Migos’ ‘Culture’ asserts the prevailing sound of 2017
Culture, in singular. Anti-establishment skaters, dads from the Bronx, fraternity stoners and mall-shoppers who just really like memes. From the overly active Twitter-users in Vans Sk8 Lows, to that Dale from Accounting who is actually a huge Public Enemy fan — we’re all The Culture.
Every now and then there is an event that grabs all of “our” attention: a cultural singularity of sorts that matters to anyone who matters. A few months ago it felt like we were all listening in one room when Frank Ocean finally released Blonde; before that, Kanye West had us all legitimately considering the merits of a Tidal account. Regardless of our personal denominations and sects, we, The Culture, collectively tune in to select artifacts that will be debated in the barber shops of our time. Hate it or love it, you’ll at least listen.
Migos, the familial Atlanta trio comprised of Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, have had their thumbprints all over the sphere of popular culture worldwide. Though they’ve only managed fleeting moments of crossover success between YRN and now, it remains undisputed that they’re largely responsible for popularizing the sound of “now.” As Coke has become synonymous with all off-brand, inferior sodas, Migos now-iconic triplet flow has become the automatic association of your favorite struggling rapper.
Constantly teetering between the perils of Troy Ave and the consistent hit-making of Future, Migos seems to have ascended to greater cultural significance without ever really changing what they’ve been doing for the past four years. They’ve survived the fatal Drake remix, witnessed blatant flow-thievery, and probably couldn’t care less. With the eyes of the world (and more importantly, Twitter) watching, Migos’ latest effort, Culture, is their most polished and accessible project to date. At 13 tracks and 59 minutes in length, every last detail feels deliberate.
Like a red carpet event, the album inevitably kicks off with the obligatory DJ Khaled feature. Though his mere presence “Culture” is the audio equivalent of hearing “Attention Walmart shoppers” in the club, it legitimizes the fact that Migos have embedded themselves into a position of longevity. The feature typically reserved for blockbuster events is more of a trophy than anything else. It’s the victory lap before the race has even started; it’s an announcement that “Culture album coming soon,” on the intro of the Culture album while playing the Culture album. They will no doubt go on to be preserved in the great pantheon of artists who have shared a studio with DJ Khaled, which will dubiously exclude the likes of The Beatles, etc.
The album doesn’t really kick into life until after the formalities; “T-Shirt,” like all Migos songs, is an exercise in timing and humor, but brings with it an unusually pensive edge. Finishing each other’s sentences and often entire verses, they deviate from their triplet staple in favor of a more staccato and stop-start flow. Takeoff plays as the undercover MVP with an absolutely showstopping verse, ghosting out screaming “country grammar, n*****, straight out Nawf Atlanta !!!!”
“Call Casting” feels like a more traditional return to their Southern roots, with Zaxby’s references and an organ so crisp you can almost hear the Pyrex boiling in the kitchen. The production is particularly interesting because most of their Southern musical references have been explicitly rapped, whereas here they shoutout the likes of Andy Milonakis on a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a UGK project.
The momentum builds to an inevitable peak in the form of “Bad and Boujee.” This has got to be the best four-track stretch of their entire discography so far, stemming back to that run on YRN from “Versace” to “Hanna Montanna.” The album seems to have taken note from the Cheef Keef model, kicking the door in with a relentless barrage of heaters — the difference here being that quality control has limited them from overflowing with another 22-track tape.
Earlier this month at the Golden Globes, Donald Glover took the stage to accept his award for Best TV Comedy, somehow finding a way to thank the Migos for making this song along the way. The memes alone have cemented it in the history books, and even that damn Lil Uzi verse already sounds iconic. We get it, “Fight Night” and “Versace” were big, but this is massive. This is bigger than basement parties and blunt cruises; this song bangs in Nigeria. The last time we saw a single propel a rap album to such ridiculous heights was probably Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” in 2008.
Gucci Mane provides the only blessing that matters in Atlanta with a feature on “Slippery”, weaving in and out of the beat without even having to try to mimic the Migos. It’s not a classic Gucci appearance by any means, but he brings with him an air of authority — a stamp of approval that only he can offer.
The album closes with “Out Yo Way,” which is a fittingly uncharacteristic Migos outro for an album unlike anything else they’ve ever released. It borrows twinges of tropical synths from “Pick Up The Phone,” which featured Quavo and fellow album appearance-maker Travis Scott. They alternate between sing-song rapping about cocaine and appreciating women within the same verse, reminiscing on days when they was “trappin, cappin’ all through the hallway.” Though Culture is unique in its brevity and newfound position in the limelight, it remains as absurd as anything Migos have ever released.
The main takeaway from Culture is that Migos have added an edge to their creative process, transcending what once prevented uncompromising mixtape-talents like DMX and Lil B from crossing over — a transition we’ve seen in the past few years with fellow Atlanta-native Young Thug, who recently released similarly polished projects in Slime Season 3 and Jeffery.
It’s not so much that the Atlanta music scene is being gentrified for the palette of a larger (and whiter) audience, but rather that the most senior figures on the scene are maturing and further refining their releases. This is a city which still claims Lil Yachty and Rich The Kid. Atlanta is still Atlanta — Migos have simply claimed the biggest house on the hill. In the words of DJ Khaled, Culture is the soundtrack to “repping the culture from the streets,” but it’s novelty lies in the fact that “Nawfside” Atlanta actually is what Western youth culture looks and sounds like in 2017. If you’re not with it, then congratulations, you played yourself.