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Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, aka Migos | Photo: The Come Up Show from Canada (Wikimedia CC 2.0)
Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, aka Migos | Photo: The Come Up Show from Canada (Wikimedia CC 2.0)
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Milestones in Music History #59: Migos, Trap or Nothing

The sonic space-time continuum of which the legendary DJ Shadow, the protagonist of our last episode of Milestones, became our guide, made us aware of how music can be twisted and evolve almost to make us doubt its deepest essence. If there is a genre that has provoked the traditional concept of music more in recent years, it has certainly been the trap, and Migos have undoubtedly been the proud ambassadors of this movement.

One of the most debated and controversial genres in the history of music, which at the mere mention the most traditionalist and old-fashioned musicians are horrified by, the trap music has arrived like a shockwave that has forever disrupted the conception of melody, musical composition, vocal prowess, and questioned the very role of musicians.

What would the world of music be today without the trap? It probably wouldn't even exist. Even without wanting to – and without anyone liking it, if you wish – it has become a part of our system, even without us realizing it. But to understand how it all happened and where it originated, we need to leap in time – not too far back, though.

The 1990s were dominated by hip-hop music – an empire that had taken on colossal proportions in the States. Still, with time and diffusion, the genre had evolved, and by the end of the 1990s, so-called gangsta rap was born, at the hands of musicians such as Three 6 Mafia, Ice-T, Master P, UGK, NWA and Dr. Dre.

Their musical discourse touched on social problems and the degradation of American neighbourhoods, and in their lyrics, they spit out their anger and frustration with everyday dismal reality. But from an initial moment of repressed anger and disappointment with the situation of the times, the lyrics and sound compositions became meaner, more brazen, direct, and provocative; one could no longer submit – the time had come to attack.

Thus, the melancholy of old-school hip hop, the sometimes-dreamy melodies that had also been part of gangsta rap, changed radically. Now heavy bass lines, eerie melodies and gritty lyrics, often depicting the themes of street life and drug dealing, have become part of the repertoire. But the shocking development was the beat.

It was greatly influenced by DJ Screw, who already in the early 1990s created low, intense, and slow bases, just like in the taste of trap. But, eventually, what became the typical trap beat was on a completely new level: loud, intense bass drumbeats, with hi-hats at regular intervals repeated in fast, incessant sequences, almost like knife blows.

Although the precise year of the beginning of the genre's development is unclear, its location is certainly known: Georgia, and, in particular, Atlanta, its capital city with the trap houses – blocks of flats in the city's poorest neighbourhoods where people sold and used drugs, the most common being crack cocaine.

There the residents were (and still are) trapped, and this awareness of living outside the system has generated anger, violence, crime – but also art. The first real pioneers of the genre were Outkast, the UGK mentioned above (Underground Kingz), MJG and the one who gave dignity to the genre, making it a real music genre, T.I., together with Gucci Mane, Jeezy and the Atlanta scene. T.I.'s second record, Trap Muzik, can be considered the symbol of the nascent genre.

Yet only about forty kilometres away from Atlanta, precisely in Lawrenceville, lived someone who wanted to take the reins of power and upset the hierarchy of leaders. Three kids, music lovers from an early age, and in close connection with each other, even family (Quavious Keyate Marshall, aka Quavo, is an uncle of Kirsnick Khari Ball, aka Takeoff, but also a cousin of Kiari Kendrell Cephus, known as Offset).

Takeoff's mother raised them together, and as early as the eighth grade, they released their unofficial mixtape, Crunk Boy. In 2009 the trio took the name Polo Club, and their first publications did not take long to arrive; in 2011 they released the mixtape Juug Season, and the following year another mixtape, No Label.

The publications attracted the attention of producers, in particular, Zaytoven, who had understood the potential of these young musicians, and, therefore, he decided to release their first single. "Versace", released in 2013, was a resounding success: it climbed to the top of every ranking and brought the three to worldwide fame.

But more importantly, the piece marked the band's artistic turning point, which began a new way of composing beats. What was later defined as the Migos flow was used, i.e. a triplet flow, defined by three evenly spaced notes or beats, where in reality there should only be two, and this contributed to creating an exceptional rhythmic pattern.

Also in the same year, another mixtape from the band was released, which was the icing on the cake, confirming the success and adding more, Young Rich Niggas (Y. R. N.). The mixtape of eighteen tracks boasted the collaboration of trap Olympus, artists such as Soulja Boy, Future, Gucci Mane, Riff Raff and Trinidad James.

Migos thus managed to intertwine several collaborations from which other mixtapes arose (No Label II in 2014, Streets on Lock 3 and Rich Nigga Timeline in 2014) and finally, in 2015 their first studio album, Yung Rich Nation, was released, which obtained a reasonable success, but not as much as the work that followed in the same year, their fifth mixtape Back To The Bando.

The mixtape contained the piece that made the group famous, "Look At My Dab", and from which the dance move was born known today as "dabbing". The following year, their sixth mixtape, Y.R.N. 2 (Young Rich Niggas 2) was released, which was supposed to conceptually follow the album but was not very successful.

A further boost was given by the release of the single “Bad and Boujee” at the end of 2016, in collaboration with Uzi Vert, which was very well received and anticipated their true breakthrough album, Culture. The work was released in January 2017 and it was a success, also because of the participation of Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott and Gucci Mane.

A success that grew more and more, assisted by numerous collaborations, also with artists somewhat different in genre, such as Steve Aoki, who featured the Migos (together with Lil Yachty), in the song "Night Call", and Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, with whom the Migos released the single "Motorsport", which anticipated the album that came out a few months later, in January 2018.

Culture II presented itself somewhat as the sequel to Culture but evolved the band's peculiarities and reached a very high creative peak. A monumental album of no less than 24 tracks, which contained songs such as 'Stir Fry' (produced by Pharrell Williams) and 'Walk It Talk It' became cornerstones of trap music.

So the band, which was in a moment of profound creativity, started working on the next album, which was supposed to be released in 2019 but due to COVID-19 was only released in 2021. Culture III was a success, with Future, Cardi B, Justin Bieber and Polo G, among others, appearing. A more varied album compared to the previous one, perhaps even less explosive.

Unfortunately, however, disagreements started between the band members – as they say, never mix business and family – which culminated in the group's crisis, especially when (as the gossip circulated) Quavo's girlfriend had slept with Offset. But the tragic event that determined the definitive end of the group was the dramatic death of Takeoff in November 2022, following a fight in a dice game, while he was with Quavo and others. It was the end for Migos.

However, their legacy remains and will always remain, considering their contribution to the creation of the trap genre and the invention of some elements that became typical of it, such as the aforementioned triplet flow and dabbing. Migos was a star who had a perhaps short but definitively intense and impactful life span.

They laid not only the foundations for trap music to come but also influenced other musical genres. Such talent and disruptive forces can perhaps only be found in a female artistic figure who has now become an absolute idol of pop music, Taylor Swift, who will be the protagonist of our next episode of Milestones.

Are there still those who consider the trap as "non-music"? How has trap influenced today's music and various musical genres? What will be the future and evolution of trap over time? And will there be someone as artistically impactful in the trap as Migos? Leave it in the comments below!

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I am a musician and music journalist based in Prague. 42 is also the name of my project founded in 2008, experimental Dada music with a touch of noise. My latest album,…