Migos Level Up

Migos Level Up
Photo by David Rams
"I'd like to thank the Migos — not for being on the show, but for making 'Bad and Boujee,'" Donald Glover said, as he accepted his Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series. "I think they're the Beatles of this generation, and they don't get a lot of respect," he'd later say backstage as he celebrated his win for the FX series Atlanta.
 
Unbeknownst to fellow Atlanta natives the Migos, who made a brief cameo on the series, this moment would be just as big for them as it was the Atlanta cast. In the hours that followed, Migos' "Bad and Boujee" would soar to the top of Billboard's Top 100 and become their first No. 1 single. Ironically, the hit, from their new album C U L T U R E, would also knock "Black Beatles," a song by related Atlanta duo Rae Sremmurd and single endorsed by Sir Paul McCartney himself, down the charts.
 
"We're the young people movement and we want everybody to help everybody," Migos member Offset says. "Everybody should put someone up. [Glover] didn't have to say shit about us. That was his biggest moment probably — he won a Golden Globe, he's an actor and he's an artist. He took that moment to speak on us, and that's what the culture should be about."
 
"I didn't even know what it was or that it was going on," Takeoff adds, "but for him to be saying our name when he was getting his award, it was real and it came from his heart. We influence a lot of people, a lot of ages, so we got the whole culture."
 
The "culture" that the group speaks of is one based on a series of shared experiences that transcends age, religion and various communities of colour, but is still firmly rooted in rap music and trap culture. It highlights the good, the bad and the ugly of drug and gang culture in urban cities, but also the resilience of young communities looking for change through arts and music. For Migos, this all-encompassing notion of the culture also serves as the foundation for their sophomore album of the same name.
 
In some respects, what Glover said about the Atlanta trio in comparison to the Beatles holds true — they're bold, stylish and are the voice of a new generation, at least in hip-hop culture. While they may not yet have changed the world, Takeoff, Quavo and Offset have ushered in a new style of rap built on climbing cadences paired with triplet flows and melodic hooks that has been emulated by dozens of rap artists since their inception in 2009 — including Drake, who first appeared on their 2013 remix of "Versace." Now, viral remakes of "Bad and Boujee" abound.
 
"When I made this song, I immediately called Quavo, I called Coach K [of indie label Quality Control], I called everybody like, 'Yo, I just made this song and I know it's out of here!'" Offset shares. "You know, most times you don't be knowing songs until you put it out, but I texted every DJ in my phone like, 'Yo, this song right here is outta here.' I still have the texts in my phone."
 

 
Like the rollout of "Bad and Boujee," Migos releases are often dictated by feel, and how they believe the culture will receive it, rather than relying on label marketing. Although they couldn't have predicted it at the beginning of their career, Migos have singlehandedly provided the soundtrack for club environments worldwide for the last few years; "Fight Night," "One Time" and "Look At My Dab" are just a few Migos singles that have popularized young black culture and transported it globally.
 
"We came in with our style; the way we were dressed. We didn't come in with a dance move or anything, we just came in talking about swag, we came in with the swag, the flow," Takeoff says. "Everything we did, we tried to bring it back [to history]. Everybody gets their swag from [Atlanta]. That's where it really comes from. So, we're gonna keep giving it to them, keep expanding and keep coming up with different swag."
 
The most notable contribution Migos have made to pop culture until now is the co-introduction of "the dab." The move has so saturated pop culture that it's become a cliché, as evidenced by such unlikely dabbers as Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan; dabbers, young and old, can be found from everywhere from suburban playgrounds to sports stadium Jumbotrons — most the most part without knowing where it came from, what it means, or its notable ties to marijuana.
 
While the three-man group, who first released their debut mixtape Juug Season in 2011 and followed it with the critically acclaimed of YRN (Young Rich N**gas) in June 2013, have seen their fair share of success over the past five years, it hasn't been an easy journey.
 
In April 2015, Migos and 12 other members of their entourage were arrested on Georgia Southern University's campus; charges, including possession of marijuana and firearms, were quickly dropped for Takeoff and Quavo, but Offset, who had a prior criminal record, was held in custody without bond. With one member incarcerated, the group made the difficult decision to release their debut album, Yung Rich Nation in July.
 
