Migos: “We show up with the goods and prove you wrong”

They’re the biggest rap group in the world, with massive recent album ‘Culture III’ their defining statement. So why do the trio still feel like underdogs?

Rap’s favourite amigos are back and ready to prove why they have sat at the top of the musical food chain for years. The Atlanta trio – Takeoff, Quavo and Offset – are among the most prolific rappers of the 2010s, and together have revolutionised the sound of trap forever. From “cooking up dope in the crockpot” (as they put it on their 2016 smash ‘Bad And Boujee’) to being compared to The Beatles thanks to their trailblazing Billboard Hot 100 success, they have proved themselves with every chance they’ve had to hustle themselves out of the “Narf” side of Atlanta – and their newest album, ‘Culture III’, is no different.

Yes, their video call with NME was delayed by three days, but Offset and Takeoff are surprisingly already in the room when we arrive, which is a stark contrast to our last encounter with these rolling stones, when our writer waited five hours in a New York studio for an audience with the rappers. This time, they’d recently performed new song ‘Straightenin’ at boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s highly anticipated bout with YouTube superstar Logan Paul. They were excited to be outside again, says Offset, who “can’t wait to touch the people, and show them how the album is meant to be heard”.

Suddenly Quavo, camera off, pipes up: “Hello! Anyone see me in this Zoom?”. The poor guy had been sitting on the call for 15 minutes, eager to start but inaudible. Time to start asking the big questions, then.

NME Cover 2021 Migos
Credit: Marcelo Pancote

‘Culture III’, the third and allegedly final instalment in their ‘Culture’ series, is out now, having arrived three years after its predecessor. The effervescent record is packed with the group’s signature cadences and flows, indulging in trap’s love for eerie minor melodies to counteract the tinny sunshine chimes of bells, cymbals, and other percussion. Throughout, the trio stay in their lane, boasting about their luxurious lifestyles to make flashy club tracks – whether they’re cruising over nostalgic throwbacks such as 50 Cent’s ‘Get In My Car’ (the YoungBoy Never Broke Again-featuring ‘Need It’), or bringing back the distinctive “modern day flow” – aka the much-imitated ‘triplet flow’ – they’ve pioneered (‘Modern Day’).

It’s been three years since the record’s predecessor, ‘Culture II’. “After not releasing anything for this long,” says Offset, “all that built-up pressure you can hear on ‘Culture III’”. The trio, he insists, are “hungry” to stay at the top.

“Juice WRLD was hard. I had a conversation with him – he’s a good person” – Takeoff

But don’t call it a comeback. There were rumblings in the rap world that ‘Culture II’ had seen them fall short of the perfection of 2017’s ‘Culture’, and that the group’s efforts away from the Migos brand – each member released a solo album in the interim – hadn’t reached the same heights as their collaborative work. In short, some fans hinted that Migos might have peaked already. “The world’s obviously caught amnesia, you know, and we want to know how they caught it,” says Takeoff. “We’re here to remind them why we’re here.”

Migos hadn’t dropped off the face of the Earth during their three years away: Quavo and Takeoff released major features – the former appeared on Justin Bieber’s ‘Intentions’ and the latter on Lil Wayne’s ‘I Don’t Sleep – while Offset branched out into the fashion world and began modelling Off-White’s and Gallery x Lanvin’s 2019 collections at Paris Fashion Week. And like it or not, all three released their solo albums right after ‘Culture II’.

NME Cover 2021 Migos
Migos on the cover of NME. Photographed by Kenneth Cappello

“It’s kind of like when Michael Jordan went to go play baseball but went right back to basketball,” Quavo says, going on to explain that ‘Culture III’ finds Migos proving themselves to the world again that this ending to their musical trilogy is a coming-of-age moment. Or, as Quavo puts it, referencing the brutal boxing trilogy that Cassius Clay emerged the winner of in 1975, “like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier”.

Look back on the group’s eight years in the spotlight since their deliciously gaudy debut single ‘Versace’ and it’s stunning to consider what a successful run they’ve had. Early hits ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Fight Night’ have become two of the most integral trap tunes ever, and that’s before with mention their international smash ‘Bad And Boujee’, which saw the group enter rap’s upper echelon.

Offset credits Migos’ huge success to “blood, sweat and tears” since “it’s always been a part of our story that we show up with the goods and prove you wrong.” He adds: “That’s been our narrative from then, and we’ve been good with that. It always leaves room for improvement.”

