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No longer the up-and-coming underdogs, and yet not quite the kings of Atlanta, Migos is hoping their debut album, Young Rich Nation, can secure their position on top. Though for the first time in two years, things are uncertain for the trio. Offset’s jail sentence has led to a cancelled tour and an invocation of the I’m Shmacked defense that the drug and gun-filled Noisey documentary on the group was all scripted, despite Offset placing the blame of his incarceration on the Noisey team itself for ostensibly showing reality. This isn’t the first time rap documentaries have landed their subjects in legal trouble, but that’s a different story altogether.
And so YRN sets an interesting tone for the future of the Migos trajectory. The album itself represents the crossroads the trio faces two years after “Versace” became the song of the summer. It neither doubles down and goes full street, nor does it completely shoot for radio appeal, nor does it go experimental and capitalize on the group’s weirdness. Instead, it does all three to varying degrees of success.
The biggest improvement YRN makes over the mixtapes is in storytelling. “Highway 85” blends old school West Coast and modern Southern trap music into a narrated action movie of shootouts and car chases. Migos are at their best on YRN when more than two lines at a time are related and Quavo’s opening verse on “Highway 85” is a great example of this. “Migos Origin” spins the classic hip-hop rags to riches tale. “Recognition” tackles a similar theme, though as the album’s closing track, it focuses more on the triumph of the riches. But the group’s real lyrical appeal is the brief moments of clarity and personality that stand out among the stacks of cash, drugs, and glimmering jewelry. “Momma said recognize God / I recognized then my momma had pain in her eyes / So I walked through the shadow, the valley of death / I’m addicted to drank and I can’t even help it,” raps Offset on the final verse of “Recognition.”
But the majority of YRN is the same old Migos. The following is a list of songs on the album whose chorus is more or less the title of the song repeated for the necessary amount of bars as per Migos classics like “Emmet Smith” and “Payola”: Cocaina, Dab Daddy, Recognition, Pipe It Up, Spray The Champagne, Street Nigga Sacrifice, One Time, What A Feeling. That’s more than half the album. And don’t worry, the classic onomatopoeic ad-libs are there in full form. Gags, farts, gunshots, cell-phone rings, and more fill up the gaps between words and lines in the trio’s verses. The emblematic flow is in full effect, of course. The group repeatedly points out that their flow has been stolen and copied ad nauseum, which is true, but it’s also true that nobody can match the pure ability that the Migos have. Takeoff’s verse on “One Time” is an incredible tongue-twisting display of technical rapping skill. Try as they might, other triplet-affecting rappers can’t match the rapid-fire staccatos that are distinctly Migos.
And yet, as the group explores variations on their formula, some inevitably fall flat. “Pipe It Up” would be a club-ready banger if it wasn’t so insistent on making “pipe it up” the next big synonym to turnt up. “Just For Tonight” is the radio song but the DJ Mustard imitation beat falls flat and Chris Brown somehow sounds even more robotic and overprocessed than usual. On the production side, the beats range from the cheap sounding “What A Feeling” to the orchestral “Memoirs.” Honorable C.N.O.T.E. handles the heavy lifting of the production, displaying an impressive range that helps break up the 808-based monotony that is the Atlanta sound of 2015. The C.N.O.T.E.-produced “Trap Funk” deserves recognition for sounding exactly like a hybrid of the unlikely pairing of words that make up its title.
But the production, much like the rest of the album is full of safe choices. Zaytoven phoned it in for his two beats. Metro Boomin’ is absent, his best work being tapped for Future’s Dirty Sprite 2. It’s a Migos album full of beats that could have been uploaded to Youtube under the name “Migos Type Beat 2015 Free Download Rap Instrumental.” The album lacks features save for Chris Brown and Young Thug, the only person who can and does out ad-lib Migos. In the end, it’s an album that satisfies our need for more Migos music but does little else. Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset skyrocketed from the band to the radio because of their unique cadence and sound. But what we get with YRN is more of the same Migos that we had this time last year with No Label 2. The future is uncertain for Migos not just in the legal sense, but in a creative sense as well. Prediction: Offset makes bail sometime in the next two months and early 2016 will see a return to form Migos that releases a mixtape with the weirdness piped up to 11.