(November 6, 2022). When Takeoff (real name: Kirshnik Khari Ball), one of the founding members of the rap group Migos, was murdered on Tuesday, November 1 at a Houston bowling alley, it was yet another reminder of how dangerous it is to be young, rich and Black in America.
As the quiet yet well-recognized backbone of the Atlanta-based Migos, a trio that took America by storm during the 2010s, Takeoff’s death stunned the hip-hop community and beyond. This wasn’t just another little-known rapper still on his come-up. Takeoff and his Migos brethren had hit the mainstream.
Migos, including Takeoff, Quavo (an uncle just three years Takeoff’s senior) and Offset (a distant cousin), had topped multiple Billboard charts—including the all-inclusive Hot 100 songs and Billboard 200 albums lists—and made appearances on late-night network television. Who could forget their Carpool Karaoke stint on The Late, Late Show with host James Corden where Takeoff gleefully sang along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Someone (Who Loves Me)”—after Corden joined them on a number of their own hits, of course?
Migos had also toured the world with great success. They often marveled at how their fans abroad could barely speak English but knew the lyrics to all their songs verbatim. The rap trio whose humble beginnings in north Atlanta certainly didn’t guarantee that kind of worldwide success had truly made it.
With that kind of international fame and fortune, who would have thought that the place where Takeoff’s life would be most in peril is back here in these United States?
Yet here we are nearly a week since his murder—which apparently came in the wake of a dice-game-gone-bad that he and Quavo were playing at a Houston bowling alley at 2:30 in the morning—wondering why he and his uncle were in that situation in the first place given their enormous success and the equally enormous targets on their back.
Except, as we all also know, Takeoff’s fate is not unique or uncommon. His was just the latest of an all-too-common occurrence of rappers whose lives end due to violence.
In fact, according to this article by XXL magazine, Takeoff’s murder was the 92nd documented case of a rapper being murdered in North America since the first known incident: Scott La Rock (of the group Boogie Down Productions) being gunned down in his hometown of the Bronx, NY in 1987. Of those 92 killings, 90 of them have happened here in the U.S. (two occurred in Canada).
Of the 92 murders (see complete list at the bottom of this article), 88 of the victims were Black (two were white, one was Puerto Rican and one was unclear). Of those 88 Black victims, 87 were men (only one female rapper was included in the tally). Similarly, 88 of the deaths were from gunshot wounds (three were from stabbings and one was unclear).
That’s nearly 100 rappers who presumably entered the rap game to escape from the harsh realities facing most Black men here in America—that is being poor, uneducated and underrepresented in a country where there’s little hope for the kind of life that their white counterparts see—only to have their lives end in much the same way (and sadly, at the same rate) as their non-rap brethren.
The sad truth is that many young men in these poor Black communities turn to trapping—or selling drugs and gang-banging—as a way of life. Those that make it out of that lifestyle and into a successful rap career are few and far between.
The sadder truth is that, despite their attempts to the contrary, those rappers that do make it out are succumbing to the same fates that young Black men in general are.
And that begs the obvious questions: why is it happening in hip-hop (far more than any other music genre) and why hasn’t there been serious attempts to change this outcome?
Do rappers ever really escape their earlier reality?
First, let’s look at the numbers. Of those 92 documented cases of rappers being murdered, 61 of them happened before the artist turned 30, with all but three occurring before the rapper turned 40 (of those three exceptions, one’s age was unclear), which means most of them were in their primes.
While nearly all of them had released at least one record before their deaths, several of them were still on their come-up, which would suggest that they were still making their way in the music industry.
But the more astounding statistic is that, of the 92 murders, 77 of them occurred in or near the rapper’s hometown. Notable exceptions were Tupac (murdered in Las Vegas), The Notorious B.I.G. (Los Angeles), Pop Smoke (L.A.), King Von (Atlanta), PnB Rock (Inglewood) and now Takeoff (Houston).
While rappers are well known for “repping their hoods” and never forgetting from where they came, they too often find themselves in situations where those same hoods don’t have their backs.
Add to that the flossing factor, where it’s important for rappers to show off their newfound wealth by flashing big cash or expensive jewelry and cars, and they’re much easier targets in those same neighborhoods than they were before they became rich or famous.
It’s worth noting here that nine of the documented murders were the result of a robbery attempt, including most famously XXXTentacion, Pop Smoke, and PnB Rock, with six of those nine occurring in or near the rapper’s hometown.
