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Rapper Takeoff from the group Migos died Tuesday at age 28

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Changing gears now - the hip-hop world is mourning the death of Kirshnik Khari Ball, best known as the rapper Takeoff from the group Migos. Takeoff was shot and killed early this morning in Houston after an altercation at a bowling alley. He was 28 years old. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In 2017, comedian and actor Donald Glover called Migos the Beatles of his generation for hits like "Bad And Boujee."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD AND BOUJEE")

MIGOS: (Rapping) We came from nothing to something - hey. I don't trust nobody. Grip the trigger - nobody. Call up the gang and they come and get you.

BLAIR: The rap trio was a family affair - Takeoff, his uncle Quavo and Quavo's cousin Offset. They started rapping together in middle school in Lawrenceville, Ga. They went on to reach the top of the Billboard album charts multiple times.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVALANCHE")

MIGOS: (Rapping) My dog, he gon' bite. No Chico get hit with the Draco and make him with Rico. Ain't shopping Rodeo. You want to see the three Migos, then turn on your Vevo.

BLAIR: Atlanta-based music journalist Christina Lee interviewed Migos early in the group's career. She says, compared to his band members, Takeoff shied away from the spotlight.

CHRISTINA LEE: As I'm talking to him, the only thing he's really concerned about is the music.

BLAIR: Lee says it was clear how much Takeoff revered the craft of hip-hop.

LEE: As Migos were finding success off the song "Versace," you know, Takeoff is explaining to me that he wears his Versace sunglasses because he's looking to hip-hop's past - like, he wants to model himself after Notorious B.I.G.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VERSACE")

MIGOS: (Rapping) Come in my room, my sheet Versace. When I go to sleep, I dream Versace. Medusa, Medusa, Medusa...

LEE: So you start to see that reverence play out throughout his career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VERSACE")

MIGOS: (Rapping) ...Louie, my blunt's as fat as Rasputia - fat - in a striped shirt like I'm Tony the Tiger.

BLAIR: Fans paying tribute to Takeoff on social media are also grieving what feels like a string of violent deaths among hip-hop artists. Comedian Ron Funches writes, we need to stop killing off our natural resources and see what it's like to let rich Black men grow old and wise - something Takeoff alluded to on his solo album with the song "Last Memory."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST MEMORY")

TAKEOFF: (Rapping) I prayed to God to wash my sins - God. Nothing formed against me, not a weapon - no weapon. I asked Him, where do I begin - where? Devil trying to take my blessings - my blessings.

BLAIR: I mourn that such frivolous violence has ended your life, tweets Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She continues, my heart goes out to Takeoff's family and to all who are devastated by his death. We have a lot of work to do in transforming the culture of violence into a culture of community awareness and care.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CASPER")

TAKEOFF: (Rapping) For all of my - deceased - died. The pineapple 'scotti, it reek. Gelato biscotti, it stink. Twelve fast on feet - 12. Cartel got the bag dirt cheap - cartel. Got gas, but the tank on E - gas. No flash, but the ice on fleek - no flash. Walking out with the bag and receipt - walking out. No clout, all facts when I speak - no clout. White Wraith with the red and black seats - Wraith. Pulling up like a falcon with me - pulling up. She gon' faint when she see the double R, when she find out Casper with me - Casper. Bad - bad - small waist, pretty face - pretty. Having my way - having, having. She let me - on her face. Stay in your place - stay in your - shut up and stay out the way - shut up. Decided what I'm going to do today - what? I'ma (ph) ghost ride the Wraith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.