Quavo’s Unfinished Business

As part of Migos, Quavo helped change rap forever. But in order to really understand the kid from Gwinnett, you have to start from the beginning: before his childhood home burned down, before he found his long-lost older brother, and especially before the limelight. 

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Quavious Marshall has always had a talent for manifesting the life he wanted. Just ask his mother, Edna. Even as a baby growing up in Athens, Georgia, the future leader of Migos already showed signs that he was divining his own future. Take the first word to come out of his young mouth.

“Instead of saying ‘mama’ or ‘daddy,’ ” Edna recalls, “he said ‘ball!’ ”

She says that Baby Quavo then reached out for a football, an object he’d come to cherish, and “never said anything else until he was three.”

When I meet up with Quavo on a warm spring day in late May, he’s dressed far less flashily than you might imagine—especially for a global rap star whose whole deal is often one of projecting drippy excess. He’s wearing distressed jeans paired with a splotchy blue, green, and orange Louis Vuitton T-shirt, as if a local weather report was being televised on his torso. No visible jewelry, save for a watch.

On Quavo: Shirt, $1,150, and pants, $1,690, by Valentino. Shoes, $1,100, by Marsèll. Watches and jewelry (throughout), his own. On Edna Maddox: All clothing, jewelry, and accessories, her own.

We’re inside the Atlanta headquarters of Quality Control Music, the record label that helped turn Migos into a decade-defining force—a group whose trademark triplet flow and playful chemistry reshaped the sound of rap. In the recent history of hip-hop, only a small number of artists could begin to touch their level of influence. Even fewer have sounded like they were having as much fun.

Quavious Marshall, 31, is the eldest of the trio and indisputably the leader. (Hence his nickname, Huncho, the boss.) A trap heartthrob and rap O.G. While he might not be known as the group’s strongest rapper (even he has conceded that distinction belongs to his nephew Takeoff ) or the most visible (that’d be his cousin Offset, husband of Cardi B), Quavo has been the fulcrum of the operation—a true rock star figure whose own story and artistic aspirations have sometimes remained mysterious.

In mid-May, Quavo released a track he’d recorded with Takeoff, a song called “Hotel Lobby,” which the two produced not under the Migos banner but under a new musical moniker, Unc & Phew. A full album is on the way. And while the duo’s traditional playfulness is on full display—in the song’s video, Quavo and Takeoff cruise around Las Vegas on shrooms, Fear and Loathing–style—Quavo hopes this fresh musical project can be the start of something new.

Jacket, $4,090, shirt, $1,060, and pants, $3,540, by Jil Sander. Boots, $1,320, by Marsèll. Sunglasses, his own.

Of course, a project like this was always bound to raise questions about the state of Migos. In the days after we met in Atlanta, for example, a rumor that the trio might be breaking up surfaced on Twitter after a few blogs noticed that Offset unfollowed the other two members of the group on Instagram. And then in June, Migos dropped out as headliners for Governors Ball in New York City. A representative for the group brushed off the idea of a breakup, noting a simple scheduling conflict—Quavo, who recently started acting, had to be on a film set with John Travolta— and pointed out that Migos are still scheduled to perform together at other festivals in September. More than a few observers, notably the rap commentator DJ Akademiks, suggested that the unfollow might even have been part of a savvy publicity move.

Whether or not it’s true that rap stars stand to benefit from online intrigue about their future, Quavo isn’t coy about what he’s after right now. At a pivotal career juncture, he’s chasing new challenges—in the studio, onscreen—and even revisiting some old missteps. Perhaps most notably, for the first time in his career, he wants to explain where he’s coming from and how the trajectory that he’s plotted this past decade will inform what comes next. “I feel like y’all know the Offset story,” he tells me, referring to his cousin’s very public relationship and time spent in jail. “We’re all growing. But I feel like the world really doesn’t know about me.”

He’d like to begin changing that, and offers a motorsport analogy to describe the career he’s built for himself. “I showed y’all the car,” Quavo says. “Now, I’m about to show y’all the engine and how it was put together.”

Jacket and pants, (prices upon request), by Bianca Saunders. Shirt, $450, by Paul Smith. Boots, $593, by Ernest W. Baker.