One would think an easy solution would be for a successful rapper to leave behind his community and/or stay out of situations like the one Takeoff and Quavo found themselves in last week. The reality is that many of the victims hadn’t yet developed the following that Takeoff and few others had, and that their hip-hop credibility was still staked on their ability to speak from and rep the streets.
Then there’s the rap beef factor.
Of the 92 murder cases, 52 of them were done either in drive-by or assassination style (22 drive-by, 30 assassination) where the rapper was apparently either the target or somehow connected to a target.
While not all of those can be conclusively tied to pre-existing beefs between rappers, several of them were clearly related to conflicts, according to the XXL article, with many of those being linked to gang-related activity, or at least highly speculated as such.
It’s no secret that rappers (and their labels—especially their labels—which we will get to in a moment), butter their bread with hard-hitting songs about trapping, dehumanizing women and promoting violence. There’s a whole language around having “opps” (or opposition) and the consequences one might experience if lines are crossed.
Even if the rappers themselves don’t carry out such threats—and never have any intention to do so—people in their camps or worse, their fans or affiliates, may see it as their duty to protect the rapper’s honor.
Of course, the extent to which this hypothesis is true may be hard to prove since many of the cases have been unsolved (which we will also get to momentarily), but the sheer manner of death for those 52 assassination-style/drive-by murders suggest that there’s at least some truth to the theory.
The inability to de-escalate, and the element of self-defense
Of the 92 murders, 17 of them, including Takeoff’s, were the result of a fight between parties, with two of those resulting in a shootout between the murdered rapper and his assailant.
That means these were scenarios in which the parties likely entered the situation with no intention of a violent outcome (unlike the assassination and drive-by scenarios described above). Somehow something got out of hand, one thing led to another and lives were violently taken.
In reading the cases documented in the XXL article, some of these scenarios were preposterous, with one conflict starting over a water gun while another was the result of an argument that began over a piece of candy.
While the other cases were often unclear as to what led to the conflicts, the introduction of egos and the inability to de-escalate the situation definitely played a role in the tragic outcomes. In some cases what started as an old-fashioned fist-fight resulted in one party getting the better of another, damaged egos became involved and the only solution seen as viable was to end it with gunfire.
Some of the cases have been successfully defended in court as matters of self-defense, where the assailant felt his life was endangered by the rapper. Either way, the presence of guns and someone being in a bad situation to begin with clearly played roles in the loss of several of these rappers’ lives.
The role of guns
The not-so-startling, but still startling statistic in this story is how many rappers’ lives were lost at the hands of gunfire.
As stated earlier, 88 of the 92 documented cases involved rappers succumbing to gunshot wounds, while three of the remaining four cases were tied to stabbings and one was unclear.
Hip-hop culture is known for its celebration of gun culture, as the lyrics to many songs over the genre’s history will attest. Also, many rappers are having to strap themselves for protection, mainly because of their highly visible target status.
But guns are also prevalent in the Black communities from which rappers hail (and where they continue to dwell as discussed earlier), meaning that these artists—like young Black men in general—are more likely to be victims of gun violence than any of their non-hip-hop counterparts.
In this way, rappers are simply a microcosm of the larger Black community where gun violence ends lives on a regular basis.
The role of record labels
No discussion about the plight of the Black rapper would be complete without delving into the role of the record labels that exploit these young artists.
It’s an owner-artist dynamic between label and rapper that is often described as genocidal in its harshest terms, where theories about the destruction of an entire race of people are tied to the labels’ unrelenting desire to keep promoting artists whose subject matter is limited to promoting gun violence, misogyny, promiscuity, toxicity in relationships, and drug culture.
While this is nothing new in hip-hop, it clearly is more prevalent today than ever before. During the 1990s, there was much more diversity in rap, with themes of social consciousness, Black empowerment, healthy relationships and even goofiness co-existing with the then-fledgling gangsta rap element.
Even gangsta rap back then was less about promoting the violence than it was about explaining it, or documenting it in street terms that hip-hop fans could understand and mainstream audiences were just beginning to explore.
Because of this unprecedented diversity and creativity, the 1990s were, to no one’s surprise, hip-hop’s most commercially expansive period, with the genre going from burgeoning in the late-1980s to full-on mainstream by the beginning of the 2000s.
Now, almost to the exclusion of more thoughtful rap, labels are clearly pushing an agenda to the mainstream where rappers are exploited by having to record songs with those same negative, toxic and violent themes repeatedly.
