In their third studio album “Culture II,” released Jan. 26 by Quality Control Records and UMG Recordings; Takeoff, Quavo, and Offset, a trio commonly known as Migos, cleverly subvert socio-cultural norms and provide insightful commentary on American culture, revealing a deep and thoughtful attitude towards the contemporary issues faced by many young people.
The album leads off with “Higher We Go,” a song which serves the dual purpose of highlighting the importance of drug usage in the trio’s lives and also referencing the social ladder which Migos has climbed. The interplay of these two themes undermines and re-envisions the traditional American Dream: the theory that one can, through hard work and cleverly calculated risks, improve one’s social and economic standing. Migos has done so through hard work and risk-taking, but not the type of “work” which immediately springs to the minds of most.
Instead, they drove bricks of cocaine across state lines, serving packs to dangerous OGs and risking their lives and collective liberty for the dream of a better life. They proceeded to use their arguably ill-gotten gains to book studio time, with no guarantee that their music would be well received by the public or critics. Luckily for them, through a combination of quality production, by the likes of MikeWillMadeIt, TM88, and MetroBoomin, and nimble wordplay, they created a progressive and catchy sound which appeals to diverse audiences, evidenced by their crossover hit “Bad and Boujee.”
As the sage lyricist Lil’ Wayne says on Dedication 6, “What comes after L’s? M’s!” As a case in point, Migos rapidly emerged from their ignoble beginnings to undeniable and dramatic financial success. On “Too Much Jewelry” they rap about wet diamonds and speeding Lamborghinis, going so far as to brag about spending as much money on a chain as many would spend on a house. In doing so, they highlight the relative value of money: what might be a life-changing stack of cash to some is merely pocket cheese to Migos, perhaps to be spent on a tennis bracelet or on racks in the club. The enlightened trio realizes an amount of money that to them is essentially meaningless would generate pure joy for someone less wealthy.
This is a theme expounded upon in “My Dawg (Remix)” by another deep thinker of the hip-hop world: Kodak Black (sadly unfeatured on the album). He explains that “I just bought a new Mercedes (brr), but I could’ve bought the Wraith.” One might wonder why such a financially blessed young man would opt for the less extravagant vehicle, but Kodak has an answer which reveals his high-level understanding of relative happiness: “Cause I gotta feed my family, make sure everybody ate/ Make sure everybody straight, ‘cause you gotta feed the team/ Boy you gotta spread the cheese, boy you gotta split the cake.” In other words, he recognizes that the difference in his happiness with his Mercedes versus his prospective Wraith is much less than the cumulative happiness that he could impart to his family and friends by sharing his guap.
Similarly, Migos are happy to share their cash with those close to them. In “CC (ft. Gucci Mane),” Quavo raps “Give her that money, go and blow somethin’ (blow it),” demonstrating his willingness to be financially generous towards the women in his life.
In “Work Hard,” they subvert norms by contrasting the fact that they “didn’t graduate” with the fact that they “still got the M’s on [their] plate.” Whereas many take on crippling debt in the pursuit of graduation, Migos acquired copious accounts and bulging pockets through means discouraged by normative society.
For a deep and contemplative reflection on modern society, I recommend giving “Culture II” a listen, preferably after following me on Spotify (zacharyskovron).