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Who Won ‘Culture II’?

No one wants to detract from how good the three are together, but who was the best Migo on the sequel to last year’s Grammy-nominated record?

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Culture II is long. 105 minutes long, to be exact. But how tedious the album feels is partly dependent on when you were first acquainted with Migos, and their tendency toward doing the absolute most. For example, if you were tweeting lyrics all weekend when YRN dropped in June 2013 (“Pizzeria, way I’m playin’ with the dough / If the feds wanna talk, I just tell ‘em I don’t know!”), or holding your breath for the following year’s No Label II (26 tracks! Machine Gun Kelly!), maybe Culture II is customarily extensive, and not excessive.

Their 2017 sophomore album, Culture, was an unqualified success: prime placement in plenty of year-end lists, platinum certification, a Grammy nom, an undeniable no. 1 song. We no longer need to explain the Beatles comparisons, and they have “Official Song of NBA All-Star Weekend 2018” juice now. Part Deux is a big, cinematic album with a big, cinematic runtime. Eleven more songs, no skits. A Finish Line TV spot. Plasticky motorcycle leather and neon lighting. Cardi B and Nicki Minaj:

It’s unfortunate, then, that the album is about 11 songs overweight. It begins with a brazen and lukewarm intro (“Bigger than Oprah, Mayweather 50-0, culture”) and doesn’t build up a full head of steam until five songs in (“Auto Pilot,” oh my God). But on the whole, it rewards you with what you want (rapping, about watches, cars, and other, gaudier signifiers of wealth, like zoos) and a lot of it. Think of Culture II as you would Shoot ’Em Up, an absurdist action movie–Bugs Bunny pastiche from 2007 that’s actually shorter than this album by 19 minutes. You’re there to see Clive Owen toe tag people and have sex with Monica Bellucci—simultaneously, if he can swing it—but then you want to leave the theater. But still: Who is the album’s Clive Owen? Who’s the leading man?

Your first thought might be Quavo, but who is it if it’s not him? The consensus seems to be Offset, is always Offset, at least since “Bad and Boujee.” His focused, pictorial verse on “Narcos” is proof positive, if you ask people on the internet: he says he bought his mom an Hermes-Fendi couch and himself a pterodactyl.

But nonchalantly, quietly, covertly, Takeoff sneaks in to lay the song to rest. He rattles off a verse that’s better, twistier, and more menacing than either of the other two (these couplets straddle a flow switch):

Static, nigga turn mean about the cabbage,
Kill his whole family if he run off with your package
I just put a pack on the way to Bogota,
Poke his eyes out, ain’t no tellin’ what he saw

This is not to distract from how good the three Migos are conjoined, like when they attack a roughly 10-year-old Pharrell beat in fun-loving unison on “Stir Fry,” or take the oath of omerta together on “Made Men,” or when they all get upstaged by an incredibly judicious 2 Chainz on “Too Playa.” But we know how well they work as a unit. There are still three of them, and one has to have top billing; our insatiable need for there to be winners and losers demands it. Also, Quavo fed into the ongoing debate over the group’s power rankings during an interview with Ebro Darden on Beats 1 in the lead-up to Culture II. “My boy Take been spittin’ bars,” he said. (This is true—see “1017,” “Fight Night,” “Highway 85,” “Cross the Country.”) “My opinion he the best one outta all of us.” This was right before he announced a Takeoff solo effort that Quavo will be producing in full, “like Timbaland or something,” so some part of that claim was album promo. Still: Takeoff is always standing off to the side, cutting a detached figure in his round-frame glasses, possibly waiting to pounce. I can see it.

After “Narcos,” the first Quavo-produced track—on which he samples a Haitian compas song—there’s still so much album left. Three more features pass: robust turns from 21 Savage and Gucci Mane on “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” and “CC” respectively, and Drake pulling up Street View on “Walk It Talk It” to clown you about where you live, which is not as nice as where he does. There’s also the featureless “Emoji a Chain” which, but for the cutest car-peeling-out ad-lib ever at the 1:08 mark, has no real reason to exist. Eventually we get to “Too Much Jewelry,” where Quavo and Takeoff step out without Offset, and it feels like the first official trailer for the unnamed Takeoff album. Save for a vocoded bridge so overdone you have to giggle at it—This aineeeeeem alllllll my jewelrrryyyyyyy—Quavo cedes the spotlight so Young Kirshnik can talk about cartoonish luxury by himself for a while. Takeoff mentions Piccadilly, which might be the most affordable name check on this album, but it’s only there to let you know there’s other things he’d rather spend money on:

My diamonds drawin’ attention (look) and they wet like Willie (splash)
Pocket cheesesteak, Philly (cheese), bitch bad and she with it (bitch)
But I won’t give her a penny (nah), tryna go to Piccadilly (where?)
Rose gold’s got drillin’, oh what a beautiful feelin’ (beautiful)

Takeoff is a dexterous rapper. His gruff, throaty voice leaves tire marks on your brain. He says he’s sipping on Tylenol, having codeine withdrawals (“White Sand”); you believe him, and remember it. But he can also give a good account of himself constructing melodies too, even if Quavo does help, a lot. He glides through “Gang Gang,” a sun-baked ditty about gang shit that would sound right at home next to Future’s “Incredible” on a playlist for your cigarette boat. It’s a pop track that demonstrates Takeoff can stay afloat in the “mainstream,” and I need to tell you that he hands the song off to his uncle halfway through the second verse with this honest-to-God line:

And all I want is nachooooooooooos

We’ve come a long way since the cruelty of #doitlooklikeIwuhleffoffbadnboujee. That was one radio personality beef, two Grammy nominations, two collaborative albums, and an engagement ago. We’ve heard what a Quavo verse sounds like in basically every genre over the past two years; Offset is writing solo apology letters now.

If Migos fatigue is setting in, then at least we barely know anything about Takeoff. Throw him the ball and watch what he does with it.