Never will there be a socially accepted pity party to pacify the plight of a superstar. Still, all the riches and success often ignore the effort it takes to maintain that notoriety at the top of the food chain. Eminem recently showed a legend’s vulnerability on his quest to please varying audiences through his latest LP, resulting in his lowest received album of his career. And despite having a legacy that single-handedly altered the DNA of both Hip Hop and R&B, Drake will forever be blemished by the moment he had to admit he uses individuals “to spark” ideas, a sugar-coated phrase for ghostwriting.
And now it’s Migos — who’ve enjoyed the past 365 days and some change — eclipsing career milestones. Thanks to their Billboard-topping Culture album + “Bad and Boujee” package deal that brought forth mainstream crossover ubiquity and more paid appearances than a former U.S. president — who are feeling the pressure to stay scorching. Culture II arrives a full year after its predecessor in obvious efforts to duplicate the massive status bump but the tight-knit trio of Quavo, Offset and Takeoff instead pull a 180° and drop off a thumb drive of songs that completely undermines their self-proclaimed “biggest group ever” title.
That’s not to say the first Culture installment was the trap genre’s answer to The Police’s Synchronicity; an impenetrable hit-laden classic that simply calls for a curtain call. Yet, between the aforementioned “Bad and Boujee” and other all-inclusive catchiness like “T-Shirt” and “Slippery,” the group easily joined the ranks of rap’s upper echelon. But Migos appear to have overlooked the time and dedication it takes to create a sound body of work. The past year has seen Quavo rise as a leading guest feature, event host and budding TV star while Offset has given Instagram followers real deal Love & Hip Hop episodes through his relationship with Cardi B. The cousins also extended their rapping talents into adjacent 2017 projects (with Travis Scott and 21 Savage, respectively) and their stretched dedication sets the stage for the generally unassuming Takeoff to easily outshine his Migos brethren all throughout Culture II.
The sheer incredulity alone of trying to pass off 24 new records as “quality control” is insulting as virtually every song title serves as the chorus with the assembly treatment. On the failed buzz single, “Supastars,” Quavo croons “Supastars, supastars, supastars out” atop a smattering of whizzing 8-bit Nintendo sound effects, and the anticipated Drake feature, “Walk It Talk It” is deflated by the Migos’ leader’s stilted delivery of “Walk it like I talk it (walk it)/Walk it like I talk it,” thrown on the blender’s highest setting. This coming from someone who’s been responsible for some of rap’s biggest sing-a-long moments in the past couple of years.
In fact, Quavo’s lack of highlights throughout the album’s 100+ minute duration isn’t limited to wack hooks. His bars this time around are ripe with Bill Walton-level sports commentary (“Shoot like I play for the Duke”; “Catch a Babe Ruth/The bat I batted the bat”; “Look at my muscles/MVP the whole game/Quavo Russell.”)
The creativity scrapes the bottom of the barrel on “Too Much Jewelry,” which, as the song title indicates, finds Zaytoven’s space-age production being wasted with four minutes explaining the afflicted lifestyle of owning more ice than the polar caps.
While the bulk of the songs can’t disguise their rush-job origins, tinges of Trap Boy Magic do spring up from time to time. Wedged near the end of the elongated tracklist, surprisingly pure “Made Men” officially marks the ATLiens’ venture into traditional Hip Hop territory. Although it was billed as a precursor for greater things to come, “Motorsport” — a Hemi engine of trap powered by both unleaded testosterone and estrogen (the latter delivered by Nicki Minaj and Cardi B) is the project’s most sturdy pillar and indicates Migos didn’t exactly lose their talent as much as their focus.
A close second arrives in the form of “Stir Fry,” an energetic rocker that finds Pharrell continuing with the buoyancy displayed all through N.E.R.D.’s last album. All three Migos deliver enthusiastic commercial-ready performances — as in perfect for any streaming service or home studio TV spot. Regardless, the few bright moments still alleviate the task of having to comb through radio reaches like the sugary “Gang Gang,” the boring “Bad + Boujee” clone “Beast,” or “White Sand,” where Travis Scott, Big Sean and Ty Dolla Sign hit the beach to simply squander studio time.
It should probably matter more that Culture II is a dud, but in today’s feeding frenzy musical climate, its lack of cohesion won’t prevent concertgoers enduring the forgettable records just to see “Bad and Boujee” performed live; nor will it quell any future “Migos Nights” at Atlanta Hawks games; nor will it stop the bag.
But when one considers how often star artists are able to completely command the anticipation, it becomes clear that Culture II will go down as a missed opportunity to obtain immortality. An opportunity that may never come again.