the sky was gray with rain clouds as a crowd of mourners made their way to Atlanta‘s State Farm Arena to celebrate the rapper’s life To take offthe cornerstone of the migos who was shot on November, 1st. The showers, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens would later tell us, were auspicious for a funeral, meaning Takeoff, born Kirsnik Khari Ball, was in heaven.
As we filed in single file around the edge of the building, we were forced to put our phones in sealed pockets that only the staff could open, a reasonable demand for presence and privacy, especially in light of the macabre spectacle Takeoff’s death came as videos circulated online. It meant that when Offset, his fellow Migo and cousin, took the stage long before the service and wept for the man in front of him in a chrome coffin, his grief was arena-bound, and there we were. linked.
“Take,” was all he could say at first, overwhelmed with grief. “I love you,” he said. “I am sorry.” For many minutes we watched him cry, with many in the crowd cheering him on and shouting words of encouragement. Eventually calling the loss unbearable and saying his heart was broken, he made a stark admission: “I don’t want to question you, my God, but I don’t understand you sometimes.” Then, leading a prayer, he called for communion. “I need to be restrained,” he said with such vulnerability.
Quavo and Takeoff had just released their first duo album, Unc & Phew, named after their family ties, on October 7. A flag based on the art of this disc, Designed for Infinity Links only, was laid on Takeoff’s coffin. While hinting at a breakup between the pair and Offset on a podcast last month, Takeoff gave way to resolution: “We don’t know all the answers. Only God knows. We pray a lot, so only time will tell. Nothing should change.
Takeoff’s deep faith in God was repeatedly invoked at a memorial where loved ones and leaders worked to voice his death aloud. “He’s a 28-year-old man whose life ended insanely,” said his 18-year-old pastor, Jesse Curney, III. By each account, Take off all skill, the heart and the brain. “Quavo and Offset, you might get mad at me,” warned Kevin “Coach K” Lee, co-founder of the Migos Quality Control label, “but that was the wise one.” So how – why – could this have happened, and what should they do now? Pop stars, gospel stars, friends and family have all wrestled with difficult questions about this tragedy, with some finding possibility in their plight.
When Justin Bieber, a good friend of Quavo who collaborated with Migos, appeared on stage for the first performance of the memorial, it looked like he didn’t want to — couldn’t — sing. He sat uncomfortably on a stool as a pianist played intricately, first what sounded like an intro, then what sounded like a song. Bieber didn’t move. The words that finally escaped her were shaky – a rendition of “Ghost” from her album Justice. As he sang, he stood up briefly before sitting down again, his eyes fixed on the coffin. His voice stabilized, then solidified, then exploded. There was a final piano solo and a final solemn refrain before he left.
Bieber was followed by Drake, whose specific appearance, like all the others, was not listed in the simple program, printed on the back of a collage of photos of Takeoff recalling the Culture album cover. He carefully read his prepared remarks; his typical charisma attenuated but not disintegrated. He recalled two poems, one by Maya Angelou, but his own words carried more weight. Before recounting his days on tour with Migos in 2018, how Takeoff was zen but came to life on stage and in sync with the band, he told a story about watching the Rat Pack – Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra – as a child on an old television. “I miss playing with my brothers,” Drake said. “After all these years of watching Dean Martin, I realized I wanted to grow old with my friends. We should do that more.
Drake had only begun to cry in his memory when he reached out to Quality Control co-founder Pierre “Pee” Thomas, thanking him for the leadership he provided and the family he created. But once he started crying with calm intensity, he didn’t stop. Pee and his partner Coach K then took the stage. Pee recalled a text he received 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 twisted his locs, just in a moment of gratitude. “We weathered the storm,” he said. “I love you.”
“I have been asking God for 11 days. What is the lesson there? Pee wondered aloud. He left the podium unanswered but asked the audience to keep looking.
Pee and Coach K’s remarks were followed by Offset’s heartbreaking turn on the mic and a searing rendition of Beyonce’s “Heaven” by her mentee Chloe Bailey. The song, a painful yet confident and accepting ode to the dead, was fitting to continue with Takeoff’s mother’s speaking turn. 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 shivered 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 come to him,” she said.
Takeoff’s mother was joined on stage by her younger brother and sister, as well as Quavo, whose speech brought a surprising lightness to the memorial. He clowned around in the extra-extra-large outfits they wore – some of which were displayed in a slideshow on the screens in the arena. He teased Takeoff’s mother for scolding their love for a vulgar Hot Boys CD and bragged about winning a talent contest with Takeoff at the Boys & Girls Club performing The Big Timerz’ “Get Your Roll On By.” . Finally, he told an origin story that credited Takeoff with their path to stardom — rapping was his blueprint. Quavo might have played sports.
Takeoff’s obituary read, “Takeoff would like the world to see the light in what he created and to continue to uplift and support the creations that people put out into the world. He is now with the stars he loved so much and remains in all our ethers on a daily basis through his music and the love he brought to so many people.
Like Offset before him, he called him the innovator of their signature triplet, giving him the flowers he seemed ready to receive. just before his death. “He never worried about titles or credits or who shone the brightest,” Quavo said. And like Takeoff’s mother before him, Quavo seemed to have found some clarity: “You’re not my nephew,” he told Takeoff, “Not my brother, but my angel.”