It’s a dynamic that no other genre of music faces and it’s one that people like Ye (formerly Kanye West), despite his methods and his motivation, are now hitting on pointedly. Never before has there been a whole genre of music so destructive in its messaging to its target audience as rap music is to young Black Americans.
There used to be a chicken-and-egg debate over whether hip-hop was contributing to the demise of Black culture or was it simply the documentation of said culture.
Now, it’s becoming more and more apparent that rap music is indeed contributing greatly to our culture’s demise and, as long as we allow labels to continue perpetuating the negative products exclusively, it will only get worse.
It’s only getting worse
Of those 92 documented rap murder cases, 56 have occurred since 2010, with an astounding 36 happening in the past five years and 19 rappers being murdered since 2020 (only 18 happened during the entire 1990s decade).
To a large extent, the most recent rap murders have occurred in cities with large Black populations.
All of the 17 hip-hop murders recorded in the Atlanta (9) and Chicago (8) areas have occurred since 2011. Similarly, four of the six murders in Houston were recorded since 2006 and ten of the eleven Los Angeles/Compton/Inglewood murders occurred since 2000 (The Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 L.A. assassination being the lone exception in that last stat).
These are alarming statistics, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement of the late 2010s and earlier this decade where one would think that more value would be placed on young Black lives.
To the contrary, these numbers would suggest that BLM has been more a pacifying slogan than anything steeped in reality.
This has been a sad but true statement for a large part of our existence here in America, particularly as it relates to the realities played out in Black communities nationwide, so why does the manner and cause of death of a high-profile rapper like Takeoff or any of the others continue to surprise us?
And why no change?
Ask yourselves that question, and feel free to provide your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this article.
In the meantime, consider these additional facts.
Of the 92 documented murders of rappers over the past 35 years, more than half—or 49–remain unsolved. This means if you’re playing the odds, there’s less than a 50% chance that you’ll either get caught or convicted if you’re contemplating a violent crime against a rapper.
Of the remaining 43 cases, 31 have been solved and nine are “under investigation,” meaning someone has been charged with the murder or is in custody and is awaiting trial. Three cases had an unclear status based on the XXL article’s research.
Secondly, record labels continue to benefit financially from Black culture, no matter how toxic that culture may be. As long as those labels believe there is an audience for the music and the messages embedded within, they will continue to exploit rappers for that financial gain.
And finally, the rappers themselves see hip-hop as the most viable way out of the poverty-stricken upbringing many of them had as kids. Unfortunately, upon getting that escape opportunity, many of them cannot or simply refuse to shed the lifestyles that often went with that upbringing, making them mere microcosms of the very culture that is killing Black men in general.
In the meantime…
As fans, bloggers and fellow rappers we will continue to express our shock and dismay over the latest deaths on social media, emblazon rappers’ images on our t-shirts or pour liquor on their graves and write tributes in articles like this one.
If a young Black rapper’s life is at least partially valued by the larger community, he might even get the kind of heartfelt sendoff that Takeoff received when James Cordon gave this monologue in the wake of the Migos rapper’s death last week.
While I can’t imagine being in Quavo’s shoes standing over a dying nephew and pondering what might have been had he (Quavo) or others stood down and de-escalated the apparent conflict rather than allow it to get to the point where gunshots were fired, the truth remains that this is now Quavo’s reality, one he will likely re-live countless times.
Takeoff’s death, like PnB Rock’s and so many others before him, can either be the catalyst for change or the continuation of an ongoing tragedy involving young Black rappers—and men in general—that is only getting worse each year.
With statistics like those cited in this article, it is clear that those rappers’ lives have not been valued, either by the industry in which they aspire to succeed, or by the rappers’ communities.
Otherwise we wouldn’t be counting the days until the next sad news of a rapper—famous or not—losing his life at an all-too-young age to violence.
