Digital disruption has created a music business that’s sustained by saturation, producing a culture of abundance blurring into excess. Lengthy albums capitalize on this wholesale demand for more by bloating tracklists, which in turn jacks up streaming numbers. At first glance, Culture III, the latest 19-track offering from superstar rap group Migos, appears to be another overlong playlist disguised as a studio album, much like their underwhelming 2018 release Culture II.
Culture III is not Culture II, though. It’s shorter by 30 minutes, with six fewer songs. But what truly distinguishes the two is mindfulness. The Lawrenceville, Georgia trio are conscious of their assignment to execute this time around. Quavo, the oldest of the three, owns the facilitator position; like a quarterback, he gives each record motion, movement, and keeps the group centered. Offset, who is younger by eight months, is the playmaker, using each appearance to showcase a gift for flipping flows and turning phrases. Takeoff, the youngest, is the utilitarian, a rapper’s rapper whose verses consistently hit the bullseye.
Playing these roles and doing so consistently is how Culture III surpasses the sequel, and lives up to the greatness of 2017’s brilliantly concise breakthrough Culture One could argue that every song has a different MVP. Drake ‘s appearance on “Having Our Way” has rightfully received the attention it warrants, but Takeoff’s closing verse is spectacular. The same can be said about “Vaccine,” where he rhymes with an effortless zeal across the Buddah Bless exquisite sampling of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, but that’s also the song where Offset blacks out with one of his most memorable performances.
Then there’s Quavo’s contagious melodies on “Picasso” and his infectious swagger on the intro, “Avalanche.” No matter the track, each record runs an offense that requires the three men. And every time they arrive with an inspired earnest. The audio equivalent of several people in the same room harmoniously speaking the same language. It’s the very synergy that was lacking throughout 2018 and 2019 when Migos were releasing a series of lackluster solo albums.
Across an hour and 15 minutes of music, Migos exhibit why they don’t work well as singular artists but can make great art when they utilize their collective charisma to create a singular voice. As Quavo sings on the Juice WLRD-featured “Antisocial,” “If we don’t stick together, we all lose.”
Culture III is about sticking together, playing to their strengths, and making sure the listener knows: Migos aren’t hurt, they aren’t tired, they’re young, they’re rich, they’re up. The album celebrates how even a global pandemic couldn’t stop their progress or their paper. It’s a winded celebration. They have a song for every kind of moment: From your birthday to buying burkins, southern brunches and halftime at the Super Bowl, music festivals and intimate concerts. A collection of songs that ultimately sound like the antithesis of lockdowns and social distancing.
This is music for the return of festivals, the return of freaknik, the return of the fun, everything missed indoors last year. You’re not supposed to play this in your room, or amongst your friends over Zoom. It’s music for gatherings — going out, turning up, living our best life. Migos have provided a musical carnival for a world that’s ready to go back outside.