Migos Finds Its Purpose on Culture

You’re gonna read a lot this month about the ascent of Atlanta rap sensations the Migos’ first Hot 100 chart-topping single “Bad and Boujee” and how it’s this very of-the-moment confluence of social-media savvy and celebrity cosigns from Drake, who remixed their 2013 single “Versace,” and Donald Glover, who shouted the song out from the stage of the Golden Globes after a win for Atlanta. And, okay, all of that stuff happened, but zeroing in on the peaks and valleys of marketing and triangulating the selling power of tweets is a stuffy, sorta inside-baseball method of parsing what has at heart been a long campaign of good music. It awards too much credit for the Migos’ methodical growth to memes and outside influences when the forces powering this machine have always been hard work, good punch lines, and brotherhood.

Drake was ground zero for the Migos’ mainstream explosion but few remember what happened next: The hype kicked up by the “Versace” remix made the group’s spitfire signature triplet flow ubiquitous, but put group members Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset themselves out to pasture. You couldn’t listen to rap radio for ten without hearing another artist slip into the Migos' flow. The group grew bitter, picking at imitators on cuts like “Copy Me” off 2014’s No Label II, while the lyricism tightened up enough to land a pair of minor solo hits in “Fight Night” and “Handsome and Wealthy.” Still, Yung Rich Nation, a summer 2015 attempt at capitalizing on the spike in national attention with an official studio album, lacked a certain polish and accessibility. By summer’s end, it was Back to the Bando.

The Migos spent much of last year circling the Hot 100 through guest spots on friends’ releases; Quavo popped up on the Young Thug and Travis Scott smash “Pick Up the Phone,” and Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music power summit “Champions” (along with the underappreciated Yo Gotti sequel “Castro”) and eased into the brash, funny superstar vibrance he always seemed built for. His and Offset’s growing comfort with melody and Takeoff’s evergreen balance of slapstick and danger laid the groundwork for a new hit parade, winning over audiences too rigid in their hip-hop fandom to appreciate the trio’s merits as lyricists verse by show-stealing verse. “Bad and Boujee” took off in part because of the proliferation of “raindrops, drop tops” memes, yes, but everything meme-able about it stems directly from the cleverness of the writing and the outlandish world of mountaintop drug deals and cross-country smuggling this group has laid out on record.

Culture, the Migos’ long-promised sophomore studio album, feels like a spoil of the success of “Bad and Boujee” both because it’s hard to imagine it happening without a smash hit preceding it, but also because the single’s airtight punch lines and pop-trap gloss provide a blueprint for the dozen other cuts. This isn’t to say that Culture is just 13 different versions of the same song. It’s more like a document of the moment a group zeroes in on its purpose. Really, this is sharpshooting, a pointed case for the group’s signature sound and maybe even the scene that birthed it.

Versatility is what pushes Culture a notch above much of the group’s back catalogue. These aren’t the same Migos that barreled through triplets for 16 bars to choruses where they yelled the name of the song until your brain melted. “All Ass” affects the swing of Future’s “Where Ya At” and “Magic” for an anthem about trapping and stripping. “Deadz” balances cocky swag-rap in the vein of Gucci Mane with superhero theme music. “What the Price,” “Kelly Price,” and “Out Yo Way” are practically R&B ballads, the kind of tunes Travis Scott would make if he were motivated to use his Auto-Tuned yawp for something weightier than self-mythology and pharmacology. (There are those who will cite Scott as an influence for the melodic lyricism Quavo and Offset rely on throughout Culture, but you have to ignore several years of Future, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, and Kanye West to credit Trav as much more than a gifted curator of other people’s shiny shit. There’s something to be said for that, though, I suppose.) Each member’s skill set is varied, and what’s more, complementary.

