After 10 years worth of music from Migos, expectations have settled in. In the best case scenario, they retain the magic from creative peaks No Label 2 or Culture. Worst case is closer to the filler on Culture II, which was not bad, but predictable, with songs that fell into repeating the triplet flow formula of hits like “Versace” or “Bad and Boujee.” Daring to dream means hoping there’s a tweak in the sound we already love.
Thankfully, the best songs on the just-released Culture III are rich with different production and fresh samples. “Jane” introduces new sounds, with scolding, sunny trumpets and t sand-dusted guitars. It’s a musical spaghetti western or at least a modern interpretation of it; as if Ennio Morricone loved trap beats. It adds a new dimension to a familiar structure. The album’s first song, “Avalanche,” is even more cinematic. It’s meant to create dramatic tension for the rest of the album, and the sample of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” is a little on the nose, especially when Quavo name drops it at the start of his verse. But cheesiness never hurt anyone if it’s endearing. “Avalanche” is an opening montage of sorts, showcasing Migos’ greatest skills, and it makes you want to hear what else they have up their sleeve.
“Avalanche,” of course, is hardly the first song to sample “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” But using such a well-known classic as the primary foundation for a song is unheard of from Migos. They’ve rapped on soul samples before (see Culture II standout “BBO”) but it’s never been so overt. Migos are disciples of the dark electronic sound of 2000’s Gucci Mane and Zaytoven, so hearing them grow outside of the box is invigorating. It’s not a grand leap in avant garde experimentation but even the slightest adjustment is a breath of fresh air. After a three-year layoff, switching things up a bit helps dismiss any concern about the group’s future, albeit temporarily. It reminds you that other rappers have fruitlessly tried to replicate their rhyme patterns over the years. “We been the n-ggas that steppin’, we came in the do’ and they takin’ the flow, call it repo,” Takeoff exclaims. “Avalanche” serves as a reminder that they are singular hitmakers; there are only knockoffs of the real thing.
Culture III isn’t a Migos masterclass; the album cuts don’t reach the same heights as “New Atlanta” or “Out Yo Way” and at 19 tracks, there’s still quite a bit of filler. But it’d also be reductive to discard this as just another Migos album. Songs like “Antisocial” and “Light It Up” find them actively challenging their beat selection and song structure. More than any other song, the vibrant colors of “Avalanche” point the way towards evolving the blueprint. It’s one of their most distinct songs in years, notching another hit in their expansive hall of fame.