|Number||Rapper||City of murder||Hometown/Rep City||Year||Age||Race||Manner of Death||Type of violence||Solved or unsolved|
|1||Scott La Rock||New York (Bronx)||Yes||1987||25||Black||Gunshot||Fight||Unsolved|
|5||Pimp Daddy||New Orleans||Yes||1994||18||Black||Gunshot||Fight||Unsolved|
|6||Stretch||New York (Queens)||Yes||1995||27||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Unsolved|
|7||Mr. Cee||San Francisco||Yes||1996||22||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Unsolved|
|10||Yaki Kadafi||East Orange (NJ)||Yes||1996||19||Black||Gunshot||Unclear||Unsolved|
|11||Kilo G||New Orleans||Yes||1997||20||Black||Gunshot||Unclear||Unclear|
|12||The Notorious B.I.G.||Los Angeles||No||1997||24||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Unsolved|
|13||Yella Boi||New Orleans||Yes||1997||22||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Unsolved|
|15||Big Steve/ Granpappy Mafioso||Houston||Yes||1999||24||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Unclear|
|16||Big L||New York (Harlem)||Yes||1999||24||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Unsolved|
|17||Freaky Tah||New York (Queens)||Yes||1999||27||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved|
|21||Bulletproof/ Lil Derrick||Unclear||Unclear||2002||??||Black||Unclear||Unclear||Unclear|
|22||Jam Master Jay||New York (Queens)||Yes||2002||37||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved|
|25||Soulja Slim||New Orleans||Yes||2003||26||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Unsolved|
|26||Mac Dre||Kansas City||No||2004||34||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Unsolved|
|28||Fat Tone||Las Vegas||No||2005||24||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved|
|31||Stack Bundles||New York (Queens)||Yes||2007||24||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Unsolved|
|32||Cavlar||New York (Brooklyn)||Yes||2008||36||Black||Gunshot||Fight||Unsolved|
|33||VL Mike||New Orleans||Yes||2008||32||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Unsolved|
|36||Mike Beck||New York (Brooklyn)||Yes||2009||36||Unclear||Gunshot||Robbery||Unsolved|
|37||Magnolia Shorty||New Orleans||Yes||2010||28||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved|
|41||Lil Phat||Sandy Springs (GA)||No||2012||19||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved|
|43||Lil Snupe||Winnfield (Louisiana)||Yes||2013||18||Black||Gunshot||Fight||Unsolved|
|49||Chinx||New York (Queens)||Yes||2015||31||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Solved|
|50||Young Ready||Bogalusa (Louisiana)||Yes||2015||31||Black||Gunshot||Shootout||Unsolved|
|54||Lor Scoota||Baltimore||Yes||2016||23||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Under Investigation|
|55||Kid Cali||Los Angeles||Yes||2016||30||Black||Gunshot||Random||Solved|
|57||Zoe Realla||Baton Rouge||Yes||2017||32||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Unsolved|
|61||Dinner With John||Chicago||Yes||2017||24||Black||Stabbing||Fight||Under Investigation|
|62||BTY YoungN||New Orleans||Yes||2017||27||Black||Gunshot||Unclear||Unsolved|
|64||Da Real Gee Money||Baton Rouge||Yes||2017||22||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved, in custody awaiting trial|
|65||Bambino Gold||Montgomery (AL)||No||2017||31||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Unsolved|
|66||Lil Lonnie||Jackson (MS)||Yes||2018||22||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Solved|
|67||XXXTentacion||Deerfield Beach (FL)||Yes||2018||20||Black||Gunshot||Robbery||Solved, in custody|
|69||Marley G||Marksville (Louisiana)||Yes||2018||20||Black||Gunshot||Unclear||Under investigation|
|70||Young Greatness||New Orleans||Yes||2018||34||Black||Gunshot||Robbery||Solved|
|71||YNW Juvy||Miramar (FL)||Yes||2018||19||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Under investigation|
|72||YNW Sakchaser||Miramar (FL)||Yes||2018||21||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Under investigation|
|73||Nipsey Hussle||Los Angeles||Yes||2019||33||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Solved|
|74||Pop Smoke||Los Angeles||No||2020||20||Black||Gunshot||Robbery||Solved|
|75||Mac P Dawg||Los Angeles||Yes||2020||24||Black||Gunshot||Unclear||Unsolved|
|78||FBG Duck||Chicago||Yes||2020||26||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Under investigation|
|81||Young Dolph||Memphis||Yes||2021||36||Black||Gunshot||Drive-by||Under investigation|
|82||Slim 400||Compton||Yes||2021||33||Black||Gunshot||Assassination||Under investigation|
|83||Drakeo The Ruler||Los Angeles||Yes||2021||28||Black||Stabbing||Fight||Unsolved|
|85||Goonew||District Heights (MD)||Yes||2022||24||Black||Gunshot||Unclear||Unsolved|
|87||Johnny May Cash||Chicago||Yes||2022||27||Black||Gunshot||Domestic Violence||Solved|
|90||Pat Stay||Halifax (Nova Scotia)||Yes||2022||36||White||Stabbing||Unclear||Solved|
Culture critic DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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