From Young Rich Niggas to the Rushmorian talents behind a Yung Rich Nation, Migos have always managed to eschew the rules of mainstream rap. It could be argued, however, that they have officially rewritten the playbook with the arrival of Culture, their highly anticipated sophomore studio LP. Trading time-honored strategies of true school spitting and smooth pimp slanguage for the percussive, staccato delivery at the core of their ad lib-driven trapthems, the gold-draped, natty-dread zeitgeist from the woods north of Atlanta have cornered the market on pop culture as an eternal spring of viral dance crazes and “just add water” hits. Positioning that stands as proof that they have perfected and successfully scaled the business model first popularized by drippy, pre-meme bedroom rap and mixtape phenoms like Soulja Boy Tell’em, Waka Flocka Flame, Young Thug, Gucci Mane, and more recently, Future. Migos’ unicorn status in the rap game may be most attributable to their ability to time releases down to the millisecond as the last homegrown craze begins to flag, keeping the iron perpetually hot since their first seismic impact with the Y.R.N. mixtape standout “Versace” in 2013. This time, however, Migos lean less on obvious heaters and stand on their signature sound, a risky approach given the specter of the dreaded sophomore slump and the fact that their fanbase have been spoiled by their knack for shelling out hits.
While Migos have significantly raised the bar for the club banger set since that release, Atlanta mastermind and millennial renaissance man Donald Glover’s Golden Globe co-sign of their Metro Boomin-produced lead single, “Bad & Boujee”, certified what fans from SWATS to Lagos have known all along; Culture is less of the crotch-grabbing titular reach typical of rising rap stars and more of an absolute truth. Migos are not pointing out past the fences toward the potential for a hit they have yet to make. They have already stolen home. The band’s dominance is cemented by their inexplicable ability to defy the odds in a climate of microwave media that does not afford most viral stars sustained attention or enough longevity for the authors of hit singles to be respected as anything more than one-trick ponies. This is especially true of anyone making the kind of brash sub-categorical rap Migos trade in.
Even more respectable is the fact that they have pulled this off without even one tangible adjustment to the cadences or content that, while catchy, first made them translate to some as a youthful flash in the pan, a point they openly acknowledge on closing track “Out Yo Way”. First catapulted by the success of “Hannah Montana” and buoyed by “Fight Night”, “Handsome & Wealthy”, and the titanic “Look at My Dab”, the three magi of trunk music have risen well beyond life as the official soundtrack for new-school rebellion to sit atop the pecking order of post-Pen & Pixel rap as the key ingredient in any respectable situation with arrival of their latest full-length release. A fully formed follow-up to a string of massive singles, Culture is likely the project Migos have been attempting to create all along.
The sonic equivalent of a hardened d-boy new to legal wealth and a reprieve from street life casually flexing his jaw to flaunt the brilliance of a permanent diamond grill, Culture is an unapologetic doubling down on their sound and devotion to all things A-Town adjacent. The requisite aptitude for brand loyalty that pervades in the realm of chart-topping radio rap is as prominently placed in the 13-track mix as the trio’s unmistakable punctuations, making their appeal to advertisers, strivers, and hypebeasts a very real and profitable thing that should only serve to increase their market share. Dotted with features from Lil Uzi Vert, Gucci Mane, 2Chainz, and Travis Scott, the project finds Migos holding down the bulk of the heavy lifting as a unit without flourishes, a move that cements their ability to stand on their own indefinitely.
Backed by production from Murda Beatz, Purps, Cardo, Zaytoven and Nard & B, co-pilots Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff sustain the hubris, excess, and immediate gratification adored by fans of gutter rap machismo while somehow bottling the very particular charm necessary for them to capture the hearts of pop-loving teens across the globe and carry rapping children’s lit live on the radio. While the use of Auto-Tune would be better limited to the slow burners that conjure Kanye West’s post-College Dropout aesthetic, it works for the 2Chainz-assisted “Deadz” and album opener “T-Shirt”, a bag-grabbing anthem that is somehow as jubilant as it is tough. “Get Right Witcha” and “What the Price” allude more directly to the group’s evolution as they take on subtler production while “Call Casting” is a classic A-Town stomp.
Though Rae Sremmurd’s success makes a good case for their own lofty claims, it is likely that they are second in succession as rap’s answer to Beatlemania and rightful heirs to the genre’s princely robes. Why? Because Migos have figured out how to extend the reach and appeal of unapologetically Southern rap without polishing away the red clay, Old National mile markers, or moments of reckless youth crystallized by their bling that suggest they will always be exactly where they are from … and where they are from will always be big. If it had not been evident before, Culture makes it very clear the South still got something to say.
Essential Tracks: “T-Shirt”, “Bad & Boujee”, and “Deadz”