Trap music will arguably go down as one of the most, if not the most, important and impactful genre of this current generation. With the genre and its ringleaders being at the forefront of much of today’s culture in the West, even with a considerable amount of internet challenges and memes involving a popular trap song, much of the most well-known music from the current decade will be trap-inspired in some way. Atlanta-based trio Migos have been at the forefront of this trend since their breakout single Versace catapulted them into the limelight after a remix by Drake uncovered the charismatic and eye-catching group of young rappers. The mixtape from which the single was pulled, Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas), received a massive amount of traction in the industry as a result. Despite being met with a respectable — but not massive — amount of critical acclaim, I personally found the tape to show potential for the group without really coming through with anything particularly impressive. Their icy cold delivery of bars concerning typical trap topics of drugs, money and women had a rather forcible amount of bite to it, but the tracks on which these personas were being conveyed weren’t particularly strong. Several hooks on this mixtape, including the two lead singles Versace and Hannah Montana, feature the trio simply repeating the name of the song ad nauseum, which is one of the laziest and most unfortunate trends in trap music currently. These cuts were performed with a great amount of energy, but this wasn’t enough to make up for the weak songwriting, although it did demonstrate that a more focussed Migos could come through with something really quite special. Unfortunately, their debut studio album, Yung Rich Nation, wasn’t what I had in mind, with the album not really progressing the style that Migos had already established on their handful of mixtapes up until that point. In fact, the performances on here were arguably less exciting than their mixtape efforts, so all in all, it was a rather underwhelming release.
C U L T U R E, however, before its release, seemed to be gearing up to be a more concentrated project. The title and album cover seem to demonstrate a level of self-awareness amongst the trio of their position in society, shaping a significant portion of culture for young people. What’s more, the teaser track released in October of last year, Bad and Boujee, showed the trio rein in their whacky performances ever so slightly in favour of a more focussed delivery that goes over rather well. The feature from Lil Uzi Vert was relatively mediocre, but this track nonetheless seemed to bode well for the direction of this new album, being one of their most respectable efforts yet, earning them a new level of recognition in hip hop culture. Thankfully, this project, in spite of its hour-long runtime, stays pretty well on track throughout and showcases some of Migos’ best-executed ideas yet.
The new record gets off to a relatively weak start with the title track, featuring DJ Khaled, which was clearly intended to be a promotional track, given Takeoff’s line in the first verse, “C U L T U R E album coming soon”. A large portion of the issues I had with Migos’ singles like Versace and Hannah Montana was the fact that they felt like novelty tracks, and they were certainly marketed as such. This intro has a similar issue, which is pretty much fortified by the DJ Khaled feature, who’s hard for anyone to take seriously given his elevation to meme status in recent years. It really just seems like whenever DJ Khaled is ‘featured’ on a track, he’s expected to simply recite his usual mantras of “another one” and “you played yourself”, collect his pay cheque and be off, and this cut is no exception. Of course, as I said, the fact that this track seems as if it were intended to be a promotional track for the album makes it slightly excusable, but I would nonetheless expect more from the title track and opener to a new Migos project.
C U L T U R E quickly gets back on track with the second song, and second single from the album, T-Shirt. This track features one of the best beats to appear on a Migos single for quite some time, and the trio’s choppy and punctuated delivery is energetic, but in a more subtle fashion than what Migos fans will be used to. T-Shirt still stands out as one of the better tracks that made the final cut, but I was sceptical when I first saw the tracklisting for C U L T U R E, noticing that the two lead singles from the record both made it into the first four tracks of the hour-long, 13-track album. I worried that Migos wouldn’t be able to retain the same level of success that these two singles have seen across the rest of the record, but thankfully, many other tracks on C U L T U R E live up to the hype from the singles.
Call Casting features another great beat, with the fluttering piano licks in the background paired with the organ chords adding an interesting flavour to the track that goes down rather well. This is refreshing to hear, as Migos’ music has often been held back by the similar-sounding nature of much of their material. There’s nothing wrong with finding a strong formula and sticking to it, but instead the group came through with some projects that sounded somewhat monotone as a result of this lack of variation. Therefore, it’s good to hear some more interesting endeavours from the myriad of producers employed on C U L T U R E. Get Right Witcha, for instance, features some interesting instrumentation, with what sounds like an obscure woodwind instrument softly floating in the background of much of this track. There is the odd track with production that feels all too safe and humdrum, such as the closer, Out Yo Way, which features some of the most questionable use of autotune on the entire record. Nonetheless, for the most part, the production accommodates a tighter and more developed Migos.
Migos even show some more lyrical maturation on this record too, or at least, maturation by trap music’s standards. Of course, no one would expect the topics covered on a Migos album to deviate from the usual themes, but they approach these topics with some more interesting bars than usual. A line like Offset’s “I own all of my cars, jewellery and I got property / Building these houses in places, I’m playing Monopoly” from Big On Big stands out as showing some more amusing and witty approaches to these subjects than the trio have shown in the past. Naturally, the lyrics aren’t intended to be read into that much, but I certainly appreciate some of the more focussed bars that the group pull out on this thing.
Overall, C U L T U R E is certainly a significant step in the right direction for Migos. The slightly dialled down production has a darker tinge to it that accommodates the three rappers’ cold delivery really well and adds up to what is easily their best project yet. The duds near the end of tracklisting, whilst unfortunate, do not draw away from the highlights. This new album is more focussed, more mature, more restrained where it needed to be, and Migos’ sound is all the better for it, further solidifying their position as amongst the most influential artists in the hip hop industry currently.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10