Capitol Records· January 26, 2018
“With their highly anticipated follow-up album Culture II, the group fails to present any evidence of staying power at the head of the industry.”
When Migos released Culture in January of last year, they gave the world of hip-hop just that: a piece of culture, a genre benchmark album that would dominate the mainstream sound for the remainder of the year. The trio from Atlanta quickly rose in popularity from “those guys who had Drake hop on their track” to the most prominent group in modern hip-hop. With their highly anticipated follow-up album Culture II, the group fails to present any evidence of staying power at the head of the industry. Instead, they fall victim to complacency and the streaming numbers game currently plaguing industry releases.
The first issue with the album is its length; coming in at almost two hours long, sitting down and listening to the whole thing front-to-back is a major commitment. Quantity rarely breeds quality, and Culture II is no exception to the rule. Half of the album is comprised of pointless filler tracks that should have been left on the cutting room floor had the goal not been to flood the market and rack up streaming plays as a fast track to RIAA certification. Songs like ‘Crown the Kings’ and ‘Beast’ follow the same generic formula: a simple trap beat mixed with a few adlib-filled verses and tied together by a signature Quavo hook. ‘Open It Up’ is a replica of ‘Deadz’ from Culture; listen to the two back-to-back and you’ll hear a nearly identical beat, flow, and even the exact same ad-lib as the base of each hook.
This repetition of old sounds is a common factor through many parts of Culture II. Migos brought the Atlanta trap sound to the mainstream during their rise to fame and many elements of modern hip-hop, such as dark, bass-heavy production and the triplet flow, are closely attributed to the group. Songs such as ‘Emoji A Chain’ and ‘Too Much Jewelry’ are classic Migos-style bangers that sound like they were taken straight from Culture. However, relying upon their tried-and-true sound for a majority of the album does not bode well for the Migos’ artistic development. While the trio does make an attempt to step outside of their comfort zone on a few tracks, most of these attempts fall flat in delivery.
The song ‘Narcos’ features Quavo crooning over a Latin guitar with injections of Spanglish and painful “arriba!” adlibs thrown in. What is ultimately created is a song that sounds as though the group briefly read Pablo Escobar’s Wikipedia page, watched a couple episodes of the titular show on Netflix, and then decided they could make a quality song inspired by the sounds of Latin America. On ‘Stir Fry,’ the second single from the album, the group attempts to shift their sound to match the bouncy, retro beat created by Pharrell Williams. While the beat itself is incredible, it does not mesh with the capabilities of the group. Quavo’s auto-tuned voice while singing the hook is grating on the ears, and the flow that the group adopts to match the beat comes off as clunky and cumbersome.
Not every attempt at stylistic change on Culture II comes out as a dud, however. ‘Gang Gang’ is a clear standout on the album, as the production is light and breezy compared to the typical trap beats we’re used to hearing from the group and the song itself is a summer-ready hit. On ‘Notice Me,’ the group makes their most notable, yet successful risk of the album: rapping over a minimalistic beat. Usually, the Migos rely on a heavy beat to aid them in creating a hit, but the barebones production on ‘Notice Me’ allows for each member’s rapping ability to shine through, each section neatly tied together by a Post Malone hook.
Despite its many shortcomings, Culture II still manages to have its share of shining moments. Possibly the greatest, and most pleasant, surprise of the album is the showcase of Takeoff ‘s rapping ability. The rapper, who has mostly been seen as a vestigial limb of Migos and was famously excluded from ‘Bad and Boujee,’ shows the world that he means business this time around. There is rarely a bad verse from him across the entire album, and he completely steals the show with the technical ability and flow showcased on songs like ‘Narcos’ and ‘Gang Gang.’ Where Quavo and Offset seem to remain complacent with their sound and delivery, Takeoff comes out swinging and displays significant improvements in his ability as an artist.
For the most part, the featured artists on Culture II are another highlight of the project, occasionally saving otherwise below-average songs. On ‘White Sand,’ Travis Scott and Ty Dolla $ign give the perfect one-two punch for the intro and Big Sean even puts in a solid verse before giving way to average performances by Quavo and Offset. Drake raps effortlessly over a minimalist OG Parker beat on ‘Walk It Talk It,’ and 2 Chainz is an ideal injection over the smooth saxophone of ‘Too Playa.’ The real shining star among the features is Cardi B on the album’s lead single ‘Motorsport.’ On the track, which she shares with fiancé Offset, the rapper boldly declares that nobody “wants to be [her] ex” and that she “turns Offset on.” Cardi’s entire verse is simultaneously absurd and impressive, chock full of one-liners delivered flawlessly. The only poorly used feature across the album is 21 Savage’s appearance on ‘BBO (Bad Bitches Only).’ Where one would expect any collaboration between the two artists to be a major success, the use of auto-tune on 21 Savage’s voice detracts from his usual menacing appeal and the horns included in the production by Kanye West are a horrible fit for both artists on the song.
With its excessive length, overall lack of artistic growth, and failed stylistic chances, Culture II falls short of the bar set by its predecessor. The pockets of highlights across the album fail to outweigh the clear influence of industry cash grabbing by the Migos and the sheer quantity of songs prevents any cohesiveness in sound or style. Had the album been half as long, it would likely be considered a quality project rather than an aimless collection of tracks dumped in one location for the sole purpose of generating streams. Additionally, the Migos flop on some of the occasions where they attempt to step out of their core sound, which begs the questions of whether or not Culture II is indicative of the trio approaching the end of their shelf life and if we have seen the limits of Migos’ artistry. Quavo’s hooks have become repetitive and borderline obnoxious, Offset is running out of original things to say, and Takeoff is the only member of the group who seems to be making any progress. Nevertheless, Culture II will undoubtedly bring commercial success to the Migos at the sacrifice of artistic quality. Massive stream
ing numbers will guarantee RIAA certification, there are enough songs with the potential to become radio hits, and the group will ultimately remain culturally relevant for at least a little while longer. – Cam Corriveau