Photo by Durty Harry
Yung Rich Nation is Atlanta rap trio Migos’ second album release via independent distribution arm 300 Entertainment. In a similar vein to fellow Atlanta-based emcee Future’s recently released DS2 album, it showcases a level of lyrical talent and production expertise from an oft-lampooned Southern rap phenomenon that is a graduation from previous content. In releasing an album that bears coherent thematic base, depth, and scope of subject matter never before seen from our favorite kings of the turnt up trap anthem, Migos have improved and now bring an undoubtable artistry to the table as creative forces.
Before we get to any themes, Migos of course let us know on muted-synth-flute-led Zaytoven-produced track “Migos Origin” that “they hit with [2013-released track] ‘Versace’ and went out to the islands.” Though improved, we’re still talking about Migos, and they still bear a devil-may-care attitude. However, this album is a bit more focused than say, 2015’s banal mixtape turn-up track “People’s Elbow.” At points, this album feels like it benefitted from a possible fantasy moment where Snoop Dogg and Big Boi sat with Migos somewhere at a barbecue and while serving up fatback, collard greens and lean, preached the game of how to rap with unique skill and engaging vigor.
The key to this album’s success are three themes. Foremost, we become very familiar with legendary Compton rap collective Niggaz With Attitude as Migos’ heroic inspiration. As well, we’re now watching the ascension of group member Quavo into that rare space of emcees whose flow hits a track and oftentimes outshines its production. Furthermore, if one really contemplates the notion of time, nearly 30 years have passed since Eazy-E’s 1988 debut album, Eazy-Does-It, continued N.W.A’s incendiary run. Also, we’re 20 years removed from Outkast’s groundbreaking and honest SouthernPlayalisticCadillacMuzik, and Gucci Mane’s debut album, Trap House, dropped a decade ago in 2005. It’s only right that in referencing both the left coast and the ATL on this album, that the Migos’ modern-day Atlanta includes a reflection on everything influential that has come before.
It’s advisable to tolerate the obvious radio singles on this album. They’re numerous, with tracks like Deko-produced “One Time” having already been released. “Playa Playa,” “Pipe It Up” (which features literally five different definitions for one slang term—and yes, sexual intercourse and smoking marijuana are two of the five), and the Chris Brown-featured “Just For Tonight” have similar easy-to-repeat choruses, and there’s something in Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff’s jovial über awareness of how juvenile-yet-totally-ear-worming their simplistic hooks are that explains why they’re so engrossing. The true champion of the radio-friendly pack is Zaytoven’s slurry-and-twinkling trap ode “Cocaina,” which features Young Thug’s pop-adored warbles alongside Quavo’s tough-and-intriguingly-introspective bars about slanging dope (“I don’t wanna serve my people…but I do this for my familia”) what could be the chorus that makes every ratchet night spent at the club for the rest of 2015 into something truly magical.
It’s a true shame that Ice Cube wasn’t contacted to rap on this album, because there’s enough N.W.A references where his voice being absent almost feels bizarre. “Street Nigga Sacrifice” finds Migos brazenly and knowingly referring to themselves as “niggas with attitude.” “Highway 85” is in both structure and construction a knockoff of Eazy E’s “Boyz N Da Hood,” which intriguingly finds Gucci Mane’s right-hand man behind the boards, Honorable C-Note doing his best Dr. Dre and DJ Yella impersonation. Take the Eazy-E references even further and the opening of “Gangsta Rap” samples the same speech from renowned/reviled anti-rap Reverend Calvin Butts on Eazy-E cosigned group Bone Thugs N Harmony’s 1994 single “Thuggish Ruggish Bone.” Noting that Migos are the group that “put the bando in the Wikipedia,” the trio promises to stay true to their “gangsta” roots that they’re returning to the industry.
Murda Beatz’s sparse and dissonant minor-key-piano-laden “Spray The Champagne” could be the album’s best technical and party-ready moment. As far as being a triumph of million-dollar men making thousands of dollars from what started off as hundred-dollar budgets, when the hook of “young niggs got the crown, spray the champagne” is chanted, it feels deserved. Metro Boomin’s “Trap Funk” is an opulent sounding blend of horns, pianos, and 808s, more a paean to MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace” than anything else. Though clearly a retro-fitted moment, when all you expect from a trio is a series of possibly incessantly annoying hooks, any awareness of anything related to rap’s history and traditions is appreciated.
On the album closer, “Recognized,” the trio’s aim in performing being that they “just wanna be recognized” shines through. Ultimately, all jokes and gimmicks aside, Migos just want to be seen, heard, and respected. Regarding breaking into the game, it took them “taking a brick and turning into a foundation” to be successful, a rap story of laundering dirty money into clean ambition that has historical relevance when one considers the famed story of Jay Z’s rise to excellence. In finally growing into their unique voices, borrowing inspiration from legends, and being gifted with some traditional Migos-style productions elevated to another level of sound and style, this album is an entertaining winner.