How Migos' 'Culture' Cemented the Rap Trio's Impact Beyond the Trap

David Rams
Migos

Listen closely to Migos’ biggest hits and one has no choice but to become well-versed in their singular lingo (sample: "Versace Versace Versace, Medusa head on me like I'm 'luminati"). The Atlanta trio -- comprised of Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset -- have established themselves as trendsetters in hip-hop, constantly inventing catch phrases unique to their vocabulary. Dating back to their first mixtape, 2011’s Jugg Season, when they were rapping about trapping with pots and pans on the corner, their street slang was elastic enough to stick with the youth. Songs like “Bando,” “Versace,” “Hannah Montana,” “Chinatown,” “Pipe It Up,” “Look at My Dab,” “Dat Way,” and “Bad and Boujee” have influenced pop culture and the entire English language by bringing their North (or “Nawf”) Atlanta roots to the mainstream.

Now with Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the second week and their Culture album fighting for the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, there’s no better time to examine the Atlanta trio’s journey to success. Despite early criticisms of being one-hit wonders, the group has experienced a lot in five years, from landing Kanye West and Drake co-signs to signing to 300 Entertainment and leading the charge in the Dab dance phenomenon. Their music transcended the distinction with a particular sound -- a fast, stuttering flow over bass-heavy experimental beats, making magic with era-defining producers like Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Murda Beatz, Nard & B, and more.

Culture, their official sophomore LP following 2015’s Yung Rich Nation, comes at a pivotal time for Migos and their career. It’s hard to imagine that the trio, armed with their catalog of hits, would get turned away at late-night shows, but that was exactly the case before Donald Glover featured them on his FX series Atlanta and gave them a shout out during his Golden Globes acceptance speech. “They gave all kinds of excuses -- not the right time, it’s not this, it’s not that,” Quality Control Music CEO Pierre “Pee” Thomas explained to The New York Times. "As soon as Donald Glover did that, the next day, all the people who had just denied us wanted them on their show.” And barely a week after the Globes, Migos gave a buoyant “Bad and Boujee” performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, showcasing just why Glover called them “the Beatles of this generation.”

Compared to their previous releases thus far, Culture is their most concise effort. The “Migos flow” is influential and a perfect vehicle for swag raps, where the trio absolutely own their rags to riches attitude on songs like “T-Shirt” (an immediate favorite by hip-hop heads), “Get Right Witcha,” and “What the Price.” Connect them with ATL veterans Gucci Mane (“Slippery”) and 2 Chainz (“Deadz”), and Migos are essentially a group whose sonic profile can mesh with anyone.

While the popularity of “Bad and Boujee” certainly make this an epochal moment for Migos, it’s still just the latest a long list of accomplishments that dates back to their first breakout hit “Versace” in 2013. When you are a new artist with a hot song, the Drake remix -- which officially dropped on his October’s Very Own SoundCloud on June 22 -- is a ceremonial bump to boost your fanbase. Migos, who were operating as a duo at the time due to Offset’s incarceration for probation violation in Dekalb County, made moves by signing with Quality Control under the guidance of their manager Kevin “Coach K” Lee, and continued to feed their fans with more mixtapes. After Young Rich N---as, Migos followed with Streets On Lock and Streets On Lock 2 with Rich the Kid, keeping Offset in the loop about their rise until he was released in October.

“They kept me posted [about] everything on the movement, so I knew from the jump," Offset told XXL. "‘Cause I had to get out and handle business. I knew everything was going crazy. I really was anticipating me getting out so I can go ahead and put my style back to the group.”

With the group reunited, Migos started 2014 with two more viral hits (“Fight Night” and “Handsome & Wealthy”) which appeared on their No Label 2 mixtape. They were rarely stagnant, constantly dropping mixtapes every few months, a series that concluded with Rich N---a Timeline, which featured the street anthems “Cross the Country” and “Wishy Washy.” This year was also the start of their partnership with 300 Entertainment, which put the label helmed by Lyor Cohen in charge of distributing and promoting their music, as well as pushing their records to radio. By far, the best Migos moment was when the Internet started a campaign claiming they were better than The Beatles. “Migos > The Beatles” was lighthearted trolling passing as a valid take, making them subjects of a viral debate that boosted their relevance, and showed how impactful Migos can really be.

The last two years leading up to Culture can be described as bouncing back to leap forward. 2015 was a rough patch for the group; its biggest hiccup came when two Migos members, Quavos and Offset, were arrested at Georgia Southern University’s Spring Bling concert for a litany of charges (including possession of marijuana and a firearm) on April 18. While Quavo was released shortly after their arrest, Offset was denied bond due to a previous felony conviction. He remained behind bars until Dec. 4, once again in a position to see his family keep the Migos ship afloat without him.

During that time, Migos’ popularity was waning. It was evident with the release of their debut, Yung Rich Nation, which suffered from a name change and several delays. Though the marketplace was flooded with Migos music -- mixtapes Migo Lingo, Still on Lock, Back to the Bando, and Streets on Lock 4 all came out that year -- Yung Rich Nation didn’t connect with their fans as they hoped, taking the No. 3 spot on the Rap Albums chart (behind Lil Dicky’s No. 1-debuting Professional Rapper) and moving only 15,000 copies in their first week, according to Nielsen Music.

The silver lining was Migos practically living in the studio. They happened to strike gold again with “Look at My Dab,” which sparked the dance craze that went supernova thanks to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dabbing to celebrate touchdowns. It took politicians such as Hillary Clinton (and more recently Paul Ryan) to see that it reached a level of visibility that rivaled “Hit the Quan,” another viral dance created by Rich Homie Quan and popularized by iLoveMemphis.

By the time Culture was first announced last September, Migos were on the brink of superstardom. The year started with  bubbling singles from the group (“Say Sum,” “Cocoon”) and Quavo’s solo presence on other artists’ records (Kanye West’s “Champions,” Post Malone’s “Congratulations” and Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone”) keeping their name in the conversation. Even when they weren’t in-demand, their influence vibrated through the rap game, as traces of their flow could be heard on hits from megastars like Drake and Future.

Fast-forward to today, and Migos are finally getting the recognition they deserve. They’ll continue to stay ahead of the curve, coming up with new Migo Lingo like “Big on Big” (my brag against yours), which will certainly work its way into our collective vernacular very soon. They’ll continue to push themselves artistically like on melodic numbers “Kelly Price” (featuring Travis Scott) and the outro “Out Yo Way.” Real talk: Culture is a victory lap for a group that spent years grinding their way to the top. But don’t think for one second they’ll be resting at the finish line. They got more work to do.

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