Migos’ second studio album, Culture, is a victory lap and a statement of intent.
With their number one hit "Bad and Boujee", Migos have become the center of the culture, with late night show appearances, an ocean of memes, and even the Golden Globe-winning creator of Atlanta, Donald Glover, saying that they are "the Beatles of this generation". But, rather than being an overnight success, this progression has been in the works since the sensational 2013 Drake-cosign, “Versace”. Their elastic, triple-time interlocking flow, gratuitous ad-libs, and sometimes bizarre sense of humor not only asserted them as a group to consider, but also to steal from.
Since that dynamic single nearly four years ago, the Migos flow has been ripped off by nearly everyone making hits -- to the point where a listener doesn’t need to tread far to Migos snipe at biters. It’s easy to consider this kind of thing petty if it weren't for the fact that their second studio album, C U L T U R E, raises the stakes considerably, acting as both a victory lap and a statement of intent. Migos prove here that they are worthy of our attention, building a formidable set of songs that demand to be taken seriously. This 13-track album runs nearly sixty minutes, yet each track here could be a hit. Whether it's the home run of “Bad and Boujee” that can light the radio up or the darker, martial “Deadz” that could easily be some locker room warm-up music, the songs here could flip into virtually any mood or setting one could desire.
C U L T U R E is front-loaded with the three obvious singles: “T-Shirt”, “Call Casting”, and “Bad and Boujee”. “T-Shirt” is downtempo mood music, with Migos affecting a hiccuping flow as Kid Cudi-type coos float in and out of the chorus. The production is sparse but rich, with reversed tones that create a dreamy sense of unease. In contrast, “Call Casting” hits with a heavy hook over a tiny-sounding piano loop and is punctuated by miniature Wagnerian horns reminiscent of TNGHT’s “Higher Ground”. Both songs are measured but infectious, and they run as the perfect set up for the number one hit “Bad and Boujee”, which catapulted to the top of the charts in part because of the memes centering around its first four words, “Rain drop / Drop top”. However, the song is worth far more than a moment in the internet’s sun. The hook is a perfect expression of how Migos (and Offset, in particular) can find so many different rhythmic approaches to the same beat, shifting style from line to line. Quavo also brings it with sing-songy verses that use alliteration and assonance in a way that's reminiscent of the legendary Dipset leader Cam’ron. For instance, “Pour a four, I’m droppin’ muddy / Outer space, Kid Cudi” might be the most succinct and hilarious way to describe getting fucked up.
The only sore spot on “Bad and Boujee” is Lil Uzi Vert’s verse, which feels like watching someone drop the game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. Lil Uzi Vert isn’t the only featured artist that falters, though; both Travis Scott (on “Kelly Price”) and 2 Chainz (on “Deadz”) do little with their contributions. In fact, Quavo takes on autotuned singing so well on “Kelly Price" that you might have a hard time figuring out which verse is Scott’s. That is another strength of Culture: Migos create a sonic world in which they are the center in much the same way that Rick Ross or Young Jeezy did on their greatest records.
The only guest that points to a world outside of Migos is Gucci Mane, with his peanut butter-smooth verse on “Slippery”, which might be the strongest song aside from the three singles. Gucci’s verse on “Slippery” is something of a challenge to Migos and Culture. While Migos are undeniably talented, this album lacks the variation and versatility that Gucci has brought to his best work. It also lacks Future’s ability to make hedonism nuanced over earth-shaking beats. It even lacks the charisma of progenitor Cam’ron (whom 2 Chainz references on his verse) that made him a larger than life cartoon character. As the album moves into its second half, there’s a sense of true exhaustion that permeates as the production grows more mournful and spacey. The boasts feel more leaden, lacking in both urgency and levity.
On C U L T U R E, hustling only begets more hustling and it seems that the Migos are tiring out. But, who could blame them? Since 2011, they’ve released twelve mixtapes, two studio albums, and an EP. This is the kind of exhaustion that will happen when you're chasing the center. C U L T U R E is a hard-won victory and will stand as one of the better and more important rap releases of 2017. Now that Migos are here, asserting their rightful place as hitmakers and virtuosic rappers, one can only hope that they imbue this newfound sense of consistency with bursts of innovation and, even, urgency going forward.