Migos, Ethos. Migos, Ethos.
Wealth flaunting has a long history in hip-hop. When Notorious B.I.G. reminded us in ’94: “Believe me, sweetie, I got enough to feed the needy,” it was hardly necessary. Recently, Young Thug notoriously bailed on his $100K video shoot for last year’s “Wyclef Jean,” refusing to get out of the car when he finally did arrive – 10 hours late. Last year, Meek Mill reportedly spent $540K on a custom chain encrusted with 250 carats worth of diamonds. In 2011, Drake had an “experience shower” (think lights, scents, lots of nozzles) installed in his home for an “undisclosed sum.” And in 2005, Kanye West commissioned ex pro-footballer, author, and artist Ernie Barnes to paint a mural on his dining room ceiling depicting his October 2002 car crash – to the tune of $350K – complete with angels, cornets, and of course, Yeezy himself. Everyone seems to have their own special brand of lavishness. Thugger is erratic, Mill is materialistic, Drake wants comfort, and Kanye wants to be a Medici. But what do Migos want?
“Your representation is everything. Before you had the money, you had to look like you had the money,” Migos member Offset tells me as we sit on-set in the Gaudí-esque The Theater at Ace Hotel, “If I don’t look good, I’m not goin’ out. Always, from day one. You gotta get fit for the club, you gotta get fit for the show – a new fit every time.” The three Atlanta heavyweights of the trap trio Migos are a triple threat of rap royalty. Even more so considering they’re family (Quavo is Takeoff’s uncle, and Offset is Quavo’s cousin). Although they earned their first No. 1 Album on the Billboard 200 this year with January’s Culture (via Quality Control/300 Entertainment) the trio have been producing mega-hits like “Versace” and “T-Shirt” since 2013 and have collaborated with everyone from Travis Scott to Childish Gambino, even appearing on the latter’s critical hit TV show Atlanta. Hip hop royalty with the crown jewels to match.
Their arrival to the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles is surrounded with pomp and circumstance, with fat blunts lit upon entry as the three rappers settle into a suite with their crew and a give-no-fucks swagger. Their new album is – as requested – playing on full blast while an entourage of publicists, managers, and groupies look busy on their cell phones. Their rider – including a Popeyes feast, hummus platters, Gushers, Fruit by the Foot, and a box of Backwoods cigars – is on hand. Offset, Takeoff, and Quavo are certainly eccentric playboys but during our time together, Grandma, Mom, and God come up more frequently than Gucci and Versace. Musically and personally, the family stay loyal to their humble beginnings – trying to square their values against the celebrity status that has overwhelmed so many other artists. Naturally, there are contradictions. Speaking to Migos feels like witnessing a grand performance – they are hypermasculine yet graceful, boastful yet appreciative, and full of little pops and noises. Theirs is a paradoxical empire built upon faith, style, skill, and bravado. Although all musicians perform off-stage to some extent, Migos take it one step further by embodying the performance: everything is accounted for.
Famously fashionable, Migos are not subservient to designer names, they rather use them as a tool to promote their music, style, and lives. They twist the tired tropes of celebrity. In Migos world, style is a requisite and must keep up with the doyens of trap, not the other way around. It’s palpable and powerful: OG punk, recontextualized – this is Migos-ethos. Going solely on their lyrics – “fuckin’ your bitch she a thot, thot, thot” – I wondered what I would get when I asked about this issue’s corresponding theme of heartbreak, but Quavo surprised me, telling me about his grandma who passed away two years ago. “She was the backbone of the family. She would straighten’ us up. We made sure we’d come see her – she was the strong one.” If a tenet of power is keeping your subjects guessing, Migos are operating at a Machiavellian level.
Another facet of their intrigue is the ability to exude power and accept fame’s bounty. Some celebrities have misgivings about their rise, but Migos are keenly aware of their influence and aim to uphold their exalted status. They subscribe to it so fully that their new album’s title, Culture, is (according to Takeoff) “to let everyone know who we are: we are the culture. We’ve been all over and everybody knows who we are, and what we do, and what we got goin’ on. So, if it reached that far, it’s culture now. Tours overseas, that’s culture. Culture is going to Paris. If it’s reaching different nationalities, it’s culture. Culture is the fans, the people who support us.” All three consistently answer the same way each time I ask the question. An echo chamber of imperialism makes it hard for me to tell if the culture he was talking about is himself, the music, or (capital C) Culture – the “thing” at large – becoming himself. I assume they are all one and the same. This is Migos-ethos: rap alchemists turning their deeply personal experiences into far-reaching Billboard gold.
As the nail tech buffs and shines, I ask each of them if fear ever enters their minds despite the no-holds-barred party anthems. Takeoff points upwards and says “I fear no one but the man upstairs.” Offset comes out swinging: “I never had no fear. Full stop, done.” And Quavo, more moderately, tells me, “I never fear making music. I think making music is a challenge.” Attitude is decorative armor and this is a big part of Migos-ethos: looking the part. This filters back into the music, image and art neck and neck.
As they are fitted, I keep thinking of another fashionable family band: the Isley Brothers – each one in their own flashy costume, uniquely themselves – the funk powerhouse strengthened by outlandish garments. Offset – whose name, Quavo says, comes from “his style just always been offset” – embodies this. “He has always been the most stylish person in the room,” Quavo says. “He got the offset swag.” In tune with his namesake, Offset names Michael Jackson as his biggest influence: “I used to watch Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” when I was, like, four years old. My mom told me she came into the room and I was just standing there, staring. You know “Moonwalker?” I used to watch that all the time. The way he performed, the way he dressed. He was fresh as fuck.”
It comes as no surprise that Migos are particularly fond of this season’s vintage-inspired ensembles: floral print Roberto Cavalli threads, Jimi Hendrix-esque tunics, and Gucci fur-lined slippers. I imagine all three of them in a swanky modern-day opium den: recessed living room, Moroccan woods, dim lights, a thick California kush haze. It’s trap house elegance, again reinforcing my idea of Migos-ethos.
It’s the end of our time together and I’m sitting with Offset – the contact high is finally kicking in. Bringing up my limited religious knowledge, I ask “how do you pray?” I’m curious about his relationship to religion, and namely, the unfair assessments people make based on religious extremism of any kind.
“Okay, we’re gonna pray right now. You ready?” He asks, closing his eyes and muttering a lengthy prayer.
Looking at me dead in the eyes, he says: “See? I’ll put you up on God.”
Bad, boujee, and holy as fuck.
Written by Audra Wist
Art Director and Producer: Mui-Hai Chu
Photographer: Shane McCauley
Stylist: Zoe Costello for Atelier Management
Groomer: Daniele Piersons for Exclusive Artists using Sisley Paris
Manicurist: Tracey Clemens for Opus Beauty using NCLA
Set Design: Lauren Machen
Set Design Assistant: Danny Wood
Location: Ace Hotel Los Angeles