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Mixtape Primer: Migos' Winding Journey to Defining 'Culture'

From Rolling Stone - September 6, 2017

Migos' Culture-defining success this year was past due. The trap Brady Bunch's near Beatles-length catalog shows how they commanded and demanded respect for years before "Bad and Boujee." Cousins Quavo and Offset made Three 6 Mafia's triplet flow fashionable enough for Gwen Stefani. Paul Ryan did the dab, a dance Migos introduced two years ago, to prove he was not out of touch. A jingle they improvised for sour cream chips became the basis of Ayo and Teo's social media smash "Rolex." Yet since Drake remixed "Versace" in 2013, to folks citing his cosign for their success, Migos has churned out proof they would have performed on Ellen regardless. "Gon' through so many losses, it's only right that we win," Takeoff rapped in 2012. That lyric still checks out.

GUIDE:
** Juug Season (2011)
**No Label (2012)
*** Y.R.N.(2013)
*Streets on Lock(2013)
*Streets on Lock 2 (2013)
Streets on Lock 3 (2014)
** World War 3D: The Green Album (2015)
***Rich Ni**a Timeline (2014)
** Still on Lock (2015)
** Back to the Bando (2015)
** Streets on Lock 4 (2015)
**YRN 2 (2016)

Migos hails from Gwinnett County, Georgia, which, because of its wealthy white suburbs outside the perimeter, is not regarded as Atlanta proper. Migos have not shied away from that fact. But before they'd put the Nawf on the map, in their parlance, Migos first took cues from in town. By the time the group released 2011 debut mixtape Juug Season, Dungeon Family member Future had come into his own with "Watch This" and Dirty Sprite. Migos clearly noticed, with how they tried on his mush-mouthed, Auto-Tuned croon for size, to warble Kroger-brand lyrics about being stickup kids at the trap. The still-teenaged group would not look to Kirkwood for long, though. No Label arrived less than a year later. And, save for a post-"Silky" "no homo" or two, Migos' turns of phrase are now inside joke-level specific. Theystart matching hooks so repetitive that words lose meaning, to verses where they out themselves as pop culture junkies. "Black and grey, old Cutlass, George Gervin / Fuck your mama, make you Mad, call me Melvin / Drugged up, I am 'bout to overdose, call me Elvis," Takeoff raps to Lex Luger-inspired bombast in "Tupac & Biggie." Migos would not do a song as eerily spacious as "Bando" again until Culture's double-platinum "T-Shirt." But, with how an abandoned house with boarded-up windows becomes just "bando," the No Label highlight is only an early example of how the best Migos songs may as well be haikus.

In 2013, Offset was incarcerated in DeKalb County after taking a guilty plea to a probation violation. His absence left Quavo and Takeoff alone to tag-team as a duo. Yet it was not until after Migos' next tape when people realized something was awry. Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas) is so exuberant, so filled with ideas on how to have fun with trap rap parameters, you forget Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy were featured. Migos' action bubble ad-libs, while teased out in No Label, reach Mortal Kombat levels of absurdity ("FLASH!" "SMASH!"). So do the specificity of their punchlines. They have the audacity to claim they'd rather be rich, then famous. They do not watch out for just snakes, but rats like Stuart Little. "White" gets nicknamed Lindsay Lohan like in "Bando," but also Katy Perry and Disney Channel's Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire. Y.R.N.'s least successful track is a still-amusing ode to a woman with many wigs titled "Dennis Rodman." If Migos' savvy somehow was not enough, the dizzying repetition of "China Town" and "Versace" bludgeoned you and Justin Bieber to submission. Once Drake and Kanye West adopted Y.R.N.'s speedy triplets flow, Migos went from copying to being copied. Before the novelty of that newfound fame ("Versace" eked into the Hot 100) wore off, Migos kicked off a mixtape series with Rich the Kid, a childhood friend who would also sign to Quality Control Records. Streets on Lock and the sequel, released a few months during that same whirlwind year, are loosely compiled but still capture Migos' celebratory mood.

No Label 2, released in 2014, ends with what feels like a Hall of Fame induction. "New Atlanta," a spirited remake of Jermaine Dupri's "Welcome to Atlanta" features Migos alongside Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug. The artists behind the original made it tough to argue with the sentiment. Dupri introduces the track, while a VH1 documentary executive produced by Ludacris brought it into the world. Still, it was not enough to distract Migos from what critics say by comparison, as they reckon with the world outside their stomping grounds. (Friday night haunt Mansion Elan is now, handily, "Migos Elan.") They see those pesky bloggers. They hear artists lifting their style, those whispers that they might be a one-hit wonder. "I know you hate that 'Versace' went gold," Takeoff says. The first half of No Label 2 feels weighed down by their defensiveness and what sounds like Y.R.N. rough drafts (compare "Antidote" to "China Town"). But then comes "Fight Night," which thrives off Takeoff's blunt force, and the flirtatious "Handsome and Wealthy," which Quavo nearly, inconceivably scrapped. These songs became bigger hits than "Versace," and for good reason: Whatever they or critics have to say about "their" style is not being discussed.

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