Part of the reason Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset work so well as a group is that they know the value of support as much as that of showboating. There’s almost always someone in the background pitching in sounds to dress up the vocal at stage front: Quavo’s reverbed Gregorian chants juice up his partners’ verses on “T-Shirt” and a few other Culture jams. The mix is full of off-the-wall ad libs too: check the “Brrt, skrrt, skrrt, skrrt” before Quavo’s “Call Casting” verse or the unforgettable “Bad and Boujee” call-and-response of “OFFSET! Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo!” Migos' verses and choruses warp, double, and distort voices like fun-house mirrors. They get by without leaning on too many guests because these songs already sound full. Culture’s got a handful of features, but the collaborations build off of natural chemistry, not the complex web of posturing and audience cross-pollination that characterizes your average major label rap album.

That’s what’s cool about Culture: It doesn’t give off the impression that it’s been tampered with and released to recoup expenses, like a lot of rap albums plagued by delays often do. It’s also not the conscious rejection of rap-radio values that guys like J. Cole post up as they bang the gongs of war against rappers under 25 that didn’t grow up idolizing 2pac, Nas, or Biggie. With any luck, Culture can be a calling card for young Atlanta, and a pacifier for dudes who grouse that “There’s no good rap anymore,” because their music tastes suspended in amber back in the era where bulletproof vests were formal wear, who wouldn’t let Lil Yachty’s ebullient Lil Boat occupy the same space because their ideal vessel for rap music must come wrapped in camo and suede and greasy machismo. And if it doesn’t work like that, it doesn’t matter. This is what rap looks like now. This is what bars sound like. You can go all Gran Torino and try to swat back a future destined to leave you behind or try to have some fun before we all run out of time. I choose life.

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Migos - CULTURE [Album Stream]

Stream Migos' sophomore album "CULTURE" featuring 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane & more.
Well here it is. After months of heavy promotion, which included the #1 song in the country “Bad & Boujee,” Migos the Beatles of our Generation decide to come through today and release their highly anticipated new album CULTURE.

Laced with 13 tracks in total, the follow up to YRN: Tha Album features guest appearances from DJ Khaled, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, & Lil Uzi Vert. Meanwhile production comes from Metro Boomin, 808 Mafia, Zaytoven, & Murda Beatz to name a few.

Available on iTunes, fans can stream the album in its entirety via Apple Music and let us know what you think!


Review: It’s Worth Listening to the Rest of Migos’ Culture, Too

When Atlanta’s Migos released “Versace” in 2013–and in the following year, in which the trio’s unmistakable triplet raps began to rule hip-hop on a global scale–it was hard to predict that their most commercially successful moment would come years later. At a glance, they had all the trappings of a flame destined to burn quickly and brightly, with their particular charm that could only endure via anthemic, in-the-moment repetition. By mid-2015, with post-“Versace” hits “Fight Night” and “Handsome & Wealthy” in the rearview, it seemed that Migos might have hit a wall. None of the songs on their delayed studio debut, Yung Rich Nation, broke the Hot 100, even as the group’s Takeoff rapped that the next thing they dropped would  “have everybody screaming ‘pipe it up,'” on the album single of the same name.

But later that year came “Look at my Dab,” a song about their hometown dance craze that brought them back on the charts. Now, the trio has ascended to astronomical heights thanks to an even more potent meme, one that has more to do with their actual music. The ubiquitous, sticky first two lines of “Bad and Boujee” have provided fodder for infinite parodies over the past few months, as well as the standard dance videos. Today, as the group’s long-delayed second LP Culture materializes, “Boujee” is the No. 1 single in the United States. “Versace,” though unforgettable as the group’s breakout hit, peaked at No. 99.

Despite the twisted path the three Migos’ careers have followed, it would be easy to draw a connection between the two songs: When Offset raps “smoking on cookie in the…” and “cookin’ up dope in the…” on “Bad and Boujee,” he uses that same flow, the one which made the “Versace” chorus such a sensation. Then again, it’s also the pattern that grounds something like 90% of Migos songs. It’s fair to wonder what, exactly, “Bad and Boujee” has that “Pipe it Up” or “Handsome and Wealthy”—or even lesser-known tracks like “Pronto” and “Cocoon”—didn’t. Is the key to the song’s success really in the music, or is it thanks to the ravenous meme opportunists that pinpointed the natural comic timing in its first two lines, and ran with it from there?

