The Metamorphosis of Offset
Posted November 29, 2018 7:00 p.m. EST
ATLANTA — When rapper Offset, bleeding from the mouth and hands, staggered through the bedroom door of his suburban home around 5 one morning in May, his wife, Cardi B, went ballistic.
She was about seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child, and woke up early to have her makeup done before another busy day. Not much of a sleeper, Offset had run to the store in his lime-green Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. But upon his return, he could hardly stand or speak, and he gripped in his hand a thick Cuban link chain that had fallen from his neck. Everyone was certain he’d been shot.
Even in the ambulance later, as Offset insisted that he had only been in a car accident — he swerved to avoid a man walking in the road and slammed into a tree, he said — the paramedics told him that he might be delusional, and they cut off his designer clothes in search of a bullet wound.
“I had so much blood on me, I didn’t even notice,” Offset recalled recently, detailing the crash for the first time and showing off the scars on the back of his hands that marred his tattoos of Jesus and his record label Quality Control’s logo.
He’d managed to throw his hands up before the air bags deployed, he explained, but the force sent his fists into his mouth, busting up his bottom teeth. His eye socket was broken, and his chest felt like it might cave in, but he was lucky to be alive, police told him later. Recounting the details, he grew short of breath. He hadn’t been wearing a seat belt.
“Slow down,” Offset said when asked how the accident affected him. “That’s the biggest lesson: Slow down. Take your time. Think through your moves.”
Yet for a member of the Atlanta trio Migos, the biggest rap group in the world — one whose MO has always been more everything, all the time — such mantras are hard to put into practice. The day after the crash, bandaged like a bejeweled mummy, Offset was back in the studio.
For most people, in most years, a near-death experience would be the marquee event. Not for Offset: In the less than 24 months since “Bad and Boujee” hit No. 1 and Migos pushed its way, millions of streams at a time, into the upper echelons of not just rap but pop, the group’s members have released two albums (plus two solo albums and a 30-track label compilation), plenty of guest features and hours of videos. There have been Grammy nominations, a sold-out 54-date arena tour with Drake and appearances in NBA promos, Netflix commercials and “Carpool Karaoke.”
But even among a collective that has made oversaturation a default mode and then continued to pile on — more appearances, more cars, more jewelry, more music — Offset has pushed excess and impulsiveness to the extreme, and emerged recently as the trio’s most compelling individual character. Last September, after a brief and turbulent courtship, he merged his life and brand with Cardi’s, marrying the platinum-selling rapper in a low-key secret ceremony (before proposing publicly at a concert the next month). Their daughter, Kulture, is his fourth child by a fourth woman.
With a new family nucleus and superstardom on the horizon, however, slowing down has still proved challenging. Ten days after Kulture was born in July, Offset was arrested in Georgia and hit with felony charges, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, after police discovered three handguns, some marijuana and about $100,000 in cash in his car during a traffic stop. He performed the entire Drake tour while out on bond.
At the same time, the rapper — real name Kiari Kendrell Cephus — earned three Top 15 hits without his groupmates this year, including standout verses on ubiquitous club records like Tyga’s “Taste” and Kodak Black’s “Zeze.” On Dec. 14, Offset’s 27th birthday, he will complete the Migos solo trilogy by releasing his debut album, executive produced by Metro Boomin. And while the preceding releases from the others, Quavo and Takeoff, have demonstrated the ephemerality of the modern music deluge, largely fading from the public consciousness after streaming and charting well in their opening weeks, Offset is betting on a breakout moment because he has added an element seen only in flashes throughout the expansive Migos oeuvre: introspection.
“A lot of people don’t really know Offset,” he said, because of the group structure and the flashy blog headlines about his various legal and romantic troubles. He allowed that his face, which has a panther-like intensity, is frequently in a scowl and covered in tattoos, making him “a little intimidating.” But he stressed his sense of humor, his obsession with music industry data-watching and his dedication to his mother, stepfather, friends, siblings and children, many of whom surround him at all times.
“When people talk to me, they’re like, ‘Damn, bro’ — and they don’t even notice that I notice them saying, ‘You ain’t no ignorant [expletive],'” he said. “I like that. I’m going to start opening up more.”
In Offset and Cardi’s sparsely decorated mansion in the leafiest part of northern Atlanta, the tags were still on the furniture, the platinum plaques had yet to be hung and the only thing on the kitchen counter was Michelle Obama’s memoir. Just two of the rapper’s nearly a dozen dogs — Bentley and Fat Mama — were in the backyard, dining on Waffle House. But down in the basement on a recent Saturday, the home studio was coming together as Migos ended its three-month concert run with three hometown shows. After his personal audio engineer, J Rich, dug through a fanny pack of hard drives and a maze of computer folders titled “Offset Sessions,” the rapper’s forthcoming solo tracks blared from the speakers. While some were trademark Migos — jabbing taunts, boasts and catchphrases — Offset did, in fact, sound like a different man on songs like “Hibernation,” “Red Room” and “Father of 4,” his voice softened by vulnerability and his verses edging away from rapid-fire trap imagery toward something more like storytelling.
“Daddy on dope/we don’t speak,” he raps on one track, adding on another: “How I grew up, my mama was my dad.” The preoccupation with fatherhood makes up the core of the album’s emotional content as Offset details his own rebellion; his subsequent experiences with the criminal justice system; and its effects on his mother and children, all of whom he addresses directly with apologies for everything from missing birthdays to his dependence on lean and Percocet.
