Takeoff, of Atlanta rap trio Migos, shot dead at 28

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Takeoff, of Atlanta rap trio Migos, shot dead at 28
From left: Takeoff, Quavo and Offset, the hip-hop trio Migos, in New York, Jan. 24, 2017. A shooting at a Houston bowling alley in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 2022 killed a man; Houston police believe the victim was Takeoff. Chad Batka/The New York Times.

by Joe Coscarelli and J. David Goodman

NEW YORK, NY.- The rapper known as Takeoff, a subtle vocal technician and one-third of the chart-topping group Migos, whose singsong flow helped define Atlanta’s ever-evolving, influential rap sound, was shot and killed overnight outside a Houston bowling alley, authorities said. He was 28.

Chief Troy Finner of the Houston Police Department confirmed the rapper’s death at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. A 24-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man were taken to hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.

Police said the shooting occurred after a private party had ended at 810 Billiards & Bowling, as a large group of about 40 people gathered near the front door on the third level. An argument ensued and shots were fired from at least two weapons, they said, leading to many people fleeing.

“We have no reason to believe that he was involved in anything criminal at the time,” Finner said of Takeoff.

No suspects have been arrested, authorities said, and they requested that any witnesses who left the scene come forward with additional information.

“Sometimes the hip-hop community gets a bad name,” Finner said. “I’m calling up on everybody — our hip-hop artists in Houston and around the nation — we’ve got to police ourselves. There are so many talented individuals, men and women, in that community, who again I love and I respect, and we all need to stand together and make sure no one tears down that industry.”

It was Takeoff’s childhood obsession with Southern hip-hop that first inspired Migos as young teenagers in the Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett County, on its way to becoming one of the biggest rap acts of the past decade, known for hits like “Versace” and “Bad and Boujee.”

Even as he dodged celebrity and maintained almost no public profile, Takeoff became a connoisseur’s fan favorite of the trio, and was credited with initiating the stuttering, triplet delivery that came to infiltrate hip-hop and trickle into the pop sphere.

Drew Findling, a lawyer for Takeoff and confidant to many rap stars, called his death “a devastating loss, particularly for Atlanta.”

“When you’re around Takeoff, there’s a sense of peacefulness about his aura,” Findling said. “He listens to you, he looks at you, he’s more focused on what you have to say than what he has to say. The world was starting to learn about Takeoff. It was his time to shine.”

Before becoming international rap superstars — and ushering in a new period of dominance for Atlanta music in the streaming era — Migos, which also included rappers Offset and Quavo, was founded as a family bedroom act northeast of the city, in an area that Migos came to brand as the “Nawfside.”

After releasing its first independent mixtape as Migos, “Juug Season,” in 2011, and then gaining local buzz and tastemaker attention with the track “Bando,” the trio rose to national prominence with the single “Versace” in 2013. The remix, although never commercially released, featured an appearance by Drake, who mimicked the group’s burgeoning signature pattern of rapid-fire, rollicking raps, known as a triplet flow, in which three syllables are piled rhythmically onto one beat to hypnotic effect.

A New York Times review of Migos’ 2013 mixtape, “Y.R.N.,” called the group “insistent, noisy and chaotic” and “perpetually in fifth gear.”

Pairing a punchy rap style that could sound broody or elated with sticky, repetitive hooks — like Takeoff’s defining choruses on “Fight Night” and “T-Shirt” — Migos’ trademark delivery would go on to become a go-to mode for popular music throughout the 2010s, as used by artists including Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. In 2021, former President Barack Obama put “Straightenin,” from Migos’ album “Culture III,” on his summer playlist, alongside songs by Rihanna, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder.

In late 2016 and early 2017, the group soared to A-list fame around the world thanks to “Bad and Boujee,” a spare, uncompromising track featuring Lil Uzi Vert — but not Takeoff, who was absent from the song — that spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In what may be Takeoff’s defining moment outside of the recording studio, he was once asked in a red carpet interview about being left off the track, drawing the visible ire of the entire group.

