The Rapper on Remembering Takeoff, Moving on From Migos and Launching His Next Era

On Easter Sunday evening, in a palatial house on a ridge high in the hills above Hollywood, Offset puffs on a joint as songs from his forthcoming album blast from a portable speaker. He’s been working on this album for many months — since Migos, the pioneering Atlanta hip-hop trio with which he rocketed to stardom in the mid-2010s, drifted into an unofficial hiatus a couple of years ago, and well before the shocking, tragic murder of his bandmate Takeoff outside a Houston bowling alley on Nov. 1.

Several members of Offset’s team mill around the sparsely furnished house — one of three residences for the rapper and his wife, Cardi B — while the man himself, casually clad all in black, bobs in his seat, his wildcat eyes sparkling.

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The room is filled with racks of designer drip as Offset’s team prepares looks for a photo shoot and his upcoming performance at the Rolling Loud Thailand festival, six days and more than 8,000 miles away. Three long racks bulge with jackets, shirts, pants, vests, coats. Dozens of shoes, ranging from stylish formal to clompy, Kanye-esque boots and eye-popping sneakers are lined up on the floor. A nearby table sparkles with seven figures’ worth of jewelry — rings with colorful gemstones, diamond-encrusted chains, even pearls from Tiffany’s. “This is nothing,” Offset tells us dismissively. “You should see downstairs.”

Offset Variety Cover

Offset Variety Cover

Seated on a couch, he cues up his new songs, which feature Travis Scott, fellow Atlanta rapper Future, Chloe Bailey, Latto and, on one he didn’t play, Cardi. “I got three women on my project,” he says. “The third being Cardi?” we ask. He nods with a grin.

Apart from a track that may be called “Too Upset,” which Offset teased online, the rapper asks not to have any titles revealed, but the songs range between street and sultry, party and menace — and they’re all fire. One is a rebellious anthem; another, a softer song he calls a “female record”; and the one with Scott has a sinister, cinematic sound befitting a Marvel villain. Offset laughs at the description. “Villain music,” he says. “I like that.”

After his up-tempo collab with Future concludes, he suddenly says, “You wanna hear my last song with Takeoff?”

As the song erupts from the speaker, he beams, laughs, raps and gestures along with the lyrics. He says the pair recorded it last summer; some assembled members of his team are hearing it for the first time.

“You gotta see this!” he shouts, lifting up his hoodie to display a giant tattoo of Takeoff’s face sprawled across his entire back. “It’s my favorite picture of him,” he says. “I like it because he had his glasses off.”

The ink is fresh, less than 24 hours old. He spent seven hours getting it done and plans for another three sometime before he has to board the 19-hour flight to Thailand for the festival, where Cardi is also performing.

When he’s done previewing songs, the conversation turns to his children, and to fashion and to the music he’s listening to — Young Nudy, Don Toliver and frequent collaborator Metro Boomin. Kendrick Lamar’s latest, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” gets high marks. “He’s talking about some real-life shit n—– go through,” he says.

It’s already been established that he can’t discuss Migos, owing to an ongoing legal standoff with the group’s label, Quality Control, over ownership of his solo recordings, but he expounds on what he hopes his next era can look like. “This is me going full-fledged into my solo career,” he says. “The objective is to do it fully and smash shit and fuck the game up as a solo artist. I’m coming through, bustin’ through the door. It’s all set, my next chapter. It’s my time.”

Indeed, sources say the album is “the most anticipated record in the Universal Music Group” — the giant parent company of the label releasing it.

But when the conversation turns to Takeoff — despite all the elation Offset showed while the song played, despite all the emotion that went into a full tattoo on his back — he shuts down when asked to put his feelings into words. “It’s hard for me to talk about shit right now,” he says. “I’ve never talked about this stuff. Seriously. Talking about Take is hard, man,” he says, almost whispering. “Talking about all this shit is hard. That’s why I don’t, to be honest. That shit hurts. Like, it’s gonna put me in a mood, and I don’t want to get in that mood. Some things I don’t never tell nobody. He’s not here. That shit feels fake, bro,” he says, shaking his head at the unreality of the situation. “I get through my day thinking it’s fake. And I don’t say nothing to nobody about it.”

