As It Happens·Q&A

Rapper Takeoff's death has record producer wondering: 'How is this real?'

Canadian DJ and record producer A-Trak says he can’t wrap his head around why anyone would shoot Takeoff, who he described “the chillest guy.” He spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal about the young rapper's legacy.

The 28-year-old member of hip-hop group Migos was shot and killed in Houston on Tuesday

A young man with long black dreadlocks, a frayed denim jacket, and sparkly, round purple sunglasses stands outside, looking toward the sky.
Rapper Takeoff — whose given name was Kirsnick Khari Ball — was shot and killed on Tuesday. He was 28. (Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

A Canadian DJ and record producer says he can't wrap his head around why anyone would shoot Takeoff, who he described as a "legend" in his field and "the chillest guy."

Takeoff — whose given name was Kirsnick Khari Ball — was shot and killed outside a bowling alley in Houston on Tuesday.

At 28, he was the youngest member of Migos, a rap trio from suburban Atlanta that also featured his uncle Quavo and cousin Offset.

Police Chief Troy Finner said the young rapper was struck by a bullet after an argument broke out among a group of 40 people who were leaving a private party. Police believe at least two people fired guns, and they are looking for any information to identify them.

Migos' record label, Quality Control, said in a statement that Takeoff was killed by "a stray bullet." 

Alain Macklovitch, better known by the stage name A-Trak, is a DJ and the founder of the record label Fool's Gold. He has worked with Migos for about eight years. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal about Takeoff's hip-hop legacy.

You work with a lot of musicians, obviously. What stands out for you when you think about Takeoff?

Migos, all three of them, brought a real spark to the hip-hop scene.

They had a very recognizable flow — like a certain triplet cadence, like a certain metre to their flow — that was really recognizable right away. But also, they sort of came to rise at a point in time where there were less and less groups in hip hop. The bigger artists were becoming solo acts, and then you had these three guys from Atlanta, flashy dressed with, like, really sort of bubbly lyrics and flows.

I remember the first time I actually saw them perform in person, I sort of made a joke that they were like Snap, Crackle and Pop. Like, they just seemed animated, you know? And Takeoff was probably the least flashy in terms of look and personality, but for the heads — for the people that really were fans of rapping — he was possibly the most skilled. He was kind of like the rappers' favourite.

Three young men with long black dreadlocks, dark sunglasses and silver sequined outfits stand side-by-side on a stage with microphones as smoke, lit orange and red, billows behind them.
From left to right, Quavo, Takeoff and Offset of Migos perform onstage at the 2021 BET Awards on June 27, 2021. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)

What set him apart skill-wise?

He had a sort of gruff, hard voice. And in a sense, Quavo kind of stood out early, you know, with his melodic hooks. And Offset also had a sort of catchiness to his voice. And in a sense, Takeoff stood back a little bit, but really held down, like, the serious rapping — you know, the denser, more lyrical rapping.

Takeoff has been described, as I've heard, as the quiet one of the group. And you sort of hinted at that. What was he like to be around?

He was more reserved. And so Quavo, personality-wise, sort of came across as the de facto leader of the group. And him and Takeoff, you know, clearly through their family bond, were always very close. So if you saw them, it was usually Quavo or Offset that would sort of be at the forefront, come up and greet you, shake your hand or whatever. But Takeoff was just sort of one step behind.

He also seemed like the one that you could actually sit with and crack jokes with a little bit. Like, he was very observant. And I think that comes with the personality of people who are a little bit less flashy, but still in the spotlight. You can tell that he sort of sits and observes.

Even as far as the family relationship, like I remember he would call Quavo "Unc." Like, that was his uncle. Even though I think they were just a few years apart, there was still that dynamic between them.

A man with died blonde hair, a five o'clock shadow and a tie-dye sweatshirt looks to one side as he DJs on stage.
A-Trak — a Canadian DJ, producer and record label executive — says he's heartbroken to learn about Takeoff, and lamented how many rappers and hip-hop artists have died in recent years. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festiva)

They were together when he was killed, Quavo and Takeoff…. Is there any sense, you know, of what happened there?

I have no idea. All I know is whatever it was, I just can't believe that there's yet another rap star, hip-hop star, who's passed away so young. He's 28. It's like I almost forgot how young he was because I have known him for like eight years at this point.... He must have been 20 when I met him.

They became stars so fast. Even that first time that I met them, they were already sort of larger than life. You just sort of assumed that they were, you know, grown adults, but they were still pretty young.

I have a friend [at] Spotify ... and he just tweeted literally like a list of the rappers that passed in just the last four years.... It's completely heartbreaking to see that. Like, it just really makes you wonder what's going on in the world, you know?

I grew up on hip hop in the '90s when even just losing Biggie and Tupac ... it shook up the whole world. But in a sense, it's also all that we could take. And then now you think about it, you see this list, this enumeration of rappers who passed just in the last couple of years, and it's just like, how is this real?

What kinds of conversations are you hearing, are you having, in the community, given all of those deaths that you've talked about?

It just feels surreal. It feels senseless.

On one hand, there's a sort of a sense of, like: Who would kill Takeoff? Like, the chillest guy. Not to say that one person deserves to die more than others. By no means am I saying that. But if you met this guy, like, truly, you would just think who would ever kill this guy? Like, what goes through someone's head to do that?

And it just also feels that there used to be kind of a certain amount of respect for people who are legends in their field. Like, there's just a certain understanding of you don't touch this person or that person, even if it goes into a world of street stuff and whatever might be happening behind closed doors. Still, there would be kind of this silent contract, almost of you don't touch the person that is truly gifted and that can take their whole community and family to better living conditions. 

How has that gone? How are some of these artists so reachable? How did some teenager manage to get to Pop Smoke and kill him? All those things. It shouldn't be. It shouldn't be.

Hip hop is now the biggest genre in the world. You know, it has been for many years. So, obviously, there's entire generations that grew up idolizing these artists and, you know, these kids who are growing up seeing their favourite musicians die. And at this number, at this rate, that shouldn't be either. 

With files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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