Quavo can’t be understated as one of the most influential voices in popular music right now. Ahead of a sold-out show in New York City, and with a solo album on the way, the Migos mastermind reflects on his success so far…
Quavious Marshall is preparing to play at Madison Square Garden. Born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, 30 miles north of Atlanta, he grew up dreaming of stepping out onto the court at the Hawks’ Philips Arena. It wasn’t long until he’d discover “the Mecca of basketball” through televised games, where he’d witness legendary performances from icons like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Steph Curry.
“I know the history of Madison Square Garden and all the great athletes that play there,” says the 27-year-old. “It stores an energy that you can’t explain. So when I got in the building I had to share that earth with all of the greats that have been [there before me]. It’s a big moment, it’s history.” He pauses. “I feel like can’t nobody top performing in Madison Square Garden - especially when it’s sold out.”
A record-setting high school quarterback for Gwinnett County’s Berkmar Patriots, it seems there isn’t a sport at which Marshall doesn’t excel. Scrolling through his Instagram feed, you’ll find videos of him throwing a perfect curveball in an Atlanta Braves jersey, knocking down three pointers with NBA trainer Chris Brickley, and hosting his own ‘Huncho Day’ charity football event with NFL players Julio Jones, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott. One particularly impressive video, taken on set of a Champs Sports commercial, shows him throwing an American football 30 yards into a basketball hoop. Despite all of this, it’s not sport that brings Marshall - better known as Quavo - to the Garden today.
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The worlds of sports and rap have been interlinked since day one, when Walt Frazier’s Puma Clyde was a b-boy staple. In mainstream media black men have suffered from being over-represented when it comes to violence, crime and poverty, while those held in high esteem are often limited to musicians and sports figures. Therefore it’s unsurprising that many young black Americans choose to idolise rappers and ballplayers. Rap’s competitive spirit sometimes finds it verging on being sport itself, and certainly welcomes sports metaphors and references.
Quavo is a prime example of the link between the two: the more successful he becomes in music, the more he is able to indulge in his sports fantasies. This year he was awarded most valuable player at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, with a Euro step that suggested he was more than just ‘good for a rapper’.
“That was a real cool moment in my life. It was fun just being there,” he says with a smile, before admitting that he was keen enough to show up to practice with Stranger Things actor Caleb McLaughlin. “He did a commercial with us on Finish Line too, so that’s my guy!” He also makes an appearance in his favourite video game NBA 2K19, which still hasn’t quite processed. “That’s crazy,” he says, shaking his head, “Because we always play it, we always do!”
He’s currently with his team, Migos - alongside his nephew Takeoff and cousin Offset - for a mammoth 52-date co-headline tour with Drake, entitled ‘Aubrey And The Three Migos Tour’. Of course, this has also been interwoven with a behind- the-scenes basketball tournament between Migos’ YRN and fellow sports enthusiast Drake’s OVO, taking place in gyms all over North America between shows.
Although both camps remain tight-lipped about how that’s progressing, it’s been reported that they’ve got referees on hand for when things get heated. It feels like things are in YRN’s favour though; tour rehearsals recently made headlines when Quavo hit a half-court shot on Drake, for a reported $10K. Never letting up his cool, Quavo talks about it like an everyday occurrence: “We was at rehearsals and they was setting up the stage,” he recalls. “He was up there practicing the shot, and he saw me, he was like: ‘Come shoot’.” He smiles, “So I shot it. Hit it. No biggie!” The same challenge is offered to fans at the shows every night, and even a few NBA stars have stepped up - nobody other than Quavo has been successful yet.
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On a humid Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, Quavo and his small crew - management, security and filmmakers - pile out of an SUV and into the industrial elevator that’s usually used for transporting heavy goods between artist’s studios. Quavo’s gleaming teeth and sparkling jewellery provide a stark contrast against the rusted corrugated metal that surrounds the group as they make their ascension. It’s night two of seven in New York City, with four taking place at the Garden and then three at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Just a few hours ago, the Atlanta trio hosted their own private afterparty, and while it’s unlikely that Quavo has managed to get much sleep since then, he’s alert and focused on the task at hand. A natural in front of the camera, he quickly executes each look with our photographer - naturally enquiring about a tattoo on our photographer’s arm that reads ‘hoop dreams’, “Do you play?”
But there’s no time for the two to go one-on-one - Quavo’s team prepare to whisk him off for sound checks and rehearsals and we’re granted a rapid locker room-style interview.
It’s been an impressive couple of years for Migos, who had gone from being hood favourites to getting Internet acclaim off the back of a solid mixtape run through 2012-2016. Their influence could be heard throughout contemporary music across this time - particularly in their chosen triplet flow and the team chemistry, which allowed them to emphasise each other’s lyrics with expertly deployed ad-libs - but they weren’t getting their due credit.
That began to change at the end of 2016, with the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted single ‘Bad And Boujee’. The track went to Number One on the US Billboard chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance, along with an even more impactful nod from Donald Glover during his 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech where Atlanta took home Best Comedy Series: “I’d like to thank the Migos - not for being on the show, but for making ‘Bad And Boujee’.”
