Migos, the hip-hop trio originating from Atlanta, Georgia, is without a doubt the most explosive act to hit the genre in recent years. And on Jan. 25, the group is set to drop “Culture III,” the third installment in the madly successful “Culture” series, a theme that much, if not all, of the trio’s content fixates on. For proof, look no further than Kulture, Offset’s child with female rap-sensation Cardi B, whose name is an homage to the duo’s dedication to their brand.
However, while I would be hard-pressed to deny their ability as musicians, I’m wary of their upcoming release for two distinct reasons. First, and perhaps less significantly, they’ve promoted “Culture III” far less than their previous projects, a misstep whose implications are magnified by the tidal wave of competing releases from other musicians set for this date. Indeed, if any of their albums ever needed an extra bit of publicity, it would be this one.
Second, while I hate to say it, I think they’ve wrung the “culture” theme dry; it’s a broad motif in the first place. It’s a lazy unifying symbol that communicates fairly little, and the Atlanta trio’s music could be much sharper if they crafted a more specific aesthetic for their projects.
Nonetheless, they will continue to ride this gravy train until it stops working, and I believe “Culture III” will mark that moment of decline. In order to make this case, we must dive into the full timeline of the “Culture” trilogy’s reign and the subsequent trajectory of the trio’s future careers. Starting with:
“Bad and Boujee” rocketed Migos from a small, loyal cult-following to their current national status. Yes, “Versace” was their ticket to widespread recognition, but the “Culture I” promotional single was what turned them into full-fledged stars. The co-sign Childish Gambino gave to the group and track during his Grammy acceptance speech, along with a performance of the song on “The Ellen Show,” fueled the fire of Migos’ ascension.
The sole single before the release of “Culture I,” “Bad and Boujee,” was a magnificent preview of an album that was tightly knit and oozing with potential. The trio of lyricists harmonize inventively throughout the project, like in the head-banger “What the Price.” Staple tracks like “Slippery,” “T-Shirt” and “Call Casting” are sonically diverse, but, with their heavy bass and slick wordplay, are all equally satisfying. The album plays through for just under an hour and remains entertaining and fluid throughout.
Quavo, Offset and Takeoff also structure their appearances masterfully, building anticipation for epic performances and keeping their listeners engaged with very little empty space. Migos members build off of each other frequently in their sophomore output (“Yung Rich Nation” is technically their debut) by ad-libbing each other’s verses from the background or trading the mic back and forth throughout a track. The verses on the album pop and neither stray nor bore, which is more than I can say for “Culture II.”
The second installment to the Migos “Culture” trilogy is more cluttered than its predecessor. Still, “Culture II” was more successful on paper than “Culture I,” as it broke their own Billboard record for most simultaneous hits on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart, which was previously set by their sophomore output. Nonetheless, the upward tick in recognition Migos experienced was far from parallel to their music’s quality.
I can deal with the repetition of “Walk it, like I talk it” in “Walk It Talk It (feat. Drake)” and the incessant use of “gang” in the 12-track “Gang Gang” as much as the next guy, but the album is still sub-par. The ridiculous repetition of the same words is the main critique of Migos’ music, as it comes off as lazy and uncreative, but it isn’t the album’s main fault.
The largest problem is the astounding length of the tracks, which only emphasizes the over-repetition of their lyrics further. Additionally, the drawn-out songs contain epic-beat drops, but little to no instrumental switch-ups or two-part tracks. Consequently, the songs play incessantly over the same stagnant instrumentals and monotonous subject matter.
I love a lot of the production on “Culture II,” but with the uninspired structure of appearances on tracks, along with their tiring length, much of the album sounds choppy rather than artistically composed, especially compared to “Culture.”
After the shift from “Culture II,” it seems as if the Migos members have grown less dependent on each other artistically, as they are all pursuing solo projects. Quavo dropped his own, “QUAVO HUNCHO,” which included several bangers like “PASS OUT (feat. 21 Savage),” “CHAMPAGNE ROSE (feat. Madonna & Cardi B),” “GO ALL THE WAY” and “KEEP THAT S**T (feat. Takeoff),” but as a whole, the project was really just okay.
It seemed as if Quavo could never have strong verses in a song with a witty or catchy hook, and vice-versa: terrific-sounding choruses and hooks are accompanied by grade-school rhymes for verses. For example, if Quavo drops an engaging flow, like he does on “LAMB TALK,” it’s plagued by unappealing and repetitive hooks like:
“Lamb talk, uh, yeah, Lamb talk, Lamborghini (Woo)
Lamb talk, uh, yeah, Lamb talk, Lambo (Skrrt)
Lamb talk (Yuh), Lamb talk (Yeah)
Lamb talk, nigga, Lamb talk (Skrrt, Huncho).”
However, that might not be a sign of decline for Quavo, as these characteristics have plagued his music since the beginning of his career.
Takeoff also dropped his solo album, “The Last Rocket,” in 2018 and it was generally well-received. The lyricist tackles a variety of instrumentals and employs an arsenal of flows, all while making it a point to craft pleasant choruses. “Last Memory” has a bass-quaking sound that is wavy and alluring. On “Insomnia” Takeoff rides the beat used by Juicy J earlier in the year for “Neighbor (feat. Travis Scott)” and brings it back to life, and better than the original, with smooth vocals and robust bars. “The Last Rocket” could be a preview of a memorable Takeoff performance on “Culture III.” Maybe he will take on a bigger role in the track-list.
Similar to how Offset’s collaboration tape with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, “Without Warning,” and Quality Control’s 30-track project, “Quality Control: Control the Streets, Vol. 1,” indirectly promoted “Culture II,” these solo albums might be able to build the hype for “Culture III.” However, the releases of “Without Warning” and “Quality Control: Control the Streets, Vol. 1” were in closer proximity to the release of “Culture II,” as both albums were released for fans in December, and the “Culture” installments have been coming out every January since 2017. In comparison, “QUAVO HUNCHO” and “The Last Rocket” came out in October and November, so the “Culture III” release may not benefit as much from these works.
I can’t help but ask, “Where the heck is Offset’s solo project?” Offset may be the most talented member of the group, and yet “Culture III” is going to be released before his own solo project? The move makes no sense; fitting in a whole trilogy of solo projects before “Culture III” would have been an excellent strategy, and I cannot help but think Jan. 25 is a premature date for the project’s release.
One thing that “Culture II” definitely got right was the release of the hot promotional single, “Stir Fry.” A promotional single gives fans a preview of a new sound, and if it’s infectious enough, the masses will flock to their streaming services upon the release of the full tape. Since both “Culture” installments had the advantage of a scorching single setting up the release of the album, it is possible that “Culture III” could fail to reach its predecessors level of widespread success.
In total, the timing is off for the third-chapter’s release and their efforts to promote the project seem scrambled. As a result, “Culture III” appears, at the moment, to be a rushed album based on a theme that has meant, and will continue to mean, basically nothing. I feel as if the group is mostly rushing to release the album so that it can come out on the same day as their previous projects did in the last two years.
I, and likely more fans along with me, do not see this as a priority, though. Instead of hitting a target release date, I wish Migos could be more patient and try to create an authentic, moving experience with their extraordinary abilities as artists.