Migos are having a moment. That much is undeniable. Between the huge success of “Bad and Boujee” and Donald Glover calling them “the Beatles of this generation” at the Golden Globes, there’s no better time for the trio from Lawrenceville—Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset—to drop their second studio album. Fittingly titled Culture, the record finds Migos popping a wheelie on the zeitgeist with a stellar collection of songs that validates their spot at the center of conversation at the start of 2017.
The conditions are so perfect for Culture that’s easy to overlook the large role Migos played in creating them. This isn’t a triumph born from some big bang of hype. A quick recap of Migos’ considerable achievements to date: “Versace” worms its ways into everyone’s ears, including Drake’s, in 2013. The next year, all your favorite rappers steal Quavo’s signature triplet flow (see: “Ver-sa-ce Ver-sa-ce”). In 2015 they don’t quite invent the dab, but they raise it to meme-status, ruining photos everywhere. In 2016, there are whispers (ultimately just that) of a deal with GOOD Music, Quavo features about town, and “Bad and Boujee” begins its meteoric rise. Despite undeniable setbacks like prison time for Offset and some creative frustration with their legion of imitators (see: “Copy Me”), Migos kept up a steady stream of consistent mixtapes that led them to their present preeminent position, dabbing on Ellen and rapping children’s books.
This is just to say that it’s no fluke. Migos have worked their asses off, they know it, and all signs indicate that they’ll continue to do it. The magic of Culture is the way it sounds effortless while evoking all the effort that came before it.
The word that comes to mind here is “flow.” Not Quavo-triplets flow, but the psychological term, that sense of being “in the zone” when you work on something you both enjoy and do well. The word entered everyday culture in 1990 with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s bestseller Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and has haunted professional self-help books ever since. It’s worth noting, though, that before we talked about flow as a way to optimize office productivity, Csikszentmihalyi studied the phenomenon in artists: jazz musicians who played for hours straight in ecstasy, painters who stare at their canvas so long they forget to eat, without complaint. In contemporary music, it’s not just any great record. However amazing Kanye West’s records might be, you’d never think they were fun or easy to make. It’s more like Lil Wayne circa 2007, stepping in the booth to almost unconsciously piss excellence.
Culture is 58 minutes of straight flow. Migos lose themselves in the music they’ve always loved to make. It’s triplets and trap, guns and coke, and some of the finest production Atlanta has to offer. Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset breeze through it all with a contagious confidence that makes for a fun and surprisingly accessible album. Migos definitely stay in their lane, but they prove that lane is wider than expected. Album opener “Culture” seamlessly integrates DJ Khaled’s pop absurdity. “Deadz” is an unashamed trap melodrama that somehow works because Migos bet the house on it. On “Slippery”, Migos pay homage to their Atlanta roots, with Gucci Mane continuing his comeback tour with a respectable feature.
Still, Culture shines in its most familiar moments. “T-Shirt”, the album’s second single, is the album’s best track, capitalizing on all of Migos’ strongest qualities. Quavo and Takeoff punch every syllable over a hypnotic beat from Atlanta sleeper stars Nard & B. The hook hearkens back to Atlanta forebears Shawty Lo and Jeezy (“seventeen five” refers to dealing cocaine in bulk). The song and its wild, frozen video reflect the weirder side of Migos that distinguishes them from their peers while combining it with the tradition they come from. When Quavo makes Migos ambition plain saying, “do it for culture,” he’s more than earned it.
The next question is whether anything on Culture will be the next “Bad and Boujee”. For now, it’s unlikely. “Bad and Boujee” is the only song where producer Metro Boomin applies his Midas touch, and despite Migos’ preternatural feel for meme culture, none of the songs seem that likely to leap from your browser or the club to radio. It’s more likely that Migos, as a group or as individuals, will be the hot feature throughout 2017. They’ve always had the skills, but now they have tremendous cultural capital.
The one flaw on the album is inherent to Migos’ flow, or any album that plays so heavily to an artist’s strengths. Their sound is consistent to the point where Culture can blend together. The record is top-heavy, with “T-Shirt”, “Bad and Boujee”, and “Get Right Witcha”, another standout with crossover potential, all on the first half. The back half isn’t weak, but Migos have shown their hand by then. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself zoning out for a stretch. If you do, that just means you’re right there in the zone with Migos. For the moment, that’s the place to be. B PLUS