Migos on Police Brutality, History Repeating Itself & How Drake 'Bit the Flow'
Transgressions against the Migos crew do not go unpunished.
I'm learning this the Migos way, inside a corner office in 300 Entertainment's Manhattan headquarters, as my suddenly sweaty palms grip the arms of a wooden chair upholstered with soft cushions and metal studs. Takeoff, 21, sits in disbelief of my wrongdoing while Quavo, 24, contemplates a justified atonement.
Quavo suggests "Vanilla Ice," alluding to the hip-hop urban legend of Suge Knight once dangling the '90s rapper from his Beverly Hills balcony. The gavel slams. My once comfy seat is now an airborne torture transporter being carried toward the room's tall windows by burly crew affiliate Migo Bands. I'm still sitting, thinking, 'Jesus, take the chair.'
My crime? Penning a hip-hop adaptation of the children's tale The Three Little Pigs that swaps out the small hogs for the Migos trio: The Three Little Migos. Their former rival, Chief Keef, represents the Big Bad Wolf.
"You had my house blown down or some shit," Takeoff complains, his locks restrained by a rubber band. "Ain't nobody gonna blow my shit down... How disrespectful is that?"
"We wanna see you make a house outta paper right here," Quavo says. "You gotsta pay."
Migos is feeling merciful today, though. Midway to the fourth-story window, the punishment is reconsidered. Perhaps their benevolence is due to the impending release of Yung Rich Nation (out now), the Atlanta group's debut studio LP. The group calls the project the high point during a year of ups and downs. The LP has features by Young Thug and Chris Brown and production by Zaytoven, but it's an explicitly Migos affair. Between rolling blunts with weed the size of small marbles, they'll occasionally answer questions via rhymes from the album.
Amongst 2015's valleys is the incarceration of third Migos member Offset, who's been detained at Bulloch County Jail in Georgia since April, when members of the group were arrested during Georgia Southern University's Spring Bling concert reportedly on drug and gun charges. Offset was denied bail.
Four songs on Yung Rich Nation do not feature Offset vocals, yet Migos has the 23-year-old's full support. "The train gotta keep going," Offset told Billboard in May. "I'm not gonna be here forever, so why stop now? The music don't stop. We gotta keep pushing."
Quavo and Takeoff do just that in a sit down with Billboard to speak about channeling N.W.A on Yung Rich Nation, Disney's Aladdin, and why President Obama is a "real gangster." And then, retribution. "Twenty pushups," Quavo insists before I exit the office. "We wanna see your chin touch the floor."
Migos has released several mixtapes and street projects. Was the process any different for your first album?
Takeoff: The process is the same [but] we gotta hit every angle because it's an album. We can't think the same way. A mixtape we put out might just be trap, trap, trap -- and one song for the ladies. Now we trying to leave out nothing. We gonna hit the trap, give something for the ladies, go West Coast on you. East coast, up north, down South.
Yung Rich Nation has a big name feature in Chris Brown on "Just For Tonight," but you didn't go grab a DJ Mustard beat and make the same song everyone else is already making. It still sounds like a Migos record.
Takeoff: We trendsetters, not trend sweaters.
Quavo: We came up with the concept. Chris had the vocals and we made magic, man. Put it in the pot made it hot, man.
Did you think of him specifically for the song? How did it come together?
Quavo: [In an Italian accent] Aye man, we can't tell you the recipe to the Crabby Patties. You may not know the recipe!
Initially the album cover was supposed to be in 3D, but you switched it up close to the release. What happened?
Quavo: That was the album cover fa'sho, it was just showing the growth. With the vault, as you look at the old Y.R.N. mixtape, it was resembling that with new poses. We never did the 3D thing and we didn't know how that was going to look. It came back hologram, and we wanted it 3D.
Was the recording process affected after Offset was incarcerated or was most of the album already complete?
Quavo: The album was already done, [except] a couple of songs, about four songs...
Takeoff: "Spray The Champagne," "Gangsta Rap," "Cocaina"...
Quavo: The ones you don't hear him on, those are the ones that we had to when it was crunch time to turn the album in. But we got his full support and got his approval.
Takeoff: He's with us.
Quavo: We've got more songs we could've substituted with him on it but those are the songs we chose. As artists, we're always going to like the songs we just now made over the songs we made a year ago.
Had you considered having his rap a verse over the phone?
