"Pretty nice, huh?" Quavo sweeps a hand toward the matte-black interior of his BMW X6 sports car. The 24-year-old leader of the hyper-stylish rap trio Migos is doing 60 on a highway through midtown Atlanta on a Tuesday night. Takeoff, his three-years-younger nephew and partner in the group, leans back in the passenger seat. "Put your seatbelt on," Quavo warns as he hits the accelerator.
Ever since they achieved fame with 2013's ultra-catchy "Versace" – a high-fashion flaunt whose distinctive rhyme patterns echoed through subsequent tracks from superstars like Drake and Kanye – Migos have been on a hot streak of mixtapes and singles like 2014's "Fight Night" (certified gold, with 13 million YouTube views and counting). Their boundless charisma and creative flair have kept them at rap's cutting edge for two years straight, making fans of street-level hustlers and Justin Bieber alike. Whatever cool is in 2015, Migos are it. This summer, they're on the brink of new conquests: Their first official studio LP, Yung Rich Nation, is due out on the last day of July, and work is coming down to the wire. "We're grinding right up until July 31st," Takeoff says. He plugs his phone in to play a new track, and molasses-thick bass booms from the stereo speakers. "We did this one today," Quavo says.
The mood in the car feels relaxed as we cruise through the city, but there's big drama hanging over Migos. The group's third member, Quavo's cousin Offset, is languishing more than 200 miles away in a Statesboro, Georgia jail tonight due to an unresolved incident from this spring, in which all three were arrested on drugs and weapons charges. It's a major complication that couldn't have come at a worse time. Even so, Quavo shrugs it off. "Everybody gets slapped on the wrist," he says. "Offset will be back soon."
For now, the two free members of Migos are taking a few hours off the clock to have some fun. A little after 10 p.m., we pull up at a bowling alley, where two other cars carrying friends with names like Lingo and Peaches have already arrived. Quavo strolls into the brightly-lit building and rents a couple of lanes for the night, paying the cashier with a bill from the fat roll of hundreds in the back pocket of his skinny gray Balmain jeans. A dark blue patterned T-shirt from Migos' YRN clothing line, several flashy chains and medallions, a diamond-encrusted Rolex and a pair of oversized, non-prescription Versace eyeglasses complete a look that could be compared to an extremely swagged-out Steve Urkel. Quavo trades in his gray Air Jordans for size-nine bowling shoes, chooses a red ball and throws an effortless strike on his first try. "Put that in Rolling Stone!" he crows.
Quavo plays with Lebowski-esque grace for the next two hours, scoring a total of 217 points, more than anyone in their crew except a woman named Play. When the people in the next lane over – a bunch of white guys drinking beer in well-worn T-shirts – ask for a photo with Migos, the rappers oblige. Quavo challenges the bros to a friendly bet: $20 to whichever team wins the next game. A woman sitting with the other team asks him what the logo on his shirt means: "Is that supposed to say 'yearn'?" "No," he says. "It stands for Young Rich Niggas."
His competitive instincts keep the Migos team's totals high, and he shakes things up with a ninth-frame strike, but in the end the rappers lose to their neighbors, 434 to 442. Around midnight, Quavo concedes and pays up. "Good game, y'all," he tells them on his way out to the parking lot, where he finds a few friends hotboxing one of their rides and climbs in.
Later that night, back at Migos headquarters – a combined office and recording studio owned by their label, Quality Control Music – Quavo is still a little sore about the loss. "Damn!" he exclaims, slapping his hand in frustration. "We lost to those white boys! We were supposed to beat them."
Quavo and Takeoff make their way into the studio's main control room, where they sink into black leather couches and roll up Backwoods blunts. Quavo jokingly banishes one of their crew from the room: "Get a gold plaque, then you can smoke in here." He and Takeoff laugh and puff fragrant clouds toward the ceiling, kicking back in their zone.
The only thing missing is Offset, who's been locked up in Statesboro since the night of the group's April 18th performance at Georgia Southern University. Police arrested all three members of the group, along with about a dozen associates, after allegedly finding less than an ounce of marijuana, some codeine syrup and four handguns in their tour vans. While Quavo and Takeoff were each able to post $10,000 bail after two nights behind bars, Offset – the only felon in the group, with burglary and theft convictions on his rap sheet – was forced to stay longer due to his priors. The case made new headlines in early May, when Offset was hit with a battery charge after an alleged fight with another inmate. (He has pleaded not guilty to that charge.) "You know how Offset do," Quavo says. "He might punch you. Offset's the animal out the group. But he ain't no bad guy."
Migos' three members have retained three individual defense attorneys to fight for them in court. In interviews with Rolling Stone, the lawyers poked considerable holes in the official account of the April arrests. They maintain that the weapons found in the vans were brought there by Migos' security guards, who had the right to carry them; that there is no evidence linking the small amount of marijuana retrieved to any member of the group; and that the police may not have had any legal grounds to search the vehicles in the first place. "I think the entire arrest and the entire prosecution are strictly racially motivated," says Quavo's attorney, Cris Schneider. "Both law enforcement and the prosecutor know that they can't tie any of that stuff to any of these individuals."
