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'Father of 4' review: Offset's solo album takes steps forward and back

Fashion. Wealth. Drugs. Trap houses. Clubs. In reigning trap kings Migos' music, their old lives transform into their relatively newfound success, which has propelled the group to superstar status.

Quavo might be the musical front of Migos, with his strong sense of Auto-Tuned melodies and hooks, but Offset seems to receive the most attention, and not always for positive reasons. His very public marriage to Cardi B led to a very public adultery scandal and a near separation. When he took to social media asking for her back, Offset turned into a meme. Add to that the musician's legal troubles and arrest history, and he has one of the more turbulent public images of today's music superstars.

On his first solo effort, "Father of 4," Offset starts things off in a striking way -- rather than perpetuating his brash and confident persona, he gets surprisingly introspective.

The titular opening track is addressed to his four children, who he's had with four different women at various stages of his life. In many ways, the track is an apology for leaving them in bad positions, for missing birthdays and entire years, for trying desperately to support his family and winding up in prison.

While chronicling the history of his shortcomings, Offset also outlines his mission statement: "I'ma keep grindin' for my kids, never gon' let up/I'ma put the money up for y'all, I can't be selfish." The sentiment flies in the face of the (oftentimes reasonable) criticism against Migos as flaunting materialism throughout their lyrics.

In fact, "Father of 4" tries to turn that materialistic streak on its head in some ways. When Offset says, "Spend a big bag on clothes, Gucci from head to toe/Not two, not three, all four, that's all they know," he's using his kids' lavish get-up as a point of pride: in his youth, he never would have dreamed of living like this. Through his success, he's managed to give his kids a life that he never knew. For once, a line about Gucci clothing almost sheds its capitalistic connotations and symbolizes a new generation of black wealth and excellence.

Shades of this approach -- I'm inclined to call it "conscious trap" -- pepper the rest of the album. Immediately following the opener is "How Did I Get Here," on which Offset and his inimitable guest J. Cole consider their difficult upbringings and reach the conclusion that their meteoric successes are nothing short of miraculous. The track adds another dimension to a lot of modern trap artists' indulgent tendencies; when they've had such a stratospheric rise, why would they act like they aren't enjoying themselves?

Elsewhere, Offset raps about his mistakes and quest for atonement with Cardi B ("Don't Lose Me"), the vicious cycle of police brutality ("The police shoot 'em/Now the black man dead, this a rerun" on "After Dark") and, most frequently, the fact that he has four children to support.

Not every lyric here is solid gold, though; in fact, as the more interesting storytelling made me pay closer attention to Offset's words, I recognized when the writing faltered. For example, right before the line about police brutality on "After Dark" comes the confounding brag, "Macbook Pro, how I bend over your hoe." On "North Star," he says, "They know I'm too strong, can't assassin me." The attention to rhythm and meter is respectable, though the resulting line is a bit more humorous than intended. Vapid verses sit alongside great ones; the juxtaposition is too jarring at times.

There are even times when Offset is simply asking for controversy. "Tryna get more richer than the Jews," he raps on "Underrated," seemingly oblivious to the fact that countless other rappers have come under fire and apologized for promoting the age-old stereotype.

That push-and-pull quality extends throughout nearly aspect of "Father of 4." Some of the production (largely handled by Metro Boomin) is dynamic and interesting; other tracks are downright bland. When Offset delivers his fast and tight triplet flows, it can be great, but when he follows the Auto-crooning tradition of Quavo or Travis Scott, it's clear that it isn't his strong suit. Some of the features, like the humorously crude verse from everyone's favorite British rapper 21 Savage, are great. Other ones, like the ill-conceived and goofy CeeLo Green feature, are not.

The album is also, at 57 minutes, too long. Someday, artists will learn that an album doesn't have to pack as much content as possible, and that in fact, bloating can drastically reduce overall quality.

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Without listening to the record, it's very easy to applaud Offset for his willingness to consider his shortcomings and confront them for millions to hear. But the fact of the matter is, Offset doesn't always put his best foot forward, musically or lyrically, in this album. "Father of 4" can't help but feel like missed potential. More consistent storytelling, dynamic production, and creative songwriting could make for a more rewarding listen. For now, we're left with a taste of what could be.