From the magazine: ISSUE 87, June/July 2013
On the afternoon before their June mixtape, Young Rich Niggas, is to be released, two members of the rap trio Migos stand huddled in a hot, windowless studio in southwest Atlanta. They watch the tape’s final mix-down on a screen perched just below a security camera feed offering 16 different perspectives of the building’s exterior. Friends and associates weave in and out of the room, interrupting with last-minute changes to the tape’s artwork and scheduling details for live appearances every night of the week. Trinidad James’ people are waiting on the phone. “I notice the buzz, but you try not to pay attention to it,” says Quavo, 22, the oldest of the group. “Makes you lazy.” His 19-year-old nephew and fellow member, TakeOff, who also wears his long, thin dreads draped over designer shades, smiles and agrees: “It’s a day job and a night job.” Migos’ third member, Offset, is absent, incarcerated midway through the mixtape’s recording for reasons the pair decline to discuss. “He’s ready to get out,” says Quavo. “He’s getting back on the train real soon.”
When Offset returns, he will find Migos in a very different position than when he left. Their steadily escalating momentum began last year, with the regional success of the group’s ode to derelict trap houses, “Bando,” a rejoinder to the somewhat safe and provincial reputation of Gwinnett County, their home turf on Atlanta’s north side. The loopy, lightweight beat by 16-year-old producer Juvie is a perfect frame for the crew’s gruff delivery, packed with Southern slang and phrasings as repetitive and tautly rhythmic as drumline exercises, but shot through with energy and steely confidence. The group models itself closely on the raw, jewel-cased street tapes they grew up with—especially the hyperkinetic air-horn-and-gunshot soundscapes of Brick Squad and Yo Gotti—and like these predecessors, Migos often gets by on drive and force of personality more than anything else. “It’s all about the delivery,” Quavo says of their approach. “You got to finesse your way in.”
As “Bando” became a staple in clubs and radio playlists, Migos found themselves embraced by members of the old guard they emulated. They bumped into Gucci Mane’s longtime producer Zaytoven in a VIP section and he started sending them beats the next day; their new manager, Kevin “Coach K” Lee, also helped shape the early careers of local icons like Young Jeezy and Gucci, or as they now call him, “the big brother.” The Atlanta rap infrastructure thrives when its rising stars offer slight but eccentric updates to the city’s sound, pushing ever so slightly against the boundaries of hardscrabble tradition, and for the past several months, Migos has simply been doing this better and more memorably than anyone else.
The hope is that Young Rich Niggas will propel them from local celebrity to national attention, a process that already seems well under way. In Los Angeles, a few days before our interview, TakeOff was shocked to be approached by “three white guys singing ‘R.I.P.’” one of the tracks they made with Zaytoven. “On Melrose Avenue!” he says in disbelief over their encounter. “I didn’t even know they listened to rap over there.” Just a week after the tape’s release, Drake would remix another standout, “Versace,” and Justin Bieber would post a short video of himself mouthing a verse—endorsements one imagines will lead to quite a few fans Migos never expected. Back in the studio, Coach K leans forward to the group and says earnestly, “It’s just the beginning. This is our summer.” His gravitas apparently strikes Quavo as hilarious, as Quavo bursts out laughing and, with mock-seriousness, shouts, “This is our summer!” Looking around the room, he’s the only one laughing.