The single was quickly followed by their second studio album, ‘Culture’. In an interview with HipHopDX, Italian graphic designer Stole Stojmenov, who designed the cover artwork, revealed Quavo’s intentions for the album’s creative direction: “The only guidelines Quavo gave me were about what I had to symbolise on the cover. We had to represent Migos’ past, but also what they gave to hip-hop culture, Atlanta and how they stepped up the rap game.” It was a vital turning point for the group, reframing Migos and laying down a gauntlet, challenging fans to consider the group as the force that they are. It seems that most were drawn to the same conclusion when ‘Culture’ hit the top on Billboard, later receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.
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Keeping up the momentum, Migos - as a group and individually - contributed to 22 tracks across their label Quality Control’s ‘Control The Streets Volume 1’ compilation, and released a sequel to ‘Culture’ a year and one day after its release. ‘Culture II’ was their second Number One album, and spawned three more Top 10 singles - including ‘Stir Fry’, which was named the official song of the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. Today, asked to define “culture”, Quavo responds like the pop star he deserves to be: “It’s our fans. It’s the world. It’s about changing the world. It’s about perfecting the world. It’s about leading them to the right path, and the right music with my lyrics.”
Outside of Migos, Quavo has been featured on five Top 10 singles, including Post Malone’s ‘Congratulations’, Drake’s ‘Portland’ and Liam Payne’s ‘Strip That Down’, as well as two DJ Khaled singles, ‘No Brainer’ and ‘I’m The One’ - the latter topping both the US and UK charts. This year, while working with Pharrell on the Migos single ‘Stir Fry’, he penned ‘Apeshit’, which was almost used for ‘Culture II’ but ended up being shelved. It was later played for Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who used it as the lead single for their collaborative album ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’.
Quavo carries the sensibility of a pop star, in his swagger and ambition, but also, perhaps most importantly, his work ethic. “I just pay attention to my craft. I pay attention to a lot of people that’s involved in my career,” he explains. “When I first started doing videos I just used to watch and pay attention. Once you do that I wanna try to be a part of everything I do: so videos, I engineer myself - me and DJ Durel, we make beats. We mixed the whole album, ‘Culture’ [and] ‘Culture II’, so it’s just nothing new to me. I just want to be a part of everything I do.”
He finds himself filled with an indescribable urge to create every morning, and it’s this daily grind that allows him to be so prolific. “When I wake up in the morning, I create! It’s something about fresh ears, I’ve been tuned out to everything, I love to go and record,” he says, admitting, “I wake the house up at like 10am jamming music and mixing my songs!”
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Recently Quavo has began to roll out his debut solo record ‘Quavo Huncho’ - his second full-length outside of Migos following December’s ‘Huncho Jack’ with Travis Scott, which charted at number three - and has shared three new songs, that were cherry-picked to demonstrate the diversity people can expect from the LP.
“‘Lamb Talk’ is just Huncho talk, buzz talk - you poppin’ your shit at that moment,” he explains. “‘Bubblegum’ is about the ladies, and ‘Workin Me’ is a club record. I wanted to get ’em three different approaches to my up-and-coming project.”
Despite the group chemistry that has put Migos on the map, it’s not unusual at all for the three members to be recording solo songs. “We always recorded alone in our studios, because we all got separate studios, and we just record and then bring them to each other, play them and say, ‘Hey, you got homework to do!’”
‘Quavo Huncho’ is, in his own words, “me just doing my own homework.” ‘Bubblegum’ sees Quavo borrowing the Philadelphia 76ers’ mantra “Trust The Process”, which he says is something he’s learned to adopt into his own life. He recalls his first visit to New York City, where he stood on the street outside the 400- capacity SoHo venue SOB’s, mentally noting his ambition to perform there someday. The immense growth that he’s experienced since has required him to remain focused. “Staying persistent; sometimes the music felt like it wasn’t reaching the world to what we felt [it could] so it was all a process, it was like building a stage,” he recalls. “A lot of people that weren’t fans back in the day are fans now because of the different beats we rap on. But we’ve been talking about evolving the culture, changing the culture and we’ve been spitting culture lyrics ever since we came in the door.”
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After his whirlwind visit, Quavo and his crew make a swift exit - via the four flights of stairs, not wanting to risk the questionable elevator ahead of rehearsals. The next time we see him he’s in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden, in his element alongside Offset and Takeoff. The three are dressed in luminous vests patrolling the stage like Power Rangers as they deliver a selection of career-spanning hits. They rejoin Drake later in the night to deliver collaborations like ‘Walk It Talk It’ and the game-changing ‘Versace (Remix)’, before inviting Offset’s wife Cardi B to light up the home crowd with her verse on Migos’ chart-dominating single ‘Motorsport’.
From a riser in front of the stage, sports figures like current NBA champion Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, and 76ers star Joel Embiid - both of whom have directly inspired Quavo lyrics - watch on in mutual admiration. It doesn’t feel like Quavo, or Migos, have reached their ceiling yet, but they’re certainly beginning to make the sort of impact that they’ve worked tirelessly towards for a decade.
“The world [is] recognising how great we are,” Quavo noted. “In the beginning it was hard because everybody was taking our flow and wasn’t giving us credit. Now everybody knows that’s our flow, and we’re here to stay. That feels good.”
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'Huncho' is out now.
Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Eric Shakeen
Fashion: Kathryn Typaldos
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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