A Video Traces The “Migos’ Flow” Back To Public Enemy, Bone Thugs & Biggie
Back in 2014, Snoop Dogg criticized what he said was the conformity of rappers in the contemporary scene. “Everybody’s trying to rap the same style, I don’t know who created it—if it was Future or Migos, but they all sound the same,” he said.
Snoop then mocked the broken-up patter of the MCs, mimicking the style as if it were a basic stutter, with very little finesse.
What Snoop was referring to here is what’s commonly called the “Migos Flow” or “Versace Flow” (so-called because of The Migos’ hit “Versace” in 2013). It’s when MCs place emphasis on the third beat; it’s also called rapping in triplets.
But as the video by journalist Estelle Caswell from Vox’s Earworm series shows, this style has been around since the very beginning of Hip-Hop and even used by greats such as Public Enemy, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Biggie.
Think back to the rhyme pattern in P.E.’s “Bring The Noise” from the 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, where Chuck D pounded the beat: “Soul on a roll, but you treat it like soap on a rope / ‘Cause the beats and the lines are so dope.” According to the Earworm analysis, that was in triplets.
Chuck D’s force and authority came from the highly emphatic pattern. This is something Kendrick Lamar also understood when he wanted to intensify the drama on “DNA.” from this year’s DAMN. and did the same: “This is my heritage, all I’m inheritin’ / Money and power the mecca of marriages.”
Ambrosia For Heads’ own Justin “The Company Man” Hunte says that rhyming in triplets gained traction in the mid-‘90s with the rise of artists from the Midwest and the South, along the “Ohio-Tennessee corridor” to be precise.
Central to all of this was Memphis, Tennessee MC Lord Infamous, Hunte says. The late Lord Infamous, who as part of Three 6 Mafia, captured perfectly the intensity of this highly dramatic and percussive style on “Mystic Stylez” on the mid-’90s album of the same name.
“Evil… Notice the murderous vocalist / Infamous rippin’ up all of your h*e sh*t / Approachin’ da scarecrow’ll butcher and / Tearin’ up ni**as wit’ double edge / Lyrical thought as they go the lyrical legacy / Let the Lord Infamous light up da melody …”
Arguably, though, it was Cleveland’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony that imprinted this style on Rap culture when it defined their hit 1994 Ruthless Records debut EP, Creepin on Ah Come Up.
“For triplets to eventually come and be so famous they needed to steal the show,” says Vox music critic, Martin Connor. “To steal the show, they needed their own space.”
So how does this work? Basically, it means the snares come in less often, and this gives the MC space to play around with the beat.
In Biggie’s “Notorious Thugs” from the 1997 Life After Death – that featured Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – the tempo is double speed, but the snares hit on the third beat. “Essentially, the instrumental beat has two rhythmic lanes for the artist to rap in,” according to Vox, so the skill of the MCs comes from the way they are “constantly changing those lanes.”
None of this is new, or even unique to Rap and Hip-Hop. Classical Music compositions, such as Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” divided the beat into three notes instead of the usual two or four. Moreover, as Justin Hunte argues that pattern is central to much African music; “the types of rhythms that are the foundation of the kind of music that Hip-Hop came from in the first place.”
But as Southern Hip-Hop artists started to rise in the charts in the ’90s and mid-2000s, and Trap emerged as the dominant production sound on mainstream radio, rapping in triplets has become the norm.
“Triplets were always in Rap,” music critic Martin Connor notes, but with the advent of Trap, it was “a marriage made in heaven.”
The Notorious B.I.G., Triple 6, P.E., and Bone Thugs have long been credited as pioneers and innovators. In light of the Rap that’s reigning on the singles charts and radio, that may be even truer.