Visibly upset, he says, “I think I need to take a break” and heads into the other room, returning only to say goodnight.

Offset Variety Cover Story

Offset Variety Cover Story

However one contends with grief is a deeply personal matter. But Offset doesn’t mention that he and the Migos extended family were not in the easiest place at the time of Takeoff ’s murder.

Hailing from the Gwinnett County suburbs north of Atlanta, Offset — born Kiari Kendrell Cephus on Dec. 14, 1991 — says his name came to his mother in a dream. To her and his late grandmother, he was the family’s “golden child,” but his relationship with his father was nonexistent.

“My daddy wasn’t even present, wasn’t nowhere to be found,” Offset says before adding, “But I never hated the n—-.” His life since then has been filled with strong women: his mother, his grandmother and a large percentage of his creative team and collaborators. “I just feel like the aesthetics of a female is different from a male,” he explains. “A female can take you somewhere you might can’t take yourself. You always need that guidance, like from that mother or that grandmother. That’s my key to my push and my drive. Strong women are going to put you in strong places.”

He was classmates with Quavo — the third member of Migos — and began hanging out with him and Takeoff when Offset was in the sixth grade. While Quavo was Takeoff’s uncle, the two were just three years apart in age, and although Offset is often referred to as Quavo’s cousin, they are actually not biologically related.

As a child, Offset showed a precocious talent as a dancer that landed him in videos for Whitney Houston and TLC. “I started off as a child doing this shit on accident,” he says and laughs. “My mama pulled up like, ‘Hey, when the music plays, dance!’ I’m like 8 years old and I get picked to be in a Whitney video. That’s big. So that be a reminder: I always think of my past to remind myself, ‘This shit is gonna be fine.’ That’s how I stay in pocket. That’s how I know I’m going to be great.”

The hangouts in Quavo’s mom’s basement eventually led to the “triplet flow” rapping style the three developed. Instead of the traditional hip-hop group format of trading verses, Migos basically traded syllables, punctuating each other’s verses and flows with shouted interjections, ad-libs, onomatopoeia or just noises. Raised on Lil Wayne, Tupac and local heroes like OutKast and T.I.  — and with a key early cosign from Gucci Mane — the group dropped its first mixtape in 2011 and went nationwide the following year with the song “Bando,” which became a viral hit in 2012.

While still teenagers, Migos signed with Quality Control, a new, family-like, local label/management company founded and run with a firm hand by former Jeezy/Gucci Mane manager Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “P” Thomas. (The company, which has also seen major success with Lil Yachty, Lil Baby and City Girls, was acquired earlier this year by the U.S. division of HYBE, BTS’ management company, for some $320 million.) Boosted by a crucial endorsement from Drake — who rapped some verses from the unknown group’s mixtape to Coach K just days after it dropped — Migos advanced that early success with their ubiquitous official debut single, “Versace.” Drake jumped on a remix, and the song was certified gold.

But the group faced challenges trying to take things to the next level — not least because Offset, who’d fathered his first child at 17 and embraced a street lifestyle that he admits wasn’t part of his upbringing, was in Georgia’s DeKalb County Jail for violating his probation after a prior conviction for felony burglary and theft. He’s absent from the video for “Bando,” except for the T-shirts bearing the words “Free Offset” worn by his fellow Migos and multiple others.

“When I had my son, I was in the streets,” he says now. “I was doing whatever I had to do to get me some money.”

Even after his release later in 2013, his ability to travel was limited by his parole terms. The group released a stream of mixtapes of wildly varying quality and scored a handful of hit singles — “Fight Night,” “Handsome and Wealthy” and “Look at My Dab,” the last of which played no small role in advancing the dance craze. But Migos just couldn’t seem to catch fire.

Trouble struck again in April 2015 when police stopped the group from finishing a concert at Georgia Southern University and arrested all three members. Charged with four counts of drug and weapons possession, Offset was denied bond. A fight in jail less than a month later extended his sentence, and he’d ultimately spend eight months behind bars that year before accepting an Alford plea deal. While Offset was locked up, the group continued to perform. But he rejoined in time to take part in Migos’ cameo on Donald Glover’s FX series “Atlanta,” and wrote the demo for the song that would vault the group to superstardom.

