The sky was gray with rain clouds as a crowd of mourners made their way into Atlanta’s State Farm Arena to celebrate the life of the rapper Takeoff, the cornerstone of the Migos who was shot dead on November 1. The showers, the Mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Dickens, would tell us later, were a good omen for a funeral, meaning Takeoff, born Kirsnik Khari Ball, was on his way to heaven.
As we filtered into single file lines at the lip of the building, we were made to drop our phones in sealed pouches only staff could open, a reasonable request for presence and privacy, especially in light of the gruesome spectacle Takeoff’s death became as videos circulated online. That meant when Offset, his fellow Migo and cousin, took the stage well into the service and wept for the man that lay before him in a chrome casket, his grief was bound to the arena, and we were bound to it.
“Take,” is all he could utter at first, overcome with sorrow. “I love you,” he said. “I’m sorry.” For many minutes, we watched him cry, many in the crowd cheering and shouting encouraging words. Eventually calling the loss unbearable and saying his heart is shattered, he made a raw admission: “I don’t wanna question you, God, but I don’t get you sometimes.” Then, leading a prayer, he called for fellowship. “I need to be held,” he said so vulnerably.
Quavo and Takeoff had just released their first album as a duo, Unc & Phew, named for their family ties, on October 7. A flag based on the art for that record, Only Built for Infinity Links, was laid across Takeoff’s casket. While alluding to a rift between the pair and Offset on a podcast last month, Takeoff left room for resolution: “We don’t know all the answers. God knows. We pray a lot, so only time will tell. Ain’t nothing got to change.”
Takeoff’s deep faith in God was called upon again and again in a memorial where loved ones and leaders worked to process his death out loud. “This is a 28-year-old man whose life was ended senselessly,” said his pastor of 18 years, Jesse Curney, III. By every account, Takeoff all skill, heart, and brain. “Quavo and Offset, you might get mad at me,” warned Kevin “Coach K” Lee, co-founder of Migos’ label Quality Control, “but he was the wise one.” So how – why — could this have happened, and what are they to do now? Pop stars, gospel stars, friends, and family all wrestled with difficult questions about this tragedy, some finding possibility in their distress.
When Justin Bieber, a good friend of Quavo’s who has collaborated with Migos, appeared on stage for the first performance of the memorial, it seemed as if he would not – could not – sing. He sat uneasily on a stool while a pianist played intricately, at first, what felt like an intro, then what felt like a song. Bieber didn’t move. The words that finally escaped him were shaky — a rendition of “Ghost” from his album Justice. As he sang, he stood briefly before sitting again, eyes locked on the casket. His voice steadied, then solidified, then boomed. There was one last piano solo and one last solemn chorus before he left.
Bieber was followed by Drake, whose specific appearance, like all the others, was not listed on the simple program, printed on the back of a collage of Takeoff photos reminiscent of the Culture album artwork. He read his prepared remarks carefully; his typical charisma dampened but not disintegrated. He recalled two poems, one by Maya Angelou, but his words held more weight. Before recounting his days on tour with Migos in 2018, how Takeoff was zen but came alive on stage and in sync with the group, he told a story about watching the Rat Pack – Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, and Frank Sinatra – as a kid on an old TV. “I miss performing with my brothers,” said Drake. “After all these years watching Dean Martin, I realized I want to grow old with my friends. We should do that more.”
Drake had only begun to cry in his remembrance as he addressed Quality Control co-founder, thanking him for the leadership he provided and the family he created. But once he started to cry with a calm intensity, he didn’t stop. Pee and his partner Coach K took the stage next. Pee remembered a text he got from Takeoff that personified his spirit, one from June of last year that he revisited in recent days. “We came from nothing,” Takeoff wrote to Pee as he was getting his locs retwisted, just in a moment of gratitude. “We came through the storm,” he had said. “I love you.”
“I been asking God for the past 11 days. What’s the lesson in this?” Pee wondered out loud. He left the podium without an answer but asked the audience to keep looking.
Pee and Coach K’s remarks were followed by Offset’s heart-wrenching turn at the mic and a searing rendition of Beyonce’s “Heaven” by her mentee Chloe Bailey. The song, a pained but confident and accepting ode to the dead, was fitting to proceed with Takeoff’s mother’s turn to speak. Introduced as “Mama Take,” she seemed too proud of her son to be too troubled — how that voice, that passion for music, that faith in God had been with him since he was a baby. She only quivered for a minute when she told the crowd that she would never be the same without him, but she grew strong again when she thought about meeting him in heaven. “He can’t come back to me, but one day I will go to him,” she assured.
Takeoff’s mother was joined on stage by his younger brother and sister, as well as Quavo, whose address brought a surprising levity to the memorial. He clowned the extra-extra-large outfits they used to wear — some of which were displayed in a slideshow across arena screens. He teased Takeoff’s mom for admonishing their love of a vulgar Hot Boyz CD and boasted about winning a talent show with Takeoff at the Boys & Girls Club performing “Get Your Roll On By” by the Big Timerz. Finally, he told an origin story that credited Takeoff with their path to stardom — rapping was his plan. Quavo would have perhaps played sports.
Like Offset did before him, he called him the innovator of their signature triplet flow, giving him the flowers he only seemed ready to receive right before his death. “He never worried about titles or credits or who got the most shine,” said Quavo. And like Takeoff’s mother before him, Quavo seemed to have found some clarity: “You’re not my nephew,” he said to Takeoff, “Not my brother, but my angel.”