First Listen #66: Migos’ ‘Culture III’

LONG TIME NO SEE! I feel like I’ve been gone forever! Sometimes life gets a little hectic, you know, and you need to take a step back, so I’ve been taking a step back from things the past couple of months. I’m getting ready to start GRAD SCHOOL in a couple of months – which includes moving into my first apartment – so I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be coming home to a place where the lease is in my name LOL. It feels absolutely WILD to be able to be given that kind of responsibility, so I’ve been reckoning with that as well as trying to furnish my apartment as affordably as possible while confined to everything fitting in my car plus a small Uhaul van and not actually being in my apartment to see how things will fit. I’ve barely had time to get my brain ready for being in a PhD program??? Who’s allowing me all this responsibility????? Who said I’m ready for all these obligations???? I’ve been trying to think as much and as little as I can about the situation. So, while I check Facebook Marketplace once every 15 minutes, I’m also crocheting a sweater while it’s 90 degrees outside as a coping mechanism for everything going on. Lots of deep breathing, too! But I’m ready to get back to writing about music because I’ve missed it a lot, and the release of the third and final album in the Migos’ Culture trilogy, Culture III (2021), is the best way to welcome myself back. 

Photo Credit (via)

2021: Culture III

(via Genius)

First off, we HAVE to talk about how UGLY the cover art for this project is. I saw it for the first time a few days before the album came out and was disgusted. The morphing of the faces, the lack of consistency in how much of their necks are showing, Takeoff being the only one with a hat on, and the font that “Culture III” is in are some of the many things that disturb me about the album art. The cover for Culture II (2018) wasn’t my favorite but it was decent, and the cover for Culture (2017) is legendary, so I’m confused as to why the guys decided that this was the cover they wanted to end things on. I didn’t think anything could look worse than Virgil Abloh’s original cover for Pop Smoke’s Shoot for the Moon, Aim for the Stars (2020), but they managed to do the impossible. 

covers for Culture (left) and Culture II (right)

Despite my aggravation at the cover, Culture III is a decent album. To me, it’s not as good as Culture, but it’s not as bad as Culture II. Like both of the previous projects, on Culture III, Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff’s bars center on the trio’s life before garnering their fame in the early 2010s and their current lavish and luxe lifestyle (featuring women, money, and several mentions of “Maybach[s] with the new curtains”), all complete with their obligatory “Momma,” “Nawf,” and “Ac’!” adlibs. Takeoff (the best Migo, don’t play yourself) and Offset gave us amazingly solid verses on most – if not, all – songs on this project, Quavo remains undefeated when it comes to his legendary autotuned outros (and gave us pretty good verses as well), and the trio as a whole places us back into the world they built on the previous two projects.  

However – and it’s a big however – the album lacks consistency for me. The project started pretty strong with the Temptations sample-backed “Avalanche,” albeit with some verses that felt too drawn out (which ends up foreshadowing a problem I had with the project as a whole), and by the second track, Culture III was starting to lack the luster of the trilogy’s genesis. Drake’s chorus is so BORING on “Having Our Way,” his verse was way too long (especially for a FEATURED artist), and the lyrical break between the chorus and the verses throws the song off. The entire thing – sans the production – feels very phoned in and was not what I expected from the guys that gave us “Walk It Talk It” and “Versace (Remix).” And that “phoned in” feeling existed in various points over the next three tracks. “Malibu” was good, but Polo G rapped too slow, “Type Shit” wasn’t as good as I hoped it was gonna be (but Offset and Cardi carried the song), and the chorus on “Straightenin'” was boring and threw off the momentum of the rest of the song (the verses really carried the track). Really, one of the most surprising parts of this project for me was how much I disliked a lot of the chorus on here. Usually, my thinking is “if the Migos don’t do anything on this track, they’re gonna give us a super catchy chorus.” I mean…the choruses for “Bad and Boujee,” “Handsome and Wealthy,” “Fight Night,” “Stir Fry,” and “T-Shirt” are just a handful of the career-spanning list of songs by the Migos that have amazing choruses. The energy of the choruses on a lot of the Culture III tracks just didn’t have the energy of songs from albums past, and that was very disappointing.