“Jordan, my first son — I was getting locked up trying to feed this” kid, Offset recalled. As a 17-year-old father, “I was hitting licks, breaking into people’s houses to bring it back.” Being a criminal was preferable to being a deadbeat like his own father, whom he last saw when he was around 5, he said. (Offset’s first felony conviction, in 2012, was for possessing stolen property.)
But he also maintained that his home life was not to blame for his wayward years. “That was me being a knucklehead, trying to find the ropes,” he said.
Offset was raised in the Gwinnett County suburbs north of Atlanta, and his mother, Latabia, remains a fixture in his life. (“Mama!” is not just a Migos ad-lib; it’s what everyone calls her.)
She and her husband, Kevin, roamed around the basement as Offset spoke, and the rapper pointed out his father figure while discussing his own “lame-ass daddy.” At one point, in Offset’s absence, his mother reminisced about keeping him out of trouble with team sports and let it slip that, as a child, he danced professionally in videos for Whitney Houston and TLC. She stopped herself from saying more, noting that he had an image to protect, but the next day, Offset posted a photo of himself with Houston on the set of the 2002 video for “Whatchulookinat.”
It’s this complex, detail-rich and mostly obscured biography that Offset is beginning to reveal, in fits and starts, on his solo album. Carlos Desrosiers, an A&R executive at Motown Records who has been working with Migos on their individual projects, said, “People need to know the story. Nothing’s better than your fans knowing who you are.”
In conceiving Offset’s album, Desrosiers said, “I was just telling him, literally, word for word: ‘I don’t want to hear any Patek, Patek,'” a reference to the rapper’s go-to crutch of rattling off luxury brands. “It’s easy for him to do swag — but everyone’s giving the swag: the watches, the jewels, the cars,” he added. “And of course we’re going to have a little bit of that on there — can’t not have that.”
Still, the overall message Desrosiers imparted was: “Give ‘em substance, give ‘em you.”
For Offset, leaning into his gradual metamorphosis has been a matter of finding confidence in his presence and songwriting, which he said lagged behind the other members’ because of his time in jail.
When Migos first broke with “Versace” in 2013, he was incarcerated on a probation violation. Two years later, as the group prepared to release its debut album, he was again behind bars, denied bail because of his criminal record after the group was arrested in connection with drugs and guns at a rural college concert. Those charges against Offset were eventually dropped, but he pleaded guilty to a rioting charge after fighting with an inmate who, according to court filings, had a history of racism and was tormenting him. He again received probation, which was terminated early, about a year before his most recent arrest on weapons charges.
“I didn’t say anything, I just rolled with the punches,” Offset said of the craziness that came with rejoining the group at various points throughout its ascent. “I just felt like I had to get better at my craft. A lot of people don’t know I wasn’t on choruses because I felt like I couldn’t do them at first.”
“Bad and Boujee” — with Offset’s “raindrop/drop top” hook — changed everything, both for him and Migos. “I’ve just been making them bangers since that,” he said. “Oh my God, it feels so good to be a winner.”
The dark cloud of his open case, on the other hand, is one Offset would rather not dwell under. He declined to comment on the July arrest, citing the seriousness of the charges. But his lawyer, Drew Findling, who has become a close confidant, said he hoped the prosecutors “would see through the racist tendencies of the traffic stop,” which he chalked up to “a young African-American man being in a shiny luxury car.” Findling said that Offset had been traveling with a licensed gun owner, and noted that the rapper remained unindicted.
On this trip through the legal system, Offset has another ally in his corner: Cardi B. “The difference that I’ve seen in him lately is that he’s in an adoring, loving relationship,” Findling said. “He’s a tremendous Cardi fan, and in like fashion, she’s a tremendous Kiari Cephus fan.” At first, the gossip about the couple could be overwhelming — “Oh, you’re with a stripper, you’re this, you’re that,” Offset said. “But I’d seen her potential, her vision, her grind. Whatever she does, she’s going to master it. She’s like me.”
Business is the couple’s romance language. After he scrolled past an Instagram post reporting on the sales for Cardi’s recent fashion partnership, Offset beamed and announced to the room, “Man, my girl sold $10.8 million in three hours,” before FaceTiming her and inquiring about her royalty rate. “You might as well start adding that money up,” he said.
Minutes later, she called back. “That’s the wife,” Offset said diligently as he fished a second cellphone from his sweatpants pocket and sought some privacy.
“She brings excitement and pressure to me, but I like that,” he said later. “She’s No. 1, so every time I’m hitting the charts, I’ve got to be Top 10.”
Because of their insane schedules, quality time can be hard to come by, but Cardi’s mastery of intimacy on social media has rounded out Offset’s image and made him more relatable by proxy. As Offset completed his press obligations, she posted a picture on Instagram of the pair on vacation captioned “I miss you.” Earlier, she did the only real promotion his solo album needed, tweeting that it brought her to tears.
Settling down was “the best thing that’s happened to me personally, which helps me make the music, which helps my career,” Offset said, estimating that he had another decade left in music. “I have no distractions. And me and her? We haven’t even dropped an album yet. That’s a whole other realm.”
“I have a wife and a child — that changed my whole everything,” he added. “I was a young hothead, but now I understand the value of life.”