Migos And The Overwhelming Content-Flood
A week before the Migos released their new album Culture II, group member Offset was caught saying some fucked-up homophobic shit — “I do not vibe with queers” — on a guest verse from YFN Lucci’s “Boss Life.” On Instagram, Offset offered a galling and desperate non-apology apology. He wrote that he didn’t mean queer as in gay, that he was really just talking about stalkings and paparazzi, that his “passion for fashion” has led him to be around and to respect gay people. It was all nonsense, of course. But one part of what Offset wrote rang true: “When I wrote that I was thinking of words that could rhyme with the others (here, lear, solitaire, bear).” Rappers don’t talk about this often, but rapping — playing words off of each other, flexing your command of the English language — is hard. It’s work. If you rap often enough, the act of rapping has a way of revealing whatever fucked up, unacceptable views you might have, if only because you’re thinking so much about flow and meter than you lose track of what you’re actually saying. And Offset raps a lot. All the Migos rap a lot. They probably rap too much.
At the beginning of last year, the Migos released Culture, the album that launched them into the stratosphere. They spent the entire rest of 2017 in absolute overdrive. They showed up, together and separately, on about a million songs, making guest appearances for artists ranging from Katy Perry to Hoodrich Pablo Juan. They spent a summer touring with Future. Offset got engaged to Cardi B. Two Migos released entire collaborative albums outside the context of their group — Offset with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, Quavo with Travis Scott. (Takeoff has reportedly been planning one of his own with Lil Yachty, but it hasn’t come out yet.) Collectively and individually, they have done so much rapping, pushing themselves beyond overexposure and into some strange new realm of omnipresence. And now, as 2018 begins, we have a new Migos album. Except it isn’t really an album. “Album” implies a cohesion, an arc. An album is supposed to work as a unified statement. Culture II isn’t that. Culture II is a flood of information in vague album form.
Lots of people have been pointing this out since Culture II landed on streaming services late on Thursday night, but it bears repeating: Culture II has 24 songs, and it lasts an hour and 45 minutes. That is too long! Here are some movies that last an hour and 45 minutes: Kramer Vs. Kramer, Edward Scissorhands, Father Of The Bride, The Last Boy Scout. You know what else all those movies have in common? They’re too long. And they’re movies. Culture II is sure as fuck too long. It would be one thing if the album represented some sort of long internal exploration, some challenge to the idea of what a Migos album can be. But it’s not that. It’s just a whole lot of Migos songs.
Now, to be sure, a lot of those Migos songs are very good. All three Migos are great rappers, and there’s a lot of joy to be had in hearing them throw their voices all around these tracks. The early single “Stir Fry,” in which the three Migos jump on a beat that Pharrell originally intended to give to T.I. in 2008, is bracing and energizing. “BBO (Bad Bitches Only),” co-produced by Kanye West, is an instinctive, infectious gurgle of a song, and people should study those subtle horn-stabs. The things that Offset does to the exoticized “Narcos” beat are just staggering. “Gang Gang” has a gentle and unforced sense of melody that feels new for the group. The Cardo-produced “Open It Up” is a retread of “Deadz,” the Cardo collab from the first Culture, but that song’s orchestral bombast was worth retreading. And it’s fun to hear “Walk It Talk It,” with Drake jumping on a Migos track for the first time since the “Versace” remix — except this time, he’s an equal, not a superstar sponsor.
Still, Culture II, in its sheer overwhelming mass, squanders whatever artistic momentum the first Culture granted the group. Culture was one of last year’s best albums, rap or otherwise, in part because of the way it pushed and expanded the group’s comfort zone. It fit very much within the style of trap music that the group has always made, but it was done with a confident elegance, its first-half bangers giving way to gooey, amniotic melodies and Auto-Tune spaciness. But to make an album as end-to-end strong as that, you have to self-edit. You have to keep what works, jettison what doesn’t, and figure out how the stuff that does work fits together best. But because of the way the music business functions now, Migos have no incentive to edit themselves. They actually have a powerful incentive to leave all that shit out there. And in its enormity, Culture II quickly grows repetitive. Too many of the songs — almost all of them, really — have listlessly warbled Quavo hooks. And Offset, whose craggy voice and unshowy virtuosity have been standing out more and more lately, feels marginalized, made to rap last on too many of these songs. Migos always seemed to be a free-flowing collective. Now that a hierarchy of the members is emerging, it’s hurting the joy and immediacy of their work.
