Sunday, December 4

I went to school with Takeoff. His death isn’t entertainment.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to missed calls and texts about Takeoff being killed in Houston. 

My dad, frustrated with the constant news of Black men dying, called and asked, “Didn’t you know him?”

My best friend also contacted me early in the morning and I told her his death hurt.

“I know. You actually knew him,” she replied.

When I first saw he’d been killed, my heart dropped. It had happened to other rappers I idolized, but never one I knew.

News about Takeoff’s death this week did not just crush the fans who have followed the Migos since “Bando” hit the airwaves in 2012 and catapulted them into super stardom.

It hit home. In every sense of the word.

In a suburb 30 minutes outside of Atlanta is the “Nawf,” a.k.a. parts of Gwinnett County. You’ll hear that shouted out on many of the trio’s songs. Nawf is where I called home as did the Migos before they cultivated their early hits that changed the cadence in rap forever. 

Back in those years, we would hit up house parties on the weekends and hear some of the music they were creating blasting through the speakers.

Who would have thought they would become one of the biggest groups in music today?

LIFE CUT SHORT: Everything to know about Migos following rapper Takeoff’s shooting death in Houston 

I didn’t know what I wanted to be in high school, but the Migos had already begun laying the groundwork for successful music careers. 

In high school they were the popular guys. Bonded by more than just friendship, they sought a way out of their own struggles together.After high school, I moved four hours away to start a new life at Savannah State University. While walking through campus I heard someone blasting “Bando” from a car. This couldn’t be the guys I knew back in high school, I thought. 

Indeed it was.

I wore the fact that I knew them as a badge of honor everywhere I went. People, at least in college, look at you differently when you know famous rappers.

After “Versace” was released in 2013 and Drake added his verse, the fruits of their labor from years earlier were becoming bountiful.

DRAKE AND MIGOS: Drake and Migos hit Houston, hip-hop superstars, The Three Amigos Tour.

In 2014, I would go see them at a club appearance in Atlanta and watch them with awe from our section.

After the barrage of messages early Monday, came something uniquely awful in this era of Instagram, TikTok, Twitter. Videos of Takeoff’s lifeless body began circulating on social media with the help of retweets and social media detectives commenting and trying to pinpoint who was the shooter.

His death never had a chance to be more than social media entertainment due to the world knowing him as a rapper.

Many make assumptions that rappers, especially ones that are Black men, are aggressive and violent individuals: A caricature that has been around since the time of slavery and maybe before.

In reality, most are rapping lyrics about  the circumstances they faced while growing up amid circumstances some sectors of society may only see in movies. Rapping is not only a therapeutic way to express emotions, for the lucky ones it’s a way for talented people to change the circumstances for themselves and their families, for the better. 

I want to be clear about this. I was not close to him. We weren’t friends and I probably haven’t seen him face-to-face in over a decade.

However, tears filled my eyes that morning for the people I know who were close to him and are heartbroken by the senseless violence that leaves no one, not even the unproblematic and chill ones, unscathed.

MIGOS LEGACY: Migos, Takeoff ‘left their mark’ before fatal Houston shooting 

I was reluctant at first to write anything about Takeoff’s killing because there are people closer to him that could paint the picture of him with more clarity than someone he probably wouldn’t remember from the Nawf.

But, though I’m not from his inner circle, I have a unique vantage point on those videos as someone who oversees social media content for a news organization. I refuse to allow another Black man to be dehumanized by news organizations who aren’t of the culture. I couldn’t keep quiet knowing the sway social media has in perpetuating both positive and harmful messages. I won’t let viral and sensationalized social media posts treat a man’s life as expendable because he is a rapper.

People who are active on social media, Black people in particular, have seen over and over and over again the video exploitation of Black men dying or near death on their smartphone screens. In September, a video circulated of artist PnB Rock fighting for his life after being shot in a Los Angeles  Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles. He would later succumb to his injuries but social media users kept the video alive with constant retweeting and posting.

Last year we saw the same thing when Memphis rapper Young Dolph died. The video posted online of his death haunts me, when I think of his arm hanging out a window of shattered glass for clickbait on social media. 

The list could go on and on of other videos of rappers’ last moments plastered online for all to see, there are videos of XXXTENTACION, King Von and Nipsey Hussle to name a few. 

I don’t know how to discourage people from sharing these types of videos when social media platforms are built on views and engagement. You may think it is entertainment until it involves someone you know. 

Rap music gets a bad rap because of the violence associated with the genre. And the deaths of rising stars in hip-hop help perpetuate the violence articulated in lyrics rapped by fans on TikTok.

HIP-HOP INFLUENCER: Takeoff helped Migos leave ‘undeniable’ mark on rap industry, young generation

But being a rapper, regardless of appearance or lyrics, doesn’t always equate to being a violent human being who is likelier than others to get caught in the crosshairs of violence.

Takeoff may have been his stage name, but in the Nawf he was known as “KB,” short for his real name Kirsnick Ball. I remember his quiet demeanor and never being the center of attention. 

My former classmates at Berkmar High School would describe KB as a peaceful and quiet guy. Always out of the way, and one friend would describe him as always smiling. 

“He was a sweet, quiet and calm mannered person,” one friend told me. “Even when he became famous, he never acted brand new.”

Another person close to him said he was “humble, unproblematic, laidback and a sweetheart.”

Friends who’ve known him since middle school said he wasn’t known for getting into any altercations or arguments.

My own recollection of him mirrors the same sentiments. 

MIGOS IN HOUSTON: Rapper Quavo from Migos was a surprise guest at Stereo Live in Houston, joining Carnage for “Bricks.”

From what I can gather so far, it appears Takeoff was being his “laidback” and “unproblematic” self when an altercation turned deadly at that bowling alley in Houston this week. His music label, Quality Control Music, said in an Instagram post Tuesday night he was hit with a stray bullet. 

“Senseless violence and a stray bullet has taken another life from this world and we are devastated,” the post reads. 

I keep coming back to the role social media played in making Takeoff’s death even more of a tragedy. Once again, social media turned to the violent death of a young Black man for entertainment with no regard for his family and close friends, those who I have been around and who will now have to live with those images and gruesome videos for the rest of their lives.

To the masses he was a rapper, but to the ones that loved him, he was a friend, a son, a brother and pillar of hope for those in the Nawf striving to be successful.

His death was more than just another rapper dying. His death is uniquely tragic to so many specific family members and friends. It is not for your entertainment. Those who shared grainy close up videos of what happened in his final moments  get to move on with their lives. 

The ones who knew him don’t.

asha.gilbert@chron.com



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