The hip-hop one-percenter life is a gated mansion in Atlanta that sits on more than two acres and has two Bentleys in front of it, and when you open the front door a cloud of weed smoke punches you in the face. Welcome to the huge, half-empty house owned by Offset of Migos. Some rooms have nothing but clothes on the floor. Some seem to have never been entered. There are still tags on some of the furniture. “We just thuggin’ it out,” Offset says. “I been on the road so much I ain’t been here.” You can picture him paying for it just yesterday in stacks of crisp new bills because, as he says on “Bad and Boujee,” Migos’ chart-topping hit from last year, Offset’s got a whole lot of new money. In fact, there’s about $100,000 of it lying on the bar right now, in rubber-banded hundreds. And on the kitchen counter there’s $1.27 million worth of jewelry, including a watch by Audemars Piguet and another by Patek Philippe. “The watch everybody rap about, I have in real life,” Offset notes. He’s rich beyond his teenage dreams. “I never knew I would get this big, honestly,” he says.
Migos – or the Migos, as the group usually calls itself – aren’t big. They’re gigantic. Twenty-six-year-old Offset, his 26-year-old cousin Quavo and Quavo’s 23-year-old nephew Takeoff have transcended hip-hop to become shapers of the culture. They’re style icons who dress in bold, slim-fitting fashion and usually wear six or seven elaborate diamond chains at once. They helped create the Dab and got everyone from Cam Newton to your dad doing it. Donald Glover featured Migos on his TV series Atlanta and called “Bad and Boujee” “the best song ever.”
Migos are arguably the most influential group – in any genre – of the past few years. They’ve developed a signature rhyme style: short bursts of words in triplet rhythm. Kanye and Drake have borrowed the Migos Flow; other MCs have made it their primary style. (As Takeoff notes, triplet-based rhymes predate Migos – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Three 6 Mafia were into them back in the Nineties – but the sleek, acrobatic way Migos do them feels new.) Some hip-hop purists complain that the sound is robotic and overused, but they sound like grandpas barking at the neighborhood kids to get off the lawn.
There’s a popular meme in which fans say Migos are “better than the Beatles,” and like the Fab Four, the three Migos have distinct personalities. Quavo (born Quavious Marshall) is the leader and the frontman, charismatic and confident and quick to jump into funny shit-talking. He was a star quarterback in high school who set the Gwinnett County record for most completions in a game, 28. Takeoff (born Kirsnick Ball) is the kind of guy who talks only when he really has something to say. He’s low-key until it’s time to rhyme, and then he explodes with energy – that is, he “takes off.”
Offset (Kiari Cephus) is deeper, more serious – he’s got the gravelly-sounding voice that’s just hard. He’s had trouble with the law, including a 2011 arrest for larceny and marijuana possession. In 2015, the whole group was arrested on gun and drug charges; Takeoff and Quavo got plea deals, but Offset got eight months in jail, thanks to his priors. That painted Offset, in some minds, as a criminal, an image he rejects. “I’m not no fucking criminal,” he says firmly. “I was young.” He admits to committing crimes as a teenager. He says, “I was doing shit, but I would hide it from my mama. I would hide my dope from my mama.” He says his time in the streets was part of a business plan – a way to raise seed capital to launch Migos.
But all of that is yesterday’s news. Right now, it’s early December, and Migos are racing to finish Culture II, the follow-up to 2017’s platinum-selling Culture. The album is due in three days, and they’ve got 30 great songs they want to whittle down to 20 or 21 perfect ones, which means there’s still a lot to do. Pharrell did some production on the album, Big Sean and Ty Dolla $ign recorded rhymes for it, and Travis Scott contributed vocals. Migos also say Kanye West worked on a number of songs, but they aren’t planning to use all of those tracks on Culture II. “He did more [songs],” Takeoff says. “We sitting on them right now, man.”
Today, Offset looks classy even as the world is running him ragged. He’s dressed in all black – skullcap, turtleneck, leather pants and socks, too. Everything fits as snugly as if he’s about to walk in a fashion show. He juggles a visit from his lawyer and calls from managers and producers. There’s also a very special guest upstairs right now: his fiancee, Cardi B.
The couple met about a year ago at Offset’s insistence – while he watched her rise as an artist, his interest grew, then exploded. “I was like, ‘Damn, I am on her!’ ” he says. “I am like, ‘Shit, I like Cardi B!’ ” He had a publicist set up a dinner in New York for a select group of women, including Cardi. Their first date was at the Super Bowl. He says, “That’s a power move!”
Cardi swoops down the stairs, her long blond hair flying behind her like a cape. She’s late for a flight home to New York, but she stops for a moment before getting in a car and speaks of Offset with sparkles in her eyes. “He is always taking care of everybody,” she says. “Like, you know when you that one person that have the money, he really take care of everybody? He got to take care of his babies, so he overworks himself more than anybody I ever seen.”
