I’ve sort of been putting this review off – not because I hate the album, or haven’t spent time listening to it, but just because I’m having trouble coming up with an opinion I can definitely stand behind.
The expectations from so-called ‘lyrical’ hip hop (Kendrick, Earl Sweatshirt, Das Racist, etc.) are different from rap where vocal delivery and beats are more important and the lyrics need not venture past well-trodden territory. Migos fall pretty firmly into the latter category, and although nothing else about the album is revolutionary or particularly innovative, there isn’t really a bad or obnoxious song on here, either. I’m new to Migos – I first heard the Atlanta trio last year when Quavo was featured on the awesome Travis Scott / Young Thug collaboration “Pick Up the Phone”. This new album of theirs has been hailed as their best, which I don’t doubt, but it has also garnered some pretty serious critical praise (best Atlanta act since Outkast? Really?) that I can’t help but feel is more a result of Migos being a likable, of-the-moment, started from the bottom, chart-topping zeitgeist force in trap music than this record actually being something special.
Culture is 13 tracks long and runs about an hour, which is sort of a relief considering how bloated big rap releases have become. Every single track rides a dark, minimalist trap beat, with no absence of rattling high hats and melancholy piano loops. They all feature ad-libs after almost every line, frequently by not the rapper currently spitting but by one of the other members of the trio. They all have hooks that range from catchy and fun to fine. The lyrical content rarely makes a pointed statement beyond your typical trap fare (drugs, gangs, cars, girls, guns, money) but some turns of phrase are more clever than others.
And there really isn’t a bad song on here. I think the best tracks come on the front half – the #1 single “Bad and Boujee” is obviously great, combining fun wordplay and a catchy hook (although, as many before me have pointed out, the final verse by guest Lil Uzi Vert ruins the end of the song), though my favorite track may be the follow-up “Get Right Witcha”, whose hook I really enjoy, especially Takeoff’s ad-libs of ‘woah’ and ‘wow’ and ‘hold up’. The mid album cuts “Slippery” and “Big on Big” are further examples of how likable, easy-going and unoffensive trap can be when it sounds as effortless as it does in the hands of Migos. Young Thug, Rae Sremmurd, Desiigner – they can all be off-putting when they try to tweak the formula in the wrong ways, but Migos generally steer clear of any rough patches. The triplet flows of each member never stray from the beats, and I like all three of their voices, which, pleasantly, err on the side of soft and relaxed rather than aggressive.
Gucci Mane’s feature sits naturally among his Atlanta peers. 2 Chainz’s feature is short, and his voice certainly stands out, but it also goes over well. Lil Uzi Vert’s is bad, as mentioned previously, and Travis Scott’s is fine, but otherwise it’s a constant trade off between 2 to 3 of Migos at a time. Certain spots on the record are highlights, like the sweet, melodic “Skrrt Skrrt” through the hook of “What the Price” and Takeoff’s verse on “Deadz”, which strikes as the most technically deft and aggressive on the record.
My biggest gripe with the album is just that it never really deviates from a formula, and any one of these beats and verses feels like it could have been spliced into one of the other tracks. The back half of the record also gets a bit tiring, and I feel that 10 consistent trap songs would have made for a more compact, compelling listen than the drawn-out 13. The last three tracks being the weakest and least necessary further emphasizes that point. There isn’t really an emotional or musical climax, there doesn’t seem to be a centerpiece unless you count the back to back bangers “Bad and Boujee” and “Get Right Witcha” sequenced fourth and fifth, respectively.
All in all, the record is never bad, a bit long, a bit repetitive, occasionally great (often on the back of the flows) and fun and exciting, very consistent, but never innovative or head-turning. It’s better than fine, but maybe slightly less than good. I’ll probably spin a few of my favorite songs from it throughout the year, but I don’t have any strong desire to listen through it cover to cover again.