In the superlatives section of the 2018 Hip-Hop Yearbook, Migos would win Most Likely to Survive an Earth-Rending Apocalyptic Event. After all, if they can endure the spectacular rise and cataclysmic collapse of dabbing, they can make it through anything.
The Lawrenceville, Ga., group, coming through Festival Pier and NOTO Philadelphia on Saturday, have enjoyed a steady national profile since 2013, when Drake hopped on a remix of the earwormy "Versace," a strutting love note to the Italian fashion house studded with references to the Illuminati, ancient Egyptian burial customs, and The Mighty Ducks.
In late 2016, Migos made another hefty offer for the primo catchy-song real estate in our brains with "Bad and Boujee," which notched the twentysomething trio of Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset their first No. 1 song. The inescapable, infinitely meme-able anthem exploded thanks in part to current zeitgeist monopolizer Donald Glover, who praised both the act and their track in an acceptance speech at the 2017 Golden Globes. (The artist also known as Childish Gambino recently shouted them out again, via a skit on Saturday Night Live.)
In between these two career tent poles, however, came dabbing, the quasi-dance craze born in Atlanta. Though Migos didn't actually invent the sneeze-adjacent practice, they didn't hesitate to glom onto the mainstreaming gesture via the 2015 mixtape single "Look at the Dab" and instructional YouTube videos.
The move subsequently penetrated every aspect of American life, from athletics to politics. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dabbed every time he bruised his way into the end zone. Hillary Clinton presented a suffocatingly bad attempt on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Before long, every tween on every Jumbotron at every sporting event in the country was dabbing — and their parents dabbed, too, plunging a stake deep into the heart of a once-fun thing and jackbooting the blunt end to make sure it stuck. All of us loved the dab. Then we all hated it, so, so hard.
For Migos, self-designated shepherds and skilled navigators of "the culture," knowing precisely when to buy in on trends and when to cash out has preserved and cultivated their careers, keeping them out of the disquieting graveyard where the Soulja Boy, the Shmoney Dance, and the Nae Nae lie in eternal repose. (Your plot is ready, Flossing.) But their extended success is about more than just instincts — you don't have to deep-dive into the discography to realize these dudes can really rap, drowning out near-constant grumbling from old-school hip-hop fans who want to go back to the way it was.
Though the Deep South trap sound is more about an overarching vibe than lyrical content by design and definition, Migos still manage to showcase an undeniable dexterity on the mic, playing with triplet flows that disregard the speed limit and come precariously close to spinning out but never do. (Very few emcees can turn the line "I'm thinking about moving to Canada but I know they gon' be still watching me" into the sonic equivalent of 75 sharp jabs to the solar plexus.) It's real ability mined on last year's Culture and this year's Culture II, radio-hit-heavy albums that refute the constant temptation to lump Migos into the nebulous "mumble rap" category resented by so many.
In addition to employing on-beat enunciation that should be taught in public speaking classes, Migos also imbue their bars with a deft selection of pop culture footnotes and a subtle sense of humor. How many rappers out there can reference Invader Zim, Ed, Edd n Eddy, Garfield, and the adolescent spine curvature known as scoliosis just as deftly as they deploy the expected braggadocio about cars, jewelry, and women? Dabbing may be over, but Migos keeps coming up with new ways to punctuate their statements.