One month before his death, Takeoff danced alongside his uncle and fellow rapper, Quavo, at a listening party for their new album, “Only Built for Infinity Links.” Takeoff, whose real name was Kirshnik Khari Ball, smiled wide the entire night, dancing and raving about how excited he was for the future.
“It was amazing. Takeoff wanted to let the music speak,” said Rea Davis, a senior contributor for AllHipHop.com who covered the newly formed duo’s listening party in Los Angeles. “He was so excited and passionate and confident about the project. You could see his energy! Him and Quavo danced around the room. They were really proud. He’s always been shining, but on this project he got to shine a little bit more.”
The new album was supposed to be the next step in Takeoff’s already illustrious career. Takeoff, 28, was the best rapper in the rap trio Migos, which also included Quavo and Takeoff’s cousin Offset, many diehard fans — and Quavo himself — have said. Some considered him a pioneer of the group’s trend-setting hip-hop trap sound, often called “Migos Flow,” a mix of stuttering beats and punchy rap triplets. But his career was cut short early Tuesday when he was fatally shot at a Houston bowling alley.
Reactions of shock and devastation have poured in from fans and musicians alike, many of them paying homage to Takeoff for his contributions to hip-hop as they mourn his loss.
“I got the best memories of all of us seeing the world together and bringing light to every city we touch,” the rapper Drake wrote, captioning an Instagram photo of him and Takeoff onstage. “That’s what I’ll focus on for now. rest easy space man Take.”
Chance the Rapper shared a photo of himself with members of Migos on Twitter, writing: “It goes without saying that I’m broken hearted and confused this morning. But I have to say Take is a one of a kind friend that would always acknowledge you, always make sure you was good and would always tell you keep God first. Man I wish I had more times to see u on this earth.”
Offset changed his Instagram profile photo to an image of Takeoff.
Officials said Takeoff and Quavo, 31, were at a private party at 810 Billiards & Bowling in downtown Houston when a man, later confirmed to be Takeoff, was shot in the head or the neck and pronounced dead at the scene, NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston reported. Police said at a news conference Tuesday that they had no reason to believe he was involved in anything criminal when he was killed.
Police Chief Troy Finner said Takeoff was “well-respected and nonviolent.” Davis had similar sentiments, saying Takeoff had a reputation as the “chill,” “laid-back” member of Migos.
Migos emerged as a group in 2008 but didn’t make it big until 2013, when it released its massive hit “Versace,” which became even more popular when Drake appeared on the remix. The group released a trilogy of albums — “Culture,” “Culture II” and “Culture III” — the first two of which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Takeoff also released a solo album, “The Last Rocket,” in 2018.
Those from the Atlanta area, not far from Takeoff’s birthplace, Lawrenceville, say they have been shaken by his death.
Lore’l, host of Atlanta’s Hot 107.9 radio show “The Morning Hustle,” said Atlantans are “extremely devastated.” “We’ve seen a lot of other young rappers also lose their lives recently. It’s just something about Takeoff that has really hit everyone hard,” she told WXIA.
Atlanta’s V-103 has gotten nonstop calls from grieving listeners who have been sharing what Takeoff meant to them, according to WXIA. Davis, who spent most of her life in Atlanta, said the group’s impact could be felt in the city long before it gained global fame.
“When they hit, it was like an explosion. It felt infectious. People gravitated toward the music. I feel like they really influenced the culture,” Davis said, adding that the group “had a huge impact on the cadence of rap, the delivery, the flow.”
She added of Takeoff: “He’s always been a force in music and a force in the group. He’s like the quiet assassin, the lyrical one. Fans will sometimes argue that he’s the strongest in the group. He’s the more reserved and laid-back one, but musically he really shines.”
Along with the outpouring of sadness from artists like Sza, Ciara, Keke Palmer, Chloe Bailey and others, some artists and rappers are blaming hip-hop and rap culture for Takeoff’s death. The actor Lakeith Lee Stanfield decried the “dangerous toxicity” of gangster rap music on Instagram, writing, “If you are for gangster rap you can’t also be for Black.” The rapper Desiigner announced in a tearful Instagram Live video that he is quitting rap because of Takeoff’s death, asking: “Why do we do this? Why do we do this?”
Such condemnations are common after high-profile shootings. But Lakeyta Bonnette-Bailey, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University who specializes in hip-hop culture, said gun violence is not a “hip-hop problem.”
“It’s not hip-hop that’s overly violent. It’s something that’s being experienced in society, from mass shootings to police killings to individual neighborhood killings,” Bonnette-Bailey said in an interview. “People want to point to lyrics to say, ‘Well these rappers are speaking about violence, so it shows that they’re violent.’ But that’s not true. Hip-hop is an art form.”