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Takeoff leaves an unparalleled legacy in hip-hop

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Hip-hop has suffered another massive loss.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VERSACE")

MIGOS: (Rapping) Versace, Versace, Medusa head on me like I'm 'Luminati. I know that you like it, Versace, my neck and my wrist is so sloppy.

RASCOE: Takeoff, who was part of the Atlanta-based, Grammy-nominated group Migos, was fatally shot at a bowling alley in Houston this past week. He was 28. To talk about who he was as an artist and what his death means for music, we're joined now by Elliott Wilson. He's the chief content officer at Tidal and the host of "Rap Radar." Thank you so much for joining us.

ELLIOTT WILSON: Thank you, Ayesha. Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: Takeoff, he was only 28 years old. And so the tragedy here is just immeasurable.

WILSON: Oh, it's monumental. I think we're all still stinging and still in pain right now. I mean, I've had the pleasure of interviewing Takeoff, along with his members in Migos, you know, throughout their rise in the 2010s. And, you know, anybody that met Takeoff understood that this guy was such a good guy, such cool energy. To think some harm would come his way in this sort of heinous way, it was unimaginable. He's part of the Migos, man. The Migos is one of the greatest groups in hip-hop history. You know, they set the standard in the modern day. He's a Hall of Famer.

RASCOE: Talk to us about that because when you say that they're one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time and how they set the standard, talk us through maybe even just a song that really demonstrated their style and how they set a standard.

WILSON: Well, I think from the beginning, they came with a different sound, and we didn't really even fully grasp "Hannah Montana," "Versace." You know, it's like it was this sort of repetitive, kind of choppy romp style and mumble rap.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VERSACE")

MIGOS: (Rapping) Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace.

WILSON: A whole new sound, different cadences, just different patterns. Like, you could feel the influence from maybe, you know, Memphis hip-hop with Three 6 Mafia elements, Bone Thugs elements of it. The thing that really stands out to me is that we're in an age now where a group is very rare. You know, a lot of artists are individual acts, right? We promote individuality in this world right now, right? But the power of unity, the power of that brotherhood, even though these gentlemen were related by, like, uncle to nephew and cousins, they move like brothers to me. There's a brotherhood. You hear it in the music and them playing back and forth off each other with different rhymes and cadences and different rhythms. And I hope that that's their influence, that Takeoff can influence artists to band together with other artists, their brothers, and make great music because that's what he did with his brothers, you know?

RASCOE: I got to ask you because you've been chronicling hip-hop for a very long time, these sorts of killings at the height of an artist's success - I remember, you know, Tupac and Biggie. I mean, I cried for days when Tupac died, right? A death like this, what does it do to hip-hop as a genre?

WILSON: Yeah. Sadly, death has been a major part of hip-hop's history. You know, like, I try to tell people, when Tupac died in September 1996, he was undisputedly the biggest hip-hop artist in the game. He was No. 1. And then six months later, Biggie dies. You know, I remember being at The Source magazine at the time. We're like, yo, is hip-hop over? Like, we're all in pain. Like, our biggest guys, the guys that literally were leading the culture are gone. And then out of that came, you know, Puffy's ascension and Master P and then DMX. And hip-hop actually got bigger than it ever was. You know, we go into the bling bling era. We become the successful cultural juggernaut that conquers pop culture, but we're still rooted in these dark times. And I think these dark times do define us, sadly. So hopefully, you know, we can get out of that cycle, you know?

RASCOE: Let's bring it back to Takeoff.

WILSON: Yes.

RASCOE: And I want to play a little bit of him talking in a clip that Complex Music tweeted out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TAKEOFF: I want longevity. I want to stay consistent. I want to be eight, 10 years, 20 years later, you still remember my music, still be able to live on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

TAKEOFF: And you still remember me and still remember all the work we put out.

RASCOE: How do you think, you know, Takeoff is going to live on through the music that he's made?

WILSON: Yeah. That determination - I think Takeoff's influence will be that, you know, you not only want to be successful, you want to really, you know, be a career artist. You really want to put together a whole catalogue. You want to keep going and evolving as an artist, that you're not just defined by one hit. My hope is that Takeoff shows that he took rapping very seriously. He used substance to all his lyrics and what he put down on paper and what he rapped about. And I think that that's the standard that's always been the essence of hip-hop. And the ones that kind of give to that will have long careers in this.

RASCOE: Elliott Wilson, chief content officer at Tidal and the host of "Rap Radar," thank you so much for joining us.

WILSON: All right. Thank you, guys. Appreciate y'all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.