Why the Migos Solo Albums are Underperforming

Quavo and Takeoff would have sold more records if they took the time to differentiate instead of flooding the market.

Takeoff, Quavo, and Offset (via GQ)

This fall, the Migos rolled out the red carpet for their long-rumored solo albums. Quavo and Takeoff each released albums in the past few weeks and Offset announced he will drop his in December. Their coordinated approach is endearing, but the promotion tactic detracts from any semblance of individuality. The boys from North Atlanta want the glory of solo success within the comfort of their tight-knit group. It’s a noble effort—the Migos are family after all—but it limits each rapper’s ceiling.

Quavo, the group’s frontman, debuted Quavo Huncho and just missed his sales projection. He sold 99,000 units in his first week but only had 6,000 pure albums sales, which is the same number that Rich The Kid’s debut album sold this year. No offense to Rich—“New Freezer” was dope—but there are levels to this. And Quavo Huncho didn’t reach the level it could have. Takeoff followed a similar trend. His debut The Last Rocket is expected to sell 35,000-45,000 units in its first week (with 3,000-4,000 as pure album sales). Offset’s forthcoming project will probably match that at best.

Both Quavo and Takeoff’s albums got less than stellar reviews from critics. Reception is surely a factor in underwhelming album sales, but 2018 has proved that a well-executed album rollout strategy can still yield strong results despite its quality.

The Quality Control record label, home to the Migos, Lil’ Yachty, Lil’ Baby and others, is pumping out new music like Netflix releases new original series. Many of their projects have long track listings to perform well on streaming platforms and playlists. The approach has given QC an unofficial residency on RapCaviar and The A-List: Hip Hop playlists, but that exposure is attained at the expense of the artist. The Migos would get more long-term benefit from a proper promotion cycle that builds momentum and uniquely positions each rapper.

If A$AP Ferg can stand out from A$AP Mob and shape his persona with endorsements deals from adidas and Tiffany & Co., each of the Migos can do the same.


A need for more differentiation

The “Stir Fry” group is Atlanta’s most commercially successful rap group since OutKast. The Grammy award-winning duo spent years showing each artist’s unique skills on albums like Aquemini and Stankonia. By the time the duo dropped Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, each artist had solidified their unique brands. Andre 3000 was hip-hop’s eclectic and Big Boi was the smooth but rugged lyricist. “Hey Ya” was perfect for Andre and “The Way You Move” fit for Big Boi.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Migos. They dress the same and act very similar. They complete each other’s sentences in interviews like a Desus & Mero skit. Quavo is a little more extroverted than his nephew and cousin, but not by much. To an average fan, Offset is “the one with Cardi B.” And most of us haven’t heard Takeoff utter a sentence in public since the now infamous, “I ain’t left of Bad and Boujee doitlooklikeiwasleftoffBadandBojuee?” interview.

Takeoff is often called the best pure rapper of the trio, but only day-one fans and hip-hop junkies know that. Quavo Huncho and The Last Rocket also had many of the same producers on both albums, like Murda Beatz. This also makes it difficult for their distinct styles to surface when the music sounds similar.

It’s hard for the culture to know what to check for when the artists don’t show it. The approach makes folks question whether these projects are true forays into solo stardom or mixtapes designed to keep drawing in numbers on streaming services.

The challenge with Quality Control’s strategy

The streaming era has influenced more artists to flood the market with albums and mixtapes that have a high number of tracks. The seven-track albums from G.O.O.D. Music don’t break records, 18+ track albums do. They increase both streaming revenue and earned media from coverage on their streaming performance. More tracks means more records broken, which means more articles from Billboard, Complex, and HipHopDX on the record-setting news. It’s a decent approach for mature artists that already have an established fan base, but it’s a risk for the Migos who are at a pivotal growth juncture.

In the past, young hip-hop record labels that flood the market struggle to maintain momentum. They are easily surpassed by more formidable competition. Quality Control’s current strategy is reminiscent of No Limit Records’ run in the late 90s. From 1997 to 1999, Master P’s record label dropped a prolific 46 albums (compared to 20 albums in the six years prior). Instead of taking time to develop his stable of artists though, many of those artists plateaued. And once Cash Money Records exploded in popularity, the culture had started to move on from No Limit. Master P’s run as “colonel of the muthafuckin’ tank” was over.

QC needs to avoid that path. The label’s COO Kevin “Coach K” Lee has assured that the label is working at a healthy pace. He shared his thoughts in a May interview with Billboard:

We always say, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, you know what I'm saying? So if you keep a good pace, you'll finish the marathon. If you get out there fast, you might be in the lead, but then that monkey jumps on your back, you'll have to quit the race or something. It was all part of the plan.

When Culture III drops in Winter 2019, it will be the 28th project from Quality Control since 2016. The Migos would have released 10 projects alone in that span, including the 24-track Culture II. Like No Limit twenty years ago, each of its artists is young, hungry, and still hitting their stride. Quality Control’s success has gotten much praise, but the label can still adjust to avoid the sprint and attain its desired marathon pace—especially as the flagship trio breaks out.

Lil’ Yachty, Quavo, QC CEO Pierre “P” Thomas, Kevin “Coach K” Lee, Offset, Takeoff (via Complex)

A better approach

The Migos can address their solo career challenges—lack of differentiation and market saturation—by building customer personas for each rapper’s fans. Culture III should make it clear that each rapper is distinct. It should be a legitimate pivot toward their solo careers.

Quality Control can help the group answer important questions: Where does a Quavo fan shop? Which other artists do Takeoff fans check for? Who do Offset’s followers also follow on Instagram? The goal is to find the distinct marketable differences.

They should be able to state, “The Quavo customer persona is a 24-year-old Black man named Terrance who graduated from Morehouse College, lives in Atlanta, works at Coca-Cola in an entry-level finance position making $65,000 annually, plans to hit up Essence Fest next year…” and so on.

Each rapper’s manager should then seek out endorsements deals with companies that are aligned. The group’s most noteworthy deal is with Finish Line, where each Migo has played an interchangeable part in their commercials. The spots are well done, but lack distinction. If the trio can each locked up endorsements before the next album drops, the commercials and advertisements can help shape the image of who should be checking for each of their solo albums.

If A$AP Ferg can stand out from A$AP Mob and shape his persona with endorsements deals from adidas and Tiffany & Co., each of the Migos can do the same.

The latest commercial from Finish Line and Migos (via YouTube)

Despite the tepid performance of Quavo Huncho and The Last Rocket, the Migos goal is still attainable. By January, media attention will shift to Culture III. Next year should be an individual brand-building year for the group. The Migos are one of the ten most popular acts in hip-hop, and it’s time that their branding and image to show that.

There’s a lot to learn from these initial solo album rollouts. On a scale from Rihanna’s ANTI (regrettably botched and will be the topic of a future Trapital story) to Travis Scott’s Astroworld (very well-orchestrated, almost to a fault), Quavo and Takeoff’s debuts fall somewhere in the middle. It proved that hip-hop is interested in their solo stardom, but a better strategy will help each of them reach new heights.

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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie. Contact me at dan@danruncie.com