The people closest to Quavo—and there is nobody closer than his family—will tell you that he was always a mama’s boy. Born in Athens, he was raised as the youngest child of three and the only boy. When he was four or five, his father died, leaving Edna as the sole provider for Quavious and his older sisters.

About a year later, a portion of their home in the North Valley neighborhood burned down in an accident. Edna, a beautician, was styling his sister’s hair. His sister had left some fries on the stove.

As a kid he always had a taste for flash. He loved to wear his mother’s gold necklaces around the house, and was industrious out of necessity: Unable to fit into the big watches at the beauty supply store, he fashioned his own smaller versions out of cardboard. The interest in tinkering with watches endured into adolescence: Inspired by the spinning chain made famous by G-Unit, he copped a knockoff Jacob & Co watch at the flea market, cracked it open, and installed his own spinning piece inside. “I wore it in my yearbook picture,” he recalls.

Sometime between seventh and ninth grade, Edna announced to the family that they’d be moving to Gwinnett County, a northern suburb of Atlanta. “I cried for so long because I didn’t like it. I thought it was so different,” he says. “We’re from the country, where everybody knows everybody.”

The family ended up in Lawrenceville, where they lived in a subsidized three-bedroom home with chocolate brown window trim. Their house wasn’t luxurious, but he always felt loved there. Edna concedes that there was an impression in the family that she reserved special affection for her son. “His sisters still say it now: ‘You would never whoop him like you did us, Mama!’ ” she recalls. Even in those moments when she wanted to be tough with Quavious, mother and son would often end up laughing together instead, and he would scoot away smiling and unpunished. “Go on, boy,” Edna would say, amused.

Quavo and his brother, Willie Bands, pictured in front of Quavo’s mother’s old house in Gwinnett County.On Willie Bands: Sweater, $99, by COS. Jeans and jewelry, his own. His own sneakers, by Nike. On Quavo: Coat ,$6,100 by Gucci. Sweater-vest, $475, by Stòffa. Pants, $6,790, by Amiri. Boots, $940, Sunni Sunni.

At Berkmar High School, Quavo was a fine student whose occasional brushes with trouble came about for disrupting class. Outside of school, bigger problems sometimes lurked. When he was around 14, his friends jumped someone at Wild Bill’s, a former teen club in nearby Duluth. “All the girls around there started telling on everybody,” Quavo says. “The whole crew went down.” Quavo was sent to a juvenile detention center for two weeks.

Edna was devastated when she found out. She remembers what she felt when she dropped him off at the detention center. “Honey,” she tells me, “I thought I was going to die. I mean, actually die…. I went in there boo-hooing. Just crying so bad.” Quavo isn’t as traumatized by the experience as his mother. He was able to leave in the mornings to attend school, but had to return to the facility later each day.

A director at the center told Edna that only her son could decide whether or not he was going to get into any more trouble. The choice wasn’t hers to make, though the difficulty Edna and Quavo faced in those two weeks stuck with them both. “He didn’t like it. I didn’t like it,” Edna says. “I could tell he was trying to be strong and I was trying to be strong. But…he never went back.”

In those teenage years, Quavo focused on his two biggest talents: football and music. He loved playing football and, along with music, still considers the game one of the loves of his life. His athleticism and leadership skills made him an excellent quarterback, but he only managed to play for about two years in high school. His family struggled to afford his participation on organized teams outside of school, and his grades weren’t good enough to allow him to consistently play for Berkmar.

Sweater-vest, $5,400, by Jil Sander. Pants, $1,100, by Zegna. Boots, $1,050, by Hermès.

Music, on the other hand, was always present. Quavo’s nephew Kirshnik Ball, three years his junior, was living with the family on and off in those years. Ball was big into music and rapping, and recruited his uncle to record with him. Using a sock-covered microphone purchased from Walmart, the two started making music under the moniker Polo Club. They produced their homemade tracks using Windows Movie Maker—software used to create slideshows—by recording their verses into the program. There was one problem, though: Everything had to be recorded perfectly in one go.

“That’s how we would make a record,” Quavo recalls. “You would have to record it from start to finish. If you messed up, you had to start over.” Ball got his nickname, Takeoff, from the fact that he could just launch into his verses and record everything in a single, pristine take.

