There's long been a metaphor comparing the music business to a machine. And contemporary music has never fit that description better, with the technology to create and distribute art like never before. But Migos, the Atlanta trio that has become the first breakout group of 2017, might be an industry of its own. "You know how a machine is built to do one thing and one thing only?" asks rapper Offset. "Well, the Migos machine is built to make the hits!" He laughs. "No matter how it come out, it's gonna be a hit!"
It's easy to see where the 25-year-old's bravado stems from: Migos—which includes fellow group members Quavo and Takeoff—have never felt so omnipresent, so vital, so culturally significant as they do at this moment. It's due in large part to the trio's current hit single "Bad and Boujee": a bass-thwacking, Lil Uzi Vert-featuring trap anthem that currently sits at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. It has been streamed more than 250 million combined times on Spotify and YouTube. It has been meme'd. The song appears on their new second album, Culture, which is out today, and has virtually become the rap-game national anthem since Donald Glover shouted it out a few weeks back on the Golden Globes stage. "I think they're the Beatles of this generation," Glover said when accepting the award for his show Atlanta, on which the group made a guest appearance as themselves.
"I feel like it's the modern-day Michael Jackson's 'Bad.' It's a record beyond its time," Quavo, 25, and the group's de-facto leader, says of the song. After being released in August on Soundcloud, "Bad and Boujee" took off thanks to its music video (which racked up one million views in the first three days) and then exploded after its opening lyrics—"raindrop, drop top"—started captioning countless memes on social media.
If Glover's Beatles comparison seems absurd, and perhaps even outlandish, consider this: As much as those wily Liverpudlians set the youth aflame in the early-'60s, Migos have proven themselves equally adept at bringing their specified world to the mainstream. In 2015, for example, Migos released the song "Look at My Dab," whose music video featured its namesake of a Southern hip-hop dance that went viral and became the dance craze of the moment. Within a matter of months everyone from Hilary Clinton to Tom Hanks, were giving the dab a try… or, in Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's case, at least contemplating its relative value.
"We the voice of the young world. We the voice of the people," contends Quavo when I ask him whether he sees Migos as trendsetters. Raspy-voiced, dreadlocked and widely viewed as the group's most innovative and creative mind, he adds, "The young cats that out right now, they look up to us. So do the big homies and OGs. To have that status you gotta set the tone and bring the modern-day flavor to it." Adds Quavo's nephew Takeoff: "It's all eyes on us on now."
"We the voice of the young world. We the voice of the people."
To be fair, Migos have been impacting the hip-hop world for several years now. In 2013, they first appeared on the national stage with the brain lodging single "Versace." Almost overnight their triplet word flow—a stuttering, warbling, sometimes unintelligible delivery of sorts—was lapped up and co-opted by what felt like the vast majority of the hip-hop universe. This included, most notably, Drake, who remixed "Versace." Migos were soon collaborating with the likes of Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Usher. Ask them about this time and they'll say they were never bitter about what could be viewed as others hijacking their sound. They always believed they were in their own orbit. "A lot of times when people get copied, they get copied and washed out," Offset says. "But you can't even duplicate how we do it because it's just so genuine. It's just us." Adds Quavo: "You can't deny the flow. It originated from us."
He doesn't name names, but Quavo even goes so far to say he believes the group's distinct flow rejuvenated the career of has-beens and past-their-prime emcees. "The flow brought a lot of artists back to life," he says. "When the flow came a lot of people sunk into that and was able to rebuild themselves. I know for the young generation we're at the forefront but even for the older guys I feel like it's the same thing. I don't know where they would be if their music was the same as it was before."
Take their recent video for "T-Shirt" as a prime example of their genius: the Quavo co-directed video, which Chance the Rapper tweeted "needs an Oscar," finds the three rappers ascending a mountain in full hunting gear only to encounter an old white man cooking cocaine on a log fire. Quavo has a simple explanation for the video's sublime, undeniably ridiculous conceit. "I just wanted to bring the trap niggas to the culture, to the world, to the wilderness, to where it's really happening," he says matter-of-factly, as if you also might come to the same conclusion. "We not trying to do what everybody else is doing."
Migos grew up together in Gwinnett County, a suburb 30 minutes northeast of Atlanta. Being related—Offset is Quavo's cousin—the trio has been tight since childhood. "At the end of the day, we a family," Quavo says. When their neighborhood became a major hub for drug trafficking, the future Migos were not immune to its lures. They hustled by day and lived together in Quavo's mother's three-bedroom house at night. They began rapping on the side. Quavo remembers nailing a microphone to the living room wall and recording a party jam, "Boost It Up," using the program Windows Movie Maker. By 2013, they'd set up a makeshift studio in the basement, recorded and released a free mixtape, Y.R.N. and, with the success of "Versace," attracted instant attention from local music-industry bigwigs.
Pierre "Pee" Thomas, C.E.O. of Migos' label, Atlanta indie hip-hop outfit Quality Control Music, says "I had never heard a style like that ever." As former manager of Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy, Quality Control co-founder Kevin "Coach K" Lee had major credibility on the Atlanta hip-hop scene. To that end, they signed Migos to a record deal almost immediately. "It stuck out like a sore thumb," Pee says of the group's distinctive sound and incomparable rap cadence. "And you could really hear the passion in their music. When you got somebody with style, creativity and passion you can't pass that by."
The group's success has not been without its challenges. In April 2015, all three members were arrested at Georgia Southern University after police allegedly found less than an ounce of marijuana, some codeine syrup and four handguns in the group's tour vans. Quavo and Takeoff posted bail after two nights in jail, but Offset, with burglary and theft convictions on his record, spent the better part of the following eight months in jail. He missed a large portion of the recording process and release of the group's debut album, that year's Yung Rich Nation, which had middling commercial returns.
Ask him now about his time away and Offset says it helped put things in perspective. He felt immensely "blessed" to be back in the fold when recording Culture. "We ain't doing no more negative vibes," he says. "It's all positive from here on."
"We ain't doing no more negative vibes... It's all positive from here on."
There's a feeling among Migos and their management that things are only ramping up. After years of no luck convincing late-night TV music bookers of their worth, they recently played Jimmy Kimmel Live! and are gunning for more TV appearances in the weeks to come. Their fame has also gone global in a major way: late last year Migos played a raucous show in Nigeria from which a clip went viral of the crowd singing practically every word of "Bad and Boujee" back to them. "I had chills during that show," Offset says. "It just put so much energy through my body."
"It was only right we went to the mother land and paid our respects," Quavo says. "We had to get that official stamp."
Quavo says he's also hoping to parlay the success of directing the "T-Shirt" video, as well as his standout guest role on Atlanta, into more diverse creative offerings. "My vision and my creative ability is just so broad," he says. "I'm just willing to try different things. But you gotta keep it all making sense."
Migos still feel there's much to prove, though. "We established in the game but I feel like we don't got what we want yet," Quavo says. He's vague on the specifics, but in talking to him one senses he and the other members of Migos are gunning for Drake-level ubiquity: platinum records, Grammys, legendary status. For a group who often speak in sports metaphors, it's the championships they say that remain elusive. "We still ain't got them rings," Quavo says. "We gotta go get them rings and win some championships."
Coach K, having watched the long arc of a hip-hop career many times over, is more even-keeled in his assessment. Ask him about the future prospects of Migos and he says if their career is a basketball game right now the ball is most certainly in their court.
"It's only the second quarter right now," he says with a satisfied chuckle, "and we up!"