Album Of The Week: Migos Culture
Sometimes, things just click. The last time the Migos released an album, the whole process was an absolute fucking mess. Their 2015 LP, Yung Rich Nation, had to deal with all the indignities that so often plague major-label rap albums: the non-starter singles, the perpetually delayed release dates, the last-minute album-title change to something less offensive. It also featured the group contending with the lack of Offset, arguably their best rapper, who was in jail during much of the album’s recording and all of its promotion. And it also came out about a year too late to capitalize on the buzz Migos generated with singles like “Fight Night.” It’s still a good album, good enough to land in the Album Of The Week space when it came out. But it did not exactly showcase Migos on the ascent. A year and a half later, things are different.
Right this minute, Migos have the #1 single in the country, their “Bad & Boujee” back in the top spot after disposing of the Ed Sheeran bullshit that briefly replaced it. And while “Bad & Boujee” might be exponentially bigger than any other Migos song, it’s not a fluke. It’s a meme-driven hit only in the sense that its catchy bits are so catchy that people can’t help but come up with their own versions of them. And the song also presents a group just hitting some new creative stride, one where they’ve figured out exactly where their sound can go.
Migos always had a sound, of course. They arrived fully-formed nearly four years ago. On their breakout 2013 mixtape, YRN, their energy was just boundless. Their voices blurred together, symbols tumbling over each other effortlessly, lifting their gloriously chintzy Zaytoven beats skyward. At the time, the album reminded me of nothing so much as Das EFX’s 1992 debut, Dead Serious: smart kids inventing a goofy new way to rap, tossing ideas back and forth, absolutely drunk on language. And just like Dead Serious, YRN led to a brief period where it felt like everyone was trying to rap like that. But unlike Das EFX, Migos outlasted the trend. And now, Migos’ sound isn’t about the Migos flow anymore, even though they still find a near-melodic resonance in the way they stack words on top of each other. These days, there’s a feeling to their sound that wasn’t there before.
Consider, if you will, the last few bars of “Bad & Boujee,” after the last chorus ends, when that Metro Boomin beat gets a chance to ride out for a few seconds. When was the last time you heard a #1 hit that sounded that moody? The Weeknd has had three moody #1 hits in the last year and a half, and “Bad & Boujee” replaced the Depeche Mode-esque synths of Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” But “Bad & Boujee” is built on a few filtered piano tones, a barely there drum track, a tingly and mocking horror-movie synth melody, and the requisite seismic bass drones. And the Migos don’t treat that beat like a funhouse, either. (Their guest Lil Uzi Vert does, but that’s another story.) Instead, Offset and Quavo ease into the track, bringing a calm and matter-of-fact delivery where they would’ve once cranked things into overdrive. These days, they’re operating with a calm and sober confidence, and it’s working for them.
If Culture reminds me of any album, it’s Pluto, Future’s 2012 major-label debut. On that album, Future discovered the hypnotic force of his own robotized voice, blurring into the mid-period trap beats whether he was singing love songs or barking that he could pull two bad bitches at the same damn time. That same assurance is there on Culture. On “Deadz,” the Migos and a ridiculously charismatic 2 Chainz attack a beat that sounds like a royal horn fanfare drowning in a swamp. On the new single “T-Shirt,” the real hook is the backing vocals, those slathered-in-Auto-Tune wails that underlie the entire song, Quavo sounding like a Tuvan throat-singer. On the six-minute “Kelly Price,” a guesting Travis Scott sings about eating molly like it’s rice and making her sing like Kelly Price like it’s some endless Buddhist koan, a lonely Themerin moaning away in the background. There’s a gluey, swampy consistency to the sound of the album. It blurs and warps and stutters. This is triumphant, flossed-out rap music, but it carries with it a vast darkness.
There’s a new singsongy melodicism to the way the three Migos, especially Quavo, rap. They’re no longer trying to jam in as many words as possible. Instead, they are, as Quavo put it on “Bad & Boujee,” floating on the track like Segways. They are drifting and soaring. There are still some endearingly goofy Migos-isms on the album, but even those feel restrained. I love how they talk about “Culture album coming soon” on the intro to the actual Culture album, like those old VHS tapes that would sometimes include trailers for the movie you were about to watch before the fucking movie started. And I am delighted to report that Offset is now kicking off more of his verses by doing the “Offset! Whoo whoo whoo!” thing from “Bad & Boujee”; there is no sound in music right now more exciting than that. But those moments don’t make Culture sound any less mythic. This is the sound of a group seizing a moment, making sure the world knows just how fucking cool they can sound. It’s inspiring.
This happens to be the best new-release week for music, indie rock in particular, in a long time. Migos are sharing their release date with some very good albums: Japandroids, Priests, Ty Segall, Cloud Nothings, Fred Thomas. I came so close to giving this week’s distinctions to Allison Crutchfield’s Tourist In This Town, probably the best 2017 indie rock album I have yet heard. But I had to give it to the Migos. On Culture, Migos have taken a huge leap, riding the wave of their biggest hit to create an album that radiates swagger in all directions without compromising on its own thick, deep sound. It’s a grand-scale miracle of an album, and it demands to be recognized as such.
Other albums out this week:
• Japandroids’ roaring, surging, triumphant return Near To The Wild Heart Of Life.
• Allison Crutchfield’s gorgeously heartbroken Tourist In This Town.
• Priests’ utterly badass rickety-postpunk full-length debut Nothing Feels Natural.
• Cloud Nothings’ clean and melodic but still noisy Life Without Sound.
• Julie Byrne’s lovely, expansive accidental AOTW Not Even Happiness.
• Ty Segall’s raucous self-titled garage-psych attack.
• Fred Thomas’ janky, conversational Changer.
• Sinai Vessel’s crashing emo exorcism Brokenlegged.
• Kehlani’s sugar-plus-struggle R&B album SweetSexySavage.
• Delicate Steve’s ecstatic instrumental LP This Is Steve.
• American Music Club leader Mark Eitzel’s solo affair Hey Mr. Ferryman.
• Kreator’s ripshit old-school thrasher Gods Of Violence.
• Lil Bibby’s snarling Chicago rap hammberblow FC3 The Epilogue.
• Sloppy Heads’ fuzzily melodic debut Useless Smile.
• New Pornographers member Fancey’s solo album Love Mirage.
• P.O.S.’s sincere indie-rap affair Chill, Dummy.
• Bell Biv DeVoe’s missed, kissed, loved reunion album Three Stripes.
• The Internet member Matt Martians’ solo debut The Drum Chord Theory.
• Active Bird Community’s ’90s-lo-fi garage-rocker Stick Around.
• Stef Chura’s Fred Thomas-produced indie rock debut Messes.
• Once & Future Band’s hooky ’70s-style self-titled psych-popper.
• Sleater-Kinney’s first in-concert recording Live In Paris.
• Matthew Dear’s DJ-Kicks mix.
• The Trainspotting 2 soundtrack.
• Ariel Pink & Weyes Blood’s collaborative EP Myths 002.
• Cate Le Bon’s Rock Pool EP.
• Sam Skinner’s Danny Through Junior EP.
• Advent’s Pain & Suffering EP.
• Boosegumps’ On The Way To Meet You EP.
• Thulah Borah’s Near Life Experience EP.