Migos Set the Trend -- Again -- With ‘Yung Rich Nation’: Album Review

Migos
Yung Rich Nation
Review
3.5
Courtesy Photo

Since their 2013 breakthrough mixtape YRN, the exuberant, motormouthed trio of Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, collectively known as Migos, have settled into their role as Atlanta trap rap’s most reliable and influential party-starters. That tape housed unexpected crossover hit “Versace,” a chirpy ode to designer fashion that got remixed by Drake and soundtracked a Milan Fashion Week runway show. It also popularized what has become known as the “Migos flow,” the group’s rapid-fire triplet pattern indebted to Three 6 Mafia’s Lord Infamous and subsequently borrowed by Kanye West, Drake, countless Southern rappers and even Gwen Stefani. Like the rest of the trio’s catalog, hip-hop purists derided the song as shallow: The hook repeats “Versace” until the words lose any semblance of discernible meaning. But elevating these goofy, idiosyncratic catchphrases into something transcendent was Migos’ charm. And beyond all that was the hard-to-dispute sense that these guys were incredibly skilled technical rappers — at least when they felt like it.

Migos: A Day in The Life at SXSW 2015

Still, while Migos’ 2014 mixtape output delivered a bounty of brisk, snappy songs (including “Fight Night,” their most successful to date) that shifted rap’s flow de jour, it started to feel like you knew what to expect from a new Migos track -- especially in Atlanta, the current rap capital, where trends morph so quickly. But that’s hardly the case on Yung Rich Nation, the group’s first official retail album, set to be released July 31 on Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment and Quality Control. (Offset, meanwhile, remains incarcerated on drug and gun charges.) Here, the trio shakes off the monotony, emphatically demonstrating that it’s a couple of steps ahead of both copycats and skeptics who think they’ve got the group figured out. Fans of Migos’ mixtape work will find a lot to love: quirky but efficient bangers fit for shouting across crowded clubs, produced by Atlanta hometown heroes like Honorable C.N.O.T.E. and Zaytoven. Only the generic single “Pipe It Up” feels like a retread. “Spray the Champagne” honors their mixtape formula, but unofficial figurehead Quavo tweaks his flow just enough to turn things slightly askew as he toasts to his own success.

Boilerplate themes of hustling and partying aside, Yung Rich Nation offers proof that Atlanta’s three -musketeers are sharper than they often get credit for. Bass-heavy, vinyl--scratching “Gangsta Rap” opens with a clip of Reverend Calvin Butts’ now-infamous anti-rap speech, immortalized in 1994 on Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone”: “We’re not against rappers, but we are against these thugs.” It’s a knowing wink at those who think of Migos’ music as empty calories. The trio completely overturns expectations on “Highway 85,” its loping beat a nod to No Limit soldier Young Bleed’s 1998 classic “How Ya Do Dat.” The song’s finely wrought narrative details a high-speed police chase down the interstate, with detours to reflect on systemic racism and the plight of single-mother families. Takeoff’s verse even riffs on Slick Rick’s canonical 1988 hit “A Children’s Story” -- a name even the most devout fan wouldn’t expect to see associated with Migos.

It’s clear the group knows exactly what fans and haters alike expect from it, and the trio delights in subtly bucking those assumptions without losing any of its tried-and-true catchiness. Standout track “Street N—a Sacrifice,” with its wailing C.N.O.T.E. production, lays out something of a mission statement: “Came in the game, we had something to prove/Came in the game, we had nothing to lose.” Sure enough, on Yung Rich Nation, the band of brothers shows it’s reliable enough to deliver hits, but ambitious enough to rise to a challenge.

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of Billboard.