Migos, Rich N***a Timeline

Winston Cook-Wilson

By Winston Cook-Wilson

on 11.13.14 in Reviews

Criticisms of Atlanta trap power trio Migos often focus on the group’s perceived lack of flexibility, or their reliance on a particular musical gimmick. After the success of their 2013 mixtape Y.R.N. and the Drake-bolstered “Versace,” Migos made subdividing Gucci Mane-style flows into distinctive configurations of three not just their signature gesture, but a veritable — and sporadically irritating — trend in hip-hop. However, as their newest mixtape, Rich N***a Timeline, makes abundantly clear, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff’s rapping has gestated fairly dramatically over the course of the past year and a half. On the sprawling six-and-a-half-minute opener “Cross the Country,” they announce themselves with deft, speed-ramping cadences that are wildly advanced from their initial, more one-noted fast-flow experiments — full of inventive, sputtering micro-rhythms and melodic interjections.

Positioning themselves to move closer to the mainstream, rather than to settle in as regional heroes

Rich N***a Timeline balances the exuberance of 2013′s Y.R.N. with the wider, more self-serious ambitions of February’s No Label 2. Quavo and the gang examine their success story from all angles: From earnestly recounting low points along the “road to riches” (“Cold turkey, yeah we had to eat it/ So I take the pot and fucking beat it”) to listing the contents of their most lavish shopping bags. There are also tunes for the ladies, albeit too weird to be sexy (“Pop That”) and party anthems — that is, the woozy, ring-modulator-heavy “Came to Party,” which features some of the tape’s most bizarre and entertaining lines (“I came to party, I drink lean, no Bacardi/ OG gas taste so bad it smell like somebody farted”).

Like No Label 2 (especially the DJ Mustard-produced hit “Fight Night”), Rich N***a Timeline also presents evidence that Migos can successfully carry off stylistic detours. Though the majority of the songs rely on the Y.R.N.-tested algorithm of explosive, chanted-noun hook and spare, quintessentially Zaytoven-esque beat, the tape’s idiosyncratic moments are some of its finest. Ironically, Zaytoven himself — never content to rest on his laurels — often facilitates these: See the hard, motoric funk of “Move,” the G-Funk-tinged “Nawfside,” and the gospel-Hammond-driven “Struggle,” all of which also find Quavo turning in ear-catching and atypical hooks.

It’s still difficult to tell which among RNT‘s slightly oversized army of tracks will become forces of nature unto themselves. This is largely because the group structures each of their songs with the same radio-ready focus and concerted turnt-ness. As Migos’s once-distinct style becomes more and more absorbed into the common vocabulary of contemporary hip-hop, and the legacy of “Versace” fades, what will continue to distinguish the group is this consistent aptitude for song craft. With a studio album on the way, an unusually open line of communication to radio thanks to a triumvirate of Hot 100 hits, and a Bieber collab under their belt, Migos are positioning themselves to move closer to the mainstream, rather than to settle in as regional heroes. What is getting them there (along with some savvy marketing assistance) are their hooks and unwavering energy, not overdone triplets.