Migos, Culture II
Two weeks ago, and just in time for the Herald’s Valentine’s Day issue, Atlanta-based rap trio Migos released a love letter of sorts. If you’re confused, I’m referring to the group’s Culture II album, which arrived one year after their breakout album, Culture, and its megahit “Bad and Boujee.” While Culture II certainly has nothing to do with romantic love (which rappers Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset make abundantly clear throughout the album), it has everything to do with Migos’ love of the fame-infused street life that has fueled their music, and above all, “The Culture.” Culture II is long and at times repetitive, but its big hits demonstrate why the rappers of Migos are rightfully calling themselves kings of the rap game.
The album starts with a song called “Higher We Go — Intro,” which clearly defines for the listener what Culture II is all about — turning “slanging” cocaine, lavish spending, and copious amounts of sex into a quasi-religious artform. Culture II is a glorification of all that has made rap music controversial since its inception, and Migos embraces these themes (the chorus of “Gang Gang” is literally, “Whole lotta gang shit, gang, gang, gang”) while uniting them under the racially-pregnant term “The Culture.” The group celebrates its conceptualization of The Culture with near-fanatic zeal. “Higher We Go — Intro” sounds like a church hymn, with bells tolling in the background and Quavo’s pitch rising as he raps/sings, “Higher we go, beg and plead for The Culture,” essentially raising the fast life to divine status while rhythmically coercing listeners to join the movement.
Migos shifts from exalting The Culture to reveling in it on the second track, “Superstars.” Here, as in many places on the album, Quavo compares the group to a team of athletes, rapping, “Whole gang in the field, we don’t do the bleachers.” Sports metaphors crop up everywhere on the album, and it’s through these references that the group most effectively conveys its dominance of the rap playing field. In addition to being one of Culture II’s hottest tracks, “Superstars” also represents the side of Culture II that drips with cool confidence, along with songs like “Walk It Talk It” featuring Drake, “Narcos,” and “Stir Fry.” Here, immaculate beats and braggadocious lyrics coalesce to portray Migos as an established frontrunner in the rap game. Not surprisingly, these are the songs that, as Will Ferrell once said, are going to “get the people going.”
At the same time, there is also the sense on Culture II that Migos has unfinished business. On “Crown the Kings,” the chorus of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” plays quietly in the background, as if to suggest that Migos’ supposed Divine Right has been overlooked, and that Culture II is their claiming of it. Similarly, the group verbally accosts nameless enemies at every turn (Quavo takes a shot at “mumble rap” generally on “Narcos,” contrasting its implicit fakeness with Migos’ “real rap”), intimating a fierce desire to protect what they’ve earned while ascending to new levels of The Culture.
I always debate with a friend of mine who the hottest rappers in the game are right now, and usually I think this friend is out of his mind. Today, however, I can’t help but agree with him that Culture II has raised Migos to an elite level in terms of sheer hit-making ability. While it’s far from perfect, Culture II demonstrates that the success of the group’s previous album was not a fluke, and that Migos is still hungry for more fame, more money, and more hype music. According to Migos’ DJ, the group took at most 45 minutes to create each song on Culture II. On the one hand, that’s an absurdly short amount of time. But on the other, the handful of absolute bangers on Culture II more than justifies this expedited process, which at times prioritized quantity over quality. Migos isn’t the first to employ this approach to recording, but it did it better than most. For that, I am grateful.