In an era dominated by solo auteurs, Migos are something of an oddity.
A group whose internal frictions drive them forward, 2017’s ‘Culture’ re-wrote the rules for Stateside rap, establishing the three-piece as a colossal commercial and cultural force. Since then, maintaining the equilibrium amid the chaos has been a tough ask. ‘Culture II’ dazzled yet ultimately failed to match the group’s debut, a lengthy – well over an hour – effort that lacked focus, and (ironically) some Quality Control.
‘Culture 3’ was delayed due to the pandemic, and perhaps this additional time has helped bring their vision back into focus. Once again a lengthy project – 19 tracks, multiple guest stars, and an army of producers – it feels more coherent than its immediate predecessor, and matches the iconic heights of Culture’s first instalment.
Little on here feels wasted. Migos borrow the spaced out trumpets from Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’ on fantastic opener ‘Avalanche’ before rolling straight into the Drake enhanced ‘Having Our Way’. Lyrically flamboyant while continually pushing the sonic envelope, ‘Culture 3’ refuses to rest on the group’s reputation; Polo G guest spot ‘Malibu’ hits hard, while the superb ‘Picasso’ offsets bars from Future with some gorgeous flute elements.
A record that thrives on exactness and detail, ‘Culture 3’ presents three artists in complete control of their output. ‘What You See’ is perhaps the best track Justin Bieber has put his name against for a couple of years now, while the haunting ‘Antisocial’ frames the voice of the late Juice WRLD with a haunting violin refrain. Moving and moody, it’s a moment that sends shivers up your spin.
As ever, the lyrical bravado is here to stay. Whether it’s boasting of “25 M in the bank!” or lambasting critics who “don’t know shit” because “they can’t relate”, Migos lay down a marker for others to follow. Shorn of guest spots, the group-only tracks on here often punch hardest – think skeezy trap roller ‘Why Not’ or the fizzing ‘Jane’.
Two collaborations threaten to steal the show, however. The appearance of the late Pop Smoke on ‘Light It Up’ is placed within a cinematic arrangement, without doubt one of the finest production moments on the ‘Culture…’ series to date. Moving but sharp edged, it never succumbs to introspection or grief, illustrating Pop’s legacy as a stunning craftsman of club-ready smashes.
Much has been made of Offset and Cardi B’s rollercoaster relationship, it’s public highs and equally public lows. The decision to include his now-on-again partner on ‘Type Shit’ is a gamble, but it pays off – Cardi is never less than effervescent, and it’s exhilarating to hear her pushing male peers further and further and further. Now more than ever, she’s his equal in every way.
A huge undertaking, ‘Culture 3’ is marked by its dense array of sonic reference points. It’s a huge record, a panoramic thriller that places three incendiary MCs against a digital orchestra – an ambitious, lavish, and extraordinarily successful release.
Words: Robin Murray
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