It has been nearly five years since Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, a group of friends appropriately calling themselves “Migos” (short for amigos), dropped the eerie sleeper hit “Versace.” Its popularity was largely driven by a Drake feature, but there was no denying that these Atlanta masterminds had crafted a new sound for mainstream hip-hop.
Five years later, the trio has followed the release pattern of trap legends like Future and Gucci Mane, putting out over a dozen projects, including acclaimed mix-tapes Y.R.N., No Label II and Yung Rich Nation. The idea behind this prolific model is to constantly be a presence on social media, blogs and streaming services, sacrificing the “buildup,” “hype” and possible artistic growth that comes with more patience for fan base satisfaction and cultural influence. From its trademark triplet flow, which has crept into virtually every other rapper’s toolbox, to its signature dance move and frat boy favorite “the dab,” Migos has made its mark on all facets of entertainment.
Looking back on Migos’ impact, one can tell that Culture is quite honestly the perfect title for its sophomore album. The catchy hit “Bad and Boujee,” which appears on the record, made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a widely-shared meme based on the opening line “Raindrop, drop top” and a co-sign from Donald Glover at the Golden Globes.
Despite its influence, critics have charged Migos with having a formulaic style and lacking substance. Instead of addressing these purist complaints, however, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff take their bouncy flows, infectious chemistry and calculated absurdism to new heights on Culture. The album begins with a bizarre opener, but one that is definitive of Migos’s mission to defy the norms of stardom and pop expectations.
It is truly a satisfying experience listening to Quavo, Offset and Takeoff ride these beats. The menacing “T-Shirt” features all three members jabbing at a dark, synth-driven instrumental with sharp clusters of words. Quavo effortlessly rhymes “tater tot” with “radar watch” (and somehow sounds really ominous doing so) on the woozy slow-burner “Slippery,” and Takeoff’s verse on the airy “Get Right Witcha” is inhumanly patterned and rhythmic. Takeoff might actually be the MVP of Culture – the often neglected baritone delivers some of the best verses and hooks of his career throughout the album.
“Big on Big” is the apex of Culture, the album’s turning point from sinister minimalism to triumphant maximalism. Zaytoven’s bluesy piano riffs sit on top of an incredibly layered baroque production, over which Migos exchanges rapid-fire verses about excess.
Moreover, there are ad libs everywhere. Virtually every bar on this album is accompanied by a burst of onomatopoeia, or words like “CASH!” or “MOMMA!” The way the three rappers use ad libs is analogous to how jazz musicians employ interplay, riffing off each other and adding color to each other’s solos. “Deadz,” featuring a massive horn section, a loud, repeatedly chanted chorus layered over a nursery rhyme hook from Quavo and a hilarious 2 Chainz verse, is full of ad libs; it is one of the strangest, but strongest tracks on the album.
For the most part, Culture is a Migos album in the most traditional sense. The group takes the most appealing and recognizable elements of its sound and refines them to near perfection. However, it does occasionally experiment with new styles on this record. The poppy album closer “Out Yo Way” works beautifully and is begging for a Young Thug remix. The Travis Scott-assisted “Kelly Price,” on the other hand, is an experiment gone wrong. It is a long, plodding trap ballad on which all three rappers do their best Travis Scott impersonations to varying degrees of success.
Yet aside from this miss, Culture is the Migos’s strongest effort to date. It is a reminder of trap’s beauty in not only its instrumentation but also in the arrangement and cadence of words. While a purist might say that Migos’s rather vapid lyrics are not representative of hip-hop as an art form, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff embody the roots of hip-hop through their chemistry, charisma and delivery. In an era in which rappers can simply email their verses to producers, Migos harken back to the organic nature of hip-hop, crafting songs together, listening to each other and filling in each other’s verses with witty ad libs. And with pop beginning to accept their sound, Migos has refrained from subscribing to a new mentality; they are just as ridiculous, energetic and sincere as before.
Migos’s second studio album, Culture, demonstrates the beauty of trap music in both its instrumentation and rhythm play. Photo courtesy of Genius.com.