In other words, it’s hard to imagine what a modern-day Migos would sound like detached from the viral trappings that cast such a long shadow over their careers. Nonetheless, there are plenty of moments on Culture when the group’s larger-than-life aura manifests itself in sound alone. Quavo maintains his remarkable track record with clever turns of phrase, which goes beyond just the funny cocaine-as-white-celebrity euphemisms (“Andy Milonakis” is a new addition), of which he may be rap’s current champion. The group’s dotted-and-dashed raps move at a typically rapid clip, their slick, deadpan delivery almost downplaying plenty of flashy couplets (“I got M’s on my mind / I got boulders in my time”) and punchlines (“Put a model bitch on coca / Told her read between the lines”) that would be the main events in verses by lesser rappers.

One thing Migos rarely do—which predecessors and contemporaries like Young Thug, Gucci Mane, and Future have accomplished countless times over—is elevate a mediocre beat with unexpected new ideas. The key to Culture’s best non-singles is an alchemical reaction that takes place when evocative production rubs up against their clipped, triple-time hooks in the most appealing possible way. On “T-Shirt,” the album’s second best single, veteran ATL beat architects Nard & B’s bass mark their textbook kick-drum patterns with a foreboding, creeping bass melody which accentuates the emphasis of the rappers’ flows–(“Whoa kemosabe, chopper aimin’ at your noggin”)–while a haze of backward noises and drowned, throaty wails float in the background. The song embodies everything that can make trap music stylish and addictive, even when it offers no real surprises. Migos, at this point, have laid the framework to make the Southern-rap equivalent of a major-label pop album, with access to the most desirable collaborators, and holding the patents to a host of market-tested tricks.

As the sudden, if not random, success of “Bad and Boujee” proves, there’s also little incentive to reinvent the wheel. Insofar as Culture illustrates stylistic progress for Migos, it is in its welcome brevity–12 full tracks compared to the group’s customary near-20–and its neat-freak focus on chart-ready material (“Get Right Witcha” and the Gucci Mane-featuring “Slippery,” particularly, feel like possible hits). There are no atypical narrative experiments in the vein of Yung Rich Nation tracks like “Migos Origin” or the West Coast gangsta rap throwback “Highway 85,” which was the only time one might have felt compelled to compare Takeoff to 2Pac. The sprawling technical workouts that make up much of the 2014 mixtape Rich Nigga Timeline are also nowhere to be found. Culture is the memeable, archetypal Migos, distilled and well-sanded. The album only seems to tire of being serviceable and precise in its final act, slumping into the oddly bloated, Travis-Scott-assisted ballad “Kelly Price” (“She gon’ eat the molly like it’s rice… I’ma make her sing like Kelly Price”). The fade-out sequencing seems fitting for the album-as-playlist era, cognizant of the fact that many listeners may never make it past the 30-minute mark.

That might be fine, though. Nowadays, Migos can trend simply off a radio freestyle. In the past week, it’s happened twice: once when they spontaneously constructed a song based on a children’s book, and once because Laurence Fishburne showed up to listen. In these appearances, they ease into their stop-and-start riffing after first nailing down the catchy hook (“Llama llama red pajama,” in the first instance). It borders on being familiar to the point of inadvertent parody, but also arresting and strangely comfortable. Listening to a good Migos song is a satisfying and invariable sensation, like chugging a glass full of Brita water in 90-degree heat or turning on full-spectrum light on a dark winter night. If you gauge artistic success by innovation, you can just filter the best of Culture, a very decent group of Migos songs, into a playlist. But if you appreciate Migos and the sound they ushered into contemporary rap as being one of the genre’s most basic, essential natural resources, it will be easier to let the whole album–a drama of perseverance–ride out.

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