"We want to broaden our horizons and touch everybody. Everybody wants to dream of being rich."
Offset sounds fairly upbeat, considering the circumstances, when he calls me a few days before his bandmates' bowling night. "I'm chilling, I'm good," he says. "I mean, I'm in jail, so there's not much going on." He tells me he's trying to keep a positive attitude, working out and writing down lyrics in a notebook to stay sharp. "I gotta keep my wordplay and make sure I don't lose nothing," he says. "I probably done wrote 30 songs since I been in here." He's stayed in close touch with Quavo and Takeoff through daily phone calls from jail. "We talk about business, and we pray together," he says. "We repent for all our sins, pray that I get up out of this situation. We're family. We believe in loyalty."
The three rappers grew up together in Gwinnett County, a mostly suburban area half an hour northeast of Atlanta. Quavo was a promising young football player who led the county in passing yards and completions as Berkmar High School's starting quarterback in 2009, his senior year. John Thompson, Berkmar's head football coach at the time, remembers him as a natural leader. "The kids respected him, and they played hard for him," Thompson says. "I think they really liked him, too." Off the field, Quavo was known for his easygoing attitude. "He was a jokester," says the coach. "I was a somewhat type-A personality, hard-nosed, and he was always trying to lighten up the mood. He was fun to be around."
But he ended up dropping out before graduation. "I couldn't follow nobody's rules," Quavo says. "I knew I was going to be somebody." By that time, according to a report published in 2009 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mexican drug cartels had made sleepy Gwinnett County a key distribution hub. "I ain't going to sit here like, 'My neighborhood was hard, and I had to get out there and grind,'" he says. "We made it hard for ourselves. We chose to stay on the streets."
A tight clique since childhood, the future Migos lived together in the three-bedroom home of Quavo's mother, known to all three as Mama. "We did all our dirt together," Quavo says. "All we had was each other." Rapping was something they did for fun. He recalls nailing a microphone to his mom's living room wall when he was 16 so they could record their first song, a turn-up anthem called "Boost It Up," using a free program called Windows Movie Maker: "Wasn't even no ProTools or nothing. I got my first girlfriend out of that song."
A close brush with the police spurred Migos to make their first mixtape in 2011. "We got into some legal shit, but the charges got dropped or whatever," Quavo says. "We realized we had to calm down and get money the right way." By two years later, they had saved enough to upgrade the makeshift studio they'd set up in his mom's basement and finish their breakthrough release, 2013's free mixtape Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas). "We went to Guitar Center and bought all the shit we needed," Quavo says. "Then we dropped 'Versace.' I made a million dollars out of $4000."
All of Migos' music since 2013 has been released through Quality Control, an indie operation led by Pierre "Pee" Thomas and Atlanta kingmaker Kevin "Coach K" Lee, whose former protégés include Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy – two of the South's most impressive success stories in the past decade. Last year, the group expanded their reach via a distribution deal with 300 Entertainment, a deep-pocketed new label co-founded by longtime record-biz honcho Lyor Cohen. "He's a mentor," Quavo says of Cohen. "He's the plug. He might call me and cuss at me; I might call him and cuss at him. That's a good-ass relationship."
Their goal for 2015 is to make Migos an even bigger brand. For the new album and their clothing line, which debuted in June, they switched out the last word of their signature acronym: "We graduated from Young Rich Niggas to Yung Rich Nation," says Quavo. "We want to broaden our horizons and touch everybody. Different races, different languages. Everybody wants to dream of being rich."
One of Migos' associates pulls up some new tracks on the studio speakers, including a poppy collaboration with angel-voiced singer Sean Kingston and a psychedelic vibe-out featuring party-starters Rae Sremmurd. The best of the bunch is a freshly recorded cut with a celebratory hook that's begging to be looped on repeat: "Shout-out to God for my blessings!/Shoutout to God for my blessings!/Shoutout to God for my blessings!"
Around 2 a.m., Quavo steps into a vocal booth. "I gotta do something before I leave," he says. "Otherwise it's a waste of time." He begins spinning cocaine metaphors over a skeletal beat. "Marilyn Manson, Marilyn Manson, Marilyn Manson," he raps. "Know some niggas cooking up that Marilyn Manson." He repeats the lines five or six times, building from a moody mumble to an excited yell. After a few minutes, he switches to basketball: "Ball like Kobe, ball like LeBron/Only got hundreds, baby, I ain't got ones." When a friend suggests that Steph Curry's name would sound cooler than Kobe's, Quavo redoes the line. The bars start coming faster: "Quavo Houdini got a hat and rabbit. . .When I die, bet it's fantastic. . .Diamonds biting, dinosaur Jurassic." By 3 a.m., with a rough draft of a song sketched out, he's back in the control room, twisting up another blunt.
In just a few hours, he and Takeoff have a flight to catch: They're heading to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic the next morning for a quick tropical vacation. "Ain't no telling/What we doing/When we there in Punta Cana," Takeoff sings to a made-up melody that sounds like it could crack Billboard's Top 20 with a little polish. "Then we'll get right back to work."
"Shit, all we gotta do is keep making hits," Quavo adds. "Day by day, year by year, and let God judge. This is just the beginning, for real."