Before this year, Kirshnik Ball — better known as Migos’ Takeoff — was perhaps best known for his outrageous ad-libs and the “left off ‘Bad & Boujee'” meme. It’s obviously not something that bothers him too immensely; while he took at least partial offense to Joe Budden’s red carpet interview walkout, it’s not like he’s put a massive effort into becoming more of a fixture on the solo circuit.
And while longtime Migos fans recognized Takeoff as the sinew driving the trio’s lyrical engine with his syllable-stacked verses and machine-gun flows, casual fans were only exposed to that knowledge with the release of Culture II earlier this year. Now that the crew has vaulted into the public consciousness as legitimate pop figures, it stands to reason that Takeoff would finally begin to get his long-delayed due.
First, though, it seemed the waters needed to be tested. Quavo kicked off the solo release festivities just weeks ago with Quavo Huncho. While it wasn’t successful on the same soaring order of Culture, despite packing nearly as hefty a tracklist as the second version of the trio’s full-length, it was enough to prove that the three amigos could stand on their own — at least a bit.
While it turned out Quavo didn’t quite have the arm strength to carry a full project by himself, it looks like his cousin Takeoff learned from the missteps of the more melodically-inclined Huncho, however slight they may have been, in order to meet the standards set by the trio’s biggest star. His own solo project, The Last Rocket arrived amid a bustling release weekend that included a number of other big names, but it proves Takeoff and his rapid-fire raps have the legs to stand on their own, perhaps best of all out of the trio.
From its outset, The Last Rocket plays well to its protagonist’s strengths. There’s less warbling than Quavo Huncho, despite an appearance from the de facto Migos leader on “She Gon Wink” to set the mood. Otherwise, features are kept to a minimum, as are the tracklist and musical variation. While they may sound like a problem in the era of “more is more” and rappers dabbling in every genre from emo to afrobeats, it actually keeps things enjoyably simple and firmly places the focus where it should be: On the oft-underappreciated flow of the Migos’ best technical rapper.
Takeoff’s proficiency shines on “Lead The Wave,” while his husky hum dominates the Buddah Bless beat on “Insomnia.” While you’ve heard pretty much the full range of his content if you’ve ever heard pretty much any song Migos has made since 2010, he’s very good at the perfunctory flexes, his accent animating the slant rhymes on “Vacation” and “Soul Plane,” and his group’s proprietary slang peppering the verses and trademark ad-libs (“Mama!”).
Lead single “Last Memory” is a prime example of a high moment and a reminder that Takeoff’s been criminally underutilized elsewhere in Migos’ extensive catalog. Giving him a few more verses here and there would go a long way toward dispelling the disparaging categorization of the group among the ranks of so-called “mumble rappers” with dashing images like “I remember flushin’ all the dope down the commode / Stashin’ work where were you would never know, canine can’t even find it” on “I Remember” displaying his gift for scene-setting and casually colorful wordplay.
The album’s one real misstep is, ironically, in the two-stepping synthpop attempt “Infatuation,” which sounds terribly out of place among the straightforward trap beats and is oddly dominated by guest artist Dayytona Fox. It’s bad enough Takeoff’s standout flow is often relegated to the back third of the majority of his songs with Migos; for him to be reduced to bridge feature on his own song is borderline infuriating. It’s catchy, breezy, and would have been appreciated as Fox’s own debut single, but this is supposed to be Takeoff’s show, and the roller rink-ready groove is distracting set against block beaters from Cassius Jay and Migos’ DJ Durel.
However, the short play time mitigates this one glaring error, because if you only have to skip one song, that’s a sign of a solid debut. The most disappointing thing about hearing so much more Takeoff on The Last Rocket is that it’s taken so long for him to finally break out of his shell and show that might have been Migos’ strongest muscle all along.
The Last Rocket is out now via Quality Control/Motown/Capitol Records. Get it here.