Migos’ Culture was a turning point for the Atlanta trio and for, well, culture at large. Long and insultingly deemed a “viral sensation,” Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff emerged from a slump to produce the best music of their career. With a No. 1 album and a No. 1 single in “Bad and Boujee,” Migos were re-established as a commercial force—easily the most popular rap group in America.
Nearly a year to the day later, we have Culture II, which hopes to build on the momentum and expand Migos’ cultural takeover with lush new sounds. As you scour the 24-song project, here are a few things to know going in.
Culture II is a sequel in every sense: the same themes (trapping, driving exotic cars, wearing sumptuous designer fashions and blinged-out Patek Philippe timepieces, doing it all for the culture), similar song structures, and, of course, more triplet flows. Culture’s ensemble cast also returns, with cameos by Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, and 2 Chainz. (Scott may be auditioning to become the fourth Migo, given his recent collaborativeproject with Quavo, his appearance on Offset’s Halloween mixtape, and his last album being named after a Quavo lyric.) With “Walk It Talk It,” Drake makes his first appearance on a Migos song since his remix of “Versace” helped catapult the trio to national stardom in 2013. And if you notice any sonic similarities to Culture’s first installment, that comes courtesy of returning guest producers like Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, Cardo, Murda Beatz, Ricky Racks, Cassius Jay, and 808 Godz all reprise their roles from Culture. “Open It Up” sounds like the dead-on sequel to Culture’s “Deadz,” with both Cardo-produced tracks thrusted forward in the chorus by huge synth horns and Quavo’s “uh, ooh” ad-libs.
Migos closed 2017 strong as the leading men of Control the Streets, Vol. 1, the compilation designed as a roster showcase for Quality Control. But the Atlanta rap label is as well represented on Culture II as Migos were on the comp. Production is largely handled by Quality Control’s DJ Durel, in-house producers like Earl the Pearl and OG Parker, and the ascendent Quavo himself. Together, Durel and Quavo serve as the project’s executive producers.
As for the music, there isn’t much quality control happening here. At 24 tracks and an hour and 45 minutes long, the filler-packed album lacks Culture’s tasteful editing. Some would say it’s designed to game streaming algorithms—not a crazy take when you notice that Migos are promoting Culture 2 on Spotify both as a regular album and a repeating playlist(essentially the streaming equivalent of endless scroll). But as self-proclaimed ambassadors of culture, is there anything more of this moment than hacking popularity metrics?
Continuing an evolution that first began on Control the Streets, Quavo is now a full-fledged beatmaker, and he’s already pretty good at it. From the sax-driven, smooth jazz appeal of “Too Playa” to the Spanish-guitar-flecked “Narcos,” he has an ear for attention-grabbing sounds, which should serve his group well. In all, Quavo is billed 11 times as a producer on the album, including co-producing “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” with Kanye West and co. His production skills even warrant a shoutout in a song title: “Auto Pilot (Huncho on the Beat)” alludes to his alter ego. The timing of this transition couldn’t be better, since Quavo has slowly regressed as a rapper in recent years, becoming more and more imprecise in his writing and too reliant on Auto-Tune, allowing both Offset and Takeoff to lap him as lyricists. He has more or less been relegated to hook duty on recent outings (even his verses mostly function as hooks), but this added dimension to his game makes him even more valuable.
Most Notable Migos-isms:
- “Flooded my wrist, it’s soakin’/Split up the waters like Moses/I done put furs on loafers” (Offset on “Higher We Go Intro”)
- “Point blank range give a nigga nose rings” (Offset on “Narcos”)
- “Stiff arm, Heisman, singing birds, Isleys/I didn’t graduate but I know chemistry and science” (Quavo on “Auto Pilot (Huncho on the Beat)”)
- “This season’s Off-White come in snorted/Green Lamborghini a tortoise” (Offset on “MotorSport”)
- “Diamonds on my wrist look like McFlurries” (Offset on “Emoji A Chain”)
- “She froze up when the Ghost came” (Takeoff on “Gang Gang”)
- “High speed chase with 12, she flee with me/Don’t spill my cup of lean” (Takeoff on “Beast”)
- “I’m on the stove cooking elements” (Offset on “Crown the Kings”)
- “I got every drug that start with a letter” (Takeoff on “Crown the Kings”)
- “Shoot like I play for Duke” (Quavo on “Flooded”)
- “Put the stick in his mouth give him a facial” (Offset on “Flooded”)
- “You singing’ ‘bout the bando, Nat King Cole” (Quavo on “Movin’ Too Fast”)
- “I’m in the Blue’s Clues Bentley Avatar/Ain’t no flow, bored on the jet eating caviar” (Offset on “Work Hard”)
- “I bet my back got scoliosis ‘cause I swerve the lane!” (Quavo on “Walk It Talk It”)
The rap zeitgeist has largely been indebted to Migos for the last half decade. Even before Donald Glover signal boosted them at the Golden Globes, gave them roles in his hit FX series “Atlanta,” and essentially opened up their path to late-night TV, Migos was already shifting the culture. (Remember when Ellen Degeneres taught Hillary Clinton to dab? Or when Paul Ryan literally scolded a congressman’s son for doing it during a mock swearing in? Since then, they’ve turned a viral feud full of memes into a video concept and taught an actual culture class at NYU. But that train runs both ways, and their music is just as deeply influenced by culture. Culture II is further evidence that they aren’t just creators of culture; they’re rabid consumers of it, too.
Migos lyrics are often reliant on outsourcing characters, whether to add a splash of color to a punchline or to find direct analogs. On Culture II, they shoutout everything from Netflix’s “Narcos” to The Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi to the all-mighty Yoda, from Bruce Wayne to the Riddler (in separate references, no less). Bruce Bruce, Lorenz Tate, Betty Boop, G.I. Joe, the animated Nickelodeon show “Danny Phantom,” Britney Spears, Kris Kross, magicians Criss Angel and David Copperfield, and McLovin from Superbad are all used to conjure very specific visual associations. Athletes like Michael Phelps, boxer Adrien Broner, linebacker London Fletcher, and Reggie Miller are often used as signifiers. (There’s a very random rest in peace shoutout to trailblazing guard “Pistol” Pete Maravich.) Specific callbacks to Marshawn Lynch’s Skittles obsession and national anthem protests in the NFL are topical. Birds sing like Barry White and skeletons sing like Mary J. Blige. They even rap about appearing at the Met Gala, where they made history last year.
This referential way of working extends beyond their verses. “Too Much Jewelry” feels like an homage to Gucci Mane’s So Icey Boy cut “Jewelry,” if not sampling it directly then repurposing its elements and interpolating the melody. (Both songs were produced by Zaytoven.) “Crown the Kings” chops up Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Get Up, Stand Up.” And when they aren’t directly pulling from cultural artifacts, Migos rap about how they changed culture in general. “You was searchin’ for the wave, it was Culture what we found/Believe me when I say we create our own sound,” Quavo raps on “Culture National Anthem.” In the end, Culture II is an act of reciprocity, drawing from the culture then giving back—perhaps more than we needed.