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Mike WiLL Made-It, if not for anything else, is known for two things: murky trap beats that are much silkier than Metro Boomin's similar, yet darker, productions, and being the discoverer of rap's favorite duo, Rae Sremmurd. He does what modern producers love to do as well: he releases compilation albums with all of his best friends and industry hot guys that lack any kind of consistency. They never last longer than a week before they're tossed out the window. Last March, Mike released "Gucci On My" from his then-upcoming album Ransom 2. It featured 21 Savage, YG, Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset.
The song's not a knockout by any means, but it's just weird enough to work. 21 Savage does his thing with the sneering threats, YG has a good laugh while exuding large amounts of swagger. Then Migos come in and suck the air out of the fun. First comes Quavo who plays with the beat a little bit, followed by Takeoff who keeps it plain jane, then Offset who just flows. The song really ends after YG's verse concludes. Without nary a hint of creativity, these verses fumble. Today, this song hilariously mirrors, in structure and content, Migos' solo album release schedule. Quavo's album tried to have some fun, and Takeoff's didn't. If "Gucci On My" tells us anything, it's that Offset's album will be the worst of the three when it really needs to be the best.
At this point, Offset's playing damage control for Migos' vanity. The group unit's shtick worked, perhaps better than it should, for more than half a decade. Their M.O. is refined trap music—more polished than the Lex Luger and Waka Flocka-era trap that was comprised of a near limitless amount of Luger imitators that lacked soul. No Label 2 came out in 2014 and is every bit as polished as Culture II with lush, thumping beats and serious flows. Their appeal comes from their ability to keep up the consistency from project to project, even if they don't quite stand out. But rumblings from outside forces, and maybe even their own egos, have put a Final Fantasy-esque "DOOM" counter on their futures and Offset may not be able to undo the spell.
Rae Sremmurd released their third studio album SR3MM under similar circumstances. Industry (and fan) pressure to separate the dynamic that had been responsible for "No Type," "No Flex Zone," and "Swang," resulted in the project being divided into three separate entities: their joint album SR3MM first, followed by Swae Lee's Swaecation, rounded out by Jxmmi's Jxmtro. This separation showcased the strengths and weaknesses in Swae's increasing turn to R&B and the limitations in his vocal capabilities. It also indicated the Jxmmi was more than just the chorus clean-up guy that needed to fill songs after Swae sucked the air out of them. Taken together, this single album format worked because it had already been previously established that they were bursting with singular ideas that didn't fit the other guy's style, enabling them to clearly separate themselves and showcase what they were good at.
On the flipside, Migos' attempt at spotlighting their individual creative tendencies just makes them collectively look weaker. Since the days of "Bandos" and "Versace," Migos have placed more importance on their flows than the actual weirdness of their songs. The triplet flow that they claimed to have invented—although Lord Infamous of Three 6 Mafia actually gets the credit for that—was their calling card and, for the better part of two years, their songs were dominated by the convention. Quavo would often lead with Auto-Tune and do the chorus, Offset would follow, and Takeoff would end with a few more punchlines than his contemporaries. It wasn't until they stumbled into a hit with "One Time" that they became a little looser and more free-flowing with their brand of trap, separating themselves slightly enough, and giving indicators that there could be glimpses of uniqueness beneath their dreads.
Since then, Migos have evolved into America's favorite group. With two platinum albums (Culture and Culture II) under their belts, they believed that the time was right to—like Rae Sremmurd before them—separate the group dynamic and test the waters of independency for an album. Fans had been screaming for a solo Quavo project for quite some time, but the time was right for it to finally come to fruition. There would be three albums coming soon after each other: Quavo Huncho by Quavo first, The Last Rocket by Takeoff second, and Offset's yet-to-be-named album third.
Quavo Huncho was supposed to be the project that mitigated the belief that there wasn't that much under Migos' lid; that they were, in fact, different than each other. But it failed to do that, and then some. Migos' frontman, and most idiosyncratic member revealed an album that largely sounded like Offset and Takeoff were scrubbed from each song. "I'm just tryna put that you-know-it's-me on my records," he revealed to GQ shortly before the release of the album. "If you hear one of my records and you know the boys are not on it, I don't want you to expect the boys to be on it." This statement, sadly, wouldn't hold up. The beats were luxe, and the flow, features, and Auto-Tune were all polished, but the end result lacked the soul that was expected. It had been hyped as the project, the moment for Quavo who had similarly struck out with Travis Scott on their group project Huncho Jack for similar reasons. Although it didn't hold up, there was no reason to panic. Takeoff, the group's dark horse, would be able to handle things from here.
The Last Rocket tried to distinguish itself with rocket launch skits but suffers from a similar lack of imagination. Takeoff truly sounds bored when he gets into the booth, no matter how extravagant the production or who's featured with him. His features often get acclaim from the rap community who salivate over his verses in glimpses, but when entire songs feature him alone, his boredom becomes apparent quickly. Across the album, a few moments like "Infatuation" and "Casper" showcase a bubbling weirdness that, perhaps, could have been mined more, but the album is largely straightforward and plodding.
Quavo Huncho hit streaming services on October 12, three weeks before The Last Rocket did on November 2. Offset recently announced that his album comes out in six weeks on December 14. This may signify that it may not be ready yet, but what it most likely means is that he's taking a minute to make sure that it's ready. Quavo and Takeoff's albums were missed moments that would have expanded the group's level of respect in the rap community and industry at large. If they could pull off that they had the moxie to master the solo album lane, any limitations on their craft would have been dismissed as necessary group sacrifice. But with the strikeouts, it shows that the group itself is a necessity because there may not be anything else under the hood. If so, it's only a matter of time until the world realizes that they've been repackaging the same sandwich and continuously selling it at the same price.
Offset's album will need to truly hit different to avoid listeners from collectively coming to that conclusion. He needs to prove that without bells and whistles there's something beating within his chest, and Migos' by extension. It's a stressful dilemma that may not be able to even be resolved in six weeks. His features are typically formulaic so the odds are that the album will be as well. If so, Migos will need to come together and rethink just what they have to offer the world creatively.
Migos' reign was always sustained by glimmers of brilliance that indicated that they could thrive separately. The mirage off in the distance always appeared when their appeal began to dry up. The world finally caught up to the elusive river to see it as just another pile of sand. To keep hope alive, Offset needs to pop up with a canteen to show that there really is more to the collective than what meets the eye. Rae Sremmurd emerged from their solo experiment unscathed, largely because the group work was attached to it as well. Maybe Migos should follow a similar blueprint to corral listeners to the group when the solo work fails. For now, we wait with baited breath for Offset's two cents. Six weeks.
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