Takeoff: We did it before.
Quavo: We did it before but it didn't come out as good as it should. We feel like he'll be home soon enough to give y'all what y'all want. He's not in there that long for y'all to hear something in jail, man. He'll be home soon.
When I spoke to him in May, he compared the way Migos is targeted by police to N.W.A 25 years ago ("They're treating us like we're like the new N.W.A"). On Yung Rich Nation, "Highway 85" and "Gangsta Rap" both sonically seem to have some N.W.A influence. Do you feel any kind of parallel between Migos and N.W.A?
Quavo: We just feel like history repeats itself. You ain't never going to see nothing brand new, you're only going to see when records are broken. And we're here to just set records and set trends and follow the footsteps that have been shown to us. They led the way -- for a group to speak their mind and talk that shit that n----s wasn't talking.
Are you going to see Straight Outta Compton?
Quavo: Most definitely.
Takeoff: We got to.
Speaking of movies, there are at least two Aladdin references on the new album.
Quavo: We just compare our lifestyle to movies so you can relate to them. When I say 'I bought a carpet from Aladdin so I could finesse and do magic,' that means I had to get me a new whip or I had to get me something in disguise to work my magic, to finesse, to get out of here.
Takeoff: We use it in reference so the kids can know, too.
There's a lyric on "Migos Origin" that says 'Your favorite rapper he be biting.' That's a very relevant line right now, with Meek Mill accusing Drake of using ghostwriters.
Takeoff: 'Your favorite rapper he be biting! When I step in the booth, it's a moment of silence.' Everybody trying to bite the style ever since we made 'Versace.' But they don't give us credit.
Quavo: [Raps] 'Give up the credit when credit due/ Ooh! Louis Vuitton on my shoe/ Ooh! Who the hell is you?/Ooh!...'
Takeoff: We influenced the game. We had a big impact on the game though.
Quavo: [Raps from "Rocky Balboa"] 'You say you wanna change the game, then you gotta make a name.'
Did you have anyone in line with that rhyme?
Takeoff: Your favorite rapper. Who's your favorite rapper?
Drake, at the moment.
Takeoff: Drizzy? Drizzy bit the flow.
Quavo: C'mon, Drizzy know he bit the flow! Drizzy got on 'Versace,' right? Then when I came on there I did 'Versace/ Versace/ Medusa head on me like I'm illuminati.' My boy Drizzy Drake got them bars from me. We together though. We ain't trippin' on boss.
Takeoff: Who's your second favorite rapper?
Quavo: Nah, my boy Nas, that's an OG. He gon' keep it original.
Takeoff: He spits that 'Ether.' Who's your third favorite rapper?
On "Highway 85," Offset has a reflective moment where he rhymes about the plight of the ghetto -- how the 'hood births children in single-parent homes that grow up and kill each other. That's a standout moment on the album.
Quavo: Everything that's going on. All these police treating our people wrong, man. Black lives matter, but we got fans of all different colors so all lives matter.
Takeoff: Yeah, so many stories going on, you don't know how [Sandra Bland's] family feels. So love, wishes, prayers and blessings to that family.
Quavo: Death ain't good, period. That goes out to anybody's family who died. People who do wrong gotta suffer their consequences and punishments. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Right now, it's being proven that the law ain't even been right.
How do you feel about President Obama being the first sitting president to tour a federal prison in Oklahoma?
Takeoff: Yeah, man! Real gangster, man. Stay in the White House, he gon' turn that thing gold. That's my boy, Obama. I'm rocking with him until the end, 'til the wheels fall off.
Track two of Yung Rich Nation is called "Dab Daddy." What is the dab wave all about?
Quavo: Dab is your swag. It's what you're doing, your lifestyle. You gotta be geekin', getting money, trappin'.
Is that slang that exists in Atlanta already?
Takeoff: It's the lingo that we about to set off.
Quavo: It exists in the A, but we started the dab lingo. All the Lobby Runners started the dab lingo. Shout out to the Lobby Runners, they know who they is. My boy DJ Hood Rich Keem started the Lobby Runners catalog doing the mixtapes, doing the sequels. And those are our boys, Peewee Longway. Everybody's doing it. The whole city. The whole world.
Takeoff: People try to do the dab [dance], they don't even know how to do the dab. Stop it. You're killing yourself. You're embarrassing yourself.