Quality Control Music

It’s hard not to give the Migos credit for shaping the sound and state of rap music in 2018. The last five years—with heightened emphasis on the past two—have been nothing short of a total Migos-subjugation. Not only has their distinct flow and delivery become a standard amongst rappers of varying generations, but their fashion, flagrance and ad-libs have also crept into all facets of pop culture. Everybody and their mother (mama!) want a piece of Migos mania.

Last year’s Culture album effortlessly confirmed the Migos’ outlandish ability to churn out hits. They were like an assembly line for high-energy, melodic trap hip-hop with soul. Just as “Bad & Boujee” was cooling off in the streets and the tweets, “T-Shirt," “Call Casting” and “Get Right Witcha” fanned the fire. The hit cycle from Culture has taken just over a year to run its course, gracefully gliding the Georgia trio to the follow up LP, Culture II.

At first glance, the biggest difference between Culture and Culture II is the duration. The new album has a whopping 24 songs, just two short of doubling the first installment's 13-song tracklist. It's the streaming age's equivalent of a double album (for perspective, The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1997 classic double disc Life After Death has the same number of songs and spans just four minutes longer than Culture II's 105 minutes). It can look overwhelming before pressing play. Yet the Migos manage to deliver enough draped, dripped and dazzling moments that keep a firm grip the listeners’ attention span.

The opening half dozen songs kick off with explosive beats and rapid fire flows from all three Migos members. “Supastars” follows a traditional Migos method, including multiple mentions of hoes, big bags, pockets filled with lettuce, “skrt skrt” ad-libs and a trunk rattling bass/snare/hi-hat combo provided by Honorable C.N.O.T.E. But the rappers dip their toes into new musical terrain on the South American-themed “Narcos." The lyrical refrains of “trapping like a narco” and “getting dope like Pablo” aren’t far from their usual lyrical wheelhouse but Quavo and DJ Durel knock the meringue trap ballad beat out of the bando. Instead of being built around simple bell pattern, the entirety of the beat is revolved around a lush Spanish guitar. It’s the type of beat that would've never appeared on projects like Yung Rich Nation or the Streets on Lock mixtape series.

In fact, it’s the small experimentations that make Culture II so strong. While they don’t totally flip the script or deviate from their winning flex-centric formula, they do employ some abnormal beats to which they then vocally adapt. Although it may not seem like such a creative risk, the Migos have always relied heavily on their trap-driven production to carry their vocal stylings; one doesn’t work without the other. That’s why it’s impressive to hear them perform so well on songs like the hoppy, Pharrell-produced “Stir Fry” and dawdling, ballad-driven “Notice Me” featuring Post Malone. There is even an incredibly stout saxophone sample that drives the 2 Chainz assisted “Too Playa,” sounding more like the inside of a smokey jazz club than a trap house.

There is another Migos first that appears on Culture II that should hit home with the hordes of hip-hop purists that constantly criticize the trio. “Made Men” is by far the most unpretentious, self-aware and consciously articulate that the Migos has ever been. Over a slow, soulful beat by Cassius Jay, all three members put down the tough talk and remember to be grateful for their gargantuan success. With lines from Quavo like, “So I'm hoggin' up the lane 'cause my bills paid / And my momma's / And my sister's / Niggas made for it, can't knock my hustle,” and lines from Offset like, “Thank God for blessings, gotta pray more,” it’s hard not to appreciate their humility, even if it only lasts five minutes.

The elongated tracklist, however, does eventually wear the songs thin. Around the album's midway point, monotonous tracks like "Beast," "Open It Up" and "Movin' Too Fast" start to blur together. Had this string of songs been broken up with the album's opening explosives, it may have boded better for the overall project.

Still, it’s clear that Culture II trades in its major smash singles for a variety of deep cuts, making for a more robust project than its predecessor. It’s simply a different approach to the same ‘ol Migo gang gameplan heard on previous projects. Sure, listeners might not hear a smash hit at every turn but they still very much exist; “Walk It Talk It” with Drake, “BBO” with 21 Savage and of course “MotorSport” with Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are sure to keep parties pumping throughout 2018. Although the creative achievements aren’t revolutionary, they are thorough and consistent. The flaming rappers from Atlanta's North Side continue to steer the culture. Now watch the vultures circle.

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