That skill would prove useful in the long run as Movie Maker necessitated a standard of perfection, and the group’s early stuff already had hints of the classic Migos sound, from the cadence to the delivery. “This that intro, this that intro, this that intro, welcome to the show,” says Quavo, delivering each word in half-note intervals while laughing. In the ninth grade, after hours of hard work, the uncle-nephew duo put out their first mixtape, distributed it to the other kids, and… It landed with a meh.

“I think we had one person that liked it,” Quavo says. That person was his cousin Kiari Cephus—Offset.

When Quavo was a senior, he dropped out of school with one semester remaining. Not because he thought he was going to make it as a rapper, necessarily; rapping was just something he did for fun. But he knew he was tired of school—wasn’t getting anything from it anymore—so he stopped going.

A little over a year later, his old classmates were returning home from college to visit and noticed Quavo and his friends were still pretty stagnant. Crucially, a few of the girls Quavo was interested in all started to tell him the same thing: “Y’all n-ggas need to go to college,” he remembers being told. “Y’all ain’t doing shit. Y’all boys ain’t going to be shit. Y’all n-ggas still here, out here with your mama and them?”

Quavo took it as a personal challenge to improve his standing. “So we had to get out, hustle a little,” he says. “We started hustling, getting real money.”

Shortly after that, Migos, with Offset in the fold, really started taking their rap trajectory seriously. They began aggressively promoting themselves, hitting up clubs like the Pink Flamingo, where they would get in cool with the DJs and persuade them to play their songs, often to mixed results.

“And then we did ‘Bando,’ ” Quavo says, recalling the 2012 trap hit in which he memorably raps, “Got bricks / like Shaq / at the free throw.”

“It started something in the club instantly,” he adds. Migos had landed their first local hit. And in Atlanta, a local hit can be a shortcut to the national stage.


As the only boy in the family, Quavo grew up being looked after by women. He had Takeoff and Offset, sure. But he was older than both of them. He mostly navigated life without the help and guidance of a male figure, someone he could look up to.

But for years, Edna had told Quavo that he had an older brother from his father’s side—someone Quavo had never met. The idea fascinated him and, in his early 20s, Quavo came across a “crazy-ass” video of a man that he was convinced might be his older brother. Quavo found himself studying his Facebook page—or was it MySpace?—and decided to send him a message.

He went by the name Willie Bands—he, too, was a rapper—and was from Columbus, Georgia. Quavo messaged Willie, telling him who he was, that they shared the same father. Migos was, at the time, just blowing up, and Willie was initially, and understandably, skeptical. But he agreed to a phone conversation anyway. “He was nice and quick,” Quavo remembers. “But I don’t think he believed [that I was his brother].”

After the two hung up, Willie called back less than half an hour later.

On Quavo: Shirt, $165, and pants, $195, by Pieces Unique. Watch, his own. Jewelry, his own. On Bandz: Sweater, $598, by Reese Cooper. Pants, his own. Sunglasses, $560, by Cutler and Gross. Watch, his own. Jewelry, his own. On Josh: Cardigan, $10,990, by Amiri. Jeans, his own. Sunglasses, $320, by Gentle Monster. Jewelry, his own.

The pair agreed to connect during a Migos show in Columbus, and they hit it off instantly. Willie started showing up to their shows regularly. One time, the crowd was especially rowdy and hostile, so instead of going home that night, Willie made a split-second decision to tag along with Migos, as well as rappers Young Thug and Peewee Longway, on the drive back to Atlanta. “I was like, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Quavo says. “He got in the Sprinter with us and never looked back.” The two have been nearly inseparable ever since.

Quavo’s big brother quickly became a fixture in his life and career, and even joined the group to help out on a tour through Europe in 2015. It was the first time any of them had been overseas. (Quavo says he especially enjoyed Amsterdam: “I didn’t go to the red light district. I was scared. It was too crazy for me. But we ate some of these little pancakes. My God, they’re the best.”) You can spot Willie everywhere in a Vice show called Noisey Raps documenting that tour. Hovering in the background. Front-and-center during performances, sporting a black ski mask with the letters “YRN” printed in gold while showing off his gold grills and jewelry. “Whatever was needed on a day-to-day basis, I was willing to do that to support my brother,” Willie tells me. He’s protective of Quavo. And endlessly helpful.