“Do it look like I’m left off ‘Bad and Boujee’?” Takeoff responded, referring to sharing the financial windfall and fame with Quavo and Offset.

The track became one of the first megahits of the streaming era, and has been streamed more than 1.5 billion times in the United States alone. The group’s subsequent 2017 album, “Culture,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and earned Migos one of its two Grammy nominations.

In an interview with the Times before the album’s release, Takeoff compared the moment to Christmas Eve. “You just know that everything you asked for is going to be there up under that Christmas tree,” he said, his often-downcast eyes lighting up. “It’s our time now.”

In the years since, Migos has released two sequels to “Culture,” and singles including “MotorSport,” “I Get the Bag” and “Walk It Talk It,” also with Drake. Takeoff’s solo album, “The Last Rocket,” came out in 2018 and debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Last month, Takeoff and Quavo — without the third Migos member, Offset — released the album, “Only Built for Infinity Links,” which went to No. 7.

Takeoff, whose real name is Kirsnick Khari Ball, was born June 18, 1994, and grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He “always wanted to rap,” he told The Fader, a music magazine, in a 2013 interview, and found his group mates close to home: Takeoff and Quavo, his uncle, were raised by Quavo’s mother, Edna, a hairstylist. She is frequently shouted out in Migos songs as “Mama!”

The first of the group to fall hard for rap music while the others played football, Takeoff soaked up music that he discovered online and bought at the flea market, particularly Southern rappers such as Gucci Mane, T.I., Lil Wayne and his early group the Hot Boys, which provided a blueprint for Migos’ later success.

As a duo initially called Polo Club, Takeoff and Quavo began performing music in their teens at the local skating rink, and released a mixtape when Takeoff was still middle-school age. Offset began spending time at Edna’s house and considered Takeoff and Quavo his cousins. Together, they started to map out a sound — waterfalls of rolling verses, ecstatic chanted phrases, jabbing background ad-libs — that was catchy and distinctive.

The trio came to the notice of the local executives Pierre Thomas (known as P) and Kevin Lee (Coach K), who founded a label, Quality Control, around the trio in 2013. Already, Migos had fallen under the tutelage of local rapper and talent scout Gucci Mane, who had heard the group’s early track “Bando,” and signed them to a cash deal.

But with Gucci Mane in prison, P and Coach K became the group’s primary boosters, developing a grassroots artist development strategy that they would later employ with other breakout acts such as Lil Yachty and Lil Baby.

Musically, it was Takeoff who first drew P’s attention with his bouncy, melodic triplet raps that the executive said reminded him of the ’90s group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

“The music was crazy,” P later said, “but what made me really want to go hard for them is that they packed all their clothes and moved into the studio — literally lived there, sleeping on reclining chairs and making music all day.”

P had long heralded Takeoff as an unsung talent, given his reserved mien and lack of self-aggrandizing. “If he cared more about this rap game he would definitely be stepping on y’all,” the executive wrote on Twitter in May, “but unfortunately he don’t.”

He added that he’d been that way since they first met. “Nothing has changed with him.”

Describing Migos’ maximalist approach to music in The Fader, Takeoff said the group would make about “seven songs a day,” spending no more than 15 minutes on each track. Working on a song for any longer “kills the vibe,” Takeoff said. “You gotta have fun with a song, make somebody laugh,” he added: “You gotta have character.”

In the summer of 2020, Takeoff was accused of rape in a lawsuit by a woman who said she was assaulted at a house party in Encino, California. A lawyer representing the rapper called the claims “patently and provably false” and said Takeoff was known for his “quiet, reserved and peaceful personality.” The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the case because of a lack of evidence, according to Pitchfork.

Recently, Migos had been coy about its future as a group as Offset battled in court with the trio’s label. But in interviews, Quavo emphasized familial loyalty and said that he and Takeoff would continue as a duo, which they sometimes referred to as Unc’ and ’Phew.

“We don’t know all the answers,” Takeoff, always a man of few words, said last month on the Big Facts podcast. “God knows. And we pray, so only time will tell.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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