Do it for the Culture: The Evolution of Migos

“What does the future hold for the trio that's shattered expectations along every step of their career?”

By Aaron Tian

It’s common practice for music fans to compare modern groups to legends from the past. In a way it’s an honor and a symbol of emerging relevance, even if it sometimes ends up devolving into a debate about which member is most like which (“Harry is the Justin Timberlake of One Direction and you KNOW IT!” etc. etc.). As the latest trend, many are taking to Twitter to compare the North Atlanta hip hop trio Migos to Destiny’s Child, debating the breakdown of who among Quavo, Takeoff and Offset might represent Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle. In other words, they’ve been trying to figure out who’s their breakout star (Beyoncé), their super-talented second (Kelly) and their underappreciated third (Michelle).

This might seem like a completely trivial conversation to have (if you’re not a Migos fan, it is), but it represents something larger in the group’s relatively veteran career arc. It represents a moment in which every member of Migos has reached their highest point yet. In a music industry built on characters and personalities, they’ve made a name for themselves, forcing even the shortest of attention spans to take notice. It’s a milestone for any artist and particularly for groups like Migos, though given the precedent set by Destiny’s Child, The Beatles, Outkast, The Fugees and so many great groups that fell apart, it may lead fans to wonder if it all can last.

With all of the hype following their first #1 song “Bad and Boujee” and a string of incredible video singles from their album Culture (set to release January 27th), Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset of Migos have entered a new phase in their careers. Their case is interesting because despite having over a dozen hit singles since 2013 and pioneering the oft-imitated “Migos flow,” something had been holding the trio back from the mainstream. Maybe it was the oversaturation of artists borrowing their flow and sound, Offset’s time in jail or natural industry turnover rates, but it felt like something was missing from the Migos equation.

In 2015, their debut studio album Yung Rich Nation was supposed to cement their status as upper-echelon artists, though it felt like a bit of a disappointment. With no noticeable deviation from the group’s tried and true flows, most of the project’s hype relied on gimmicky attempts at influencing the culture. Some took off (see the “dab”) and others fell flat (when’s the last time you heard anyone say “Pipe It Up?”) They dropped three more projects in the next six months which had some hits here and there, but at large it felt like the group was slipping into the background of a movement that they created.

Then, something very rare in this industry occurred: They evolved. After laying low for about five months (which for Migos is an eternity), they came back with a completely rejuvenated purpose and sound. Their 3 Way EP was a big switch up from past projects, with an understated delivery, better balance between the three members and a short run time of 5 tracks that was catchy from start to finish.

Tracks like “3 Way (Intro)” and “Can’t Go Out Sad” are perfect examples of how the group’s chemistry had grown to better complement their best features. They both follow a format in which Quavo sets the tone with a confident and melodic first verse, Offset picks up the pace with his flow while putting his own spin on the original melody, and Takeoff delivers the knockout punch with an all-out aggressive closing verse. After months of struggling to find their cadence, Migos had returned with their authentic charisma intact, but sharper and more sophisticated than ever.

Just as important was their individual work that started to happen around this time. As their de facto leader and “Beyoncé,” Quavo took his ability to ride unique beats and tease out earworm melodies to the next level. Every track he touched from GOOD Music’s monster collaboration “Champions” and Travis Scott and Young Thug’s “Pick up the Phone” to 2 Chainz’s “Good Drank” featuring Gucci Mane showed the 25 year-old’s increasing versatility and presence.

Meanwhile, Takeoff broke his talents out of verses and helped sing the hooks on Migos’ last two singles “Call Casting” and “T-Shirt.” Though still more than capable of out-rapping anyone he shares a track with like on Rich the Kid’s “Datway,” he acquired a better ear for melody and had more notes to his performance to accompany his incredible technical skill.

Offset, the blacksheep of the group, had perhaps had the best year. After becoming an instant favorite among new and old fans alike thanks to his effortless delivery on “Bad and Boujee,” Offset followed up with some quality non-Migos singles like the aptly titled “Growth” and “Pop Off” with Murda Beatz or “Ask Somebody” with Mango Foo. After losing months of integral time to legal trouble and recording some verses from jail, he’s finally returned to prove his value to the group and reignite their energy. There’s even been lighthearted debate on Twitter over whether he’s the official “Kelly” of the group or if he’s still playing third fiddle to Quavo and Takeoff.

Which brings us back to the discussion at hand: Can Migos do what groups so rarely do and stick together through this crucial breakthrough moment?

After years of hard work, Migos is finally on the precipice of long-overdue major mainstream success. Even most casual listeners can easily distinguish their three voices and trademark flows (and that goes way beyond the “Offset!” ad-lib before the verse). They’ve developed their individual talents and learned to work in a number of creative arenas, both within the group and on their own. Thus far the trio has been able to maintain equilibrium between their careers as solo artists and as a group, thanks in part to their seemingly effortless ability to share the spotlight and raise each other up (something that many groups before them struggled to do). But that may not last forever. In an interview with The Fader, their mentor and manager Coach K expressed his own fear of an inevitable group fallout:

"What's the history of groups? They split up”… [Before they] signed any contract with Migos they sat them down and asked, point blank, if they could see themselves coming apart. The answer was no. "I said to them, 'If you give me 10 years of your life, we'll make a whole lot of money, and I'll make you guys as big as you can be.' And they said, 'Let's do it.’

Thus far the trio has been able to maintain equilibrium between their careers as solo artists and as a group, thanks in part to their seemingly effortless ability to share the spotlight and raise each other up (something that many groups before them struggled to do). But that may not last forever.

This is a decisive moment for Migos, a moment that may very well define how we remember them some years down the line. Will the fame and success go their heads? Maybe they’ll be able to maintain their current solo/group balance (they are all family, after all). It’s tough to imagine the three ever going their separate ways, but even harder to imagine that all of the attention they’re receiving wouldn’t make them think “what if?” Since they started out in 2009, Quavo, Takeoff and Offset have stuck together through label troubles, jail stints and so much more. As fans, we can only hope that Culture lives up to its building hype without causing any unnecessary rifts between its three shepherds.

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