I can imagine Migos probably didn’t see Migos coming. Their ubiquitous influence and success (they have said one of their most memorable performances was in Africa) is dizzying at best. They have several hits spinning at radio, and Quavo himself has features on a half a dozen songs that are in the top 100 on radio charts. For group members Quavo (Quavious Keyate Marshall), Takeoff (Kirshnik Khari Ball), and Offset (Kiari Kendrell Cephus), and as family (Quavo is Takeoff’s uncle and Offset’s cousin), dreams have most likely come true in the wildest way possible. They have the money, the fame, and the girls, or well at least Quavo and Offset do, or maybe just Quavo, depending on Offset’s status with Cardi this week. As of yet we don’t know if a relationship with Takeoff has… taken off.
In an interview with Fader, Offset made it known that they all taught themselves to rap, make beats, and record their work in the studio. With the breakout success of “Versace” in 2013, the group was officially hailed as the next group out of the south (yes, they are from the “nawf”, but that “nawf”, Lawrenceville, Georgia, is in the south) that would have a wide musical impact. The prediction was nothing short of true with continued success into 2016, which brought another omnipresent hit, “Look At My Dab.” Their musical influences span widely, and the production of their tracks and their lyrical flow all attribute to you being in the store humming songs by the group you didn’t even realize you knew.
To broach any subject related to Migos may seem like fun, but is actually layered and complex. Yes, dreams do come true if you work hard. Yes, you can make a lot of money doing what you love. Below the obvious though are a lot of questions about what the love of Migos really means and who this “culture” is that they are doing it for.
On the chorus for “Too Hotty” Quavo and Offset say, “Scotty too hotty/put that lil bitch on the molly/she fucked everybody.” After reciting this to a friend, he immediately said, ‘That’s rape!” I said, “I know!” What I didn’t discuss after I said that was the internal battle I was having with this verse and with the song as a whole. The dark and mysterious track (produced by Southside) is somehow haunting and alluring, and Offset’s flow to the track in particular fits so congruently it’s almost uncanny. I have found myself listening to the song over and over again, even after that conversation, and even though I can’t reconcile my desire to hear it with a verse that contains a clear admittance, or something at least adjacent to approval, of rape. I’m wondering if I listen enough will I become desensitized to the point where listening to a verse about rape won’t matter.
Quite a few listens over time, and I’m still not there.
I can’t help but wonder if Quavo and Offset realize what they’re actually saying? Did it even cross their minds as they wrote it? How do they feel about rape? Do they even care?
The group collectively will say they are “doing it for the culture”, but when you think about the blatant disregard for sexual violence against women spoken in lyrics such as those mentioned above, the impact those words and their sentiment have on rape culture just can’t be ignored.
I don’t want to say that rappers are as heartless as they make themselves out to be (because it’s mostly an act anyway) as they are still human, but I can’t find reason in the way they are so casually callous with their lyric choices. Though I would love to say that music is the great unifier and should be listened to without bias, for people to be able to consume this kind of music with no thought about subject matter in some ways feels dangerous.
For the most part, at least lyrically, rap has not changed. The presentation of hyper masculinity which includes having to sell drugs and go to jail to be considered anything of a “real man”, verses that objectify and in turn insult women; all of these elements have traveled down the generations of rap. Who can forget 2 Live Crew, Snoop Dogg’s infamous verse “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks/lick on these nuts and suck the dick”, and every rap lover’s favorite pimp, 2 Short? While I didn’t listen to a lot of material from these artists growing up, I knew who they were, and I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of their lyrics, but I just stored it away as part of the way rap works.
Now that I’ve gotten older, there is this musical morality that has grown in me, one that I thought would be reserved for people much older than I am, and one that I try to hide out of embarrassment because I don’t want people to think I’m on some lyrical high horse or someone trying to be “woke” just for the sake of saying I’m “woke”. I listen to Bad and Bojuee and cringe even though I’m singing along. I hear T-shirt and understand why black men would sell drugs, but am discouraged as to why black men feel the need to give it so much public praise, particularly when I think about how many black men that will be in jail for a long time for nonviolent drug offenses (thanks Bill Clinton). Migos makes music that is extremely frustrating lyrically, but crafted in a way that makes listening almost irresistible, and that duality sets my brain on fire.
