When discussing the Migos’s ascent into the pop canon, the idea of brevity is a double-edged sword. For the folks who arrived at “Bad & Boujee” - and ceaselessly joked of Takeoff’s absence - they know not of the mixtape days where Takeoff flanked Quavo to hold everything down while Offset battled the ills of recidivism. If one arrived at the “Versace” remix, or slightly after with a “Fight Night” or “Handsome and Wealthy,” the Migos’s current position rings as everything but surprising; their breakthrough hits came from little to nothing, cranking repetition and excessiveness to full volume. From the bando to big data, one 20-track mixtape at a time, the Migos still do the most because they’ve done the most.
If the 24-song, 105-minute Culture II is anything like its predecessor, we have several candidates for growth into nationwide smashes that’ll bubble up algorithmically or via the people. When divided into quarters, the best section of Culture II lays in the eyes of the beholder; The first quarter of the album (meaning six! songs) starts on a lukewarm intro, then quickly takes off as each Migo gains his legs. Offset’s hot streak continues, Takeoff’s much more present, and Quavo even has a production credit, which he raps on like he made it with pride and another bag to collect. “Narcos” adds to the canon of ex-dopeboy extended metaphor while feeding into the Netflix agenda, but the Migos goofily play with melodies in a way they’ve yet to allow themselves. (“This real rap, no mumble” stands out in the hook, like they’ve grown weary of continued underestimation.) Hearing 21 Savage flex his deadpan over triumphant horns on “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” is an odd, yet warm winner. While Drake’s verse on “Walk It Talk It” has split the crowd, it’s an early contender to be the next cornball thing to yell at the function. (Imagine the insidious nature of Aubrey Graham not only having the resources to target your address, but acquiring such information only to Street View how you’re really livin’. That’s what makes it necessary.)
After a worthy first quarter on the floor, a focused cut within the remaining three would’ve turned an audible trust fall into a solid successor that’s considerate of our time. Instead, we’re treated to the exercise of digging through one crate. Upon tuning in, the most interesting moments find the Migos readily exploring their vocal ranges in ways that truly evolve what they’ve done. “Gang Gang” and “Stir Fry” are early favorites, proving Quavo isn’t the sole proprietor of their melodic potential. On the latter, Pharrell channels the Mohawks to bring the Migos further into pop without awkwardly wedging them where they don’t belong. “MotorSport” turned out to be the best first single pick in the fray, while every other feature lacks the depth or range to anchor the Migos when they’ve drifted too far from the source.
The back end has a decent run of songs chronicling their growth from the struggle, but by its final breath, information overload has done the listener in long ago. The Migos have opted to run the same plays into redundancy on some of their best production yet. In context, the first Culture installment prevailed where every previous album-adjacent false start couldn’t: editing and potency. Everything sounded bigger, and the Migos rapped on all cylinders like they earned their keep. Almost precisely a year to the day, and right on the heels of a label compilation tape, Culture II is the sequel we’ll enjoy, but not what we deserve. It’s bloated - like mainstream albums are, like hip-hop has become - but with no outstanding reason for the thickness. It’s not bad and it's definitely worth your time - it gives us what we came for, and glimpses of that 2017 greatness that elevated them to rockstar status - but its mammoth size and lack of cohesion makes it tough to enjoy as much as its predecessor.