Offset is constantly talking about money, either his plans to make or to spend it. He loves to floss, but he really loves being able to take care of his family. “I want to have generational money,” he says. “I got three kids, bro. I need all my kids to be educated and wealthy.” His children are eight, two and two. No, the two-year-olds aren’t twins. “I don’t want to be one of those rappers who had it but right now they be on a TV show to keep them going,” Offset says. “I would rather be out the scene, getting my money on Bitcoin.”
Oh, how much do you have in Bitcoin now?
“I don’t like to discuss my investments.”
OK. Is there an investment that you can discuss?
“I bought five houses in Atlanta and I flipped them. Tripled my money. Made, like, $170,000.” Next, he wants to buy a commercial building.
In October, at a concert in Philadelphia, Offset proposed to Cardi onstage, in front of thousands. Why do it that way? “So she wouldn’t think I was playing,” he says. “Let the world see that shit. I must have spent half a million on that [ring].”
Why do you want to marry her?
“She is real solid, came from where I came from, did what I did. She’s herself, man. I seen her develop from the trenches all the way up, and I like how she did it. I respect her grind as a woman. She came to the game with some gangsta shit. I like that. I fuck with her. That’s my baby.”
Alas, in early January, Cardi suggested on social media that Offset had cheated on her (though she later deleted the tweet). Around the same time, more than one sex tape, purportedly featuring Offset, leaked online. After Cardi’s post, I ask Offset if they’re still working on wedding plans. “We ain’t, we ain’t planning it right now,” he says. “We chilling. We don’t got time for that right now.” Asked about what happened, he refuses to discuss it. “It’s my real life,” he says firmly. “It ain’t no gig. It ain’t no fucking game, you know what I’m saying? It ain’t no game. It’s my life.”
Shortly after he said this, Offset got Cardi’s name tattooed on his neck.
It’s around midnight, and we’re outside Atlanta’s Quality Control studios. The doors of a McLaren slide straight up. Quavo jumps out and exclaims to no one in particular, “I’m a rock star! But ya already know!”
Quavo heads to Studio C and begins working on a beat while eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes from Magic City, the famous Atlanta strip club. He eats with his right hand while playing an Akai MPK Mini keyboard with his left as DJ Durel, who serves as a tour DJ, producer and engineer, sits beside him, tweaking sounds on his laptop.
As he eats, Quavo rolls a blunt, gulps some Hennessy and listens to the beat in progress. He’s a genius at coming up with catchy choruses, though he’s also a meticulous beatmaker. Over and over, Quavo plays a bit on the Akai, then says, “Go back, go back,” then listens and plays a line again. He directs Durel to adjust the track again and again, until finally he’s satisfied. It’s a funky little beat with some bass and 808, and as it resounds through the studio, Quavo says, “That’s hard!” – their favorite honorific.
Migos recorded much of Culture II in the midst of a world tour, which was a big change for them: Part of the Migos secret sauce is that they record a lot in their individual home studios. “At home, you comfortable as hell!” Offset explains. “You not gonna be like, ‘Is this hard?’ It’s just you in your zone. ‘Bad and Boujee’ was made at my house!” He says he recorded his parts with his youngest son sitting on the floor by his leg.
In South Africa, they recorded at a resort where monkeys would walk right up and say hello. “We were just writing in the middle of, like, the jungle,” Takeoff recalls. “Our backyard was, like, the trees.” All of this had an impact on what they wrote. In one song, Takeoff says, “[Quavo] saying ‘straight out the jungle, straight out the jungle,’ like on a Bob Marley kind of like Jamaican tip. We wouldn’t have said that if wewasn’t in the environment wewas in.”
Despite the unusual setting, Culture II has “the original Migos sound,” Offset says. “Club rocking. The beat, the bass is everything. We’re not really a slow-down artist. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s lit.” “It’s still trap,” Takeoff adds. “We got a little funkier. It’s not all the way funk. There’s still a Migos vibe.” Offset says their most crucial audience is women. “Even if it’s some gangsta shit, trap shit, the bitches got to like it,” he says. “See, ‘Bad and Boujee’ was really a ladies’ record. It made all of them want to stand up a little more and feel a little better about themselves. When you got the women, you got everything. If a nigga needs to know the secret to hits, you need something that the women like.”
Over in Studio A, Offset is working on vocals for a different song. Migos usually work separately, then give one another pieces of songs that either get completed or tossed out. Offset likes to record his vocals sitting in a chair beside the console. As the beat plays again and again, he improvises over it. He sounds a lot like James Brown talking smack on a record, the way he sliced through a track rhythmically and aggressively and, at times, incomprehensibly. Over time, Offset starts to hear words emerge. First he spits, “Had to put my mama in the Maybach,” then a second later he tries, “Came from the bottom in the haystack,” then, “Working out the pain from the way back, uh. . . .”
When they were younger, Migos had a 20-minute rule: They wouldn’t spend longer than that coming up with a verse. Now, tracks take a little longer, but one key to their sound is that they never write out their lyrics. They just freestyle and see what happens, which prevents them from overthinking things and lets instinct take over.
“We could take the
“We could take the private to L.A.,” Quavo will say as nonchalantly as you might say, “We could drive to 7-Eleven.”
