The Sophomore Album That Acted Like A Debut

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Five years ago today, the legendary Atlanta Hip-Hop trio Migos released Culture, their sophomore studio album, through Quality Control on January 27, 2017. While hours can be spent debating whether their mixtape run in the early 2010s or their commercial domination towards the end of the last decade should be considered “peak Migos,” it’s a lot harder to argue against the widespread belief that Culture remains Migos’ most significant release. The hit-laden, 13-track album is the pinnacle of Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset’s collective ten-year run — commercially, critically, and culturally.

Culture is often mistakenly regarded as Migos’ debut album, and there’s a reason why. Yung Rich Nation, which was released two years prior on July 15, 2015, was essentially a dud for Migos and Quality Control, even though it housed smashes like “Pipe It Up” and “One Time,” and some of the group’s most underrated tracks, from “Migos Origin” to “Gangsta Rap.” Yung Rich Nation debuted at number 17 on the Billboard 200 after moving an underwhelming 18,000 album-equivalent units within its first week. Whether one blames its weak performance on Offset’s legal troubles or the group’s all-around approach to the album, Yung Rich Nation has gone down in history as the Migos album that no one ever really talks about. 

Quavo and Takeoff of
Steven A Henry/Getty Images

As a result, Migos sophomore album functioned as their proper debut, and with Offset, Takeoff, and Quavo all present for its rollout, release, and promotion, Culture became the album that made three guys from the northside of Atlanta into one of the most successful and notable Hip-Hop groups of all time. In contrast to Yung Rich Nation, Culture landed the top spot on the Billboard 200 with solid first-week sales of 131,000 album-equivalent units. Less than six full months later, it was certified platinum by the RIAA. The album’s successor would go on to give Migos another chart-topping record, push 199,000 album-equivalent units in its first week, and be certified two-times platinum within the same calendar year, but much of Culture II’s success can arguably be attributed to the fact that it had nearly twice as many tracks and arrived on the eve of Culture’s one-year anniversary. Commercially, it’s Culture that catapulted Migos to a completely different level of success.

And while numbers don’t lie, they sometimes don’t tell the full story either. From a critical perspective, Culture was one of Migos’ most well-constructed albums. At just 13 tracks, it remains the leanest Migos record to date, and there’s no shortage of RIAA-certified singles or speaker-rattling bangers. Casual listeners will easily remember the Culture era when hearing any of its most popular tracks, such as the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted “Bad and Boujee,” “T-Shirt,” “Slippery” with Gucci Mane, or “Get Right Witcha.” Following the barrage of hits at the top of the album, Migos used the second half of Culture to deliver more low-key, but equally impressive tracks like the Travis Scott-assisted “Kelly Price” and the hauntingly good Cardo-produced “Deadz” with 2 Chainz. Even if you weren’t interested in listening to a full Migos project without skipping through any tracks, Culture was sequenced in a fashion that demanded your attention for its full 58-minute runtime. Hence is why it was somewhat of a critical darling upon its release.

In a one-listen review for DJBooth, Yo Phillips deemed Culture to be “one of their best put-together projects to date,” arguing that “it sounds as if [Migos] knew this was their time, and they weren’t going to drop the ball.” HipHopDX’s editor-in-chief Trent Clark praised Migos’ progression, saying, “Culture showcases Migos at the top of their artistry and there’s no indication that it’s their peak either proclaim that.” Most surprisingly, however, HotNewHipHop’s editors and readers even agreed that Culture was one of the first “Very Hottttt” album releases of 2017, and Patrick Lyons nailed his criticism on the head when he wrote, “Migos have pinpointed the elements of their style and skills that are crucial to modern rap culture, regardless of region or genre, and for a good two-thirds to three-quarters of this album, they flawlessly flaunt them.” 

Yet beyond the commercial strides and the critical praise that came with the release of Culture, what makes Migos’ sophomore studio album so special five years later is its cultural accomplishments. For starters, the record reminded fans and critics of Atlanta’s undeniable impact on Hip-Hop. Furthermore, like Future’s DS2, Culture signaled a shift within the music industry in which trap was finally being accepted as the commercial sound. Rather than “cleaning up” the sound that made them famous and hopping on more polished pop-rap production to appear palatable for critics and consumers, Migos sonically went back to the traphouse where they cooked up mixtapes like No Label, Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas), No Label 2, and Rich Nigga Timeline — and it worked wonders. Migos’ comeback album would help inspire a generation of up-and-coming artists, and quell their angst about creative compromises and being forced to commercialize their sound. 

Most importantly, however, Culture made both faithful and contingent Migos fans believe in them again. Considering how quickly the Hip-Hop community can forget about artists following one slight creative misstep or decline in sales, it makes Migos’ reemergence even more impressive. Culture cannot be remembered or appreciated without noting that by the time Migos started releasing studio albums, they were already a well-known and beloved group of rappers who had hit songs and a major Drake collaboration under their belt. To go from being one of the most popular and highly anticipated new acts to dropping a debut album that some fans may not even know exists can be detrimental to an artist’s development. Yet, Migos dug into their shortcomings with charisma and voracity and delivered a landmark album that forever solidified Takeoff, Offset, and Quavo’s placements in Hip-Hop history. 

Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff of Migos attend Power 105.1’s Powerhouse 2017 at the Barclays Center on October 26, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York City City.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

On the fifth anniversary of Culture, the debates on whether or not Migos’ sophomore album is their best album of all time can be saved for Twitter. Instead, this reflection serves as a moment to officially recognize Culture as the classic album that it is. A monumental achievement for Migos, Culture was a great full-length record that not only propelled Atlanta’s favorite Hip-Hop trio into superstardom but also represented a new wave of rappers, who confidently ignored the standards set by the generations before them and made their sound the new normal.

Revisit Culture below and let us know in the comments how you feel about the essential Migos album in the comments.

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