It marked a pivotal moment in their career; Takeoff and Quavo were left to promote the group without all members present. They found themselves navigating criticism from so-called "rap purists" and an older generation who believed Migos lacked technical credibility and, in essence, were "mumble rappers" — before mumble rap became popular in 2016.
 
"The culture means the younger generation respecting the OGs, but at the same time, bringing it all to the older generation to where they can relate," Quavo says. "I feel like we can learn from each other by us, being the young generation, giving knowledge to the older guys. That's what I want to prove with C U L T U R E, and just say, we are the culture of now and of modern-day hip-hop."
 
Unfortunately, Offset missed out on their biggest career moment to date; for him, the release of C U L T U R E is his second chance. "I feel like it's the breakthrough, like a level up album — the breakthrough album after what we went through," he says. "With this, this is like a debut, it's another life. Especially with everything that's going on that's surrounding this album, it's perfect. It's time to put the originality back into it. There are artists bigger than me that I believe survived off of that wave that we brought to the game."
 

 
To follow up "Bad and Boujee," Migos released a video for "T-Shirt" that features the trio in the cascading snow-covered mountains of Antarctica, sporting luxurious fur coats, and bearing a striking resemble to Alejandro G. Iñárritu's The Revenant. Quavo, who directed "T-Shirt," insists his vision was based on something much greater than what meets the eye.
 
"I just wanted to be somewhere that was nothing but white," he explains. "It was just about bringing culture and trap together. The song's so hard, so trapped out and so meaningful that it could've been anywhere in the trap, and it would've still done the same exact thing, but I wanted to bring culture to the trap. The only way we can bring culture to the trap is to bring the trap to the culture and that's why we went to Antarctica and made it there."
 
Its release resulted in several artists asking Quavo to direct their own videos, including Chance the Rapper, who tweeted, "Bro, could u do a video for me?" While flattered, Quavo declares that his directorial career would be limited to select people. "Only my friends like Chance, and people who really do things for me and look out for me," he says. "I'd open doors for anyone who opens doors for me."
 
In the same song, Quavo references a line by late Atlanta veteran Shawty Lo, singing, "Seventeen-five, same colour t-shirt" on its hook. While insignificant to many, the line draws parallels to cocaine and drug dealing in the South, while maintaining a coded language in hip-hop. Shawty Lo, who unexpectedly passed away in September, spent his career doing exactly what Migos are trying to — bringing the trap to the culture, and the culture to the trap.
 
"We grew up listening to music like that, we grew up on the snap music, grew up off the trap music, grew up on all the South sound," Quavo says of the borrowed line. "I feel like we just grew up watching what we listen to, and it comes out. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a tribute, I wanna say that I grew up in it, so it's automatically generated in me. We grew up with him, and all the older rappers from the South like Master P, and the way he dressed; the Versace shades and the open shirts — we grew up on that. When I hear that song, it takes me back, and when people hear it, they feel where we coming from."
 
As Quavo got behind the camera lens, Offset got in front of a lens of his own, becoming a featured face for designer Bryce Barnes' 2016 Fall/Winter collection. "I've never had a stylist or anything, I don't let people style me. I feel like I have the talent to put that into pictures, and that's where I wanna go, the fashion world," he affirms. While both Quavo and Offset have found success outside of the studio, Takeoff also hopes to make his individual debut, and asserts that he'd love to work with Donald Glover, noting, "I'd love to do acting stuff with my boy, movie stuff and music."
 
What's abundantly clear from our conversation is that the concept of the culture isn't stagnant — it's a revolving door constantly marshalled by new ideas, new people and new creativity. For Migos, it's also led by a matchless work ethic amidst a new generation of rap artists, many of whom expect success to happen overnight.
 
"We work pretty fast," Takeoff says of C U L T U R E's process. "I might be working and I might knock out two, three songs, Quavo might come in two, three himself, Offset might come and do the same. We knock off about ten songs, so the process is really quick. We work really fast; we get in and get out. We don't stay in the studio any longer than 20 minutes."
 
"It was time to glow up and we had to focus," Offset adds. "We wanted to go in for the win, come out at the top of the year and monster everything. So that's what we did."
 
Now more than ever, Migos seem bulletproof, at least in terms of having an impact. That's largely due to the culture — the hip-hop culture, our culture — believing in three young artists who had something to say, and said it with such confidence that nobody could deny it.
 
"Migos ain't stopping," Takeoff declares. "We're gonna keep getting better and better."