Not long ago, Quavo was shooting a film and, according to Willie, one of the other actors suddenly became unavailable. Luckily, Willie had been on set with his brother and knew the actor’s lines. So Willie stepped in to play the role.

“Hey, whatever needs to be done, I jump right in and swim,” Willie says. “If it was the acting role. If I had to change the oil on the car. I’m going to get it done. I’m your guy.”


Quavo’s recent foray into acting might be his biggest creative reach these days. He’s got roles in a handful of upcoming films, including the Robert De Niro–led drama Wash Me in the River, due out later this year, as well as the Travolta project, a heist film called Cash Out.

As other projects swirl, Quavo tells me he’s approaching the Hollywood work with an ambitious seriousness— and a clear idea for the kind of career he might like to create. “I kind of want to be like an Ice Cube when it comes to rapping and acting,” he says. “I don’t think people realize what that man did. He did it culturally in the music and with the movies. I feel like that’s what the world’s missing right now.”

Jacket, $4,900, and pants, $4,800, by Prada. Sunglasses, $690, by Jacques Marie Mage. Watch, his own. Jewelry, his own.

In addition to the work he plans to do in front of the camera, Quavo wants to expand his efforts behind it, namely as a director of music videos. He directed the one for Migos’s 2018 song “Narcos” and is credited on several other Migos videos, but says he often feels overshadowed by the producers and directors the group works with, including his friend the director Daps, whose credits include the videos for “Bad and Boujee,” “T-Shirt,” and “Slippery.” Candidly, Quavo says, “Daps is my n-gga so I can say this shit, but I got tired of him taking my shine! I feel like he was taking me off a little bit.” He emphasizes that he still plans to work with Daps, but wants to demonstrate what he can do as a director. “I would love to do a video for other people if y’all want my vision.” Quavo offers that he’d particularly like to collaborate with Chloe x Halle, the R&B sister duo signed to Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, for example.

Hearing Quavo talk about ratcheting up his ambitions as a director and as an actor naturally brings to mind the questions that dogged him earlier this summer: How does Migos fit into the future that Quavo is building? Well, the way Quavo sees it, these new pursuits don’t threaten Migos; rather, they help to solidify the group. He tells me that it’s important, at this stage in their careers, for each of them to establish themselves as individuals, to maximize their impact independently. “It was all about Migos, Migos, Migos. The three of us,” he says, describing the first decade of the trio’s run. “I feel like every group member has to establish themselves. Their own body of work. If not, you start losing members.” Quavo borrows a football metaphor to describe how, after years of drawing up the plays for the team, he’s trying to get more comfortable calling his own number. “I’m a quarterback in life,” he says. “But now that I want it, I’m just going to show you.”


At a moment when he’s contemplating the long arc of the career he’s designing, Quavo admits that he has grown more attentive to the image that he cultivates in the culture—more sensitive to the impression people have of him. He is, for example, still frustrated with how his last romantic relationship ended with fellow rapper Saweetie. Last year, a video surfaced from 2020 that showed a physical argument in an elevator. The footage is difficult to watch. Saweetie throws something at Quavo’s head and misses. He pulls her into the elevator with him, and after they both struggle over an orange suitcase, she stumbles to the ground. He doesn’t help her up.

On social media, Quavo was dragged for his behavior when the video appeared. When I ask him about the incident now, he stares down at the floor. “If I can ever speak on it, I never once in a million years want to do any harm to any woman, period,” he says. He hasn’t said much about the breakup, and the incident is clearly something that weighs on him. He circles back to it later in our conversation, unprompted. “I don’t like what people think,” he says. “When they saw the elevator thing they thought it was abusive, something crazy.”

He offers that he’s not in a hurry to find a partner, that he’d like to focus on the work he’s doing on himself. “I want to establish [myself] as a human being before I step into any more relationships or anything that can steer me off,” he says.

His mother, however, maintains a persistent interest in his love life. At one point, she tells me, enthusiastically and unsolicited: “I try to tell the girls [he dates], ‘Y’all, just leave him alone if you want him to like you! Don’t have sex with him! Because if you do, he’s just going to go home.’ ” She chuckles. “I try to tell them that, but they won’t listen.”

