By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
State Farm Arena was transformed into a church Friday as family and fans gathered to celebrate the earthly departure of Takeoff from Migos.
The three-hour sendoff was a superstar affair, featuring performances from Justin Bieber, Chloe Bailey and Yolanda Adams, as well as a poem by Drake, and words of remembrance from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and the founders of Migos’ label, Quality Control Music.
Cousin Offset, who along with Takeoff’s uncle, Quavo, formed the platinum hit factory known as Migos, struggled to compose himself remembering his bandmate, who he grew up with and considered a brother. His head down, dreadlocks obscuring his face, he repeatedly apologized.
“I love you, dog. I love you,” he said.
Offset hasn’t been able to sleep or eat following the November 1 killing, he told the several thousand people in attendance, most of them dressed in black. Every time he dozes off, he said, he wakes up hoping news of his 28-year-old cousin’s fatal shooting in Houston was a terrible dream.
“I wish we could laugh again,” he said. “I wish I could smoke one with you.”
He closed saying how Migos changed the future of music — “You did that, Take” — and called for more brotherhood and fellowship in the world before asking the crowd to pray with him.
Drake delivers poem
The ceremony opened with about an hour of gospel music. White roses covered the stage, and Takeoff’s casket sat at the foot of stairs made to resemble mother of pearl. Acrobats in angel outfits danced in the back corners, suspended from white ribbons, as a choir sang. An infinity symbol with Takeoff’s signature rocket emblem at its center ringed the arena, a nod not only to his latest productions but also to how he’ll be remembered — forever.
Bieber took the stage in a dark toboggan, as box candles on the stadium screens bathed the arena floor in a soft glow. Perched on a stool with only a piano backing him, the two-time Grammy winner performed “Ghost.”
“And if you can’t be next to me/Your memory is ecstasy/I miss you more than life,” he crooned.
Drake, who in 2013 catapulted the rising stars into an altogether other universe when he remixed and added a verse to their hit, “Versace,” leaned on British entertainer Joyce Grenfell and writer Maya Angelou in his eulogy.
He quoted from Grenfell: “If I should go before the rest of you/Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone/Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice/But be the usual selves that I have known.”
He then paraphrased Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall,” a poem on how it’s understandable to be sad when great trees are felled, or when great souls pass, but it’s wise to remember, “They existed. They existed/We can be. Be and be better/For they existed.”
The hip-hop superstar, who just released an album with Atlanta’s 21 Savage, then recited his own poem, “We Should Do That More,” remembering how he got to know Migos on their 54-city tour in 2018. He teared up recalling the Swiss wristwatch, an Audemars Piguet, that Takeoff gave him as a gift
“I miss performing with my brothers,” he said. “We should do that more.”
The quiet Migo
Takeoff will always be remembered as the quiet Migo, but several speakers cautioned the crowd not to mistake his silence for a lack of things to say. He is regarded by many as the best rhymesmith of the trio, and Jesse Curney III, pastor of the Lilburn church Takeoff’s family attends, shared a story that Quavo once told him about Takeoff’s sobriquet.
Where Quavo and Offset needed multiple takes to get their verses onto tracks, retaking and retaking until they got it right, Takeoff — the youngest of the three — would walk up to the mic and lay down his lyrics in one perfect take. “He was an introvert,” the pastor said, “but he trusted God” to not hold back.
Between Bailey’s stirring rendition of Beyonce’s “Heaven” and Adams’ performance of the gospel song, “The Battle is Not Yours,” Takeoff’s family members took the podium to offer fond memories of the humble, wise, peaceful young man who always wanted to be a rapper but never fretted over credit or the spotlight. Even as a baby, he had a unique voice, his mother, Titania Davenport-Treet, said.
“I could tell his cry from any other child,” she said, adding that God must have given him that voice because he always knew what he wanted to be.
He was quiet but always paid attention, family members said, and he never bothered anyone. He was the funniest guy in the room, and no matter how famous he got, he never stopped putting family first and making sure their needs were met, they said.
“He hugged so tight, you could feel the love transferring through him,” his mother said.
