Rich Fury/Getty Images for Global Citizen
The rapper Takeoff, one-third of the dynamic Atlanta rap group Migos, has died. Migos emerged in the 2010s as a viral force within its local scene before exploding onto the national stage. They managed to shape the zeitgeist without losing any of their regional appeal, opening a portal for acts that followed, and the members pointed to Takeoff as the group’s secret weapon. He was reportedly shot after an altercation at a bowling alley in Houston early on Tuesday. Takeoff’s death was confirmed by Drew Findling, a lawyer who represented him. He was 28.
Born Kirsnick Khari Ball on June 18, 1994 in Lawrenceville, Ga., Takeoff began rapping as a teenager, alongside his uncle, who took the name Quavo and his cousin, who rapped as Offset. “Growing up, I was trying to make it in music,” he told The Fader in 2017. “In my spare time, I’d record myself. Find a beat, pulling em up. Just making something and creating for me. Just listening to the songs I made for myself, so I could rap to em, even if I didn’t put them out. I was getting my own pleasure out of it, because it’s what I liked doing.” He got his name finishing songs in one take. The trio was initially known as Polo Club before donning the name Migos, and they released their first mixtape, Juug Season, in 2011. The group broke through in 2013 with the mixtape Y.R.N. (Young Rich N*****) and its infectious lead single “Versace.” After the original went viral online, a signal boost from a Drake remix pushed the song to the higher reaches of the Billboard charts. It later helped define the decade. During its rise, the group became known for the distinctive Migos flow, a rap cadence heavy on triplet patterns.
Despite being the least public-facing member of the group, Takeoff was often heralded as its most underrated piece, a spirited performer prone to bouts of introspection. He was usually the group’s anchor, securing its songs through all of their motion. Migos were formal and cultural innovators: The Migos flow spread across popular music and the triad helped popularize the viral dance move the dab. In the opening months of 2017, they were fully ascendant: Their hit single, “Bad and Boujee,” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in January, and their second album, Culture, became the No. 1 album in the country a few weeks later. (Takeoff’s absence from that hit led to a contentious exchange with Joe Budden at the BET Awards.) After they appeared as fictionalized versions of themselves in his TV show, Atlanta, Donald Glover praised the group while accepting the Golden Globe for best comedy series: “They’re The Beatles of this generation.”
What could have merely been another viral moment instead established Migos as a career act; mainstream notoriety never damaged their credibility. Culture II, also a Billboard No. 1, followed in 2018. That same year, the group briefly unyoked to release solo albums that cemented its standing. All three peaked in the Top 5 on the Billboard 200; Takeoff’s The Last Rocket debuted at No. 4. It was his only solo release. Though his identity remained largely inextricable from the group’s for most of its run by design, Takeoff became an increasingly unignorable presence in their fast-moving music, as his combustible verses took up more space and grew more reflective.
The Migos completed their Culture trilogy in 2021, after repeated delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rumor swirled of the group’s split earlier this year when Takeoff and Quavo began releasing music without Offset. Just weeks before his death, Takeoff released a joint album with Quavo, Only Built for Infinity Links. Throughout it all, he remained largely anonymous, seemingly averse to the spotlight. Attention didn’t seem to suit him. “Takeoff so underrated,” Pierre “P” Thomas, co-founder of Migos’ label Quality Control, tweeted in May. “If he cared more about this rap game he would definitely be stepping on y’all n***** but unfortunately he don’t gaf. Been like that since he [sic] first met him. Nothing has changed with him.”