Listening to “Greatness,” the closing track to Quavo’s second solo album, Rocket Power, it’s easy to imagine him removing his trademark designer shades and staring himself down in the mirror. The song is one of the album’s several tributes to Takeoff, Quavo’s nephew and one-third of the Migos, who was murdered during a dispute at a Houston bowling alley in November 2022. But unlike the visceral single “Without You,” “Greatness” looks to the future. Over producer Al Geno’s mournful trumpets and skipping drums, Quavo interrupts his reminiscences on the trio’s early days with a command to not dwell on the past. But he can’t help himself—and why should he? Near the middle of the song, he splits the difference, saluting his fallen kin with as much confidence and lyrical agility as he can muster: “Never forget that the Migos amazin’/Look at the ice and the knot in my pants, you know that them young niggas made it.” It’s a lot to face behind a mic, and the tinges of sadness in his voice linger like tear streaks on glass. This tender balancing act marks “Greatness” as one of Quavo’s most affecting songs and a microcosm of Rocket Power at its best. The Migos we knew will never return, but Quavo honors them with old and new riffs on the flex rap that made them stars, and he honors himself by digging a bit deeper into his emotions.
Takeoff’s death looms large over Rocket Power—that’s his nickname, Rocket, in the title, and he’s featured on three songs. Beyond that, he is referenced or alluded to in some way on every track. Quavo is an athletic rapper who can stretch syllables as wide as the backseat of a Wraith, and it’s jarring to hear those schemes serve writing geared around his emotional grief. Quavo raps about crying himself to sleep thinking about Takeoff (“11:11”) and relapsing into a Xanax addiction because of his passing (“Disciples”). When you pair that pain with a fun-loving song like “Patty Cake,” where Quavo and Takeoff come closest to recreating the familial magic of their 2022 collaboration Only Built for Infinity Links, their easy chemistry makes a mundane call-and-response heartbreaking: “I won’t tell another nigga name,” Quavo says, to which Takeoff quickly responds, “Who is buddy?/What his name?” Even in a posthumous recording, it’s evident how much fun they had playing off each other.
Vulnerability is not a trait that’s often associated with Quavo, but Rocket Power suggests he’s been reflecting on his own life more than usual. His thoughts come up most explicitly in “Mama Told Me,” which builds on the hook from Migos’ 2017 single “T-Shirt,” as he lists off childhood memories and motherly advice that have guided him throughout life. On “Hold Me,” a ghostly vocal sample and reverberated keyboards echo as he solemnly calling on family members dead and alive to show him the way. But there’s only so much he’s willing to share, and eventually he defaults to factory settings: flashy, silly metaphors and designer flexes delivered in that choppy, AutoTune-slathered flow. He’s resolved to work through the pain, and as a result, some of Rocket Power plays like a slightly more engaging version of his 2018 solo debut, QUAVO HUNCHO.
At least Quavo sounds more comfortable handling songs by himself now, even if some of his ideas feel like they’ve been jogging in place for years. “Who Wit Me” and “Turn Yo Clic Up” sound like vintage Migos, and Quavo’s delivery is more animated than the generic nods to fashion brands and “[turning] your bitch up.” Most of the color and intrigue on Rocket Power comes from its production, which gives Quavo more musical avenues to explore. Alex Lustig and Pooh Beatz bring an Afrobeats-influenced shuffle and glittering keys to “Galaxy” that give Quavo’s quips about having sex in the back of Maybachs an urgent, anxious rhythm. “Back Where It Begins” and “Not Done Yet” lean into Polo G- and Juice WRLD-style pop rap, giving him space to belt and croon instead of his usual sing-rap cadence. None of them quite sound like hits, but it’s nice to hear Quavo moving outside of his comfort zone, shaking things up just enough to avoid the monotony of HUNCHO.
What Rocket Power makes most apparent is that Quavo has reached a crossroads. He earned superstar status by making his ascent seem as breezy and effortless as Versace linen, but the dissolution of the Migos and the death of Takeoff are cataclysmic events that have forever altered the course of his career. Listening to him navigate those raw emotions while staying the diamond-encrusted course makes for some of his messiest and most mature music yet.