Three and a half years after the endlessly mocked Culture II, the trendsetting cultural force that is the Migos return with yet another sequel to their genre-defining 2017 classic. Migos have always been regarded as the originators of the modern-day trap sound, their influence extending all the way down to cultural oddities like the dab. Much-maligned for their last project exceeding the 100-minute mark, it would seem that Migos once again began a trend – the overlong, streaming-optimized rap project, a formula that many of the genre’s biggest stars can’t seem to resist. Taking a break from the group in the interim while each member released their own solo project, the trifecta once again joins forces on a project that you already know what to expect from. Your enjoyment of this project is likely going to depend entirely on how tired you are of Migos’ signature triplet flows and goofy interplay, because they show absolutely no sign of switching up the style whatsoever. Hey, if it works, it works – it’s just that as time goes on, hearing the 100th example of a typically crafted Migos track begins to get rather tiresome, and those sparks of excitement that the novelty of their earlier work produced are sparse. There’s some kind of strange pleasure center that still gets activated in my brain by the group’s members gleefully finishing each other’s sentences, jumping in and out with quick verses, so the relatively safe Culture III simply comes across as passable. For many, I expect that getting through these 75 minutes is nearly impossible.
Perhaps it’s telling that it feels almost as if Culture III begins in medias res on the track “Avalanche,” Quavo sounding like he’s already in mid-verse as the first thing we hear is one of his signature line-ending “Woo!” ad-libs. Migos have simply been rolling on auto-pilot for years at this point, and this represents them continuing to roll on just as they have before. The track does represent one of the more exciting moments here, as the group rap over a comparatively dynamic instrumental for the group that pulls from The Temptations’ classic “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” The track has no hook, just straight triplets for three and a half minutes as the brain gets reminded and recalibrated to the group’s trancelike sound – for better or for worse. While Quavo and Offset are relaxed, making it sound easy, Takeoff is the only Migo who still sounds hungry, putting an extra punch behind each syllable. This is a trend for the entire album. Drake appears for his obligatory collab on “Having Our Way,” taking over half the song with a two-minute verse imitating the Migos flow over an overdone creeping and ominous trap instrumental. The track is engaging simply because it makes hip-hop’s biggest star bend the knee to a movement arguably even greater than any of his own, but it’s an incredibly sleepy collab musically. The album’s opening run continues to offer just enough moments to justify keeping it on and break up the monotony, whether its Quavo’s comedically conversational cadence on the hook of “Straightenin,” which comes with serious mixing issues that display just how much effort the Migos truly put in, a quicker tempo resulting in some impressively deft rhymes on “Malibu,” thrown off completely by a strangely awful and arrhythmic guest appearance from Polo G, or a criminally brief, characteristically fiery Cardi B verse not quite doing enough to save the group’s soporific deliveries on “Type S**t.”
As the tracklist progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to formulate distinct thoughts on each song. A Migos album at this point is less of a musical experience than a certain, familiar feeling to indulge in. It’s the musical equivalent to Fast & Furious 9 – which still, by the way, gets great reviews. There’s something about claiming that specific, somewhat ridiculous niche and committing fully. It just might result in some skewed, biased, seemingly incorrect review scores – myself included. So, when a track like “Birthday” comes up sixth, even though Quavo’s sung, Auto-tuned tracks have traditionally been the group’s weaker efforts, his smooth, confident vibe over some dancefloor-ready low-pitched synths sounds great for providing something slightly different midway through, a tiny moment of surprise. It’s a curious thing, reviewing a Migos album. Takeoff drops his voice an octave like a Kendrick Lamar character switch midway through his verse on “Modern Day,” and the group sample a melody from RuneScape, of all things, on the track “Vaccine.” The sheer shock of hearing Migos do something they’ve never done before for – even if it’s just for a couple seconds – on otherwise completely paint-by-numbers tracks gives off the impression that the entire thing is something to be celebrated. Realistically, I’m not going to be able to remember any of this in a week. The album’s first half concludes with “Picasso,” which features Migos adapting for once to guest artist Future’s phoned-in, warbly flows for a rather awkward mess of a track, and “Roadrunner,” a Zaytoven beat which sees Offset completely take over and make a track his own with some of the funniest lines and sharpest flows on the project.
It’s hard to tell if the tracks that populate the album’s second half are genuinely worse, or if listening to nothing but triplet flows for over 40 minutes does damage to one’s mental state. Nonetheless, the back half certainly seems weaker right from the moment a falsetto-voiced Justin Bieber hops on the disingenuously romantic track “What You See” with a hook that last for all of 10 seconds. The group feels like they’re going through the motions, not enjoying themselves as they breeze through the track “for the ladies” that their label likely told them they had to include. The late Juice WRLD appears on “Antisocial,” the album’s only truly mellow track, set to contemplative synth-piano, violins and echoing effects fit for a posthumous artist. Hilariously, on the only track that’s completely instrumentally different, Migos still elect to approach things in exactly the same way, their speedy triplet flows sounding egregiously out of place. Quavo even shouts out an entirely different recently deceased rapper. There is absolutely no thought put into this project – again, for better or worse. In this case, it’s worse. Tracks like “Why Not,” “Mahomes” and “Handle My Business” just feel, even more than usual, like the group are lounging around the studio freestyling whatever comes to mind. They’ve been doing this for so long that the words just fall into place at this point, losing the soul in the process. The stuttered hook spelling out words on the inexplicably 5-minute “Mahomes” feels particularly obnoxious and uninspired, while “Handle My Business” seems unfinished with large gaps of silence. The track “Time for Me” is another sluggish one, Quavo taking up most of the track warbling about his past street life.
The album actually does end rather strongly, but the standout track from the back half is “Jane,” another track where Takeoff comes out of his shell and exemplifies why he might have been the group’s strongest member all along despite the lack of commercial recognition. Over a beat from trap mastermind Tay Keith, Takeoff’s repetitive hook recaptures some of the trancelike magic from their debut while all three members deliver some of the album’s strongest verses to the tune of a frantically blaring trumpet loop and some of the most rhythmically engaging bass hits here, breaking up the monotonous trap palates. The group unite with Pop Smoke on the track “Light It Up,” adapting well to his drill stylings, but this is the New Yorker’s territory and he shuts the track down with a grimy verse reminding us that we lost a legend. Things close with year-old single “Need It,” which had a mixed reaction upon release but now stands as one of the strongest tracks here due to its more engaging, active instrumental and NBA Youngboy appearing in the one way he’s often great – trading a couple lines at a time – with the masters of the style.
Reviewing a Migos album is essentially a formality at this point – was anyone expecting anything other than a slightly creatively diminished version of exactly what they’ve already been doing for years? Depending on your tolerance level for the trio’s shenanigans, enter at your own risk.
Favourite Tracks: Jane, Need It, Roadrunner, Light It Up
Least Favourite Track: Antisocial