Vince Staples + Migos Struggle To Connect At SXSW

In a year for hip-hop that’s this stacked, Migos need to be completely on top of their shit. And they aren’t. The Atlanta trio have had a surefire string of mixtapes, sure. And there’s absolutely no denying that the rapid-fire Migos flow has changed the way we think about the possibilities of how quick a human being can string together a sentence. That alone changed the game. But the rollout for their major-label debut, Y.R.N. Tha Album, has been marked with a level of wariness, and some of that hesitation carried over to their set at Pitchfork’s showcase yesterday.

Their opener, Vince Staples, was plagued by his own insecurities, too. Staples is one of the finest up-and-coming rappers when it comes to sheer lyricism, but instead of focusing on that, he seemed preoccupied with his own name recognition. To a completely packed house he continually asked if people knew who he was — playing a brief snippet of his song with Common as one way to prove his mettle. He’d have done better to stick with more cuts off his 2014 mixtape Hell Can Wait than play another clip of his feature on an Earl Sweatshirt song. When he performed the lead track “Fire,” it was one of the few bright spots of his set — one I was highly anticipating. Still, opening for Migos is no easy task, and the crowd was larger and more rabid than they were the night before for Rae Sremmurd. And Staples did take advantage of their density by stage-diving into the fray not once, but twice. Ultimately though, what should’ve been a breakout set ended up forgettable, an omen perhaps of what was to come.

Migos materialized outside the venue accompanied by a host of Quality Control hype men, and the band let these minor players serve as yet another opening act. After about 10-15 minutes of that, the trifecta took the stage and proceeded to rap their brains out. But their hearts clearly weren’t in it. They performed their album’s lead single, “One Time,” without much indication that they like the song at all, and its lack of traction on the radio can’t be helping. Not that they’re necessarily a radio-based act, but even one-offs from old tapes like “Fight Night” and “Hannah Montana” drew a far larger response from the very diverse crowd. Following up a massive hit like “Versace” can be a struggle, but “One Time” certainly isn’t even in the ballpark to achieve that. Which leads to the larger issue at hand: Is a major-label debut really going to be a good thing for Migos? In a year that Kanye, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and probably several more are making serious moves, should Migos release an album too? They’ve released so much music via mixtape lately that the value of hearing new Migos, even on an album, is fairly low.

A crowd does not a performance make, but the aloof or uncertain reaction from nearly half the crowd yesterday certainly didn’t help Migos reach peak turn-up. Side note: Is peak turn-up even achievable at dusk for an indie rock-minded audience? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical. Watch them do “Handsome And Wealthy” for yourself and notice how lackluster they look standing onstage like they’re giving a school presentation. And while the front of the stage was filled with eager kids, the rest of the venue stood idly by. Since it was my first time seeing Migos live, I expected the same high-octane energy that fills their raps, and it simply wasn’t there, even if they rapped every verse live. Migos didn’t deliver their finest yesterday evening. SXSW is a grueling marathon often marked by exhaustion, but if this was all I knew of the group, I’d never make the effort to listen to them again.