They started from the bando. Now they’re here.
In his best-selling 2017 autobiography, the supremely revered Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane describes his first memory of seeing and hearing Migos. He was hanging out in the studio with producer Zaytoven, who showed him the video for the ATL group’s 2012 track “Bando,” and Gucci observed that “these boys were talking about cookin’ up work in the kitchen and they were making it fun. It was upbeat. Animated. Catchy. Silly. Right away I liked what Migos were doing.”
When Gucci likes a new Atlanta (t)rap act, it usually means that act is going to secure a hell of a lot more fans, too. That would prove to be true of Migos. The familial trio of Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff became overnight stars after Drake remixed the group’s “Versace” in 2013 (though the song may have eventually become as popular without Drake’s approval). Over the next year or so, seemingly every other working rapper would be jacking the “Migos flow,” the triplet-based patterning they popularized (but didn’t invent). And just like that, Migos had taken their own, three-man version of the Gucci-pioneered Atlanta trap sound global.
That momentum lasted a while but came to a standstill around the time of their debut album, 2015’s underwhelming Yung Rich Nation, whose two singles failed to chart on the Hot 100. It wasn’t until the close of 2016 that the group would be undeniably resurgent; The eventual No. 1 single “Bad and Boujee” surfaced in October and would top the charts inside of three months. The even better (but not quite as popular) “T-Shirt” followed, and once the entire Culture album was released, it was practically unanimous that it was the best project of the group’s career.
And now—amid their multiple Grammy nominations, Rolling Stone cover story, Offset’s paparazzi-baiting engagement to Cardi B, etc.—comes Culture II.
The biggest, most obvious story about this album is the overstuffed length: 24 songs spanning one hour and 45 minutes. This is already a music group prone to lyrical and sonic redundancy, and we haven’t exactly been starving for new Migos material either. Culture came out almost exactly a year ago, and if we hadn’t been seeing them on magazine covers and award shows since then, you might guess that Migos never left the studio. In addition to the three Migos’ guest appearances in 2017, Offset released a project with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, Quavo finally unleashed his collabo project with Travis Scott, and Migos’ label, Quality Control, also cut loose a 30-track compilation. This absolute deluge of Migos music means that—although this is the world’s biggest rap group and the album is generating healthy opening-week numbers—there could have been a lot more excitement for Culture II six to eight months from now, following a period of relative silence from the trio.
But if you can generate enough interest to soak up the entirety of a 24-track Migos album, you’ll realize that the trio are experimenting with variation more than they’re getting credit for. They modify their core sound by bringing in Spanish guitar (“Narcos”) and sax (the 2 Chainz-featuring “Too Playa”). The single “Stir Fry” is a kinetic, irresistible Pharrell production like so many kinetic, irresistible Pharrell productions before it. On “Gang Gang,” Takeoff, the group’s youngest and deepest-voiced member, takes the lead and affects an upbeat rap-croon, Quavo provides melodic support, and the end result is one of the most refreshing songs Migos ever. On “Made Men,” Takeoff again delivers a surprisingly charming performance, this time over a soulful swirl of a beat that evokes College Dropout/Late Registration Kanye.
More than variation, though, it seems the general rap-listening population is clamoring for another “Bad and Boujee”-level smash to rowdily shout along to. Culture II’s lead single, the Cardi B- and Nicki Minaj-featuring “MotorSport,” has performed well so far, but it probably won’t ascend to “Boujee” status. I don’t think any other track will, though I do think it’s possible that the 21 Savage-assisted “BBO (Bad Bitches Only),” the Drake team-up “Walk It Talk It,” or the Post Malone collabo “Notice Me” could prove me wrong.
At the end of the day, its lack of a clear, earth-shaking hit isn’t the problem with Culture II as a whole. The biggest issue is it that doesn’t nearly justify its length. A bunch of these songs are, frankly, unremarkable, with at least one Migo dragging down the track by sounding uninspired or just plain bored. (Salute to Takeoff, though, for consistently bringing as much or more energy than either of his fellow members.) And those same songs—like “Crown the Kings,” “Flooded,” and “Movin’ Too Fast”—tend to also feel like retreads. Fortunately, enough of Culture II reminds us why Migos’ patent sound and chemistry have taken them this far—and that they’re still determined to play with and improve it.
Where: Muse Event Center
When: 9 p.m. Fri. Feb. 2
Tickets: $150-$20,000; more info here