2016 was a pivotal year for Atlanta’s Migos. The release of three instant-classic mixtapes in the span of less than 12 months established the trio as the preeminent group in the nascent third wave of trap rap; yet their 2015 debut album Yung Rich Nation was a poorly-received project amongst fans, and instantly relegated Migos to the fringes of hip-hop’s hype train (erstwhile dominated by Atlanta luminaries such as Young Thug and Future). Fortunately for planet Earth, the past year has seen Migos redeem themselves by releasing an impressive comeback mixtape in Y.R.N. 2 and subsequently take over mainstream America with their viral, meme-inducing number one hit, ‘Bad & Boujee’. Expectations for their second album, Culture (stylised C U L T U R E), were therefore understandably high.
Although the album sees the group peddle the same lyrical themes (selling drugs, taking drugs, supposedly engaging in ludicrous levels of intercourse) over mid-tempo orchestral trap instrumentals that we’ve heard many times before, Culture is definitely an improvement over its predecessor. In terms of hit singles, the album is decidedly front-loaded; any casual listeners will probably find little of substance to latch onto after the first five tracks. Fans of this sound will however find plenty to love about tracks like ‘T-Shirt’, ‘Big on Big’, and of course, ‘Bad & Boujee’, the clear centrepiece of the album. The song is a perfect storm of the more palatable, mainstream aspects of Migos’ sound, combined with irresistibly sultry production courtesy of Trap’s most precocious beat magician, Metro Boomin.
If the first half of the album does perhaps feel a bit repetitive in terms of both lyrical and musical content, the last few tracks do see the group move into previously unexplored sonic waters, with songs like ‘All Ass’ and ‘Out Yo Way’ exhibiting the same woozy, hedonistic, ‘art trap’ sound made famous (and clearly influenced) by the likes of Travi$ Scott (in a cool example of reciprocal inspiration, Scott himself owes a large part of his musical shtick to Migos). That style is first heard on ‘What the Price’, a hollow, vapid husk of a track that is consequently one of the worst on the album. The trio nevertheless seem to become more adept at pulling off this sound as the album proceeds, with the final two tracks ‘Kelly Price’ (complete with a charismatic verse from Scott himself) and ‘Out Yo Way’ concluding the album nicely, and accordingly becoming personal highlights for me. Imagine the soundscapes inhabited recently by The Weeknd mixed with existential auto-tuned warbling straight from the school of Kanye West, and you’ll be getting an indication as to what these climactic tracks sound like.
Culture probably isn’t going to be an album that’ll turn trap doubters into believers (for that, see Denzel Curry’s Imperial or Young Thug’s Jeffery). This project does, however, consolidate Migos as a force to be reckoned with in modern music, and the interesting turn that the trio takes on the backend of the album sets the scene nicely for Quavo’s inevitable solo R&B breakout career.