Migos’ ‘Culture II’ Touches Greatness, But Is Mostly Mindless Filler
In an age of internet virality, where we learn just as much about the world through social media-spread gags as we do reading the pages of the New York Times, it’s no surprise that the rap family trio have dominated the game lately.
Fan or not, Migos have dominated pop culture since breaking out of the hip-hop closet back in 2016; their Lil Uzi Vert collab “Bad and Boujee” nabbing them a number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and an eye watering number of “Rain Drop, Drop Top” memes to boot.
The 24 song long record clocks in at an overwhelming 105 minutes. Despite the fact it has an intro and outro, there’s no real reason why you should have to listen to the album in that order – or, for that matter, every track on the album at all.
It’s the musical equivalent of an attention-seeking friend dropping two dozen consecutive jokes at a house party, hoping that at least one of them lands. Some of these songs are worth your time, some are even great, but there’s a fair amount of mindless filler that makes it real a drag to have to listen to.
In between vintage cuts of gleamingly produced hip-hop (“Made Men”) and sonic savagery (“Motorsport”), there’s a fair amount of sag on the band’s first full length LP in a year. So much of this sounds like throwaway sessions, serving no other purpose than to please their most earnest fans.
Following on from the critical success of Culture and the mixtapes that preceded it, it becomes clear that Migos’ subjects of discussion haven’t changed: II deals with wealth, Patek Philippe watches, beautiful women and not much more. They’re the roots of club-friendly hip-hop, but hearing them stretched to their limits over 24 tracks sounds pretty uninspired when you consider the high calibre of hip-hop right now.
Instead, the music only gets interesting when they forgo these overcooked themes and start unpacking pop culture, like they do on “Narcos.” A South American-tinged trap track that pays homage to the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, it sees Offset take on a criminal persona and address the trio’s unusual vocal style (“This real rap, no mumble”) over some Samba-friendly samples.
Following his hyped Versace remix that helped catapult Migos into the public’s consciousness, Drake returns to pretty much dominate the lazily-hooked and forgettable “Walk It, Talk It.” Meanwhile, “MotorSport” still provides all of the gut-punch power it delivered when it first dropped. Cardi’s verse (I’m the trap Selena / ¡Dame más gasolina!) proves she’s a real rap stalwart right now, while Nicki’s weigh in is still sharp too.
While Migos might lack lyrical gusto – to the point that their collaborators often risk overshadowing them – their ear for a good producer is undeniable. Alongside frequent collaborators Metro Boomin (of “Bad and Boujee” fame) and DJ Durel, this record sees Quavo himself flex his talent on the other side of the studio glass, producing a third of the tracks. “Auto Pilot” (Huncho on the Beat) is brought to life by a stirring techno beat beneath the traditional trap drums, while the lyrically unremarkable “Too Playa” (ft. Two Chainz) gets a saxophone re-up that suggests the group aren’t afraid to switch up their monotonous style.
Elsewhere, Pharrell brings a bright pop element to the single “Stir Fry,” before Yeezy co-produces the 21 Savage collab “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)”: a song that sees contemporary rap’s foremost figures write a song about – as a Genius contributor so articulately puts it – their “love for women who are down to have sex with them and are truly ‘bad.’”
Migos have always been problematic. If the off-kilter remarks about women in almost every song aren’t bad enough, we’d be ignorant to think that Offset isn’t purposely delivering a provocative double entendre on the otherwise mundane track, “Flooded” too. “Put this stick in his mouth / Give him a facial,” he raps unsubtly, as if teasing the critics who’ve previously criticised his controversial remarks on homosexuality.
To Offset, such a remark might seem rooted in tongue-in-cheek humour, but for the rest of us it’s just an unnecessary wading into a subject this trio should probably have learned to shut up about by now.
That’s something that listeners have to ask themselves when listening to problematic musician nowadays: can we learn to separate art from the artist? Although Offset and Quavo have both quashed the idea of their lyrics and comments alluding to homophobia – Offset claiming he meant “weird” when he said “queer”, and Quavo trying to silence his critics by pointing out his feature alongside Frank Ocean on a Calvin Harris song last year – there’s still a discomforting undercurrent of how much we can praise artists for creating good work, when their morals compasses appear to be pretty skewed.
While there are a handful of tracks on Migos’ “bursting-at-the-seams” third album that feel worthy of multiple listens, the vast majority of it is run of the mill filler.
Nobody’s asking them to reinvent the rap game. Their music is designed to bode well with chart followers, party crowds and hip-hop fans alike – and Culture II caters to them all. That being said, a collective of Migos’ calibre and influence should be attempting to push the boundaries somewhere. It says a lot that they’re churning out records so vast, and in such fast succession, as if they’re keen to keep their hands on the crown.
While some of today’s best artists (Frank Ocean and Lorde, to name just two), deal in the respective beauty of elusiveness and brevity, Migos’ bare-faced approach to dominating music is truly “of our time” – releasing lots of pedestrian hip-hop that does a half-hearted job at commanding your full attention.
For more of our reviews, check out how Miguel delivers a party for the apocalypse on his latest album War & Leisure right here.