Rest in power, Takeoff — another young, creative life gone too soon
OPINION: I know how rappers’ deaths affected my generation; it seems like this younger generation has to deal with it at an extreme level.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Waking up to the news of another rapper being killed is always sad and frustrating. Takeoff (born Kirshnik Khari Ball), one-third of the rap group Migos, was killed early this morning outside of a Houston bowling alley in what seems to be the aftermath of an altercation gone tragically wrong over a dice game. I don’t have any more details than what’s available in all of the news sources covering it at this point, but that’s not what’s important.
What is important is that, whether true or not, it feels like every week another young rapper loses his life in some tragic fashion. I won’t go into the litany of rappers young and old who have lost their lives — the list is sad and long. In my own generation, I have lived through this time and time again, with the deaths of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. being the most prominent of my generation.
I can’t imagine what this all feels like to the younger generation. Migos, at least from my vantage point, is one of the most prominent groups of the past decade. They became mainstays on the scene in 2013 when their hit “Versace” became part of the cultural lexicon. I didn’t even realize Takeoff wasn’t even 20 when that song was released. As their stars continued to rise and their hold on the culture continued to tighten — both via music and the tabloids — I came to know members of the group collectively and individually. Their “Carpool Karaoke” episode is legendary. Though Takeoff wasn’t featured on the song, “Bad and Boujee” is a cultural moment. You couldn’t have even a minimal interest in Black pop music — hell, music in general — since the mid-2010s without being aware of and listening to music by Migos.
By all accounts, that means that Takeoff got to experience the highest heights of rap stardom, from the beefs that come along with the superstar territory to the money, awards, accolades and excess. He released a solo album and recently released an album with his Uncle, Quavo (another member of Migos). Of the three, at least in my periphery, he was the least “loud” so to speak; Quavo’s presence seems to be everywhere, and Offset is married to Cardi B, and that comes with a whole new set of eyeballs. Takeoff was the Migo that I was the least familiar with while still being a person whose cultural imprint was set in stone by this point.
And that’s not what makes it sad — that Takeoff was a successful, well-known entity in the current cultural hip-hop world; what makes it sad is that a young life full of potential was cut down over what seems to be a completely stupid reason and situation. Years ago, when Mac Miller died at 26 from a drug overdose, I wrote about 26 being too young to die. Well so is 28. So is 30 or 35 or anything younger than old age. When these rappers are cut down in the primes of their lives, it makes the older man in me frustrated and sad for this generation because it feels like the culture itself is in a race to the end.
Rap has always been violent; it’s hard to say that isn’t part of the DNA of the culture as well, even if all art created isn’t violent in nature. The realness and required authenticity of the genre often beckons so many artists from less-than-ideal circumstances to hold true to that ethos even once they’ve made money. Rappers, then and now, were constantly letting everybody else know just how real they were. But it feels like, now, there’s a lot more discussion of the opps and the way they need to fall back, and social media makes that all the more dangerous. Again, it’s not the entire genre at this point, but it feels like it. So there’s this slight desensitization that comes from seeing this news while I’m still saddened for the life now lost and his family and friends. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.
It is made worse by the fact that almost immediately after the news broke, pictures (and video, I believe) were put on social media showing the body laid out on the ground, which were then, seemingly almost immediately sent to media outlets. It’s bad enough that we’ve lost a young artist, but it’s pure sadism to post pictures of a young dead rapper who was just shot. It happens over and over, and it sucks every time. There’s an odd addiction to trauma that exists in our community despite the constant maligning of the trauma porn seeing Black bodies brutalized. I don’t know what to do with that, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.
Look, I’m both at a loss for words and supremely sad and upset about Takeoff. My deepest condolences to his family. There’s a sadness I have for the culture that is now lost. I don’t know what else Migos had coming or if the group can continue on after this. Or how Quavo and Offset and their families and communities are going to move forward. But we lost another young Black creative over something that seems so trivial.
We’re all worse off for it.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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