Despite a few bright moments, Culture III is just another Migos album with little to say.
There’s an alternate timeline where Culture III never came to be, where, following the January 2018 release of Culture II, the trap trio went on to successful solo careers, Quavo Hunhco, The Last Rocket, and Father of 4 establishing each respective artist as an individually formidable creative force. Yet, not one of them resonated with audiences beyond an initial curiosity factor (Quavo Huncho’s truly out-there album art and Madonna feature likely the source of most of that intrigue), and to make matters worse, each Migo would go on to find themselves embroiled in increasingly dire PR nightmares: first Offset and Cardi B’s near divorce, the result of his infidelities and a dubious public campaign to win her back, and then a 2020 civil suit against Takeoff, naming him as a perpetrator of sexual battery and a litany of associated crimes. Most recently, Quavo’s high profile relationship with Saweetie came to an ugly conclusion which he commemorated with a series of nasty, slanderous social media posts (these were quickly undercut by leaked elevator camera footage showing him getting physically aggressive with her). There being safety in numbers, the three scandalized Migos reconvened to brew up Culture III, their fourth studio album and latest entry in the Culture series; responsible for making the group Top 40 mainstays.
In returning to their iconic group dynamic, the three Migos have seemingly managed to shake off the creeping bad press, fans and media folks alike thirsty for an event album of Culture III’s proportions. And sure enough, this is a big album, clocking in at 75 minutes, which makes it longer than the first Culture (58 minutes), though shorter than the massive Culture II (106 minutes), the one thing linking these three projects together really just being the epic amount of time they’re allowed to run on. These albums weren’t necessarily “good” in the traditional sense, though this was because they weren’t albums in the traditional sense, more like loosely sequenced collections of singles aimed at gaming streaming numbers. But despite the cynical origins of their design, the resulting products were pretty sick, pure trap maximalism built for stadiums by the genre’s hottest producers, albums composed of nothing but the most hyped hits. Culture III keeps to this format, but momentum has clearly been lost, which is trouble for an album this hefty, stretches of it losing focus and definition when experienced as a whole. These three still have an impressively honed chemistry and satisfyingly synchronized flows, but there’s a clear disinterest in taking their style into new territory, barring a couple songs that make room for slightly more mature, reflective lyrical content. “Time for Me” and Bieber-featuring “What You See” offer specific autobiographical detail generally forgone or disguised in Migos’ songwriting, with the former song musing on the groups’ journey now a decade on, and the latter giving the guys space to get romantic, with Offset directly addressing critics of his marriage (“Do not judge a thug, do not judge the way I love, I know I fucked it up.”)
While such moments of faux-vulnerability don’t really impress, “Antisocial” (with its posthumous Juice Wrld hook) suggests that the Migos aren’t incapable of being reflective, matching the late singer/rapper’s wistful tone in homage to him and various artists from the scene, gone before their time. It’s a nice track boosted by a strong feature, which is actually the strongest compliment you’d likely give any of these songs, which for the most part, live and die by the quality of their guest artist (Drake’s meandering 2.5-minute verse on “Having Our Way” probably the low point, though amusingly, he seems to assert an official Migos Hierarchy, referencing Takeoff as “the third Migo”). The tracks that find the Migos guestless stand out less (“Birthday” has a fun fake D.J. Mustard beat, not bad), though their writing can still be funny and twisty; Quavo still with a knack for drumming up strange, convoluted bars in service of wacky rhyme schemes (“I’m likin’ her natural ass, no fraud / if she got a fake ass, of course / girl, ain’t nothin’ wrong with enhancin’, it’s yours”). But alas, such bright moments on Culture III are sporadic and spread thin across these four- to five-minute tracks, not really offering any indication of where the Migos could go next, nor the sense that they’re really looking beyond the immediate.
Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 2.