Culture III, the new record from ATL-based rap trio Migos, comes weighted with expectations. Individual members Quavo, Offset and Takeoff may have kept busy with a host of solo releases and guest appearances in the ensuing time, but that’s been three and a half years ago Culture II, who took almost unanimous praise Culture and broke it a dozen ways, leaving fans wondering if they could regain the magic that became sufficient for the first part of their album triptych. True, the record was a victim of the pandemic, resulting in this long delay, but regardless of time, Culture III still comes after an extended detour to other projects where all three rappers have explored new mice and methods than what originally brought them together.
One of the most notable elements of the record is the caliber of its many guest artists. Almost all are massive stars in their own right, people whose individual track records would make them a huge get for any other project: Drake, Cardi B, Polo G, Future, YoungBoy Never Broke Again … hell, even Justin Bieber shows up for a surprisingly respectable hook delivery on “What You See.” Add to that a few rare and powerful posthumous appearances by Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke (who both died in the last year and a half), and you have an album where the guest talent is undoubtedly as much a draw as the main plot. And yet, despite the strength of almost every guest’s appearance, they are the best parts of Culture III are the songs where it’s just Migos himself in the recording booth pushing each other to ever greater heights.
See, it’s worth noting how good the tracks with the guests ‘performances are, if only to highlight what an impressive feat it is that Migos’ only tracks maintain an intensity and isolation that pushes them to the forefront Culture III. “Type Shit” has a typical electric delivery from Cardi B, one who seems to light a fire while shifting for his subsequent verse. “Malibu” culminates with the Polo G’s turn at the microphone, and the ethereal whistles on “Picasso” help Future and my gentlemen deepen and enrich the record’s sound palette. And it’s understandable why the group chooses “Use It”, with YoungBoy Never Broke Again as the closest: the song is both retro-cool and forward-thinking with its mix of old-school bass grooms and modernist trap blossoms, an undoubtedly exciting track that sends it all out in an exciting tone.
And still. There is a sense of intense collaboration and creative chemistry that exists when it’s just the rapper trio in itself, as they are on 11 of this 19 album’s 19 tracks. (It’s impressive how cohesive it feels for such a large company, far more than on Culture II.) Right from the start, the new album casts doubt on any concern about creative stagnation. “Avalanche” starts with horns from “Papa Was A Rollin ‘Stone” and immediately establishes itself as one of the best things they have done. “Young, rich and black / we beat the tax,” Quavo announces, and the next three minutes take it up. And “Straightenin” enhances the previous song’s Drake-assisted mood, no small feat. And back-to-back-to-back, club-waving successes “Birthday”, “Modern Day” and “Vaccine” (as well as only Migos tracks like “Jane” located between guest seats) show that when it comes to the time-honored tradition of trumpeting capitalist success, almost no one does so with more verve and unexpected twists.
It is too early to say how lasting Culture III will be critical, although there is almost no chance that its commercial success will be less enormous than the first two. But it can be a testament to the strength of a close-knit combination of artists that proves they are best when they stand alone. Ironically, it is the unity between these three distinctive, idiosyncratic rappers that makes them feel as legendary as their self-mythologization has always insisted. Like Run The Jewels or Outkast, it’s the stormy push-and-pull of different styles and strengths that creates Migos’ greatest moments – a trio of unique talents that require each other’s presence to add up to more than the sum of their parts .