Sequels are tough. Sometimes, they will discover new ground, actually producing a result superior to the original: Godfather Part II, Terminator 2. But mostly, sequels end up a cheap, reactive imitation of the original.
A lot has changed for Migos since the first “Culture” came out a year ago. At one point in the summer, Quavo featured on 10 percent of the Billboard Top 100. He worked with pop stars including Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Liam Payne, each effort lazier than the previous. He also released the half-baked disappointment “HUNCHO JACK” with Travis Scott.
Offset emerged as the most proficient rapper in the group. His album “Without Warning” with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin was one of the most captivating projects last year, and he delivered killer verses on “Met Gala” by Gucci Mane and “Patek Water” by Future and Young Thug. He also got engaged to rap anomaly Cardi B despite (allegedly) getting another woman pregnant.
Takeoff must have also done something in the past 12 months. One time a friend texted me, “Who got a better deal: Ringo Starr of Takeoff?” I’m still not sure.
They also said a collection of homophobic things. Quavo called the support from Atlanta’s community for Makonnen’s coming out as “wack.” Then, recently, Offset rapped on YFN Lucci’s “Boss Life” that he “cannot vibe with queers.” In both cases their publicists released apologies. Neither event seemed to impact their sales. All’s well that end’s well, right? Then again, no one batted an eye when they proclaimed they’re “Goin’ to Ch-land with the chinks!” on “Get Right Witcha.” Needless to say no one should look to them for social commentary.
It raises the question, though, should we listen to music by artists that are ignorant and hateful? Can we separate art from the artist? Let’s resume the rest of this review under the assumption that yes, in fact, we can.
The best part about the original “Culture” was that it really felt like an album. At 13 songs, it was tight and focused, boasting great songs like “T-Shirt” and “Slippery.” “Culture II,” at 24 songs, feels like another bloated mixtape. I don’t want to listen to an hour-and-45-minute album, least of all by Migos. In the age of streaming, artists sacrifice concision for more plays. Around “Flooded,” “Culture II” loses its way and the listener’s interest.
Migos pioneered the Atlanta trap sonics and the triplet flow. However, others have copied and re-copied it so much that it sounds exhausted. Nearly every song follows in the order of Quavo, Takeoff then Offset. Quavo introduces the hook and starts off the party. Takeoff carries the second act. And then Offset brings it home. After a while the cycle puts you to sleep. Whenever they deviate from this, it’s exhilarating. The high-energy boom bap of “Stir Fry,” the melodic groove of “Gang Gang” or the smooth soul sample in “Made Men” are like shots of adrenaline.
On a few songs they try out new instrumental sounds. “BBO” has horns. “Too Playa” has a nice Duke Silver saxophone. “Auto Pilot,” “White Sand,” “Movin Too Fast,” “Notice Me” all have a 90s video game sort of aesthetic. The guitar makes a couple appearances. “Emoji Chain” ends on a bizarre guitar solo. The culturally appropriative “Narcos” has a mariachi-type guitar.
Since the Migos aren’t really bringing anything to the table, each song lives or dies on the merits of its producers and features. The production is all over the place. Some of the bass drops have a low-fi 21 Savage type of feel. Others are much more polished.
Rap’s most popular producers were lined up out the door to get their tags on this album. It has the likes of Kanye West, Metro Boomin, Pharrell, Mike Dean, Murda Beats, Buddah Blessed, Zaytoven and Ricky Racks. Despite all the talent in the room, Quavo, for some godforsaken reason, executively produced the album himself.
On the second song of the album, Quavo claims “This real rap, no mumble.” The lyrics are mostly a hodgepodge of vague drug and gun imagery, discussions of how much jewelry they have, euphemisms for ejaculation, indiscernible auto tune and an oversaturation of ad-libs (MAMA!).
This probably isn’t relevant, but I hope to find someone in my life who loves me as much as Offset loves McNuggets. He references them more than he mentions his fiance Cardi B. On “Flooded” he raps “I got the socket so plug me/Solitaire, chicken McNuggets.” On “MotorSport” he raps “My pinky on margarine, butter/And my ears got McDonald’s nuggets.”
Instrumentals like “Notice Me” lend themselves to self-reflection, and at times it seems like Quavo is on the precipice of saying something profound. On “Movin Too Fast” he raps “Pop one he’ll go beast, represent the ‘land of the free’/But some of my n—-s in the cell so I don’t know what that means.” On “Top Down on Da NAWF” he raps “For some reason I can’t cry cry/For some reason I am not tired/For the gang I gotta bring it home/For my grandma watching in the sky.” Hopefully in the future he can open up more.
If you cut out “Higher We Go,” “Narcos,” “Auto Pilot,” “Emoji a Chain,” “Too Much Jewelry,” “Flooded,” “Beast,” “Open it Up,” “Movin Too Fast,” “Work Hard,” “Notice Me” “Top Down on Da NAWF” and “Culture National Anthem,” and only kept “Supastars,” “BBO,” “Walk It Talk It,” “CC,” “Stir Fry,” “Gang Gang,” “White Sand,” “Crown the Kings,” “MotorSport,” “Too Playa,” and “Made Men” then you could have a good album.
After “Dark Side of the Moon” Roger Waters wrote “Wish You Were Here” lamenting their massive success. Before they had “made it,” they were one inspired unit, determined to generate quality work and get rich and famous. Once they got it, they drifted apart, detached, distracted, wondering what they were even doing it for anymore. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff all have other stuff going on, and Migos seems to no longer be the object of what’s left of their passions.
Perhaps 2018 marks the death of the album, and henceforth the death of culture. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.