cartoon villain persona. “Made Men” is completely usual nonsense, and insofar, a pretty great thing, as Offset falls into this flow like clockwork — sinusoidal and carefree.
Offset puts a few tweaks to his template on “Wild Wild West,” with backwards music, and an extra layer of drums at the last bar of the verse, making the beat pack a real punch. There’s a reference to 1991 video game “Street Fighter II,” totally consistent with the maturity demonstrated elsewhere on the album. This song also features another of numerous references to “Baguettes,” rectangular cuts of diamonds that come up more often than Offset’s four children. Gunna is the perfect feature for this track, as his verse segues seamlessly. Whatever the track is, it all blends into a cohesive, realized whole. Then, “North Star” begins with what sounds like a traditional Native American song. Offset takes on the media, rapping, “They plot they enemies / They try to split the three,” and implicitly conveying an assurance that no one is going to break Migos. This song also finds a return to the family issues. Offset laments, “The fame can fuck up your family / It’s hard to hold ’em, I’m sorry I fold / But you can’t do this shit back to me.” Somewhat outrageously, he goes on to declare, “This is real rap.” Fortunately, Cee-lo suddenly elevates the song to unprecedented to highs. Completely unrestrained, and soaring freely, he makes for the most spirited moment yet.
Offset fans will be in for a treat, as this album proves the gift that keeps on giving. “After Dark” features the same beat, same flow, same ad libs, same lyrics, same lyrical themes, etc. Ever the humble artist, Offset throws in the line, “The money I gain, all for the art.” Consider “Tats on My Face,” which features such lyrical gems as “I’m poppin’ shit like a toilet bowl / My lil’ boy just made the honor roll.” With such non sequiturs, Offset secures a safe place for himself in the avant garde universe.
On “Don’t Lose Me,” Offset draws back to the presumed central focus of the album — his family life. The song is immediately a bit different, with a string arrangement, and all the romance that such a thing conjures. Offset raps, “You done put it on me / I done put your name on me,” and this might be the most touching line of the whole record. Cardi B is famously a huge fan of the powerpuff girls, and Offset has a buttercup tattoo, commemorating her favorite character, in her honor. Anyone reasonable knows that tattoo removal leaves a horrible scar, so in this context, Offset takes on a whole new nobility, and this seems like a hip-hop fairy tale — kind of. There are some sweet thoughts thrown in here, like, “I’m a genie and I’m grantin’ wishes / Only for the Mrs.” Another standout line is “I love that you’re ratchet, not boujee,” which expresses a cool rejection of convention, although other aspects of this album make one wonder whether that’s ultimately so good after all.
“Underrated” features the same tired template, but with a vaguely old school vibe, most noticeable in a certain rasp to Offset’s delivery. “Legacy” recruits some serious star power, with both Travis Scott and 21 Savage, whose voices somewhat blend into each other’s and Offset’s, making for seamless transitions. Unlike Cee-lo and J Cole, who shock the listener with their appearances, these two fall neatly within the trap sphere. All are apt feature picks, but these two make for cohesion rather than versatility.
The thematic apex is “Clout,” featuring Cardi B herself. It’s the most intimate moment, and the feature of, say, an “ex” is somewhat unprecedented in popular music. It’s drama in real time, appropriate for the zeitgeist. Offset’s refrain is “They do anything for clout,” which is ironic, as this all seems suspiciously hokey. Cardi B comes through with her usual acerbic bite, rapping, “Public opinions from private accounts / You not a check, then you gotta bounce.” Many will find cathartic release upon hearing Cardi take social media and gossip queens to the woodshed. Rather strangely, however, her appearance seems just like a random feature, not one that fits with her obvious context. The song, at large, seems like an impassioned interlude, with a couple of characters simply letting off steam.
“On Fleek” features Gucci Mane stepping outside his usual drawl, getting more animated, sneering and gritting his teeth at the end of his lines, adding some variety to a rather monotonous album. “Red Room” finds Offset fluid in the Auto-tune echo business, absolutely nailing a sound that countless rappers have tried, with varying results, over the last decade and change. Closer “Came a Long Way” shows Offset’s meter, and the beat, more “boom-bap” than his usual fare, giving a more old school vibe, which fits considering that it’s a retrospective number. There are hardly any discernible trap elements, a rare case for Offset. The versatility is commendable, but the more cynical amongst us might take this as further evidence of this whole “Father” album being an act.
If you like Offset’s sound, his new record delivers sixteen new tracks of the same sound — with a few slight sonic detours for variety. Offset is one of the foremost experts at his particular sound, and in that respect, this album will satisfy. Otherwise, “Father of 4” will likely be an unsettling listen, unless you are so ironically, sophisticatedly jaded as to shrug off everything as a mere joke, and still nod your head to it in real time. Offset has had four children with four different women, titled his latest album “Father of Four,” and presented himself as some sort of noble, contrite victim, by throwing in a few sad lines amidst a slew of the usual megalomaniac, reprobate, hedonistic nonsense. Make of it what you will.
“Father of 4” is available Feb. 22 on Apple Music.