With “Bad and Boujee,” it all finally came together. The song became the group’s biggest hit to date, topping the Billboard Hot 100 and being certified gold or platinum in 10 countries. Glover even shouted out the group when accepting a Golden Globe Award for “Atlanta.” “I really wanna thank the Migos,” he said. “Not for being in the show, but for making ‘Bad and Boujee.’ Like, that’s the best song ever.” It was followed by the group’s most focused and cohesive full-length, “Culture,” which topped the Billboard 200 albums chart in 2017 and remained on it for 108 weeks.

But Migos were more than just a group with a hit — they were a movement, a moment, spawning countless memes, parodies and even a hilarious 2018 “Saturday Night Live” skit, featuring Glover and A$AP Rocky, revolving around a group-therapy session with a sparring Migos-like trio called “Friendos.”

However, the group’s sprawling and overstuffed follow-up, “Culture II,” fell prey to the trend of cramming as many songs onto an album as possible to boost streaming numbers. The weaker tracks caused the album to suffer creatively, although not commercially: It also topped the Billboard chart and stayed there for 110 weeks, spawning the singles “Stir Fry,” “Walk It and Talk It” (featuring Drake) and, of course, “MotorSport,” which highlighted a then-new rapper from New York named Belcalis Almánzar — Cardi B.

Offset Variety Cover Story

Offset Variety Cover Story

Offset and Cardi’s whirlwind romance began with a first date at the 2017 Super Bowl. They secretly married that September and had their first child together, daughter Kulture, in July 2018 (a fact that Cardi revealed during a musical performance on “SNL”). The marriage has been a dramatic one. There have been reports of infidelity, along with two filings for divorce (by Cardi) followed by reconciliations and another child, son Wave, born in September 2021. But through it all, the two have shown a dedication to each other and their family, with Offset saying that Cardi treats his three other children — Jordan, 13; Kalea, 8; and Kody, 8 — as her own. It also helped him kick his codeine habit.

“I put down lean,” he says. “I was drinking my whole career. It opened my mind up, but I never thought it helped me create. I feel like getting past that, cleaning up and putting that message out.”

As for Cardi, he shouts, “My bestie!” before rattling off her qualities. “She always got my back, right or wrong. We both are on the same mission to make each other better. Social is her strong point, so I listen to her social advice. And me, it’s the music, but I play behind the scenes; it’s my wife so I want to make sure she win.

“We are a great team,” he continues. “We’re a powerhouse at this point — icon status. We believe in God. We believe in family. We’re always going to keep winning.”

Cardi seconds his emotions. “What I appreciate about my husband,” she says, “is that no matter what issue I am having personally or professionally, I know he will take care of me and our family. It’s handled. I know that I have a man who has my back for real. I fully support him in this next chapter of his music career.”

However, Offset’s other family — Migos — was beginning to pull apart as its fame grew in the wake of the multiplatinum success of “Culture.” All of the members pursued parallel solo careers, creating a rapidly multiplying string of singles, guest appearances and albums. In 2017, Offset dropped the collaborative album “Without Warning” with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, which included his first solo platinum single, “Ric Flair Drip.” Over the following two years, he guested on songs by Cardi, Lil Yachty, Kodak Black and Tyga’s seven-times platinum single “Taste”; his 2019 album “Father of Four” was a much more serious and low-key outing that featured him and his kids on the cover, seated in a formal-wear family portrait.

The cracks broke into the open in 2020 when Migos filed a legal complaint against its longtime attorney, Damien Granderson, claiming he had cheated the trio “out of millions of dollars,” accusing him of “glaring conflicts of interest” and favoring Quality Control, which he also represented. (The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice the following year.) The ensuing drama, combined with the pandemic, held up the release of “Culture III” for nearly a year and a half. On the album’s cover, the three members’ faces are fused together in a photoshopped show of unity. But breakup rumors persisted, and accelerated last May when Offset and Cardi unfollowed the other group members on social media after Quavo and Takeoff announced a duo project that didn’t include him.

Then, in August, Offset filed his lawsuit against Quality Control in a dispute over ownership of his solo music, the rights for which he claims he “paid handsomely” (sources say $3 million) in a January 2021 settlement, according to the complaint. In response, QC called the accusations in the lawsuit “false” and “totally detached from reality,” insisting that “Offset remains a part of QC.”

