Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is CULTURE, the sophomore LP from Migos, who have the number one song in the country with "Bad and Boujee."
In the past six months, the Migos from the Northside of Atlanta (yeah, dat way) have finally staked their claim in the foundational cement of our modern American cultural zeitgeist. Much in the lineage of Southern rap pioneers before them, it’s as if their reign instantaneously descended from Heaven overnight; or Black Twitter, which can look a lot like Heaven depending on the vantage point from your timeline. After a long string of memeability, a viral single with an oddly-placed Lil Uzi Vert feature, and a Donald Glover/Golden Globes co-sign worthy of several head-scratches to clueless white scalps, the culture’s been more prepared than ever for a Migos full-length to ring off on its way to a summertime that may never come.
Culture extends beyond the Migos’ self-awareness of their impact on pop culture; it’s an oddball thrill ride that dodges the pitfalls of slapping a sticker onto another piece of Migos’ mixtape potpourri we’ve seen for four years. Where its Yung Rich Nation predecessor lacked in consistency, this album thrives in setting a high baseline and never straying too far from that expectation. It’s an album of revision and refinery; despite the grandiose nature of its rollout, you’ll find similar subject matter done very well: creative ways to describe crazy activities, an unending collection of adlibs, and tales of surviving the trap lifestyle. The stakes feel higher, which may set up for a disappointment, but it’s important to revel in the joy one finds when the Migos fire on all cylinders.
Something commonly lost in the past four years of Migos discourse: they rap very damn well, with an unparalleled agility and engrossing content that can shock any purist-at-heart who groups them in with their “mumble-rap” prejudices. Culture lends several moments for each member to accentuate each other’s strengths: “Call Casting” lets Takeoff man the chorus while the verbal sparring occurs, “What the Price” has Takeoff and Quavo trading on the bridge and chorus in a sultry serenade while Offset takes the offensive, and everyone takes the refrain of “You niggas in trouble!” on “Deadz.” The same approach keeps Quavo floating in a harmonizing reverb throughout the album -- sometimes sounding like Travis Scott, who sounds like everyone? -- or how effortlessly each member can shift between each other while remaining distinct enough to catch when it happens. As competitive as they are, it’s to the outside world who won’t give the Migos their due despite the longevity they’ve cemented; breakup talks be damned, the Migos wouldn’t be themselves without the awareness to move as a unit.
As the group found their stride, they’ve focused on adapting the pop framework to appease their core without veering too far away. There’s no EDM reach or odd crossover single in sight; this is pure and peak Migos that’ll go in the car, the kitchen, and the booty club. With a production lineup spanning across the Southern braintrust, from Zaytoven and Nard & B to Cardo and Metro Boomin, every moment demands your attention with a maximized gloss that’s rarely concerned with understating itself. The 58-minute runtime leaves room for a nursery flex from Big Guwop on the animated “Slippery,” the Lil Uzi Vert verse that launched a generation gap on “Bad and Boujee,” a somewhat-underwhelming 2 Chainz verse on “Deadz,” and a Travis Scott assist on “Kelly Price” which prominently features an awkward bar about cocaine being in his hair like lice on a dedication to a woman of God. None of the above overshadow Culture’s biggest moments, as they shouldn’t; the Migos have built their legacy from each other to the point where too many extra voices can only result in excess.
It may prove difficult to pin a narrative down in the excessiveness of our beloved Migos rehashing new ways to smash on a thot or beat a pot; with this wave of long-deserved success, the album can feel like a bit too much of the same in the face of its own hype. There’s a fair share of excessive moments on Culture that can throw listeners for a loop: the record’s midsection could’ve used a few trims, and Kelly Price” adds six slow minutes to the tail-end that don’t push the drug-fueled sex odyssey narrative in any new direction. But to discredit the formula that’s gotten them here is to ignore when the fire pushes past the surface.
You hear it when Quavo describes the way he watched dope impact his childhood on “T-Shirt” or when Takeoff narrates the Migos’ commitment to independence on “Big on Big,” clearly vexed by the way the industry’s dealt them bad hands. Pair these with casual references to Zaxby’s and Shane’s Rib Shack in the tongue of their Atlanta, and you get a portrait of a modern Atlanta that revels in the excessiveness of its present without forgetting the perils of its past. The Migos remain in no position to compromise their integrity to conform, and Culture is a chance to reap the rewards that come with staying true. It’s what we’ve wanted, it’s what they deliver; considering the waves they’ve weathered, they’re more than deserving of another opportunity to redefine the game again.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.