How Migos Took Over Hip-Hop

The album cover for Culture doesn't hurt the cause.
The album cover for Culture doesn't hurt the cause.
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The latest album by “better than the Beatles” rap trio Migos is called Culture. Considering the album’s reception since its release, the title doubles as prophecy: Migos ARE culture right now. You can’t listen to rap radio for more than 15 minutes without hearing “Bad and Boujee” crawl out of your speakers.

That single has conjured up countless “raindrop/drop top” memes, been declared the ultimate sex jam, and even inspired a deeply embarrassing conversation about the state of indie rock music in 2017. But that isn’t the only thing making Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff blink so hard on cultural radar screens.

They guest-starred as themselves in Donald Glover’s critically acclaimed TV show Atlanta, made music videos that married Game of Thrones wildling style with trap-rap flossing, and rocketed to the top of the rap album charts. They’ve also attracted their fair share of controversy, thanks to a recent Rolling Stone profile that documented their homophobic reactions to iLoveMakonnen coming out of the closet and also described an ambiguous physical altercation between Migos frontman Quavo and a woman.

One of the things that makes the rise of Migos so interesting is that it could be a sign that rap groups are making a comeback. While Quavo is the breakout star in the group (it’s no accident he gets to do all the talking during their Atlanta episode), their power is in their unity. For one thing, it’d be impossible to imagine “Bad and Boujee” being such a phenomenon without Offset’s moody hook and opening verse.

Their strength in numbers also helps make their triplet rap flow even more dizzying to follow. Listening to Migos tracks is like trying to untangle dense and colorful knots of language; keeping up with them is part of the fun.

Rap groups haven’t had much time to shine since their glory day in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when crews like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, De La Soul, and the mighty Wu-Tang dropped group albums dripping with classic tracks, teeming with diverse voices and personalities. The solo artist has reigned supreme since then. With rap culture’s emphasis on self-glorification over everything else, it makes sense that nobody wants to share the glory full time. Guest verses and collaborative mixtapes? Sure. But putting a group name instead of your own on the marquee? Forget about it. Think of it like wrestling: everybody knows who John Cena is. Tag-team groups like American Alpha and Breezango, though? Not so much.

That’s what makes listening to modern rap groups like Migos, Rae Sremmurd, and Run the Jewels so interesting. They jock just as hard as solo rappers, and talk just as much shit, but they do it in solidarity. Listening to Culture, you don’t get the impression of three rappers desperately trying to outdo each other. Instead, they sound like a supportive unit: three friends, three family members, trying to outshine the rest of the world.

And on Culture, the Migos boys shine pretty hard. Not only is it a rare rap group album, it’s also a modern radio rap album that holds up from front to back — an even bigger rarity these days. It’s not filler-free, but it’s packed with enough killer tracks (that aren’t the singles) to justify multiple listens. And while it doesn’t contain the lyrical depths of a Kendrick Lamar cut (or anything off that new Tribe Called Quest LP), it’s got more than enough hilarious quotables and tough talk for meme-makers and sports announcers to rip off for years to come. It’s a great album to listen to at home, at the club, or in the dead of night, as raindrops fall on your drop top.

Migos will be performing on Sunday, February 26, at Celebrity Theatre.

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