When I relay to Quavo what his mother had told me, his expression is a mixture of irritation and horror. “What did she say that for?” he asks. “My God.”


If the vast majority of Quavo’s time these days is spent looking downfield to what’s next, it’s worth noting that he also finds chances to glance backward, particularly if there’s a misstep he might be able to correct. Indeed, the fact that he can be so cognizant of the past provides some insight into how he conceives of his future.

For years, Quavo had been quietly frustrated with himself for dropping out of high school. Life, of course, worked out just fine for him, but the memory of quitting nagged at him. “I was upset with myself for not passing [my classes] and giving myself a chance,” he says. “I just feel like I didn’t put one hundred percent in it.”

Recently, I drove over to Berkmar High School to see the place that loomed in Quavo’s mind as the setting for a rare failure. The school sits in a busy stretch of exurban Atlanta; there’s a shopping plaza across the street with a Clínica Médica and Supermercado Mi Pueblo. Inside, I found principal Durrant Williams, who was a guidance counselor when Quavo was a student. In those days, he told me, the school was majority Black. Today, about 70 percent of the student population is Hispanic. As we talked, a group of Hispanic kids strolled casually down the long hallway wearing crop tops and shorts. A trio of slight Black boys passed by in distressed jeans and black hoodies, their Migos-esque locs falling just above their jawlines. I wondered what it must’ve been like when Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset roamed the halls here.

Given who he is now—a world-famous rapper, with innate, unmistakable charisma—it’s easy to think that Quavo must have been an exceptional kid. But to Williams, many of the school’s 3,000 students are just like him: gifted young people of color, navigating an overburdened school system that can often seem inflexible to their needs. Quavo was smart, talented, and popular, and he still dropped out. Williams is no stranger to students becoming disillusioned and giving up on school. Life is tricky, the hurdles to success are real, the path is seldom clear.

Which is why he was so grateful that Quavo, in the months ahead of the pandemic, had been quietly chipping away at the coursework required to finish his final semester and at last graduate. Williams told me that it’s rare that a former student—especially one as successful as Quavo—returns, and so the principal paid careful attention to helping the rap star navigate the process.

After completing his courses, Quavo was invited to participate in the graduation ceremony—a virtual event, on account of the pandemic. All the school needed was a graduation photo. Williams mailed a cap and gown to California, where Quavo was staying at the time, and included instructions about how the portrait needed to look in order to be included with the others from the graduating class. Of course, this picture couldn’t be as glitzy as the photos the Grammy nominee typically takes. It needed to meet a certain standard. It needed to be simple. And it had to be taken against a solid black backdrop. (Williams also gave Quavo an early deadline for the photo, just to be sure the rapper hit the mark.)

Ahead of the ceremony, Williams received the photo, nearly a decade in the making. In the picture, a smiling Quavo wears a deep blue cap and gown, with a white T-shirt underneath. Four diamond chains drape neatly over the gown, as do his chest-length locs. His hair is longer than it once was. His beard is fuller. His chains are much bigger and icier. But fundamentally he’s still the same kid that Williams remembers commanding the halls with his friends and family members, known even back then as the Migos.

When Quavo proudly posted his cap and gown photo on Instagram, he noted in the caption that he was, at long last, a graduate of Berkmar High School. His unfinished business: finished.

“We Lit ,” he wrote, before turning his attention to the future.

“Now What College Should I Go To? ”

Quavo on the football field at Berkmar High School.On Quavo: Sweater, $3,495, by The Elder Statesman. Pants, $120, by Pangaia. Sneakers, $595, by Pyer Moss. Sunglasses, $690, by Jacques Marie Mage.

Jewel Wicker is a journalist based in Atlanta

A version of this story originally appeared in the August 2022 issue with the title “Family Guy”


Watch Now:

10 Things Quavo Can’t Live Wihtout

PRODUCTION CREDITS: 
Photographs by Hajar Benjida
Styling By Mobolaji Dawodu
For Quavo: hair by Ebony Lady Lockz Wright 
Grooming by Marcus P Hatch 
For Edna Maddox: hair and makeup by Kashara Reed
Tailoring by Evl. Elle. 
Produced by Natalie Hales
Special thanks to Berkmar High School

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