“Jackboys on the loose!”

As promised, Travis Scott ended the decade by unveiling a new project that features himself alongside new talent on his label, Cactus Jack Records. With JACKBOYS, the crew shares a sampling of what they’re capable of on a seven-song release that includes a remix of Travis’ October single “Highest in the Room.” Cactus Jack artists like Don Toliver, Sheck Wes, and Chase B are joined by high-profile guests including Young Thug, Quavo, Offset, Lil Baby, ROSALÍA, and Pop Smoke. It arrived at midnight on Thursday, presented with cover artwork by film director Harmony Korine.

So, what can we learn from JACKBOYS? Will Cactus Jack Records join the ranks of important contemporary rap crews like Dreamville and Top Dawg Entertainment? Or will this just be a fun side project for Travis? After a few initial spins, the Complex Music team put together a list of first impressions and takeaways, which you can see below.

It’s a ‘pack’

When JACKBOYS hit streaming services at midnight, the first reaction from some fans was one of disappointment. That had nothing to do with the quality of the music, though. Many Travis Scott fans had hyped themselves up with expectations that this would be a full album—partially due to the fact that “leaked” tracklists promised 21 songs—so some were let down to find out it’s a seven-song project. Travis even distanced himself from the “album” label and referred to it instead as a “pack.” Despite the initial disappointment, the concise runtime actually benefits quality of the project, though. JACKBOYS gives each artist some time to shine, without getting derailed by a bloated tracklist full of duds that detract from the highlights. If you’re one of the fans begging for more, there is a chance there might be additional music coming soon. Most of the final song titles were correctly predicted (with the right artists attached to each) on the leaked tracklists, so there are fan theories floating around that the rest of the 14 songs will arrive via two additional 7-song packs. Don’t hold your breath, but it could be a possibility. —Eric Skelton

Don Toliver is a star

Remember when Don Toliver stole the show on Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD standout, “Can’t Say”? Since then, the Houston rapper has been sitting back, patiently waiting for his turn to strike again. Following 2018’s Donny Womack, which dropped a day before ASTROWORLD, Toliver returned earlier this year with a pair of singles: “No Idea” and “Can’t Feel My Legs.” After slow burn for the first few months, “No Idea” recently caught fire on TikTok, and now it’s rocketing up the Billboard Hot 100—currently sitting at No. 43 after rising 33 spots last week. Now, Toliver once again proved his starpower on JACKBOYS. Compilation projects like these represent a perfect opportunity for new talent to make a statement, and Don Toliver is the one who took advantage this time, easily emerging as the most exciting artist on the Cactus Jack roster. He might have even topped Travis for the best vocal performance on the whole project with “What to Do?” and his vocals provide the glue for other songs like “Gang Gang” and “Had Enough.” There’s something about his approach to melody that makes him sound familiar—some fans even thought his appearance on “Gang Gang” was an old soul sample—while still possessing one of the most original and distinct voices in rap right now. In May, he told us, “We fixing to turn it up. Ain’t no turning down.” 2020 could be a very big year for Don Toliver. —Eric Skelton

We need a full collab project from Young Thug and Travis Scott

Are Travis Scott and Young Thug rap’s new Shaq and Kobe? “Out West” is one of our early favorites on JACKBOYS, and a great addition to their impressive history of collaborations, which include 2019’s “The London” and the “Hot (Remix),” as well as “Pick Up the Phone,” “Maria I’m Drunk,” and others. Over production from Buddah Bless and Jabz, their melodic bars perfectly complement each other on “Out West.” Thugger recently announced that his forthcoming album, Punk, will arrive sometime in January or February of 2020, so it might be fair to expect another collab to pop up on his album. With that said, it might finally be time for them to record a full-length project. Trav and Thug have two distinct sounds, and they’ve become two of the most influential voices for a whole new generation of rappers. Imagine them on whole project together. That would be an incredible way to start the decade. —Jessica McKinney

