With viral sensation ‘Bad & Boujee’ booming across the airwaves almost continuously, Migos are one of the biggest rap groups in the world right now. FACT’s John Twells celebrates C U L T U R E, their victory lap.
C U L T U R E, the second “proper” album from popular Atlanta rap three-piece Migos, couldn’t be timed any better. On the day of its release, the trio are sitting comfortably at no. 1 on the US Billboard charts with ‘Bad & Boujee’, the anthemic viral hit that teleported them from the strip club to the suburban mall. For reference, ‘Versace’, Migos’ club-friendly 2013 breakout, peaked at no. 99.
This new-found notoriety has changed the conversation around the band. No longer are Quavo, Offset and Takeoff simply reliable, influential Southern mixtape artists (The Velvet Underground of Atlanta rap?), they’re “The Beatles of this generation” according to Donald Glover, who shouted them out at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. So would that make C U L T U R E Migos’ Revolver?
It’s fair to say that, for the last decade (some might say longer), rap’s had an album problem, and that’s partly the fault of the mixtape. Sites like Datpiff and Livemixtapes helped pluck mixtapes from Canal Street and the neon-lit trunks of Memphis, Houston and Atlanta and serve them directly to fans worldwide. Now, previously regional sounds can break worldwide without listeners having to do anything more than solve a Captcha.
Only just over a decade ago, a mixtape was frequently a collection of raw freestyles over popular beats (with maybe a few loosies thrown in for good measure). In 2017 there’s barely a distinction. Artists can bypass the label system entirely and maintain complete control of their output by dropping free full-lengths – now often a well-curated selection of original material – and building hype. By the time a label comes along and attempts to manipulate the sound it’s all too obvious – we’ve heard what these guys are capable of on their own.
The credibility of the “proper” rap album has been damaged. The forced collaborations, the endless bonus tracks, the remixes upon remixes upon remixes – the consumer has spoken and the consumer doesn’t give a fuck. That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear Migos doing it right – and for the second time. Their debut album Yung Rich Nation was largely slept on but served as a perfect statement of intent: economical and tight, solid narrative, great performances from the three rappers and peerless production. C U L T U R E takes this to its logical conclusion, honing the Migos sound even more to its distilled essence. If Drake’s Views was an overlong, crowd-pleasing attempt at straddling every goddamn base that was physically possible, C U L T U R E is its polar opposite – steadfast, confident and completely uncompromising.
Migos know what’s at stake and are hyper aware that they’re being watched closely by fans and haters alike. “They try to play us. They playin’ themselves,” DJ Khaled bellows in the album’s opening moments. It’s a statement of intent – Migos have put together the album to support the culture that they’ve long been part of. The wider world is catching on, but Migos haven’t had to modify a thing. This is hammered in further with ‘T-Shirt’, the official follow-up to ‘Bad & Boujee’ and one of the album’s clear highlights. Rather than pander to their new-found audience, ‘T-Shirt’ is a coke rap anthem, blessed with more thinly-veiled references to white than a Trump rally.
“Seventeen five, same color T-shirt,” Quavo croons on the hook, offering a nod to once-maligned ATL rap pioneers D4L. This isn’t a chorus you’re likely to hear on suburban radio any time soon, and illustrates Migos’ commitment to their culture. Sure, they might have finally broken out, but this album was always going to be a victory lap, emphasizing their overwhelming influence on the scene and letting haters and biters alike know that they’re not only the originals, but the best.
It’s hard to pick out specific highlights from an album so tightly sequenced, but the Murda Beatz-produced ‘Get Right Witcha’ is an undeniable banger. Eerie synth flutes underpin a dramatic, frothy back-and-forth between the three rappers, peaking with Takeoff’s inspired final verse. Migos might not be held up as “lyrical” by rap’s golden age truthers, but it’s honestly hard to fuck with the prescient, “Aw man, whip up the white, Wendy / Pick up the pipe, and she got no penny / Rockstar livin’ live, Lennon.” You don’t need to have swallowed a thesaurus and studied A Brief History of Time to toy with language, cadence and tone.
After this, C U L T U R E switches pace a little, cleverly marking its second side with slithering, vintage Atlanta beats and a smart appearance from the legendary Gucci Mane. Here, production is mostly handled by long-time Gucci collaborator Zaytoven and 808 Mafia’s Purps – if the first side was a doorway in for new fans, buoyed by the inclusion of ‘Bad & Boujee’, the second is for the day ones, all low-end, piano rolls and drug raps. Even the woozy, six-minute ‘Kelly Price’ (that features another decent turn from the rapidly-improving Travi$ Scott) is a startling example of what Migos are capable of when they head left of center.
C U L T U R E is effectively a time capsule. A modest, hour-long narrative on rap in 2017 put together by three of the scene’s most talented figures. To ignore it is, at best, lazy and at worst, ignorant. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff are The Beatles of our generation, and if C U L T U R E is their Revolver, it means we’ve got a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to look forward to. I can’t wait.
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