Quavo has the juice. He’s arguably had it all along, but he certainly has it now that no one short of 2 Chainz can out-rap him on sight, over any beat, and on any tier of the pop charts. Since his spectacular cold open on Kanye West’s posse cut “Champions,” released in June 2016, Quavo’s been on a spree of stellar guest verses that are launching him further and further away from the trap. Just last Friday, the following four different singles dropped: Katy Perry’s “Bon Appétit,” DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One,” Sean Paul’s “Body,” and Mary J. Blige’s “Glow Up” — all featuring Quavo, who affords these lead artists credibility within a new hip-hop generation.
First and foremost, however, Migos excels as a group. In January, they dropped their first chart-topping album, Culture, and their first-ever no. 1 single, “Bad and Boujee.” These achievements are the group’s biggest coup yet. Once regarded as just the latest Atlanta radio fad, the trio have proved to be surprisingly durable in the mainstream. While Quavo frequently operates on his own, nothing suggests that any sort of Migos split or sabbatical is imminent. But superstar rap groups tend to disintegrate into solo careers, and such disintegration tends to favor one breakout star over the others. In the original Rich Gang, it was Young Thug. In Rae Sremmurd, it’s Swae Lee. In Migos, it’s Quavo over his cousin Offset and his nephew Takeoff. Quavo’s late run of guest verses are his bid for ubiquity. He’s yet to go solo, but even as Migos endures as a unit, Quavo has taken to moonlighting way more frequently, and far more prominently than his partners. Right now, he’s everywhere he could possibly want to be.
We’ll get to all that momentarily. First, watch Quavo’s iconic Rap Snacks freestyle so we’re all on the same page regarding what this man is all about.
Migos is a tricky group to follow with an ear toward individuation. They’re not N.W.A., a group with four rappers (Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre) who inhabited sharply differing personas, with disparate solo-song concepts to match within the broader context of the group. In contrast, to distinguish the three Migos from one another, you must study their voices, their flows, and their subtle differences in presentation. Takeoff is the romantic; yes, all these guys rap about love and lust, but the youngest Migo is the least crude in doing so, and the most likely to make a decent impression on a shorty’s parents. Offset is the burly loudmouth who charges into his verses with flames splashing from his mouth, and he speaks with the deepest, harshest voice. And then there’s Quavo, the cutest Migo with the brightest smile, the easiest voice, the goofiest lyrical concepts, and — most importantly — the fiercest hustle. It’s that latter advantage that’s effectively made Quavo the group’s ambassador, if not actually its team captain.
Quavo’s solo test run has proved to be so prolific, in fact, that he’s able to flood your Spotify playlist with his voice as heard on other musicians’ new releases. On last Friday alone:
- “Bon Appétit,” which features all three Migos rapping together about sex, food, and sexy foods (such as cherry pie) at the behest of Katy Perry. Quavo: Whipped cream, no dairy / She got her hot light on, screaming, ‘I’m ready!’”
- “I’m the One,” which puts Quavo with familiar collaborators Lil Wayne and Chance the Rapper, plus Justin Bieber singing the hook. Quavo: “You can run inside my life from that fame bus / ’Cuz I promise when we step out you’ll be famous.”
- “Body,” the best of these four tracks, a true booty-popper, featuring the entire Migos squad, with song-of-the-summer aspirations. Quavo: “She told me get rid of my chicks on my roster / OK, OK, OK! / It’s cool, girl, whatever you say.”
- “Glow Up,” the worst of these songs, by far, as it features Quavo, Missy Elliott, DJ Khaled, and Mary J. struggling to find common stylistic ground on an off-the-rack, Bryson Tiller–core beat. Quavo: “She think ’cuz I bought her shoes / that’s gonna make the news.”
You’ll notice that these verses all emphasize Quavo’s softer side, which has steadily claimed a greater share of the young trapper’s public persona. For the love of pop crossover, he’s pulling a Ja Rule in 2000. (That sweetness is missing from Drake’s recent song, “Portland,” where Quavo compares himself to Ike Turner.) Still, his best work of the past several months isn’t to be found on any of these songs, or on Post Malone’s “Congratulations” — a top-20 record that’s Quavo’s highest-charting feature at the moment — or even on Culture, but rather on yet another feature-heavy bonanza, “Castro,” a December 2016 song that failed as a Yo Gotti single but nonetheless endures as a capture of Quavo’s ascendant brilliance:
There’s Quavo’s tragicomedy in nutshell; dorm-room philosophy, cartoon blues, and heavy narcotics, all familiar trap themes that he hits with utmost dexterity and bounce. He sings those four bars, by the way. He raps all the bars that precede them, but as soon as the birds enter the picture, Quavo breaks into song; he soars. And then he drops his voice and plummets back through the clouds for his last eight bars. There’s a haphazard proficiency to so much of Quavo’s rapping, evident since we first heard him open the original version of the Migos’ breakout hit “Versace” by repeating the name “Versace” 38 times. Who’d have guessed that such a knucklehead would quickly become one of the most capable rappers of his generation? Midair, there’s no trick his voice can’t pull off. Quavo’s flows are all jet streams. They’re taking him places.