“It’s a blessing to be ahead of the curve,” says Quavo. “We always want to prove ourselves because we don’t do much talking. We don’t run around saying that we’re the best and ain’t nobody better than us; we like to work. We put in the practice and the time, and sometimes we don’t get credited for it. We feel some type of way behind that when we feel miscredited.”

“It’s a blessing to be ahead of the curve” – Quavo

Recently the popular Spotify playlist Rap Caviar asked its followers “who takes the fourth spot on the Mount Rushmore of the 2010s?” after Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. There were great suggestions, from Big Sean to Future, but in the end Nicki Minaj won the last spot by consensus. Yet Quavo says this discussion proves further that Migos doesn’t get the credit they deserve: “Even with the Mount Rushmore debate, [we’re forgotten because] there’s only one artist and not a group – we’re always taken out by that. So we always want to prove to our fans and the world that we are one of the greatest groups in the world as well as individually.”

Their signature Migos flow is a perfect example of this: the ‘triplet flow’ – adopted by artists as varied as Denzel Curry and even Ariana Grande – where musicians condense their lyrics into three syllables per beat. To the band’s head huncho Quavo, it’s the new lyricism in today’s hip-hop: “I think like lyricism is the Migos flow with highly detailed bars in it. When you’re talking a little more about ice, a little more than clothes and jewellery, and you start talking about your lifestyle; what’s going on in the streets, what’s going on in the Narf, what’s going on with the trappers, the cappers, the scammers. That’s the new modern-day lyricism.”

When Migos showed up in 2013, much of rap – thanks to the likes of J. Cole and Curren$y – was focused on how much you could spin a listener with the sheer number of double entendres or metaphors you could cram into a tune. Takeoff says that Migos’ lyrical output is still as complex as theirs but says that, with the triplet flow, it’s more digestible for listeners: “People [used to] not catch that jawn until they rewind it back to the sixth, seventh time until they go, “Oh! they said that?”

NME Cover 2021 Migos
Credit: Marcelo Pancote

Migos’ niche is the new normal, their sound having infiltrated almost every corner of the Billboard Hot 100. The golden era of SoundCloud rap, from the mid to late 2010s, was defined by the ‘mumble rap’ sound – the likes of XXXTentacion and Lil Uzi Vert weaving deceptively complex rhymes through deadpan delivery – which was directly influenced by the trio. Mumble rap then branched off into other subgenres such as emo-rap, hyperpop and more, making Migos architects of modern music.

Quavo says: “We influenced everything going on right now, from pop to country and, of course, hip-hop. But I’ve even heard it on pop music – and they be in denial. Every time we do sum’n’, we see it but they ain’t gon’ give us credit because they might have added a little seasoning salt or a little pepper.”

With the triplet flow, you can create a cadence that’s already proven popular, and you can squeeze a lot into one bar if you know what you’re doing. Offset explains that the triplet flow “catches the ear so fast,” explaining: “In 2013, music didn’t have the bounce or the cadence. And at first, no one could really hear what we were saying and they played with us when we first came in[to the rap world] because no one caught the flow. But once they did and everyone started doing it around the genres, that’s when [critics] caught it. That’s where mumble came from.”

NME Cover 2021 Migos
Credit: Marcelo Pancote

In addition to patenting their distinctive delivery, Migos have played a huge part in the rise of trap music, and Offset has claimed that his group are responsible for sending the sound mainstream. Before they debuted the Migos flow on their breakout debut album, ‘Young Rich N****s’, in July 2015, the trio had already put out a whopping 13 mixtapes, each one exploring their boisterous lives in the streets – utilising with their “dark grime” sound, as Quavo put it in a 2017 interview with The Fader, these are quintessential examples of trap music and its culture. So it’s understandable why, above all, Migos “want respect”, as Takeoff puts it.

“We graduated the trap,” Offset says of the multi-Platinum selling group who slayed Coachella in 2018. “It was there but we took it on a global scale. We talk about cooking dope in front of 80,000 people. When we started doing festivals, there wasn’t much hip-hop. There were more crossover hip-hop artists but we brought trap to those people, and it created opportunities for the next generation to do that.”