The lawsuit intensified the group’s internal rift: A concert in Houston last summer billed as Migos ended up being just Quavo and Takeoff, and the pair’s “Only Built for Infinity Links” album was released on Oct. 7. In an early October interview on Revolt TV, Quavo said, “We stand on real-deal, real-deal loyalty, and sometimes that shit ain’t displayed. This got something to do with the three brothers. It is what it is. Right now, we gonna be the duo till time tell.” (Quavo and Offset declined to comment further on the matter.)

Offset Variety Cover Story

Offset Variety Cover Story

In September 2022, Offset posted on Twitter that he had an album coming on Nov. 11. But then Takeoff was murdered outside a Houston bowling alley on Nov. 1, during an argument related to a dice game that he wasn’t even playing (although Quavo was). Takeoff, just 28, was described as an “innocent bystander” by local police.

Offset and Quavo both posted heartfelt tributes to Takeoff. Cardi told the entertainment website The Neighborhood Talk she had been “feeling so hopeless trying to make my husband … crack a smile … seeing him randomly cry.” But at the Grammy Awards in February, Quavo performed a tribute to Takeoff alone. Reports, and an alleged recording, surfaced of an argument between him and Offset backstage before the performance, with a woman who sounds like Cardi yelling repeatedly, “Both of y’all is wrong!” (Both parties declined comment on the Grammy-night incident, although Offset dismissed it on Twitter.) In February, Quavo seemed to close the door on Migos for good in his Takeoff tribute song “Greatness”: “Don’t ask about the group / He gone, we gone / It can’t come back.”

After a brief mourning period, Offset’s posts became more positive, signaling that he’s ready to move forward. And although details are still being solidified, his album is slated for release via Universal’s Capitol Music Group this summer with a tour to follow. (Late in May, Quavo announced he has a new album called “Rocket Power” coming soon.

“Offset has made a phenomenal album; we can’t wait until the world hears his masterpiece,” a Capitol spokesperson tells Variety. “We’re deep into release planning now and will soon have big news to share!”

Offset Variety Cover Story

Offset Variety Cover Story

As we’re leaving the photo shoot the day after our abruptly terminated interview, Offset gives us both hugs and handshakes. “No hard feelings about last night,” he says. “I got emotional.”

After all, no matter how complex the relationship gets, the family ties run deep with these people he’s known since he was a kid. But he’s essentially left that family for his literal one. He’s almost a caricature of a proud father as he talks about his kids’ good grades, and how Jordan was just 12 when he taught himself how to use the music software program Fruity Loops but didn’t tell his dad until he was “good enough to make something hard.” Kody makes straight A’s and appeared in an Ivy Park campaign alongside his dad. Kulture is into fashion and adores her big sis, Kalea; early in May, Offset lit up the tabloids by escorting both daughters, resplendent in ballgowns, to the world premiere of “The Little Mermaid.” And Wave started dancing before he could walk — “He was just sitting there, dancing!” Offset laughs, acknowledging there’s a good chance that at least one of them may follow in his footsteps. “It’s in their bloodline.”

But for now, there’s an album to finish, shows to play and a vision to realize. “Sometimes you gotta sit back and not rush,” he says, scrolling through dozens of unreleased songs on his phone. “I really wanted to drop the album like two years ago, but it wasn’t time. I had to master who I was, and I got it now.”

Fashion Direction: SheShe Pendleton; Production: Derrian “Phreshy” Perry; Wardrobe Assistants: Noah Joseph, Monty Archie and Aliana Canales; Grooming: Ebony “Lady lockz” Wright and Youssef Eltoweissy; Look 1 (cover): Jewelry: Tiffany & Co. and Eliantte; Pants and glasses: Dior Resort; Look 2 (white leather motorcross): Full look: BALENCIAGA; Look 3 (black leather outfit): Leather hoodie, pants and belt: Chrome Hearts; shirt: RAF Simons from HLorenzo; Boots: Celine; Glasses: Rick Owens; Belt Chain: Eliantte jewelry; Look 4 (white suit): Suit: GUCCI, Bracelets: Tiffany & Co.; Rings: Bottega Veneta. Special thanks to Emanuel Okusanya.

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