Once again, a rapper has lost his life, senselessly and far too soon. Early Tuesday morning, 28-year-old Kirsnick Khari Ball, better known as Takeoff of Atlanta rap trio Migos, was killed in Houston bowling alley by gunshots that erupted while he was shooting dice with a group that included his uncle and musical collaborator Quavo. There are no suspected attackers or other deaths on record, although two other people were injured and taken to hospital, and gruesome images of the aftermath have been circulating on social media. The shocking murder, another tragedy in a a long series of rap deathsmarks the premature end of a monumental artistic legacy that, it’s safe to say, has helped reshape the sound of popular music.
If you paid attention to music in the mid-2010s, you’ll remember the ubiquity of the Migos and their signature sound. The rap group, made up of three family members from suburban Atlanta, exploded in 2013 and became an endless source of regional slang (“Nawf” and “bando”, among others), dances, ‘ad-libs, flows and hits that followed parties, fan videos and band hype sessions. Do you remember dabbing? Just look at theirs. Do you want to repeat the name Hannah Montana at least twice, preferably three times, every time you remember the Disney show? thank them. Do you remember the falls whenever you see raindrops? There is a reason for that. Do you walk as you talk while imagining yourself on the train of souls Position? You get the idea.
The Migos, consisting of Quavious “Quavo” Keyate Marshall, his cousin Kiari “Offset” Kendrell Cephus and his nephew Takeoff, originally reunited in 2008, but they didn’t break through until the release of their third mixtape, RNJin June 2013. This tape had earned them a powerful fan following Drake, who added his own verse to a remix of the first single, “Versace”, and released it during the rollout for his highly anticipated Nothing was the same. This co-signing catapulted the trio to virality – tens of millions of hits on YouTube, their first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, even a lip-sync video of a teenager Justin Bieber. The group had already attracted attention in their hometown: “Versace” was produced by local legend and famous Gucci Mane collaborator, Zaytoven. But now they were going national as rap fans across the country turned to Atlanta.
Their rise was partly a story of the right trio at the right time. During the 90s and especially the 2000s, ATL rappers like Gucci, the Dungeon Family, Ludacris, Young Jeezy, TI, Waka Flocka Flame and Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz made it clear that the South had something to say. The burgeoning genre of trap music had rocked the foundations of both the East Coast and the West, with its “snapping hi-hats,” self-tuned vocals, repeated ad-libbed interjections, and tiny electric horns and keys. The sound was both a maximalist, energetic celebration of life and an unforgiving illustration of the trenches of the streets, all carefully calibrated to blast through strip club speakers and bass-heavy car stereos. The genre has also been further shaped by the feel and sounds rap styles than the words themselves. And, just as their rap ancestors found ways to reuse turntables and drum machines to spread their songs and stories, Atlanta’s visionary producers – the aforementioned Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital, Mike Will Made – It and the 808 Mafia – designed sets with digital percussion and software like Fruity Loops. On these beats, the generation of Atlanta MCs of the 2010s carved their own remarkable niches: the codeine-infused pain of Future, the indecipherable ecstasy of Young Thug, the copy-paste-influenced collages of Travis Scott. , the resonant baritone of Rich Homie Quan, the quiet menace of 21 Savage.
The Migos were inspired by the same sonic markers as their up-and-coming peers, but they offered something a little different: an electrifying and rhythmically deft interweaving of three singular voices. These amigos were a mischievous and fun-loving team of youngsters, dripping in jewelry and confidence. They weren’t afraid to be clumsy because they knew you wouldn’t dare play with them. They were grateful to God but did not hesitate to show themselves. With one hand they waved a finger at the cops, while with the other they flaunted the power of their dope-cooking wrists to move mountains. They repeated chosen words and phrases over and over, matching their syllables and accents to the underlying drumming network and forcing you to move your head like Jay-Z. Their “Migos stream,” who almost every rapper bred at some pointcould go back to the Lesotho historical street sounds; while they were far from the first rappers to use this triplet-heavy beat, their near-resolute devotion to it caught fire. To top it off, they had a magnetic public presence: the smiles, the outfits, the banter thrown. This is what extended them to cultural influencers as a whole; fans called them facetiously (and sometimes seriously) bigger and better than the Beatles.
The band rode this wave of success for years, culminating in studio albums (Rich Yung Nationthe Culture trilogy), big-budget collaborations (Calvin Harris, Cardi B) and hit after hit (“Fight Night”, “T-Shirt”, “Stir Fry”). Yet as their surge peaked with 2018’s too long run Cultivation II, all three members explored serious solo careers, which amplified the strange group dynamic that had existed throughout. Quavo, a must-have feature for friends like Lil Yachty and DJ Khaled, was clearly Justin Timberlake ready for the band’s solo, and Offset’s personal life (especially his on-and-off relationship with wife Cardi B) tended to overshadow his own releases. Softer take-off has never had the same level of importance. His verses were often the last on a given Migos track, and he had the fewer ad-libs or choruses. Notably, it didn’t have a verse on “Bad and Boujee”, which became the band’s biggest single of 2017 after an upsurge in viral fan-made videos propelled him to No. 1 on the Hot 100. (This would lead to the trio infamous spat with DJ Akademiks, who asked Takeoff, his neck draped in diamonds and gold chains, why he ‘gave up’ the song, receiving an immortal response: ‘I didn’t give up on ‘Bad and Boujee’. …Does it sound like Did I forget ‘Bad and Boujee’? “)
The lack of momentum from take-off was at times a source of frustration for Migos fans, many of whom agreed he was maybe the best rapper of the three. (Quavo himself admitted as much.) His raspy, deep voice didn’t carry or project in the same way as Quavo and Offset’s, but he quietly wrote some of the band’s most lively and hilarious lyrics, like the one on stacking his money like Pringles. But seriously, just take a moment to browse through some of the hits. From “Gucci on My”: “Wrist flooded, I loaded up the Breitling / Now I can’t even see the clock.” Or from “Brown Paper Bag”: “20K right next to the booth/ Wrapped in a brown paper bag/ That wasn’t part of the plan/ Take the tape out of the camera/ No proof of who I am.” Or a Track on Takeoff’s only solo project, 2018 The last rocket“I remember throwing all the drugs in the dresser/Stashing the job where you’d never know/Canine can’t even find it.”
Fame eluded Takeoff as the trio appeared to go their separate ways. Migos’ Cultivation III was delayed several times and arrived in 2021, two years later than expected. In May 2022, Quavo and Takeoff announced that they would be releasing a joint project as Unc & Phew, without Offset’s involvement. The latter unfollowed the two on social media around the same time, fueling rumors that the band eventually broke up. The duo come out their complete collaboration last month to mostly positive reviews, but none of the songs were as wide in scope as they once might have been. Meanwhile, the Southern rap scene they helped ignite is increasingly troubled: Young Thug and his Young Slime Life crew face a serious criminal lawsuit, and Offset is suing Quality Control, the label that so successful at the Migos. Meanwhile, countless Southern rappers have been killed over the past few years: Young Dolph, Young Greatness, Bankroll Fresh, MO3, and more. Takeoff’s sudden death now spells the undeniable end of the Migos, much to the sadness of fans who hoped they would one day reunite. It’s the tragic end of an era that was never meant to end like this, the loss of someone fully aware of what he had achieved and all the potential he still had. As Takeoff raps with his uncle on their last album together: “Why question the shit that I did?/ You know I had visions of that shit since I was a kid/ I’ve been evaluating it the prize and I was blessed and look what God did.”