January 27, 2017

migos

Dan from the Internet is for the people.

When you’re too prolific, you risk obsolescence, and no rap group has been more prolific in the last half decade than Migos. Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff have survived at least three waves of Atlanta talent and industry trends, taking all of the good and bad that comes with being survivors. Now on the heels of a number one single, the question on everyone’s mind is “Why?” After all this time, why the sudden, and admittedly surprising, resurgence in popularity? Migos’ return to cultural dominance isn’t at all dissimilar to Future’s DS2 run last year. Like Future before them, it isn’t the Migos who are suddenly better, but everything surrounding them that has dramatically improved. The high profile features, the carefully curated music videos, the TV appearances, etc. The only thing that’s changed about Migos is the ubiquity of their image.

The best way to visualize Migos as a group in 2017 is to imagine their discography as a cinematic universe, with their first album, Yung Rich Nation, serving as nothing more than a perfunctory exercise in putting the set pieces together. The sequel, C U L T U R E, represents a chance for Migos to finally start world building and to explore their purview outside of Atlanta.

Some albums are destined to be classics before they arrive based purely on how hard it was for the album to get arrive in the first place. C U L T U R E is the album with that distinction this year. Migos remain stylistically intact—the one major improvement being they are no longer cramming songs with ideas and triplet flows. On standouts like “T-Shirt,” “Call Casting,” “What the Price,” “Big On Big,” and “Out Yo Way”, Migos finally give the beats room to breathe. They’ve reluctantly matured as performers too, no longer lamenting how much the rap game has stolen from them but instead celebrating their influence. The willingness to adjust to the times coupled with a larger focus on mood, setting, and aesthetics over lyrical dexterity, places this album in the same company as Atlanta adjacent albums from 2016 (Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, Savage Mode, The Perfect Love Tape, Lil Boat) that favored atmosphere over content.

Ironically, almost all of these releases feature at least one Migos member, showing just how ubiquitous their presence in rap is—even after five years. The Ricky Racks produced “What the Price” is a shining examples of where the Migos can go when they’re not constrained by their own mythology or the sound they helped popularize. The contrast between the electric guitar and the gruff crooning should be kitschy but totally works because Migos play it straight throughout. Album standouts like “What the Price” and the equally great “Out Yo Way” work because it never feels like Migos are trying to make by the number records for radio or fans. For better or worse, they’ve always operated on their own terms and the results here are refreshing.

That’s not to say that the album, even at a brisk thirteen tracks, doesn’t suffer from the same issues that have plagued other Migos releases. The middle of the album drags with indistinguishable songs like “Get Right Witcha,” “Slippery,” and “Brown Paper Bag.” They plod along awkwardly with only a flaccid Gucci verse to differentiate them. Really, your enjoyment of the album will depend on how much the Migos reliance on repetition grates you. Repetition is kind of the bedrock of Atlanta hip-hop so it’s somewhat unfair to bemoan Migos for something almost every one of their peers is guilty of. Even 2 Chainz—who had a transcendent 2016—sounds totally listless on the Cardo produced “Deadz.” The song will probably excite those who came to the album through “Bad and Boujee,” but for fans of the Migos’ more experimental flows, it’s really a toss up, which is disappointing considering the beat, like much of the rest of the album, is so well made.

The real impact of C U L T U R E will be how much it helps to push Atlanta’s regional sound past the skittering hi-hats and snares that have stagnated the genre. There’s enough innovation here to keep even the most lapsed listener coming back well into the summer. The ballad “Out Yo Way”—one of C U L T U R E’s best songs—closes the album with what figures to be one of the most sincere hooks of the year: “You always going out your way.” It’s a sweet moment that’s even more gratifying considering you have each of the Migos cooing about their separate philosophies on selfless love.

Offset in particular adds a totally different dimension to the triplet flow on the last verse of the album. The vocal performances, melodies, and harmonies across C U L T U R E are enough to close the critical gap between Migos and other Atlanta upstarts. Songs that at first glance are simply good, reward repeated listens when you realize how much attention was paid to even the most random ad-libs.

Despite the groundswell of anticipation surrounding it, C U L T U R E isn’t entirely revelatory. But really, it doesn’t need to be. For all of its flaws, it’s an album that consistently entertains and rarely disappoints. Regardless of how much the internet loves to pit Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff against each other, each is vital to the overall tone of the album. Creating imaginary infighting where there is none, distracts from how good they are together. Even Takeoff, the oft-forgotten wallflower of the group, is the bedrock that holds standout single “T-Shirt” together. It’s a role similar to the one he had on “Fight Night”—still one of Migos’ best singles.

Migos are one of the few rap groups we have left and fans constantly begging for them to split seems like another example of us not realizing how good of a thing we have until it’s gone. Every year there seems to be less and less event albums, let alone rappers making it intact to their sophomore releases. For the amount of uncredited content they’ve given their peers, Migos have set an unusually high bar at the beginning of an incredibly trash year. They rapped, dabbed, and innovated their way through the genre for so long with half the attention of their peers. With C U L T U R E, they finally force fans and the culture at large to give them their due.