Release Date: June 13, 2013
Young Rich Niggas, the new mixtape from Atlanta bleep-trap trio Migos, is an hour-long, closed-circuit collection of loopy new songs, buzzing YouTube hits, and rinky-dink crack-slanging party rap that’s quickly taking the Internet by storm. Migos’ three rappers – Quavo, who sounds like Gucci Mane; Takeoff, who sounds like a more confident Soulja Boy; and Offset, who sounds like Future — dropkick into their songs with an enthusiasm that’s currently out of vogue. There’s an energy to their raps that doesn’t attempt to execute hyper-lyrical lyrical-ness, but it does revolve around putting as much passion into each line as possible and attempting to top one another, cipher-style. Migos also have an ear for beats that’s just a little off to the side of the typical trap sound. Everything about the group feels familiar yet refreshing.
Let’s begin with “Bando,” a hypnotically springy track produced by a young ATLien named Juvie. Over the world-weary production, which adds eerie decay to played-out, ringtone-rap synth sounds, Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset deliver grainy rhymes (and half-rhymes) about cooking up crack and selling it out of an abandoned home: “Trappin’ out the house with the boards on the windows / Trapped out the bando.” Yes, the incessant repetition of “bando” — a dilapidated house used for drug dealing, hiding in plain sight — might seem a bit mindless, but it’s exactly the opposite: It forces you to think about the fact that these kids are selling drugs out of boarded up abandoned buildings, a statement about how little those in power care about the communities where guys like Migos reside. By sheer repetition, Migos’ hooks often gain deeper meaning: “FEMA” (“Katrina, call FEMA / Hurricane wrist, hurricane wrist”) is a song about how fast the crew can whip up crack, but its hard to under-think a metaphor about the government abandoning poor African-Americans in the South.
Paired with this haunting couplet from “FEMA” (“Jay with the ashy knuckles knocking on the front door”), which connects victims and customers to their whipping skills, there’s a hushed sense of cause and effect to Migos’ punch-drunk songs. “Thank God (Outro)” is an actual, give-thanks, started-from-the-bottom rap (“Used to eat dollar menu at McDonald’s, now I’m eating big plates at Benihana”) with a mealy-mouthed hook that goes, “I don’t know why the Lord saved me, thank you.”
These terse nods to something more weighty adds significance to Young Rich Niggas, but there’s plenty of plain silly fun here too: Mortal Kombat references and sound effects pepper “China Town”; They share sports metaphors with viral freakazoids Riff Raff and Trinidad James on “Out Da Gym”; a woman’s stylistic daring is compared to Dennis Rodman’s on, yeah, “Dennis Rodman.” On “Versace,” the Migos guys repeat the word “Versace” over and over and over.
This past weekend, Drake appeared on a remix of “Versace,” which was pretty much a sign that Migos had arrived. Like so many superstar cosigns these days, though, it feels more like the star reaching down to the buzzing underground rather than the other way around. Drake’s rather tepid verse, lost in Zaytoven’s slowed-up, trance-in-reverse production, exposes the singular qualities of Migos. They latch onto every little change-up with something to prove, and allow their excited mumbles to careen into that ridiculous, and ridiculously catchy, hook: “Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace.” Meanwhile, Drake attempts to bleat over the thing, his reedy confidence never finding a place that fits.
Tellingly, Gucci Mane — clearly, the father to Migos’ style — doesn’t even try to compete on “Dennis Rodman.” Instead, he just Auto-Tune-croons the hook. The scene he birthed is now moving past him and he knows it. A superstar like Drake can’t glom onto Migos’ rarefied appeal no matter how hard he tries. Young Rich Niggas is a super-cut of Dirty South vibes touching base with UGK’s pain-and-pleasure raps, Jeezy’s selling-poison-as-pop hustle, Gucci’s word-happy weirdness, and simple Soulja Boy-style rambunctiousness. A new wave of worker-bee, trap-rap weirdos has arrived.