Migos think a lot about rhythm, about getting every syllable in the exact right place and leaving the perfect amount of space between words. “I feel like my voice is a snare,” Quavo says. “I feel like my voice is a drum. And most important, I feel like my voice is a bass.” Ad-libs are a big part of this; those little interjections between rhyme bars – whether shouts of “Shine!” (a reference to jewelry) or signature sound effects like “bwah,” “skrrrt” or “brrrup” – accentuate the rhythm and add catchiness. “Each beat got its own space where ain’t nothing playing for, like, half a second, and that’s where you gotta jab the ad-libs in,” Quavo says. “Let that motherfucker act like a high-hat or snare.”
One reason Migos seem to be so in tune with one another in the studio is that they’ve been doing this since they were kids. Growing up, Quavo and Offset bonded over familial heartache. When Quavo was in the eighth grade, his mother grew ill. “She got this staph infection in her leg,” he says, “and she was paying all the bills and paying for her medicine. And I watched that, and that really hurt me.” Quavo says his father died when he was five or six, and as his mom battled through pain while still taking care of him and his two older sisters, he decided he had to grow up. “It just got me focused,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m-a make it work.’ And ever since then it was like magic.”
Offset, meanwhile, recalls watching his older brother get locked up. “People don’t know this. He taught me everything I know. He got 15 years in prison, man, when I was in eighth grade. So that fucked me up.” Around that time, he and Quavo began spending endless hours working on their craft, developing their rhyme style. Takeoff joined the group soon after, and the three Migos lived together in the three-bedroom home of Quavo’s mother.
They put out their first mixtape in 2011, then scored their first hit two years later with “Versace.” Nowadays, Migos get mobbed whenever they walk down the street, and they spend money like sultans. “We could take the private to L.A.,” Quavo will say as nonchalantly as you might say, “We could drive to 7-Eleven.” Quavo can even afford to do superballer things like buy his mother a big new house for Christmas. He says he actually split the house with Takeoff – Quavo’s mom is Takeoff’s grandmom – but still. “She was really, really excited,” Quavo says. “She was crying for, like, the whole day.”
Along with runaway success has come occasional drama – including a standoff with Chris Brown at last year’s BET Awards and two incidents in which they were accused of homophobia. In both instances they apologized, saying, in part, “We love all people, gay or straight, and we apologize if we offended anyone.” There was also a crazy moment with Joe Budden. Budden is a rapper who until recently was the co-host of a popular Web show called Everyday Struggle.When Migos appeared on the show, Budden dissed them by walking off the set mid-interview, which led to Migos and their crew squaring up. It looked like a brawl was imminent. The resulting video almost broke the Internet. Quavo went on to use “Joe Budden” as a synonym for hater – he put that in the chorus of “Ice Tray,” a collaboration between Quavo and Lil Yachty from late last year. But now Quavo all but dismisses him. “I ain’t never had no beef with Joe Budden!” he says. “I always just been, ‘Fuck him.’ It’s no disrespect when I say, ‘Fuck him.’ It’s not like, ‘Fuck him when I see him, let’s fuck him up.’ It’s like a ‘Fuck him, I’m not bothering him, he ain’t bothering me’ type of fuck. It’s no beef. He’s just a man with bullshit opinions to piss the artists off. And on top of that, he used to be an artist, so he knows what to say to piss us off.” In a video Budden released online, he laughed about the song and said, “They are trash,” but reached for comment for this story, he just says, “I love Lord Quavious.”
Around 2 a.m., it’s time to leave the studio and head to the strip club. The whole fam – about 15 guys in total – are rolling in an eight-car caravan of expensive rides that includes Offset’s Bentley Bentayga, their friend Lil Yachty’s Bentley and Quavo’s McLaren. We’re snaking through dark Atlanta streets in one line, except that Quavo needs to be at the front of the line, so he keeps switching lanes and zooming ahead, running red lights as the engine roars from the back of the beast. Quavo drives confidently. He does everything confidently. When I ask him to name his top five MCs, he lists six – Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Kanye, Gucci Mane, and himself.
Quavo delivered several dozen guest verses in 2017, appearing on songs by everyone from Liam Payne to Mary J. Blige. He’s dying to be more famous than he already is. “I want to sit down, actually, with Ellen on the couch,” he’ll say. “Sit down with Jimmy Kimmel on the couch, sit down with Fallon or something. Really do the things that these real, real major stars doing.” He plans to build himself into a triple threat. “I want to be part of everything. In high school, I played three sports, and in the industry I’m trying to play three sports as well.” He means making music and acting in and producing movies; he recently said he’s working on something inspired by the films he grew up loving: “Juice, Menace II Society, all the Snoop Dogg movies, Master P movies, I Got the Hook-Up, Baller Blockin’ – the Big Tymers movie.”
As the McLaren surges ahead at breakneck speed, Quavo catches me pressing my feet hard into the floor, doing the air-brake thing. And someone being ill at ease as he drives fast and wild and high makes no sense to him. “Don’t be nervous!” he commands. As you can imagine, this does not mollify.