Every rap group is subject to debates about the best member. But it’s not often that an artist takes a stance like Quavo, who repeatedly stated that he felt fellow Migos member Takeoff was the best in the trio. “He always been workin’ on his craft…he just masterminded his craft,” the rapper told Power 106 in 2018.
Takeoff, born Kirshnik Ball, was fatally shot in Houston on Tuesday morning, ending the chapter of an Atlanta rap group that helped define 2010s rap music. While Takeoff, who was 28, didn’t have the high-profile relationship that Offset has with Cardi B and wasn’t the outgoing public figure Quavo is, the consistency of his body of work demonstrated that he was the stabilizing presence of the multi-platinum Migos.
Fans could always rely on Takeoff to deliver a strong verse that demonstrated a masterful mesh of flow, cadence, and lyrical precision. Consider his impressive verse on “Commando.” Takeoff didn’t just find one pocket and rely on the same flow throughout the track; he varied his arsenal. He knew when to punctuate bars by exclaiming, “We the ones that came in with the kicking doors.” He knew when to carry his flow into the next bar and when to syncopate to leave space for adlibs. “Commando” is from Migos’ YRN 2 mixtape, a sequel to their 2013 YRN, which included their breakout “Versace” and “Hannah Montana” hits.
“Versace,” their commercial debut single, is perhaps the quintessential example of “the Migos flow.” Takeoff buoys the song’s middle with an impressive verse that starts with him competing with his own “I do it” adlib before veering into a stilted delivery. Party-starting tracks such as “Versace” exemplify Migos’ and Takeoff’s brilliance. Even if listeners can’t keep up with him all the way through, which few non-rap professionals can, his cadence allows them to latch back onto the ride on the next bar right in time for an ad-lib or emphatic end rhyme. Takeoff’s “Versace” verse defines the Migos’ appeal, which made them the soundtrack to Atlanta’s bustling party scene in the 2010s.
New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli’s new book, Rap Capital, chronicles the Atlanta rap scene from 2013-2020. Of course, the foundation of trap rap happened in the late ‘90s, when Migos members were just kids in Gwinnett county. There were trap kings before Migos; the Gwinnett trio was fortunate and talented enough to take the baton from their predecessors. In some ways, Takeoff represented the best qualities of the trap gods before him. He had the technical precision of T.I., the ad-lib prowess of Jeezy, and mirrored the work ethic of the prolific Gucci Mane. That combo helped Migos’ brand of trap command the world’s attention.
Takeoff was famously not present on Culture’s lead single “Bad N Boujee” (his “do it look like I was left off ‘Bad N Boujee?’’” response was as quotable as any bar on the song), but that was a matter of chance rather than an indication of his value to the group. Nevertheless, he stole the show on their follow-up single “T-Shirt,” where he judiciously stammered across an ominous Nard & B production. Takeoff kept the same structure throughout his verse but altered his flow with subtle technical differences that reflected the mastery of craft that Quavo credited him for.
In 2018, Takeoff released The Last Rocket, where he expanded on his Migos work with story-telling tracks like “I Remember,” which hinted at an untapped potential. And Only Built For Infinity Links, his recently released collaboration project with Quavo, displayed a two-person chemistry they could have built on for the foreseeable future. But with his tragic passing, Takeoff won’t be able to explore the following chapters of his life and artistry.
Today, a user on Twitter who says they worked on the live broadcast of Migos’ 2021 Jimmy Fallon performance pointed out that “the highlight for all of us was Takeoff’s performance. His ability to command the room without making a mistake, knowing his lyrics + everyone else’s & still being the most humble.” That commanding presence carried on throughout his catalog. At his best, he was deft, dextrous, and downright torrential on Migos bangers. And without Takeoff, Migos don’t sell over 3 million albums, get nominated for two Grammys, or maintain the seat in popular culture that they do.