Drill music is about to have a huge year in 2020

In the span of less than a week, two of the biggest rappers in the world jumped on drill beats. First, Drake hopped on a beat from UK drill producer AXL Beats for his song “War.” During an interview with Complex about the making of the track, AXL revealed that he had another song in the works with Pop Smoke and Travis Scott. “I mean, Travis Scott on a drill beat,” he said. “That’s going to blow people’s minds.” He wasn’t lying. JACKBOYS concludes with Travis Scott and Pop Smoke rapping over dark, menacing drill production from AXL Beats and 808 Melo on “Gatti.” Of course, this momentum has been building for years. Drill music defined the sound of Chicago throughout the 2010s, and more recently, it’s picked up traction in the UK and Brooklyn. There’s a whole wave of Brooklyn artists like 22Gz, Sheff G, Fivio Foreign, and Pop Smoke who are putting their own twist on the sound, and seeing lots of success, in New York right now. Many expect drill music to be the sound of 2020—including AXL Beats. He tells Complex, “A lot of rappers are going to hop onto the wave. A lot of rappers. A lot of mainstream rappers are going to hop on drill.” —Eric Skelton

Pop Smoke is having a moment

Pop Smoke has had an incredible year. The Brooklyn drill rapper brought his city’s sound to the forefront in 2019 with his debut mixtape, Meet the Woo, V. 1, featuring one of the hottest party anthems of the summer (and one of Complex’s picks for the year’s best songs), “Welcome to the Party.” He also collaborated with major stars like Nicki Minaj, who contributed a verse to “Welcome to Party (Remix).” Now, nearly five months later, Pop Smoke is collaborating with another massive star, Travis Scott, on JACKBOYS track “Gatti,” which continues to bring the sound of Brooklyn’s emerging drill scene to the masses. Pop Smoke is putting BK on in a big way, and we’re only expecting his star power to grow in the new year. —Jessica McKinney

Travis is heavily invested in Cactus Jack

It’s immediately clear that Travis Scott had a heavy hand in curating and producing JACKBOYS. This feels like a Travis Scott mixtape much more than a side project he jumped on last-minute with a few verses. He’s on five of the seven tracks on the project, which is a little more than other compilations that dropped this year, like Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III, where J. Cole took a back seat (comparatively) and appeared on less than half of the 18-track project. Even when Travis isn’t featured vocally, his influence is very apparent on JACKBOYS. Records like “Gang Gang” and “What to Do?” make use of ambient melodies, analog instruments, and synthesizers for songs that would have found a natural home on a project like ASTROWORLD. Sure, it’s not shocking that Cactus Jack’s leader would take the driver’s seat here, but that’s not always the case with projects like this. It’s very apparent that Travis is putting a lot of his time and energy into Cactus Jack Records right now, and he’s heavily invested in their success. —Jessica McKinney

Luxury Tax 50 makes an appearance

If you were wondering whose voice is on the fourth verse of “Gang Gang,” you aren’t alone. Some fans on Twitter suspected it was Cactus Jack’s official DJ, Chase B, but it’s actually the voice of a rising star named Luxury Tax 50. Luxury Tax is an up-and-coming rapper who has been climbing the ranks of SoundCloud. According to his account on the streaming platform, he is from Inglewood, California. Before his appearance on JACKBOYS, the rapper released a 12-track EP at the top of the year called The Law. His name was not mentioned in a list of official Cactus Jack artists recently sent to Complex by a representative for Travis Scott, but prior to the release of JACKBOYS, there were some rumors circulating that he might be affiliated with the crew. It’s unclear if he’s an official signee of Cactus Jack Records, but Travis did tease a possible affiliation on his Instagram Story when he shared one of Tax’s music videos, along with a cactus emoji and the word “JACK.” Keep an eye on Luxury Tax 50. —Jessica McKinney

This is a good first step for Cactus Jack

Travis Scott demonstrated his natural strengths as a curator on ASTROWORLD, piecing together collaborators from all corners of rap and arranging them into a cohesive whole. It wasn’t yet clear if those skills would translate to his role as the leader of a crew like Cactus Jack Records, though. With just seven songs, JACKBOYS is a brief sampling of Cactus Jack’s potential, but it’s a strong start. Sure, it doesn’t live up to the highs of Travis’s discography, but it’s not supposed to. There aren’t any unforgivable misses here, and there are some nice standouts (“What to Do?”) that make sense within the world Travis has already built, while also taking advantage of a little extra room to breathe and try new things. Travis made a point of saying Cactus Jack is just “getting started” and there are rumors that more packs might on the way, but this is a good first step forward for a promising young crew. —Eric Skelton

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