In the summer of 2015, no one was cooler than Migos. Hailed as stylistic innovators, they were known for their signature triplet flow that dominated the charts, doing laps around the usual suspects on the Top 40, all while Offset was inconveniently behind bars. That left two members to represent Migos in public as their star began to rise: Quavo, the group’s charismatic leader, and his three-years-younger nephew, Takeoff.
Quavo did most of the talking when I went to Atlanta that year to write Rolling Stone’s first profile of Migos. Takeoff was quieter, more reserved, and happy to play the background while his uncle entertained a visiting reporter. But there was no missing his importance to the group. Migos were a family band, and their success was built on a real-life bond that began many years before they stepped into a studio. Even with one-third of the group absent, it was evident how much all three members relied on each other. Today, as the world grieves Takeoff, shot and killed at age 28 in a senseless crime, know that this loss goes much deeper than rap for Migos.
Music was Takeoff’s life. He told me that he’d never been interested in sports the way many of his peers were (including Quavo, a high school football star). “I could play a little ball, but it ain’t what I do,” he said, just a few years out of high school at the time. “My thing was rapping. I knew I was gonna be who I was. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t going to be who I was. I knew I was going to be here.”
He was eager to give credit to the Southern rap acts that had inspired him — Gucci Mane, Outkast, the whole Cash Money crew — and serious about what music meant to him. When Quavo reminisced about the earliest beginnings of Migos, downplaying it as three teenagers “just playing around, fucking with it,” his nephew disagreed.
“You were just playing around, but you felt like you was dead serious,” Takeoff said. “You know what I’m saying? You act like you’re dead serious about what you really want to do.”
Those first sessions took place at Quavo’s mom’s house in Gwinnett County in the late 2000s, with all three members crowding around a PC running Windows MovieMaker — “just a regular computer,” Takeoff said — with a sock over the microphone.
They called themselves Polo Club, and the first song they made was called “Boost It Up.” “That was the lingo,” Takeoff said. “We gon’ boost it up like we gon’ turn it up.”
They’d come a long way from those days by 2015. Takeoff was proud of the custom jewelry that draped his body, including a diamond-encrusted rocket emoji pendant (“Takeoff, a.k.a. NASA, we taking off”) and a piece of rare currency on another iced-out chain. “I got a Canadian coin on,” he said. “A whole bunch of coin collectors be trying to look for it, they can’t find it. They mad I got it on my neck right now.”
Migos had recently played some shows in Europe, and they’d made a big impression on Takeoff. “People overseas, they treat you different,” he said. “They don’t speak no English, but they know every verse, every word. They spit lyric for lyric, bar for bar. I went over there, we were doing ‘Versace.’ I held up the Paris flag and the whole building went crazy, like they scored a goal, like it was a soccer game. It felt real good.”
Today Takeoff’s story has been cut short in tragic, cruel fashion. Back then it felt like it was just starting. “It’s a blessing,” he told me as he looked forward to his future with Migos. “It’s only the beginning though. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”