I’ve watched it over and over now. Dozens of times. Whenever I have a moment, or whenever I need a slight dopamine-rush pick-me-up. It never fails. It’s a quietly efficient little engine of delight: that quick one-minute video, posted a couple of weeks ago, of the Atlanta rap trio Migos on a nightclub stage in the Nigerian city of Lagos. There’s no real context offered, none needed. The light is murky, everything tinted a pinkish red. The room is big — cavernous, even — and a couple of chandeliers hang high above. I had my prom in a room that looked sort of like that. It’s full of people, and those people are all moving: hands up, cell phones raised, a single shifting mass. They are in that room, hearing Migos rapping “Bad & Boujee,” and they are fucking losing it. They rap along with every line, but “rap” isn’t quite the right word. They bellow those lyrics, those complicated rhyme patterns that set America’s rap world aflame a couple of years ago. They scream along with the ad-libs. And the three members of Migos seem oddly blasé about it, like they’re used to seeing incredible scenes like this unfold. Maybe it’s what happens every time they do “Bad & Boujee.” I hope it is.
my first time DJing for Migos. this what happened when I played Bad & Boujee in Lagos, Nigeria. pic.twitter.com/AJPP99m8aJ
— Dapper Daddy (@JohnTheDapperDJ) December 21, 2016
In the three and a half years since the Migos released their breakout Y.R.N. mixtape, the trio has amassed a pretty decent little greatest-hits album’s worth of bangers: “Bando,” “Versace,” “Hannah Montana,” “Handsome And Wealthy,” “Fight Night,” “Pipe It Up,” “Cocoon,” that Instagram video where they’re rapping about their own personalized Rap Snacks flavor. They’ve done this without switching up their style one tiny bit, without ever getting heavy or serious. Even as the members of the group have gotten into legal trouble and (seriously) highway gunfights, they’ve been sticking to the same shit-talking groove. Their big contributions to the game are almost cosmetic: The since-disavowed dab craze, which they couldn’t really capitalize on, and the popularization of the skittering, triplet-heavy Migos flow that became so omnipresent that even Killer Mike tries it out on the new Run The Jewels track “Down.” And if you’ve listened to them for long enough, all their tracks can blur into one undifferentiated whole. That’s why “Bad & Boujee” is such a revelation.
At first, I mentally filed “Bad & Boujee” into a bin with a whole lot of other fun-but-unremarkable Migos tracks. For some reason, we at Stereogum didn’t even post the track when it came out. It wasn’t until the first time I saw that Nigeria video that I realized something special was going on with that song. But something is. “Bad & Boujee” is, for Migos, a low-key track; it doesn’t bludgeon you with its catchiness the way something like “Hannah Montana” does. But the catchiness is there. It worms its way in. The Metro Boomin beat is an eerie, blippy little fog, its melodies subtle but potent. Its hook is endless, and it picks up speed and force, like a snowball rolling downhill. And the track’s construction shifts the emphasis of the group.
Quavo has always been the clear Migos standout; he’s the one who got all the lines when they showed up on the second episode of Atlanta, and he’s the one who got the group’s biggest pre-“Bad & Boujee” 2016 moment, rapping the triumphant final verse on Travis Scott and Young Thug’s “Pick Up The Phone,” inadvertently naming Scott’s album in the process. And Quavo is great on “Bad & Boujee,” poised and confident enough to slow his delivery into something more ruminative. I want to get my iPhone so that the GPS says “unh, yeah, that way” everytime it gives directions. And I love how he says “still in the kitchen with pots and pans, call me Quavo Ratatouille” and then pronounces “ratatouille” like “rat-a-tooly.” But Quavo isn’t the star of the song.
The star of the song is Offset, the wildest member of the group, the one who’s had to sit out long stretches of his own rise because he keeps getting sent back to jail. Offset, who might be the best technical rapper in the group, gets the first verse and the hook. He gets the superstar entrance: “Offset! Woo woo woo woo!” He gets the best ad-libs: “Bitch, I’m a dog! Roof! Grrr!” He gets the line about National Smash Day, which could become an actual holiday if this song gets any more popular than it already is. In the video, he gets the iconic shot: riding a four-wheeler at the camera in slow-motion and making eye contact, staring, defiant. All of a sudden, it’s starting to feel like Quavo is the frontman and Offset is the guitarist with mystique.
