Migos and the balancing act of culture
The Georgia trio reveals impoverished past in new album
January 31, 2017
Filed under Entertainment
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Riding on the success of their number one Billboard single “Bad and Boujee,” the Georgia trio of Migos are set for a fantastic 2017 with their sophomore record, “Culture.”
Between its ridiculous video of the members eating ramen out of Chanel purses and the influx of memes quoting its “rain drop / drop top” hook, a track like “Bad and Boujee” was destined to be a viral hit, and wound up propelling the group to their first chart-topping single. A minimal trap beat serves as the lynchpin for the trio to repurpose the flows of an older group like Three 6 Mafia for a modern context.
This is the prevailing theme on“Culture,” as the grooves of 70s funk and the darkness of 90s Southern hip-hop are transported to the present, and coated with a veneer of fresh production.
A closely-knit group, Migos is comprised of Quavo, uncle to Takeoff and cousin to Offset. The trio started by experimenting with free music software downloaded from Yahoo in the late 2000s. Then, Migos proceeded to relocate from Lawrenceville to Atlanta to release two mixtapes, but were largely unnoticed until their 2013 hit “Versace.”
With its stuttering triple flows and lyrical juxtaposition of financial excess with economic struggle, the song proved that Migos was a group with a knack for both earworm hooks and the ability to craft an autobiographical subtext underneath their pop tendencies.
“Versace” acts as one of many pivots in the Migos catalog, demonstrating the transition from self-producing and self-releasing music to working with star producers, like Metro Boomin and Nard & B, both of whom appear on this new record.
On the Nard & B-produced “T-Shirt,” a Moog-esque bassline bounces off a reverse synth lead. The beat itself is subdued, allowing the three emcees to play off each other’s flow. Together, they weave a tale centered on Quavo, as he expresses regret for a past spent dealing drugs and not following the words of his mother.
Fragments of an impoverished past have been present in Migos’ lyrics on all of the band’s projects since their initial breakout and signing to 300 Entertainment, but each record from the group is filled with exuberance and a distinct sense of humor.
On “Call Casting,” Migos may reflect on the rags-to-riches story that has become their career, rapping on how they “came from a Cup O’ Noodles,” but this track also shouts out to Shane’s Rib Shack, an apparent favorite of the band. This ability to present the gravitas of living in poverty alongside these jokes and detours displays a human side to the group. Much like fellow Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz, this music is often hyperbolized to the point of laughter, but an honest message about living in and eventually escaping poverty is always present.
As Quavo said in a recent interview with the Fader, “We’re trying to show people that the young generation can do it. We can set trends and come in with our own lane, and then join in with the OGs to get that respect.”
“Culture” is a new plateau for Migos; while they ask for respect as a hip-hop group, they make sure to get their message across: Perseverance can see anyone through their trials and tribulations.
Capitalizing on its namesake,“Culture” features a diverse beat selection. The wah funk guitar opening of “What the Price” finds its way to a dark instrumental where rapped verses disappear in reverb.
Elsewhere, the Zaytoven-produced “Big on Big” pairs a jazzy piano lead with a prodding synth bassline that “‘We’re trying to show people that the young generation can do it. We can set trends and come in with our own lane…”’ is embellished by occasional string flourishes. Here, Zaytoven’s maximalist approach to production causes Migos to leave plenty of space on the track for the instrumental to breathe.
Despite each track sharing multiple emcees,“Culture” is a record that shares its spotlight, with each member of Migos capable of cultivating their own personality while still recording as an ensemble. Every track executes a honed balance between rappers and beats, as the album does not permit one of the Migos to become a Ringo.
When one is leading a verse, the others can be found echoing his words in between breaths. Perhaps the best explanation for this finesse comes from Offset, who said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “We’re family. We believe in loyalty.”
In its hour-long runtime, “Culture” makes its case as an early contender for 2017’s best hip-hop record. Drawing on a variety of influences, Migos can channel older musical ideas without turning into nostalgia-baiting pastiche.
Unlike their contemporaries Lil Durk or King Louie, they flesh out their story beyond its struggles, allowing for a record with a dynamic personality, complete with humor and braggadocio.
Presented here is modern hip-hop record with a nuanced character that justifies its duration, bolstered by hooks that landed it to number one, and crafted by one of hip-hop’s tightest families.
Jeffrey Holmes is a graduate student majoring in philosophy. They can be reached at [email protected]