Rich N***a Timeline
The Migos were in my dream last night. I was in the backseat riding with the three of them, and all I can remember is that Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff were all talking over each other as they tried to talk to me. I panicked as I attempted to focus on one of them, but ultimately failed to understand any of them.
This state of disorientation is exactly how it felt when I first listened to their new mixtape. Rich N***a Timeline is an 18-track, 82-minute saga that dares you to experience it from start to finish in one sitting. This might be their Ulysses. It’s a dense (these guys pack a number of words generally allotted for three bars into a single one), extended tape that will leave your head feeling like a pummeled speed bag after a few songs. Granted, the first track is six-and-a-half minutes long. Be careful, peel it apart a few songs at a time, and it will reveal itself to be some of their best work. They’ve taken their characteristic sound and ethos to the physical limit, and what we end up with is a nonchalantly hard, often hilarious, sometimes vulnerable and forlorn, but ultimately very fun, undeniably catchy record. Try not to smile when you hear the words “Treat you like a cow, n***a, you better move. Mooooooooooove.”
As far as evolution, RNT is more just an exercise in piling on what they know we already enjoy. The trio does, however, seem to be going harder than ever, bar for bar. For a feature-less mixtape that is more than twice as long as Illmatic, it certainly makes quick work of naysayers who contend that Migos can’t rap, who probably resigned themselves to that judgment after hearing the choruses to “Versace” and “Hannah Montana.” The opening track, “Cross the Country,” is more lyrically exhausting than Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” intro. But at this point, it’s not the haters, if anyone, who need to be convinced of anything—it’s the fans. How long will we be happy with Migos being the Migos that we expect them to be? They’re working with the same producers (a lot of Zaytoven, some Murda, and of course, the inimitably named Cheese, as well as a few other regulars). They’ve stuck with the style, but somehow continue to succeed in making it feel as monumental as ever. Will we ever grow tired of the Migos flow? Will they? Or will they just continue to pump out these anthems whose hooks seem to bury themselves interminably in our consciousness? I still think about the line “Got Lizzie McGuire, got Lindsay Lohan, and I can’t forget about Katy…(Perry!)” at least once a week.
Will we ever grow tired of the Migos flow? Will they? Or will they just continue to pump out these anthems whose hooks seem to bury themselves interminably in our Consciousness?
To answer these questions we can start by looking at the lineage. Gucci, for example, is still giving us a mixtape seemingly once a month. But are people still paying the same amount of attention? Hype around Gucci reached its fever pitch around 2010, after years of prolific output, having maintained his distinctive drawl the entire time. Today, his raps, or the ones that are being fed to us while he’s in jail, are coming and going like a monthly disposable formality. His most exciting work of recent years has been songs like “Hell Yes,” where he experiments with sing-rapping through Auto-Tune. His influence is vast and indisputably present today, but what people copy from him is something he invented years and years ago. As far as our Three Migoteers, it’s possible to see the same trajectory. Their blueprint, or inherited blueprint, however you see it, has been imitated up and down and across the board. You hear it in the voices of rappers who need that kind of fuel in order to constantly reinvent themselves. But again, what they’re copying from the Migos is something the Migos came in with from the jump. Does their patent have an expiration date? If they want to continue to make waves before the ripples of their initial impact begin to fade, they’ll have to eventually make another splash—not just raise their own bar.
There are of course, success stories in terms of sticking to your guns. Jeezy, for example, has managed to stay relevant by applying the same style, same persona, year after year, venturing out just a little into the sound of the time (e.g. “R.I.P.”), but keeping the core of it strapped to the same brick. And again, the aim is to make it seem bigger and more godly with each iteration. Other Atlanta phenomena like Lil Jon and Waka Flocka Flame have found their new lane in EDM. Sure, they’re probably eating off that 140 bpm money, but to most rap fans, it’s the same thing as falling off.
The author of their recent Fader cover story focuses the piece on the team behind Migos: 300 Entertainment, Lyor Cohen at the helm, with his lean group of strategic data manipulators and analytics growth hormones or whatever. They refer to a plot for Migo globalization, or Miglobalization as I like to call it. The Migos are being flown out to Sweden, meeting with pop producers, all in preparation to make Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff household names in like, Belarus or something. You know, household names like John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Bless your heart if the rock you’ve been living beneath has not been privy to the “Migos > Beatles” joke that has been plaguing everyone’s timelines for months now. This meme-ification of the Migos is evidence that their image as a three-person icon is beginning to surpass our level of engagement with their music. I’m starting to get the same feeling I got the other day when I saw this dude slyly wearing a Free Gucci T-shirt, who probably hasn’t downloaded or bothered to listen to any of the last six Gucci tapes.
This meme-ification of the Migos is evidence that their image as a three-person icon is beginning to surpass our level of engagement with their music.
But I digress. I think as long as Migos continues to include a “Fight Night” or “Handsome and Wealthy” level anthem on each of their releases, people will continue to pay attention. Does this tape have one? Maybe. It depends on which tracks get pushed. “Move” and “Wishy Washy” are certainly contenders, though “Story I Tell” (a rare moment in rap for which the '80s overdriven guitar riff actually works) and “Nawfside” (an ode to their upper Atlanta origins, subtly reminiscent of "Handsome & Wealthy" riding music vibes) are my personal favorites. The structure of the tape can be decomposed into three sequential sections. The first is just bars for days. The second is primarily strip club joints and shit-talking, their bread and butter. Then the final section is made up of the last two tracks, which function as sort of a thematic repentance. After over an hour of locating the plug whose nationality continues to elude us all, repurposing your girl to distribute sexually among the team, making lavish purchases, and heedlessly depleting a certain soon to be non-renewable Actavis pharmaceutical resource, the tape finally comes up for air as they mourn those gone, in jail, or just still subject to terrible conditions. And as such, the final song, "Struggle," becomes all the more poignant. Mentions of Givenchy toes and whatnot still make edgewise appearances, but now serve to strike a contrast between themselves and what they left behind, rather than between themselves and your general swaglessness.
As to the dream I mentioned at the beginning, it clearly represented the difficulty with which I was digesting Rich N***a Timeline. I become overwhelmed after any given 10 minutes with the tape, but I constantly find myself wanting to come back to it a bit later to peel it back just a little more. It’s condensed enough such that it should last us until the three of them return to do a pop ballad with the likes of Lizzie McGuire, Lindsay Lohan, and of course, lest we forget, Katy Perry.