Migos truly want to sustain the next group of stars after them. This is more than evident on ‘Culture III’, which features Gen Z trailblazers Polo G, Pop Smoke, and Juice WRLD. It’s heartbreaking to note, of course, that the latter two artists have already passed on, their contributions to the record posthumous and bittersweet. Quavo touches on this on the sombre orchestral ‘Antisocial’: “Pop Smoke, rest in peace, wish I could put him under my wing.”

“We’ll be solidified as the greatest rappers alive” – Quavo

He and Pop Smoke were meant to make a record together, says Quavo: “He was a very quick learner who always wanted to learn and soak it up. We developed a good bond. We were meant to do an album together called ‘Huncho and The Woo’. We’re still going to use [those songs] and drop them. We had started working on it in London with DJ Mustard.” After the colossal response to the duo’s previously released collaborations, 2020’s impeccable club-fillers ‘Shake The Room’ and ‘Aim For The Moon’, it’s devastating to think what could have been.

Offset was similarly in awe of Juice WRLD, an amazing freestyler whom he witnessed at work in Los Angeles: “He did a few songs and he has the same passion as us in music. He goes straight in there and doesn’t like to play around in the studio. Off the top like he is, he lets it come to him but he’s a great artist man. Bro was hard.” Takeoff adds: “I had a conversation with him on the phone. He’s a good person.”

In working with the new generation, the Migos underline their longevity, proving wrong the naysayers who’ve doubted their lyricism and influence. There have certainly been moments in their career that have threatened to dethrone them.

NME Cover 2021 Migos
Credit: Marcelo Pancote

In 2017, at the height of the SoundCloud rap era, Migos were still flying in the rap game after the fan-favourite ‘Culture’. In June of that year, the group attended the BET Awards, running into the hosts of Complex’s popular YouTube livestream Everyday Struggle on the blue carpet. An awkward interview ensued as abrasive ex-host Joe Budden grilled the trio and co-host DJ Akademiks asked them why Takeoff didn’t appear on their career-defining hit ‘Bad And Boujee’. The tension heightened when the Migo in question insisted he “wasn’t left off” the track, Budden stormed off and an altercation ensued between his and the trio’s entourages.

The much-memed incident threatened to turn Takeoff into a punchline, playing into a general theme whereby his contribution to the group is badly underrated among rap fans. After the whole ‘Bad And Boujee’ debacle, it seemed like open season on Takeoff, with Apple Music’s DJ Ebro suggesting in an interview – to his face – that his rhymes were often inaudible. “I always been respected by the group,” Takeoff says today, “and, regardless, we’re all still three different monsters. You hear my brothers; you hear me. We all gon’ bring the bag and split it.” Migos wouldn’t be the Migos without him.

“The bigger we get, the bigger we’ll be individually” – Offset

“We’ll be solidified as the greatest rappers alive,” says Quavo. “We’ve already [solidified our place in rap] with ‘Culture I and II’, but [‘Culture III’] is just the cherry on top. It’s the final one , and it’s going to let people know that we’re here to stay. We see these comments saying that we’ve gone somewhere else, or that we’ve fell off, or that we’re too industry.”

Migos have conquered the streets and now ride under the tall palm trees of Los Angeles. Looking back at their back catalogue, you cannot deny their credentials: two Platinum albums, 11 Platinum and 12 Gold singles. And let’s not forget their lavish lifestyles, glimpsed via Offset and his megastar’s wife Cardi B’s jaw-dropping Instagram posts. The critics who dubbed them one-trick ponies who would stand the test of time have clearly been proven wrong. The Migos, who next year will celebrate ‘Versace’’s 10th anniversary, are revolutionaries, like it or not.

NME Cover 2021 Migos
Credit: Marcelo Pancote

Asked what’s next for them and whether they want out soon, Quavo speaks for all three Migos: “We want to go to the moon.” Their camaraderie is their special sauce, and that’s probably what has kept the group alive all these years. “The bigger we get, the bigger we’ll be individually,” insists Offset.

Explaining that they’ve always stayed true to their roots, Quavo lays out the true secret to Migos’ unstoppable rise: “We’ve been all over the TV screens, and some people don’t get what we’re doing. You can’t knock the hustle – we’re the closest thing to the industry and the streets. So as we talk to the youth, we want you to know that we’ll always come back and give you what you need. Our fans made us the greatest group in the world.”

Migos’ ‘Culture III’ is out now