The 29-year-old, born Kiari Kendrell Cephus, is laying, damn near flat, in the passenger’s seat of a car that’s probably worth more than twice my salary. We’re gossiping about movie roles that would be good looks for him and, without hesitation, he says that being a gangbanger on screen is the exact opposite of what he wants to do now. Let robbing people and selling drugs live in his past. He’s on to bigger and better things.
Instead of revisiting a closed chapter, Offset wants to open a new book as an actor — one that he doesn’t think people believe he could write. “I want to show you something I can’t do — something that nobody thinks I can do — because when you see it, it’s more interesting,” he says, clearly thinking three steps ahead. His eyes travel to his scalp for a second, trying to imagine something he can’t do. The lightbulb flickers on, illuminating a genuine smile. “Let me be a scientific nerd that came up with something new. I can invent something in the world.”
Through a glitchy Zoom screen, I’m gazing at Offset, more active than the average person making a video call from their car. He’s fresh from the studio with Migos’ other members, Quavo and Takeoff. Culture III, their forthcoming studio LP, is out in a few weeks, and they’ve been putting some finishing touches on the years-in-the-making record. Right now, he’s managed to pry his mind off the album to mull over whether he’d really take a film role as a gangbanger. “Don't get me wrong,” he continues. “I'll do the [gangbanger role] for the experience, but those roles I really don't like to take because of what comes behind it.”
Offset sits up from his seat and readjusts the du-rag that conceals his tightly-woven dreads, then tugs his cerulean hoodie closer to his head. “You don't get taken seriously, I feel like, in the filming world,” he continues, chain shining in the sunlight. There’s a pause as he thinks of how best to explain his reasoning. “You haven't seen anybody play a gangster role and then see them in something serious unless it's Robert De Niro and he’s playing a character in the mob.”
I alert him to the fact that the new Game of Thrones prequel series House of Dragon has announced some of its cast and tell him that he should take a shot at it. His eyes shoot open, and the cogs start to turn. “Thanks, I’m going to tell my agent about that,” he says, seeing HBO's near-infinite dollar signs.
Ever since LL Cool J worked his magic to get him on NCIS: Los Angeles last March as undercover CIA agent Kadri Kashan Khan, Offset’s been hooked on seeing what he can do. “When Offset approached me, I felt his hunger and was excited to help," LL Cool J told SPIN via email. “His commitment and dedication made both of us look good.”
Offset starred in American Sole, his feature debut, playing a computer engineer opposite Pete Davidson and O’Shea Jackson Jr, which hasn't been released yet. Now he’s ready to pursue even grander roles — giving preference to those outside of his comfort zone.
Despite Migos becoming certified stars a few years ago, the world didn’t know who Offset was — and didn’t care about his charm or ambition — as he avoided the spotlight. Since Migos’ breakout single “Versace (Remix)” put the group in the spotlight, Offset has become more comfortable with the idea of being a celebrity as it extends out of the music, something he used to be hesitant of accepting. Speaking to The New York Times in 2018, he claimed that the world didn’t know him.
Now he’s finally emerged from behind the curtain, celebrating his wins and standing behind his losses. As Migos gears up to release one of the year’s most anticipated albums, he’s stepping to the front with a lengthy list of goals to start tackling.
After Migos have been “busting their asses” for eight years and tying Billboard records set by the Beatles, Offset is ready for the spotlight.
It took until 2018 for the world to learn about Offset’s dancing past. There was this video of the rapper as a teenager goofing around, but it wasn’t until his mother leaked the news that the world took full notice. In the video for Whitney Houston’s 2002 single, “Whatchulookinat,” a pre-adolescent Offset — wearing a fedora and fitted suit — grooves next to Houston with the kind of polish that would win competitions.
Playing basketball, baseball and football came after dancing, and then the obsession with rapping began. Offset was raised by his mother, Latabia Woodward, just outside of Atlanta with his cousin, Quavo, and Quavo's nephew, Takeoff. Those two were the first to rap, with Quavo teaching Offset the ropes. “I’d record Quavo, Quavo would record me, we’d record Takeoff,” Offset told FADER in 2013 about their early music-making days. “Quavo was always more advanced with recording at first, honestly. He taught me. And we learned how to rap.”
