Review: ‘Culture’ by Migos

“And I really wanna thank the Migos—not for being in the show—but for making ‘Bad and Boujee.’ Like, that’s the best song ever.”

Donald Glover isn’t the only one to think so. Despite seeing relative success with singles in the past like “Versace” and “Fight Night,” Migos really hit their stride with “Bad and Boujee,” which went on to peak at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 last week. The group became largely known in 2013 for their “Versace flow”—rapping in taut triplets—which influenced the likes of Drake, Future, and even Kanye West. Although they didn’t invent triplet flow, their usurpation of the technique became the cornerstone of their sound, members Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff’s burst-fire delivery tap dancing atop trap hi-hat percussion and chilly synthesizers. It’s perfectly acceptable that Culture makes no attempt to sound wildly different than its contemporaries, because it’s ultimately a satisfying affirmation that Migos has fully mastered its musical lexicon.

Thematically, Culture revolves around the same topics of discussion in which Migos has always found comfort. Takeoff has women queued up to audition to sleep with him. Quavo sells cocaine by the kilogram. Offset cruises in his Lamborghini, steering wheel in one hand, a thick cup of lean in the other. It would be easy to argue that trap music eschews lyrical intellectualism in favor of the kinds of cultural degradation that soccer moms and Fox News pundits complain about—drugs, money, women, and cars—but Migos doesn’t seem to care. They never have, and it’s their suave “give not a damn” attitude that imbues that much more power to their braggadocio. They have the style, the money, the fame, and the success, but they really don’t care how impressed you are by it.

That isn’t to say, however, that the trio is any bit lackadaisical towards the music itself. Culture displays an impressive consistency in its quality. Of its thirteen tracks, at least ten are of interest in their own unique ways, despite the sometimes-narrow scope of the genre. A glacial synth laces through “T-Shirt,” twinkling melodies lift the featherweight “Get Right Witcha,” and pianos bolster “Call Casting” while divergently adding a layer of odd dysphoria to the otherwise raucous “Big on Big.” The pool of producers tasked with coloring the album’s instrumentals all do wonderful work here, from rising star Metro Boomin to trap staple Cardo to production collective 808 Mafia.

Trap music, at its core conceit, plays with expectations. It rejects the notion that a club banger is required to be upbeat or fast-paced. It finds its energy in the darkness of a hedonistic lifestyle; rappers openly glorify the recreational consumption of cough syrup over a bleak instrumental that seems to disagree with every word. It’s a form of music that finds appeal in subtle contradiction, simultaneously working as a celebration of the excesses of fame and a warning of the dangers, a debate between rapper and producer occupying the same space. And within that, Culture unearths a surprising amount of nuance, not necessarily lyrically or musically, but in the manner that those two elements interplay. Topically, instrumentally, Culture doesn’t rewrite or reinterpret the playbook. What it does do is plant Migos’s flag firmly into the soil of hip-hop and pop culture in general. Their confidence is palpable because they, as proven with this album, intimately know the recipe for trap music like the backs of their lavishly-adorned hands.

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