Pity Takeoff, the third member of the group and absolutely nobody’s favorite Migo. Takeoff is the worst rapper in the Migos, which means he’s still really good. On “Bad & Boujee,” by far the group’s biggest hit ever, he’s reduced to lurking in the background of the video’s chicken-joint scene. And honestly, it’s for the best; Takeoff gets to play the hook-plus-first-verse role on the new single “Call Casting,” and you will not be shocked to learn that “Call Casting” is nowhere near as good as “Bad & Boujee.” Instead, Takeoff’s spot on “Bad & Boujee” goes to Lil Uzi Vert, the Philadelphia upstart who has somehow ascended to rap stardom by rapping in a whiny nasal pop-punk yawp and dressing like he bought out a Hot Topic in 1998. I don’t get Lil Uzi Vert at all. I like nothing about him. And yet, even he sort of works on “Bad & Boujee.” There’s at least a decent chance that his “yah yah yah yah yah” opening, on a constant loop, is what you hear in Hell, but, I mean, it sticks with you. And his verse is full of infernally catchy little moments that will now be rattling around in my brain until the day I die: “Ooh! Ooh! She wanna fuck with my crew!”
In the past few weeks, I’ve become pretty much obsessed with this song, and I am evidently not the only one. This week, “Bad & Boujee” pole-vaulted from just outside Billboard’s top 10 all the way to the #2 spot. Right now, the only thing keeping it out of #1 is the song’s own spiritual cousin, Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” another chirpy one-for-all Southern rap feelgood story. And if “Bad & Boujee” does make it to #1 in the next few weeks — something I consider pretty likely, given its momentum — it’ll make that leap without the benefit of a viral-stunt campaign fueling it. Also, if that happens, Offset’s verse will arguably become the best rap verse on any song that’s ever made it to #1 on the Hot 100. (Its main competitors, from where I’m sitting: Ludacris on “Yeah!,” Soulja Slim on “Slow Motion,” Remy Ma on “Lean Back.” This was a big topic of conversation among my Twitter circle a few years ago.)
Whether or not “Bad & Boujee” makes it to #1, it’s already Migos’ biggest hit by orders of magnitude; their previous chart peak was “Fight Night” at #69. It’s already forced every festival booker in America to feel like an idiot for not booking Migos months ago. And it’s given us that beautiful vision of Migos in Nigeria, presenting the crackling, visceral artistic energy that American culture, at its best, can offer the world. It’s made the Migos immortal.
1. Jeremih & Chance The Rapper – “Merry Christmas Lil Mama” (Feat. Lud Foe)
Jeremih and Chance’s entire Merry Christmas Lil Mama was such a bright, glorious, good-natured surprise, and I feel bad that it arrived too late to appear on any year-end lists. For me, its biggest winner was the sidelong juke anthem that ended it, despite the way it reduces Chance, maybe my favorite rapper in the world right now, to a hypeman. As it turns out, he’s a great hypeman.
2. French Montana – “Empire”
French joined the actual cast of Empire this past season, but this song has nothing to do with that. Instead, it’s French hitting a mournfully triumphant bittersweet note that makes his whole doofy monotone sound way deeper than it should. The prettiest French song I’ve heard in years, maybe since “Shot Caller.”
3. Curren$y – “Pound” (Feat. 2 Chainz)
In which the terminally low-key Curren$y absolutely surrenders the last track on his new mixtape to an on-fire, scarily charismatic 2 Chainz, who is currently on such a roll that he’s treating random mixtape tracks like this like they’re superstar showcases. He even gets Curren$y to up his energy level a bit. Nobody does that.
4. S.A.S. & B.S.B.D. – “Valley Of Kings” (Feat. Roc Marciano & NORE)
In which Dipset’s old London affiliates team up with cinematic dreamtime Seattle production duo Blue Sky Black Death, as well as a couple of radically different New York veterans, and everyone comes off sounding tough and wizened, like a collection of bank robbers who should know better getting back together for one last job.
5. Quavo, Lil Uzi Vert, & Shad Da God – “200,000”
Mournful, meditative Quavo is a Quavo that we do not get to hear often enough. This guy can do more than shit-talk. He just doesn’t do it very often. And honestly, I can’t blame him. He’s too good at shit-talk.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
Kanye's hair is basically a young dro verse. pic.twitter.com/QUf4jWqrhC
— Ahmed/Draco Malfoy (@big_business_) December 26, 2016