Fans lined up hours before event
State Farm was a fitting venue for Takeoff’s farewell. The rapper was often courtside — usually with Quavo and Offset — for Atlanta Hawks games, iced out and dripping. For years, his music has bellowed through the PA system during timeouts and replay reviews.
Though doors did not open until an hour before the noon event, fans began lining up outside the arena at around 8:30 a.m., despite a cool, steady drizzle. Around 10, a woman held her arm out of a passing silver Mazda and barked, “Rest in peace, Takeoff.” The fans in line waved back.
Kalandrick Woods, 24, and girlfriend Kailey Allen, 20, of Covington, were second in line. Woods took the day off as a sandblast machine operator, and they drove about 45 minutes to get downtown.
Woods became melancholy when asked his favorite song — “Last Memory” off Takeoff’s 2018 debut solo effort — and said it’s still hard to talk about his favorite Migo. He cried when he heard the news, he said.
“I’m still depressed about it,” he said.
Woods likes that Takeoff was known to keep to himself, but by no means did that mean he was the lesser third of the group. With every new song, he appeared more developed as a lyricist, able to switch from rapid fire rap to deliberate four- or five-word bursts that painted vivid scenes. He put on mind-blowing displays of lyricism on 2014’s “Cross the Country” and more recently on his and Quavo’s “Integration,” staying on beat like a metronome as he flipped styles on the tracks.
“Deadshot (brrt)/AK make that head rock (brrt)” is the beginning of Fifi Solomon’s favorite Takeoff verse, though she had to think on it for a few seconds. From Migos’ 2017 hit, “Slippery,” Takeoff goes last — following Quavo, Offset and fellow ATLien Gucci Mane — and brings his band’s Quentin Tarantinoesque cartel personae into graphic focus.
“He said a lot in just a few words,” Solomon said. “He was the quietest, but I think he was the deepest lyrically.”
Solomon, 25, and her friend, Nani Kidane, 28, traveled from Migos’ onetime home base of Gwinnett County for the funeral. The band’s impact reached well beyond Atlanta, they said. They were trendsetters in fashion and influenced the way rappers inject ad-libs into their music.
They also set an example with their work ethic, Kidane said. Takeoff will be dearly missed, she said.
“I’m a big fan,” Solomon said. “He was my favorite lyrically out of the group, and he’s from where I’m from so it hit harder.”
Added Kidane, “It hit close to home being from Gwinnett.”
Impact anything but quiet
Maliyah Tindall, 22, of Riverdale, and Sequoia Thomas, 20, of Atlanta, also cited Takeoff’s “Slippery” verse as one of their favorites. The pair drove from Clayton State University in Morrow, about 30 minutes away, to pay their respects.
“He’s huge for the culture,” Thomas said before the funeral. “They paved the way for a lot of rappers who are going to be here today.”
“He was quiet but had a big impact,” Tindall said, spurring Thomas to add, “Like a tame lion.”
Migos were a fixture of Tindall’s and Thomas’ adolescence, they said, and he didn’t always get the recognition he deserved, but he showed up on every track.
“He’d even take over people’s songs outside Migos,” Thomas said of his features with other artists, including Lil Wayne, Roddy Rich and Travis Scott.
Takeoff seemed aware of his notoriety as the subdued Migo, but the Lawrenceville-born rap star also seemed ready to shake the reputation, eerily telling the podcast, “Drink Champs,” last month, “It’s time to pop it, you know what I mean? It’s time to give me my flowers, you know what I mean? I don’t want them later on when I ain’t here. I want them right now, so …”
After more than a dozen Migos mixtapes and four studio albums — two of them platinum — Takeoff and Quavo recently announced they’d be performing as Unc & Phew. Last month, the pair released, “Only Built for Infinity Links,” with Offset noticeably missing. Though the band had not officially broken up, there were rumors of some sort of beef among the trio.
It was abundantly clear from Friday’s remembrance that Offset would give a lot to speak with his cousin one more time. Migos fans are hopeful that Takeoff’s tragic killing might help Quavo and Offset reconsider whatever drove them to move in different directions.
“I hope they can set aside their differences,” Solomon told CNN. “You know, come together for Takeoff.”
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