The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Takeoff wasn’t the most visible member of Migos. But he was its heart.

Migos rapper Takeoff, seen here at a New Jersey concert in 2019, died Tuesday at age 28. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
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At the 2017 BET Awards, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff — members of Atlanta rap trio Migos — were reflecting on their success in a red-carpet interview with rapper Joe Budden and DJ Akademiks. But the exchange went sideways when Akademiks casually asked Takeoff about his lack of a feature on “Bad and Boujee,” the ubiquitous lead single from the group’s second studio album, “Culture.” Takeoff’s initial absence on the track, the first Migos song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, had been a source of internet memes. “I feel like it’s just like a running joke with you left off of ‘Bad and Boujee,’ ” Akademiks prompted.

“I ain’t left off ‘Bad and Boujee,’ ” Takeoff responded in his confident Southern drawl. “You think I’m left off ‘Bad and Boujee.’ ” Akademiks awkwardly asked Takeoff to repeat what he had said, several times, before Takeoff — looking every bit the star in white shades and a silk floral button-down left open to expose his chain-draped chest — ultimately shut down the question once and for all: “Do it look like I’m left off ‘Bad and Boujee?’ ”

The point was underscored when Migos performed the chart-topping song as part of a medley, with Takeoff — the group’s youngest member — gamely providing backup vocals and hype in lieu of a featured verse.

Migos rapper Kirshnik Khari Ball, known as Takeoff, was fatally shot in Houston on Oct. 31 at a private party at a bowling alley. He was 28. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Takeoff, who was fatally shot in Houston early Tuesday, was never as visible a presence as Quavo, the trio’s charismatic frontman, or Offset, one flashy half of a hip-hop power couple as the husband of Cardi B. But Takeoff was integral to Migos, which ushered in a new era of rap with their signature flow — full of crisply delivered triplets that begged to be on repeat — not least because he first tapped Quavo, his uncle, to rap on tracks with him.

Migos rapper Takeoff fatally shot in Houston

“Migos achieve restraint through the percussive power of their consonants. They have an acute awareness of the places of articulation in their respective mouths, and they play them like drums,” Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards wrote in a rave review of “Culture” in 2017.

Migos, which grew to include Quavo’s cousin Offset, was still confined to the basement when the group caught the attention of Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “P” Thomas, co-founders of Quality Control, the Atlanta-based hip-hop label and management company that signed Migos in 2013. In a 2017 episode of Tidal’s “Rap Radar” podcast, Coach K recalled being drawn to the unique “cadences” and the “sincerity and authenticity” inherent in the trio’s music: “I was like, ‘This s--- is special.’”

Thomas was particularly impressed by Takeoff’s flow, which he first heard after rapper Gucci Mane, a mentor to Migos, urged him to listen to one of the group’s songs. “I was like, ‘Yo, that dude there — it’s crazy the way he was spitting,’ ” Thomas told “Rap Radar.” “It reminded me of Bone Thugs, like how they used to be rapping back in the day.”

Takeoff could be selective about projects, Coach K said. “We’ve given him features and if he don’t like it, if he don’t feel like it, he won’t even do it.” His quiet demeanor, in the face of his immense talent, earned him the nickname Silent Killer.

“Takeoff has always been like that. One thing about him, his personality, his character — it never changed since the day I met him,” Thomas said.” He don’t even talk a lot. He’s just in his own zone. He do things the way he wants to do it and you just have to let him be who he is.”

“He’s the youngest of the group and he’s going to grow into his own,” Thomas added.

By all accounts, Takeoff, born Kirshnik Khari Ball, was doing just that before he was killed at 28. He made his solo debut with “The Last Rocket” in 2018, prompting Pitchfork to declare him the trio’s best rapper — a distinction Quavo co-signed in a GQ profile earlier this year. Migos released their fourth album, “Culture III,” in 2021, rounding out a series of albums from a once-in-a-generation act. In an interview with Billboard early last month, Takeoff called the series “legendary.”

“We’ve been here a long time,” he added. “People don’t even get to do it that long, and we’re blessed to keep doing it.”

Amid rumors the group had permanently disbanded, Takeoff and Quavo launched a new effort this year under the moniker Unc & Phew. The duo’s first album, “Only Built for Infinity Links,” was released in October to enthusiastic reviews. The video for their latest single “Messy,” which features Quavo and Takeoff trading verses about their meteoric comeup, dropped on Monday.