In 2009, the trio became The Polo Club, but the name wasn’t catchy enough for them. The following year, they rebranded as Migos, slicing the “a” off the Spanish word for "friends” (and also inspired by drugs that touched down in his hometown). They pushed their early music in the streets and bribed nightclub DJs to play their tracks, eventually catching a break when Takeoff's childhood friend and Cardi B's official DJ Ray G played their music at nightclubs like the Mansion Elan and Obsessions. They released their first mixtape, 2011’s Juug Season, off that hype, and followed it up with their first hit, "Bando," on 2012’s No Label.
Then the breakout came when they released 2013’s Yung Rich Niggas and Drake caught wind of it. The Toronto rapper saw them at the Birthday Bash Atlanta radio concert that year and gushed to their manager about wanting to hop on a song with them. A week later, Migos sent him “Versace” and “Pronto.” Drake chose the former and sent a verse back — giving them their first Billboard-charting hit and launching them (and their trademark triplet flow) to the forefront of rap.
It wasn’t long before everyone sounded like Migos. Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug and Kanye West became some of the highest profile triplet flow users. While Migos didn’t invent the sound, they popularized it enough to declare that they changed the game. After “Versace,” they cooled off for a bit until 2016’s “Bad and Boujee” became the first step for their new era. Culture dropped the following year and ended their dry spell — providing an explosive run of singles like “T-Shirt” and “What’s The Price” to prove their unpredictability. The sequel to the album dropped in 2018 and erased some of the first’s goodwill, but it didn't matter — Migos were already too big to fail.
Although Offset saw most of this unfold, he watched “Versace” take them to the next level through metal bars. He was in the midst of an eight-month stint at DeKalb County Jail in Georgia due to violating probation for prior felony convictions for burglary and theft. Two years later, he racked up additional charges that led to another eight-month stint and faced a slew of legal issues that impacted his access to the spotlight and celebrity afforded to Quavo and Takeoff. But a high-profile marriage with the hottest woman rapper in the world, Cardi B, along with a nearly fatal car accident in 2018 that gave him a new lease on life, have pushed him in a new, future-focused direction.
Culture III is all Offset can think about. The album, years in the making, is out on June 11 following an extended three-year break — not counting each member’s solo albums — since Culture II. With touring schedules that had them practically living on the road, Migos didn’t have the time until recently to finish the LP, but Offset’s pretty cagey with the details about why now is the time to come back. He fidgets as he talks, stopping to say that there’s a function for the record this time beyond establishing that the group is “the culture." “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder because of the absence from music for so long,” he says. “We have to let them know that we’re here to stay and that when we come back this time, we aren’t letting up. We ain’t showing no mercy.”
Atlanta. Los Angeles. Miami. Culture III was conceptualized in some of rap’s most popular cities. But Migos decided to avoid studios this time around — even though no one in their immediate circles was exposed to COVID-19. Their music's hivemind feel — as if one brain is producing all three voices — works best if they record with each other in the booth so they can edit each other in real-time, giving pointers on certain bars, phrases and ad-libs. With studios only letting one or two people inside at a time due to the pandemic, they just rented houses in those three cities.
One of those homemade songs was released a few weeks ago in “Straightenin,” a no-frills, all-bars revival announcing their return with a sharp finger lodged in your chest. “We had to come back and set the record straight,” Offset says before making an ad-lib out of its name. “It’s the comeback.” The trumpets, courtesy of longtime collaborator DJ Durel, are what Offset cites as Migos’ “sound,” contributing to the kind of return they want. “We got straight to rapping, straight to the business, straight to the point.”
After “Straightenin” dropped, the group’s comeback wasn’t the only thing fans were talking about. There was a lengthy internet discussion comparing each member’s verses to crown a definitive Migos leader once and for all. It's a discussion that will likely never end, but largely due to the problems that the others face (Quavo’s high-profile breakup with Saweetie and leaked footage of an elevator altercation as well as Takeoff's rape accusations, which he won’t face criminal charges for), Offset has emerged as the group’s de facto leading man.
Fiercely protective of his groupmates, Offset declines to speak about the other Migos members' lives. But he finds issues with how fans look to draw tension within groups. Explaining that irritation, he points to how publications on social media platforms use engagement features to pit artists against each other. “If you go on Instagram and you just scroll on your Explore page, you’ll find (posts) that say, ‘tap for this artist or like for this artist.’ That’s straight competition — straight making this person better than the other.’”
