March 27th, 2014

Montage Is the Method: Migos Flow Edition

Over at Complex, David Drake offers up a supercut that “trac[es] the lineage of the Migos flow” — that is, the 8th note triplets that underpin “Versace” and have been making waves across the rap world.

For Drake, the recent, remarkable spread of the so-called “Migos flow” offers compelling evidence that, even as it may rankle all manner of commenters, the Migos’ Quavo is no less than “the most influential rapper of 2014“:

part of the reason Quavo has become so influential is because his rapping isn’t overly concerned with the intricacies of lyricism. Instead, he’s imprinted a very specific rhythmic pattern on hip-hop’s psyche. By finding a flow that stood apart and emphasizing it, he shifted the way rappers rap.

This is a contentious claim, and the technomusicologist in me loves that Drake has gone the extra mile to put together some audible evidence to convince the skeptics — a video montage that speaks for itself. So don’t take my word for it, or Drake’s, just peep the supercut:

As you’ll note, the montage not only depicts the undeniable post-Migos spread of the flow, it also includes a series of clips that predate Migos and show how the flow has been around for quite a while, especially in Southern hip-hop but even all the way back to a memorable turn in Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”!

Such an audible genealogy is certainly convincing, and even the pre/proto-Migos examples don’t necessarily lessen Drake’s argument about Migos’ role in popularizing the flow for 2014. (As something of a sidenote, it’s interesting that this sort of cross-rhythm is also a consistent presence in recent juke/footwork tracks from DJ Rashad and cohorts. That’s one helluva hemiola!)

That said, I’m not totally persuaded that, as Drake further contends

No single rap artist has so completely popularized a single, distinct flow.

I suspect we could pick out a few examples from the 80s or 90s or 00s, but even in the last few years — as Drake himself notes — something like Lil Reese’s / Chief Keef’s trademark stuttered, splattered, staccato syllables would seem to offer a similar example. It may be true that that flow has had less “reach” than the Migos flow, relatively speaking, but it’s still a remarkable spread. Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” was maybe the most obvious example of copping that flow and making it “pop,” but echoes continue in “Drunk In Love” and other recent recordings. Moreover, far as I can tell, that Chicago drill flow has less of a history than 8th note triplets, which have been a staple flow — if not for entire verses — for a couple decades, especially if we look to, say, Bone Thugs’ early oeuvre.

But perhaps I need to make a supercut to make my point ;) Better yet, sign up for my Technomusicology class this summer and you can do it as homework!


  • 1. Ashanti Soldier  |  May 18th, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Wayne,
    First off, thank you for your contribution to music. I have been following you blog for sometime and have been inspired by the work you’ve been producing. At the moment I am constructing a project of my own that deals with heavily with music. Over the course of a year I plan to travel and look at hiphop’s musical influence in Japan, Netherlands, Brazil, and Australia. In these countries, I will work with producers, writers, music groups and organizations to hear and learn about the narratives as I immerse myself in their culture. I will do so by focusing on their lyrics, both narrative and expressionist based, and explore how form and content combine to creating meaning through their story. I want to see how are these producers and writers utilizing methods of freestyle, traditional writing and post-production. In each country I will consider how the various themes, rather genre dependent, politically related or reflexive plays into the creation of their music and are interconnected with the lyrics. My hope is these experiences will expose me to methodologies and narratives I haven’t experienced or heard and provide ways to share my form of expression with others. I was wondering if you had any immediate thoughts about other ways I can approach my topic, or if there are other places I should consider. Thanks!

    -Ashanti Raheem Soldier

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  May 19th, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Thanks for the good words, A.R.S., and good luck on your journey — which does remind me a lot of some of the things I was thinking about when I started this blog back in 2003 as a rapper-producer/ethnomusicologist living in Kingston. Right now it sounds like you’ve got some big questions to ask, and I expect that your experiences in each of these places will end up really driving the shape that your work takes. In the meantime, the best you can probably do is to understand as much as you can about the context for hip-hop in these other places. There’s lots of ways to do that, especially online, but you might also appreciate some of the articles, say, collected on my Global Hip-hop class syllabus (which, when last offered, made stops in all of the countries you mention):

  • 3. Charles Thompson  |  September 12th, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    I heard a track today from the Netherlands that features the Migos flow in Dutch and couldn’t resist the urge to share it with you after reading your article:

    Although the Dutch have inspired so much of what goes on here in North America musically, it appears the appreciation is mutual as Dutch producers have begun to begun to contribute to the conversation around trap and, at least in the case of groups like Diplo’s newly-signed Yellow Claw, have started taking it in a particularly Dutch direction.

  • 4. Reginold  |  October 16th, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I may have had enough to say to you Wayne over the last few days… but I couldn’t resist a comment … since I’ve been thoroughly reviled for being a fan of ‘Versace.’ I posted this over Twitter this summer: ‘Totally missed the transition of hip hop back to dancehall music #thegate #revolttv (@uncleregis)’

    I made this observation, after watching a couple of hours of today’s rap music on cableTV. As a scholar of dancehall/ Jamaican music, I wonder what you think about a seeming slippage back to ‘slack’ styles for hip hop — a musicality over lyricism — performed in what amounts to American patois (BVE). Perhaps it’s not surprising, for music styles that emerge from Caribbean inflected cities such as Miami/New Orleans/?Atlanta.


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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