Another layer to this is the fact that Migos has made it. In an industry that chews up artists and only spits them out after the executives have eaten all the money, it’s great that groups like Migos get the chance to do something they love and get paid nicely for it. Their influence has caught on across the world like wildfire. They now have the financial freedom to take care of their families and do whatever they want when they are not working. Being a creative myself, I want other creatives to make it. I want them to realize their dreams in entertainment, and Migos has done exactly that. With the way the industry works, and with the way life can be sometimes, there is a lot to be said for those who have made it as it relates to their personal goals.
Should I then be OK, and just settle for rap music that continues to insult and objectify women, and praises money and drug use, because the artist that created the music has worked extremely hard to make their dreams come true? Migos has gained worldwide acclaim from songs with lyrics that are horrifying whether they are based in some reality of the group members or just made up as standard elements to rap songs. They are celebrated for sharing stories of guns, murder, drugs and disregard for women, and they have become immensely influential in the process. I can’t help but wonder what this says about us as music fans? Do we only love it if it’s insulting and brash and shows a totally disregard for humanity?
Then there is the fact that this is what the music industry wants. I remember watching Bobby Shmurda “interview” with LA Epic Records. I remember it being one of the hardest and most embarrassing things I’ve ever watched. This young black man jumping around a room full of mostly white music executives lipping to one of his tracks; I wasn’t even there and it felt surreal and awkward. He was signed that day because he was another prime example of what the music industry wants to put at the forefront. A black man that makes violent, offensive, misogynistic music. Oddly enough though, when Bobby Shmurda went to jail, no one from Epic bothered to bail him out, even though they signed him knowing his subject matter and past criminal history could find him in legal trouble.
Do rappers even consider this? Does Migos care that they are making music that makes them money, but music that a predominately white controlled music industry wants them to make because it sheds black and brown people in a certain light? Again, do they even care? Should they have to care?
Rappers are quick to say they are not role models, but by the nature of such a public career, being a role model of sorts is a side effect. Of course rappers have personal obligations to themselves and their families and contractual obligations to their label, but this still does not take away from the role they play when it comes to their lyrics.
All of this has been talked about for years at it relates to rap, but as much as I try to separate the subject matter from the fact that it’s just entertainment, and as much as I tell myself rappers are just highly visible actors, my mind still puts everything on the table, especially because their influence is so powerful and far reaching.
There is the part of me that wants to say we should demand more from our rap artists. There is part of me that wants us to be better as it relates to the music we allow our children to consume and the realness of the “culture” it represents for them. The thug lifestyle has landed a lot of our young people in jail, not at the total fault of the music industry or any one artist or group, but in part because some of our young people think they can follow the same life style rappers follow and be rewarded for it, not realizing that there is a level of celebrity that protects artists to a certain extent (unless you’re Bobby Shmurda), and allows them to project a certain image because it is profitable for the music industry.
I’ve seen a growing number of teen social media pages with young men spreading out wads of prop money across their arms with guns in their pants. I can imagine this comes from the environment they are growing up in, but I can also imagine the influence of popular rappers like Migos and others that laud violence like it’s a normal part of life are present in these young men’s lives as well.
These young men most likely don’t have the financial resources to hire lawyers that will help them get out of legal trouble. If they get arrested, they’re probably down for the count and will have to serve their full sentence.
There is also the part of me that understands the care free nature of some rap music. The culture of truly not giving a fuck and actually being paid not to is alluring to the point of fantasy. I think fans are also drawn to that care free nature as well because the average music listener actually has to give a fuck. We have to wake up and go to work and and send kids off to school and pay bills and wash clothes and dishes. We have in some respects these mundane daily routines that we have to care about. I think the dream of being free from care of all that is what attracts us to artist like Migos.
Sure, black artists are not the only ones that create disrespectful music or project a negative culture. White artists do this as well, but white people aren’t being disproportionately arrested for non-violent crimes and being killed by police as a result of “fear” or media imagery. I am in no way saying that black artists should not work to the fullest of their potential and exercise the total realm of their talent, but the image it projects is something I battle with mentally.
Maybe I think too much. Perhaps I should just shut up and listen to the music. Even if I do decide to remain quiet though, I know I’m not the only one that feels this way, and am asking these questions. I’m not putting my sword in the ground for wanting to be right about any of this, but sometimes, for me at least, the questions are just as loud as the music.