In Migos, no one considers himself better than anyone else. Offset’s pitch rises as he gets passionate. “We don't look at nobody as the star,” he proclaims loudly. “Everybody is equal because everybody does the walk. Nobody's messing up the songs. It's nobody getting held. It's spectacular. It's perfect.” Once he stops burning, he does acknowledge his solo fans. “You can't fault people for loving you a little more, but that's not the narrative we are pushing out. It doesn't get to me. I appreciate it and I love it, but my main focus is the group, because it's a whole we.”
Offset’s passion is evident in the way he talks about his career, but he wasn’t always so certain about his ability to rap. On Migos’ early songs, when Quavo floated across most of the hooks, Offset actively avoided performing choruses. “A lot of people don’t know I wasn’t on choruses because I felt like I couldn’t do them at first,” he revealed to The New York Times. Offset said this changed around the release of “Bad and Boujee." He was able to kick his insecurities by experimenting in the studio while hanging out with his son, Kody. After seeing “Bad and Boujee” top the charts, he realized it was a “wake-up call” for what he could accomplish if he had the confidence.
Offset took this newfound self-assuredness and applied it to his debut solo album, 2019’s Father of 4. He stepped out of his pinky-ring-slinging rap domain to pen stirring apologies to the people in his life that he’s neglected. His deserted father also caught some bars, with Offset briefly dipping into the pain that comes with not having a relationship with him. Up until that point, Offset was largely viewed as the slightly likable, serial philandering partner of Cardi B who wasn’t afraid to plead in public for her back. But with the LP’s bloodletting and an emotional reunion he shared with his father after the album’s release, he became more of a person and less of a character. Father of 4 was even more evidence that Offset’s confidence in trudging in new directions could change the course of his career — it debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 on the week of its release and has since been certified Gold.
“I got really personal about my life, my personal life with my kids,” Offset says, gazing into the sky for a few minutes as he reminisces over the Father of 4 rollout. “So I just took that opportunity for the fans to get to know me a little more deeply. I was feeling like it was time for me to just show people my real life, my reality and what really matters to me. What do I do this for?”
Offset’s immediate family — particularly his kids, Kody, Kalea and Jordan from previous relationships and Kulture with Cardi — has been at the forefront of his mind. He’s been sprawled across the couch with them throughout the pandemic, either hanging out or playing Call of Duty: Warzone. Since he’s been able to be with Kulture “all day, every day,” he hasn’t hated the COVID-19 era like many have. Aside from spending time with the people he loves most, it’s given him the focus he needs.
It’s too early to think about Offset’s next solo album. He doesn’t have to say it, his face does. I ask him about it and without even blinking, he crumbles his face into a ball and swipes the air as if he’s swatting the thought away with a flyswatter. “It’s coming after this Migos wave comes and rocks the world again,” he says between grinning teeth. “To be honest, I’m focused on Culture III. That’s in my head. It’s time to bust niggas’ ass, bro.”
“Busting ass” is one way of putting it. Offset may not be trying to outdo his peers, but one thing’s clear — everyone is fair game. “I’m on some other shit right now,” he says, eyes opening wide. “Right now, I’m upset. I’m just mad at the beat, and it’s coming out. I’m at the top tier of my shit right now.”
Who is he competing with? He’s not sure. But he knows he has something to prove with each release. “You always got shit to prove as long as you create art,” he barks. “We got something to prove — that we are the greatest group to ever do this shit. Period. Not just in hip-hop.”
Offset’s plan is for Migos to demonstrate its supremacy — much like what he’s plotting to do as an actor. The trio built Migos from the ground up, giving Offset the inspiration to do the same in the world of film. He’s not sweating the fact that he’s not the best actor yet. Like his musical career so far, he knows it’ll come in due time. “I ain't at a hall of fame level yet,” he says. “I'm a little rookie coming off the bench. When I come in, I’m going to score the points that make us win a championship.”
Now that Offset’s out of his shell and willing to take on new roles, collaborations, and music, the rapper has a lot to accomplish by the time he retires — something he's previously hinted at happening within a decade. But that’s out of the window now, he says, as his grin stretches even further.
So what changed?
He shrugs — a relaxed, feel-good shrug.
“Retiring is just not working.”
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