“They must’ve forgot we the Migos,” Takeoff pointedly notes during his very first verse on the long-awaited new Migos album, ‘Culture III’. The rapper is within his rights to respond to the indefatigable accusations that Migos have “fallen off” in recent times – but then again, it has been nearly three-and-a-half years since their last studio album, ‘Culture II’.
The Atlanta trio’s reduced activity since ‘Culture II’ is surprising given that, in their early days, they were more than capable of dropping at least two quality projects a year. Their mainstream-saturating streak of 2016-18 – as Migos joined rap’s top table through a slew of hit singles, big-name collaborations and major festival bookings – saw Takeoff, Offset and Quavo brush off controversy, criticism and critique to assume superstar status.
Rather than swiftly completing the ‘Culture’ album trilogy, however, the three Migos went their separate ways following ‘Culture II’, with each member dropping a debut solo album. The yearning to reunite and finish the job with ‘Culture III’ didn’t abate, though, and the album surely would’ve surfaced last year without the coronavirus pandemic. Migos held back by dropping a number of singles instead and insisting in any interview they gave that their forthcoming album was a) definitely on the way and b) their best yet. Offset recently declared that ‘Culture III’ would have Migos “leading the pack” once more.
You’d might imagine such lofty pre-game ambitions would result in an all-guns-blazing approach, but no: the first song we hear on ‘Culture III’ is built around a smooth and rather classy interpolation of The Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’. Opening track ‘Avalanche’ is a highly effective chorus-less curveball which gives the three Migos the chance to reintroduce themselves in their favoured braggadocious manner (“I am the shit, can’t find a fit, my neck is a fridge,” Takeoff notes of his “icy” jewellery collection).
The trio then yield the floor to Drake on the triumphant ‘Having Our Way’, with the Toronto rapper awarded the luxury of having over two minutes of airtime to himself as he ups the boastful ante: “Told myself that I would get through this verse and I’m not gonna mention the plane,” Drake winks about his private jet. “But look at the plane.”
As was the case with ‘Culture II’, Migos’ bountiful clout has once again given them first-pick when it comes to guest collaborators. Cardi B, who reconciled with her husband Offset last year, turns up on ‘Type Shit’ to deliver a typically rambunctious verse, while Future’s love of auto-tune slots seamlessly into the signature Migos sound on the flute-driven ‘Picasso’. Justin Bieber even provides a hook on the surprisingly affectionate ‘What You See’; a fine example of how ‘Culture III’’s A-list collaborators will further boost the album’s already strong streaming projections.
Migos also pay tribute to two fallen rap stars through posthumous collaborations with Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke. “Pop Smoke, rest in peace, wish I could put him under my wing,” Quavo sings about his late friend on the mournful ‘Antisocial’ as Juice, who died after an accidental overdose in 2019, candidly sings in the chorus about his battle with drug addiction and “drownin’ in my feelings”. Pop Smoke’s unmistakable husky vocal style dominates the thrilling ‘Light It Up’ as Migos compellingly adapt to a Brooklyn-style drill beat, with Quavo declaring: “New York drippin’, it’s straight out the faucet”.
The guests on ‘Culture III’ were always going to be a major talking point, but Migos also appear intent on reminding everyone that this album is still very much their party by going it alone on 11 of its 19 tracks. There’s recent single ‘Straightenin’, a back-to-basics cut co-produced by Migos’ longtime DJ and collaborator DJ Durel, where Quavo successfully nails a pandemic pun in regards to their come-up story (“turn a pandemic into a bandemic”), while the admittedly on-the-nose ‘Vaccine’ charms with its bouncing Buddah Bless-produced beat and a very-Migos hook about “makin’ money in quarantine” (Quavo also claims he’s “bigger than Bill Gates”). Migos’ latest reunion with producer Zaytoven, who helmed their 2013 hit ‘Versace’, is also very welcome here: the insistent ‘Roadrunner’ see Quavo, Offset and Takeoff exercising their trademark triplet flow.
‘Culture III’ is more focused than its exhausting 24-track-long predecessor, but a stricter edit here could’ve enhanced the experience even further: ‘Birthday’, ‘Why Not’ and ‘Handle My Business’ hamper the album’s pace towards the end. Quantity over quality would have been a tempting tactic for Migos after their unusually long period away, but it would have been refreshing had ‘Culture III’ been presented as a strong and compact dozen-track experience.
Such grievances don’t detract, however, from the overall impression that, with ‘Culture III’, Migos have successfully picked up from where they left off in 2018. This latest chapter in the trio’s career certainly seems unlikely to be overlooked by the masses who have embraced the group for the best part of a decade. Takeoff can rest easy, then.
Release date: June 11
Release label: Quality Control Music / Motown Records / UMG Recordings