The best musical endeavor Migos have ever been involved with was “Sloppy Toppy,” an overlooked gem off of Travi$ Scott’s Days Before Rodeo mixtape. Gurgling, grandiose and emphatic, it’s likely the most urgent blowjob anthem you’ll hear this decade, and Migos come across like they’ve trained their whole life to rap on it. Between Quavo’s lackadaisical vulgarity, Offset’s staccato weirdness and Takeoff rapping like he’s trying to knock a house over with his dick, there’s a spark in their interplay that feels natural and individualistic, each member exploiting their own abilities in an assured, deliberate manner.
Unfortunately, Migos is devoted to the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to a nearly religious degree, and the result of this is that what little there was of them to take interest in has all but evaporated since they ruled the mixtape roost a few years ago. If their latest album Culture would have been a fun-if-unremarkable slab of trap debauchery back in 2013, it’s absolutely inessential in 2017. By sticking to a formula of predictable trap subjects locked into unchanging flows and cadences, Migos shows that they may lead the pack commercially as far as Atlanta rap goes, but their creative output hasn’t come close to keeping up with that of their peers.
One could always make the case that Migos were more important as a locus of creative influence as opposed to creative content, and a quick glance at the list of features on Culture confirms this: lacking the boyish charm of Lil Uzi Vert, the inimitable wit and gravitas of Gucci Mane, or the instinctive aural ingenuity of the aforementioned Travi$ Scott, the group can’t help but sound as though they’re struggling to keep up with the very rap aesthetic they’re in large part responsible for popularizing in the first place. For the most part, the record is composed of joyless braggadocio riveted to production which is hands-off to the point of being unnoticeable. Even Metro Boomin has little to work with here, floundering between the deathly malaise of his work with 21 Savage and the pristine stampede of his more overtly commercial output. The trio is incapable of surprising the listener or even modifying their own delivery in parameters that would suggest they’re at all interested in what they’re doing. No one ever claimed Migos were trap’s greatest innovators, but that’s a far cry from sounding tangibly, audibly bored with your own material.
It’s not as though Culture doesn’t have bright spots. Most albums tend to sag in their middle third, but here it’s the section that seems most eager to engage, the darkly hypnotic Gucci-featuring “Slippery” and soulfully, skittishly produced “Big On Big” being the most notable highlights. Takeoff’s bulletproof rasp is always a treat even in the most dire moments, and the group as a unit occasionally manages to muster enough enthusiasm to propel a song in a way that makes up for its generally-too-long runtime.
Still, for the most part Culture is as forgettable as trap gets. Despite Migos’ mighty sway in the popular imagination, it still stands to reason that this is not the early 2010s, we are not on Datpiff, and a glut of unique and malleable trap artists from Young Thug to Lil Yachty have made “business as usual” all but disposable. Culture might burn up the sales charts, but it won’t be winning the culture wars any time soon.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). He has also been published in The Establishment. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.