Migos' third album (but something like their tenth release counting their mixtapes, which you absolutely should) Culture II sounds like two projects smashed together, reflected in its movie-length 105-minute run time. One is a holding pattern; well-crafted Murda Beatz/Metro Boomin/Zaytoven beats with ghostly Quavo vocals and machine-gun raps from Offset and Takeoff, just like the first Culture. The other LP takes chances and is filled with small sonic experiments; the percolating "Stir Fry," the overt, sunny pop of "Gang Gang," and Quavo's Roger Troutman vocoder turn on "Too Much Jewelry." It portrays a world where the Migos fully embrace their status as one the world's biggest groups of any genre and decide to take over all of music.
The most striking sound on Culture II might be contained on late-act track "Too Playa." A tenor-range saxophone—which sounds like it was played live in the studio—flamboyantly weaves its way through the song independent from the beat. This is not the first time the Migos have decided to use the sax to jazz up a song, as "South Africa" on Quality Control: Control the Streets also veered into David Sanborn territory. "Made Men" and the Kanye West-produced "BBO" on Culture II are just as soulful, with an entire sampled horn section on the latter. It's clear: the Migos love their horns.
Now, saxes are one of the most-memed instruments on the planet, so their resurgence in this decade is as fueled by that humor element as much is it is by the perpetual appeal of 80s cheese and Kenny G. Plus, as the flute jams of 2017 showed, there's an appetite for woodwinds playing memorable melodies. As for Migos themselves, their longtime producer DJ Durel is responsible for both "Too Playa" and "South Africa," so perhaps he's the mystery sax man responsible for the smoothness.
In any case, it goes without saying that the use of saxes and flutes is an extremely hip-hop thing to do, seeing as horn-led smooth soul and jazz samples formed the bulk of the genre's 90s sound, especially in New York. Migos are not from there, but I'd assume they know their rap history and are paying at least some conscious homage to what came before them, updating those jazzy loops with 808s and live instruments instead of boom-bap snares. Perhaps the key to bringing real rap back is to get a fire saxophonist on your track.
Phil is on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.