In 2013, Kanye West profoundly declared, “We culture. Rap is the new rock and roll! We the rockstars!” If rappers are our new rockstars, Migos have somehow managed to combine the godly excess of stadium rock with arrogance of punk. The fur coats and high-rolling of Led Zeppelin meets the DIY-attitude of the Sex Pistols. In a span of four years, the Georgia-trio have used a hefty set of self-released mixtapes, their image of Versace linens and gold medallions, and machine-gun triple-play delivery to practically force themselves into the mainstream. They weren’t immediate chart-toppers, but Migos put their fair share of trap rap earworms out for the world to eat up (“Pipe it Up,” “Fight Night,” “Hannah Montana,” “Look at My Dab,” “Versace”). The group has 12 mixtapes to their name and yet only one studio album (2015’s Yung Rich Nation), arguably being one of the forefathers of the “quantity over quality” trend in modern hip-hop with the likes of Future and Gucci Mane.
But now Migos have a golden opportunity on their hands. Their latest viral hit, the meme-worthy “Bad and Boujee” has gone beyond social media and free streams into a full-fledged number one hit, which also received a shoutout in the same airtime as Meryl Streep. They’re now inescapable, their star power amongst today’s youngsters probably as big as the aircraft Led Zeppelin took half of their name from. Maybe Migos have finally become this generation’s Beatles. Maybe Migos finally see the open range in front of them and are finally ready to seize it all to make their kingdom. Do they?
Not really, but that’s mostly because Migos thought they owned the kingdom since day one. Culture, Migos second official studio album under Atlantic Records, is nearly 60 minutes of Migos taking a victory lap and sounding so comfortable about their place in the rap game. It’s no revelation that this was originally supposed to be another mixtape (supposedly No Label III) before “Bad and Boujee” blew up. Culture feels like DS2 or If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, a glorified mixtape beefed up with hot producers and a more hyped-up rollout to give it retail status. Big names are on Culture, both on the mic (DJ Khaled, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane) and behind the boards (Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Buddah Bless).
But the vibe of the record is darker, with low-bass, stuttering cymbals, and lightly faded synth lines. Zaytoven throws in the occasionally gorgeous piano line on tracks like “Brown Paper Bag” and “Big On Big,” even on the Zay-less album closer “Out Yo Way” with some smooth Auto-Tuned vocals. There’s even the likes of “What the Price” anchored by a funk-guitar solo and a slowed-down trap beat that’s prime for nightime cruising. “Deadz” with 2 Chainz feature an imposing organ line that could certainly shake whatever club stage Migos will rough up next.
The problem is the rest of the album is business as usual for Migos. “Culture” and “T-Shirt” are practically interchangeable club background noise that might as well play in an elevator since it matches the excitement of riding one. And that trend doesn’t stop there, with “All Ass” and “Slippery” sounding almost entirely the same, as well as “Call Casting” and “Get Right Witcha.” “Kelly Price” feels more like a Travis Scott song featuring Migos even though reality has it the other way around. Sure, “Bad and Boujee” has that combo of nasty delivery from the group and a truly haunting beat, but nothing else leaves that great of an impression because Migos don’t have enough energy to send it all home. The trio could take a cue from the last group to take a viral meme to the top of the charts, because at least Rae Sremmurd have their wacky, off-the-wall energy and vocal inflexion to leave a lasting impression and demand your attention. Here, the trio sounds complacent, maybe a bit bored with themselves. Even past Migos songs were delivered with a hype and demand for attention, no matter how inane the lyrics were.
Speaking of which, Migos continues their seemingly endless string of coke-rap lines and bravado. Sometimes it’s even at the same time (“I beat the pot with a passion (beat it up)/A hundred acres on the mansion/I dab in the latest fashion (eat it up)”). Granted there are funny punchlines thrown in on occasion (“Still be playin’ with pots and pans, call me Quavo Ratatouille,” “Smokin’ cookie, yeah, that’s dynamite (cookie, woo),” “I like a b***h with some cellulite (ooh)/Tape a brick to her, take a flight (ooh)”). But again, Migos have nothing new or interesting to say: it’s cooking drugs, stealing girlfriends, driving Bentleys, rinse, wash, repeat. They even waste 2 Chanz by only having him come in for nine lines, though he makes it worthwhile as always (“Might buy a bowling alley, I got money out the gutter”).
It actually fits for Migos to call themselves and their music Culture, since most of modern culture leaves more to be desired. The problem with Migos is that they a trio that’s missing something, only two of the three elements they need to be fully successful. They have the tight delivery of a group, good production, but the lyrics are DOA. Migos feels like entry-level trap music when they should be capitalizing on the opportunity they have and expanding their personality. Instead, they’re waving at their adoring fans from their decked out Bentley like the Pope going down the roadway. Couldn’t hurt to maybe imply some new wisdom.