The thesis of No Label 2—Migos’ fourth mixtape, but their second “big deal” one—is essentially how everyone’s blatantly swagger-jacked them since “Versace” became a thing. They’re absolutely right, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to carry the tape. Wisely, they’ve channeled their frustrations in two important new-ish directions that make these 25 (!!!) tracks worth the hour and a half. NL2 takes their signature sound—melodic, hook-centric semantic satiation and rhyme patterns that roll around in your mouth like the first sentence of Lolita—and thrusts it either towards its logical extreme (non-stop triple-time flows and hyper-speed repetition—Contraband! Contraband! Contraband!), or focuses on the trio’s specific but underwritten lyricism. And though it’s not the first thing you notice, especially in their most ubiquitous tracks, they are and have been lyrical; stuff like My plug live in Cambodia, finessing in Mongolia and Lettuce and cabbage and broccoli, I’m cooking up catfish, tilapia are the kinds of surrealist tongue-twisters that get indelibly scorched into your skull, evoking mid-’00s Gucci in his prime. It’s not a drastic stylistic switch, but it’s enough to definitively cross them over the pre-sophomore slump immediately following YRN, when they kept putting out loosies that basically sounded the same every three days and I’d wondered if they’d burned out as quick as they’d risen. It’s also their first tape in the spotlight as a trio, and Offset’s presence is a blessing; he’s definitely a factor in their tightened-up lyricism. It’s not quite as fun of a listen as YRN—95 minutes of anything is a pretty tough sell, and things stop being fun around track 17 (weird, that’s also when MGK shows up)—and there’s no immediate hit like “Versace” or “Hannah Montana,” but pointedly so. But they’re sharpening their weapons, and their moment is definitely not over.
Highlights: Quavo’s the MVP of the tape: he’s perfected his hoarse, shouty mode to the point where it feels like a divine being is speaking through him to tell the lames I don’t wanna look at you! on “Peek A Boo.” But the truly jaw-dropping moment is “Fight Night”—West Coast ratchet done Migos-style is unexpectedly perfect.
WTF: It’s really hard not to laugh at a 25-track tape put out by Quality Control Music but hey. Additionally: Independent just like Macklemore?! Additionally: there’s a producer called Cheese.