With the way streaming works, albums generate more income and chart higher if they include more tracks, since each individual track stream contributes to the overall numbers. We caught a taste of that last year, with Drake’s overwhelming 82-minute More Life, which he was savvy enough to market as a “playlist” rather than an album. But while Drake’s not half the rapper that any of the Migos are, he’s a more versatile presence, and he was able to use all that time to play around and explore different genres and moods. Migos just make Migos tracks. There’s variation there, but there’s not a lot. At a certain point, you lose track of where songs begin or end, and you just lose yourself in the oceanic stuttering flow of it all. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not great, either. And the Migos are capable of greatness, so it’s frustrating to hear them just cranking out track after track to feed the content beast. It’s going to get worse, too. Mike Will says that Rae Sremmurd are working on a triple album, as if any of us need that much Sremm in our life. And maybe by the time 2018 ends, we’ll see another stunt even more excessive than that 45-song flop of an album that Chris Brown released last year.
I’ve been thinking more and more about trap music within the context of pop history lately. Once every decade or two, a genre emerges that just dominates commercially for a few years and then fades away almost entirely, its strains dissipating into the rest of the pop-music current. It happened with doo-wop. It happened with disco. And I think it’ll eventually happen with trap music. Trap music has been running roughshod over rap music and, by extension, pop music for only a few years now, but it already feels like eons — even if you like the stuff, which I do. There’s great trap music and lazy, terrible trap music, and it’s getting increasingly harder to tell which is which. That’s a bad sign for trap and maybe a good sign for whatever’s next.
So if trap music is the disco of right now, then that makes the Migos our Bee Gees — the flashily dressed family-band trio whose distinctive vocals are impossible to replicate even though so many other people are trying to sound just like them. (Migos don’t have as many hits as the Bee Gees, but music is more atomized now, and nobody has as many hits as the Bee Gees.) But if Migos are the Bee Gees, then Culture II seems intended to be their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack: the massive, overwhelming statement of dominance, the one that captures the collective imagination and becomes the de facto soundtrack of its moment. Instead, though, this feels like the Migos’ version of the Bee Gees’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie: the moment of overreach, the time that the group finally overestimates its appeal and overtaxes its audience without offering enough in return. It’s too much. And with the Migos rapping this much, is it any surprise that Offset slipped up and said something awful? Offset, and the other guys, could really stand to think about what they’re rapping before they rap it. I’m not asking for pointed, thoughtful music from the Migos. I’m just asking for another album that doesn’t feel like a geyser.
1. Lil Wayne – “Big Bad Wolf”
This isn’t Wayne rapping at 2007 levels again, but it’s got the feel of Wayne rapping at 2007 levels, with Wayne taking on that tone of voice where he just knows that he’s wrecking shit. That doesn’t happen much anymore, but it’s still magical when it does.
2. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – “OhSh” (Feat. Hannibal Buress)
The fact that Jean Grae and Quelle Chris are making an album together is a beautiful thing, and the murky rush of this track is inflating my expectations even further. This has such an appealing fuck-around vibe, a sense of people enjoying making music with each other, and that’s before the beautifully sloppy Hannibal Buress verse.
3. Pouya – “Handshakes”
I don’t want to be racially essentialist or anything here, but Pouya is a skinny, scabby-looking Southern white guy doing rapid-fire rapping over beats that sound like mid-period Three 6 Mafia. It’s not like he’s trying to evoke a young Lil Wyte, necessarily, but he sounds so much like a young Lil Wyte. And I am not mad at it.
4. A$AP Rocky – “5ive $tar$” (Feat. DRAM)
Rocky’s music has sounded listless, uninspired, and commercially targeted lately, so it’s great to hear him finding some of the vaporous looseness that helped make him so magnetic in the first place.
5. DDG – “On My Own”
Even when he’s kvetching about online haters and the mundanities of air travel, this kid feels like he’s got something. He could be special. Fingers crossed.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
Did Diddy really just… pic.twitter.com/ZvNDCAuKt8
— simma (@foreversimma) January 30, 2018