Depend on who the person, gotta be mentally strong

You just gotta run it up and never ever fold

Pickin’ up a load, never askin’ for a loan

B-L-E-S-S, niggas is blessed

Flickin’ through a check while I’m sittin’ on a jet

Niggas flex for the net, it’s some niggas I ain’t met

I can up a milli’ if I ever get depressed

I bought the semi and you know I can suppress

TAKEOFF, “MAHOMES”

But once I got to “Birthday,” things started looking up a little bit more. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love a Migos strip club/party anthem, and “Birthday” is it. And the chorus on the song is BOMB. “Modern Day” and “Vaccine” ended up being two of my favorite tracks from the project. Quavo gave us one of the BEST bars on the album with “I’m talking Patek on the wrist / Baguette go and dance on a bitch / You know that bitch too thick / You can’t even see the pants on that bitch” (it’s the energy he gave with this part of the verse….I had to play it back a couple of times!), and “Vaccine” surprised me by not being incredibly corny; I saw the title and knew it was going to either be really good or really bad. It ended up being one of the few songs added to my Spotify library; the production and chorus are both super solid on there.

But after those three tracks, the quality of the songs began to be a little shakey. “Picasso,” “Roadrunner,” “Time for Me,” and “Why Not” weren’t bad, and I enjoyed them all relatively well, but they aren’t as strong as the previous songs (“Why Not” did give me my favorite line from the project, though – Offset’s “Lift up my wrist, put the sun in the sky”). “Mahomes” was alright, too, but I like the chorus better than the verses, and the saving grace on “Jane” was the production. “Antisocial” and “Light it Up” with Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke felt weird. I would have loved to hear a full Juice WRLD verse on “Antisocial,” and the song felt extremely out of place, and “Light It Up” fell into the same trap that I feel like a lot of the songs on Pop Smoke’s Shoot for the Moon, Aim for the Stars fell into where they all sound extremely similar to “Dior,” so much so that I was surprised to see that there wasn’t a “Dior” sample on the track. “What You See” is the only song on the project that I could not get with AT ALL. They really could have kept that track; they have better lovey-dovey tracks than this (see: “Say Sum“). All I have in my notes about “Handle My Business” is that the “talking ruined the song,” so you can decipher how I felt about it lol. I will say, though, that they ended the project SUPER STRONG with “Need It” featuring NBA YoungBoy. I’m in loveee with this song! The back and forth on the first verse with Offset and Youngboy and then the back and forth on the second verse with Takeoff and Quavo is chef’s kiss x 10000. The energy they all bring to the track is so so good, and the production featuring 50 Cent’s “Get In My Car” is top tier. 

So all in all, was this a good way for Migos to end the Culture trilogy, in my opinion? Questionable. Culture was such a triumphant album and worked to further launch the guys into mainstream consciousness, and Culture III should’ve been an album where we heard the boys reaping the fruits of their labor. But it fell into a similar trap as Culture II where the album feels a little complacent (and severely under-edited) at times. It doesn’t sound like a project that was released three years after the last release. Of course, each member of the group dropped their own project during that time and worked with other people on other projects, but this needed to feel bigger than it did. And that doesn’t mean I feel like the 19 song tracklist is warranted because I’ll never be caught saying something like that. But there was an energy missing from Culture III; I wanted the project to feel like the production on “Deadz.” I wanted to hear Migos – and the guys separately – at their best. And I’m not sure this project is it. At least not all the way through. 

EDIT: I finished writing this but was still thinking of a way to explain how I feel about this project. Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon trilogy is a good way to describe what I wish this project was. MOTM III (2021) wasn’t completely different from MOTM (2009), but the ways Cudi talks about his mental health and his life feel more grown up and developed on MOTM III. He’s still the same guy, but he’s older now and has had more life experience that has shaped the way he sees himself and his world. I wanted the Migos version of that on Culture III. I wanted the sounds to feel bigger and more lavish. If you’re gonna talk about Maybachs with the curtains, make me feel like that’s where we are! Bring me all the way there! Make me feel the come up from No Label (2013). I didn’t expect Migos to completely switch up the subject of the project from what they’ve talked about in the past, but they have access to different things – and a different life – than they did before, and this album would have been a good time to bring that feeling in. You get me? This project didn’t feel like the victory lap it should have felt like. 

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image via GQ

(listen to Culture III on Spotify by clicking the image below)

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DMX exists in five different ways in my brain. 1) as the “you will not take this from me, baby!” sound on Tik Tok (edit: it’s actually pulled from “My Niggas” from this album), 2) this orchid scene (and its accompanying stills) from Fresh off the Boat, 3) “Drake’s” rendition of “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” from this cartoon parody … Continue reading First Listen #65: DMX’s ‘Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood’

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