On His Own Terms: Offset Interviewed

“Why be an artist if you’re afraid to display the art? Display the art! They expect it from you…”

Over a decade into his career, pioneering Atlanta rapper Offset is reclaiming his narrative and embracing fearlessness as he establishes a second solo act with ‘Set It Off’.

For over a decade, Offset’s life outside of music has dominated the majority of press and conversation around him. Rising to prominence as the unpredictable member of contemporary rap’s most pivotal group, Migos, Offset has been mired in controversy from the beginning. Despite an abundance of accolades, hit records, world tours and cultural influence, his artistry was regularly overshadowed. He became as well known for appearances in tabloids and gossip blogs, as he was on tracks. Last year, with his second album, ‘Set It Off’, the Atlanta rapper decided it was time to reclaim his narrative.

Notoriously stand-offish with press, his second act as a solo artist sees him stepping out into the light and reacquainting himself with listeners by opening up and talking more. Perhaps paradoxically, the more he lets fans in, the more his music moves into the foreground. When we connect via Zoom in late December, Offset tells me his intention for the year had been for people to “embrace the music, and not focus on outside things.” It feels as much about setting a boundary for our interview, as his mission statement.

“Right now they real hard and tough on music, especially in rap music,” he continues. “I feel like it’s not being accepted so openly as before. And I just felt like me giving my story, and giving context to my songs would help. I’m gonna show people who I am: I’m a fun guy, I’m not so serious; I’m not a quiet person. I’m intelligent, I know how to speak. And I just felt like the world needs to know that.” 

As much as hip-hop was spotlighted last year on its 50th anniversary, it felt like a particularly difficult year for mainstream acts making rap music. Headlines spread about sales being down, and hip-hop artists struggled to reach the chart positions they’d been achieving the year before. Offset says that as a result, he’s noticing less festival bookings for rap artists, which he hopes to counter. “A lot of the music is sounding the same, or people are sticking to what they know, and it’s over-saturated,” he explains. “It’s a lack of creativity. You have to grow with, and you have to move for the culture and what the masses are doing.”

While rap artists play it safe, Offset believes music consumers are moving to other genres where things are more exciting. For inspiration he has been returning to the Greats, citing Michael Jackson and James Brown in particular, noting their constant reinvention: “Every project was a new story, every project had a new creativity, a new look, a new way they dress. [Now] everything is looking the same, so nothing has been a stand out.” 

A conversation with Tyler, The Creator at Roc Nation’s annual brunch helped push Offset out of his comfort zone as a performer. “He was like, ‘Bro, you gotta find a character, get in character and stay in character. I wore this wig for a year straight bro. I didn’t give a damn what nobody thought,’” recalls Offset. “He told me that randomly, and it stuck with me throughout the whole time. I’m glad I listened to him cause it really worked out.”

Offset found his character somewhere between what we were familiar with in his Migos persona, and Michael Jackson – to whom he sees a parallel in breaking away from his group, and family, to find more success as a solo artist. “I feel like this should be my breakout moment,” Offset explains. “[I’ve been] studying and paying attention to things that I haven’t [previously] paid attention to; being creative, dancing and hitting every element, because Mike would do that and with no fear. And he’s the greatest artist of all time because of that.”

Throughout the year Offset had been hinting toward an appreciation for Jackson’s aesthetic, from wardrobe choices during public appearances to a tattoo depicting the ‘Thriller’ video werewolf transformation. All of the threads came together in September, when Offset unveiled ‘Set It Off’s album cover and shared the self-directed ‘Fan’ video both paying tribute to the late King of Pop – including elements of choreography, which would have been unheard of during his breakthrough years. 

“I feel like his fashion was forward, even in today’s world,” he says, referencing Pharrell Williams’ and Virgil Abloh’s work at Louis Vuitton as examples of Jackson’s influence. “A lot of brands took a lot of inspiration from his fashion because it was just so ahead of his time. And I felt like I could execute it without looking corny. I’m that confident in my skin and confident in how I dress and how I carry myself, that I knew it would work out.” He struck a tasteful balance; not so obvious that he appears like a tribute act, but intentional about conveying the image that he was going for. “I wanted people to wonder: What the fuck is he doing?” admits Offset. “Because when people wonder, it makes them dive into you and do more research.”

Fellow Atlanta native André 3000 also provides part of the blueprint: “Him being bold enough to [stand out], because I know you got your friends like ‘Bruh what you doing?’ To have your own vision and to see it out and feel like, ‘I don’t care what nobody thinks,’” he reflects, outlining the stakes that come with diverging from expectations. “It could always go left – even dressing as Mike, and taking a little bit of the aesthetics, it could not be perceived correctly. I believe if you’d be comfortable in it and you’re not so conceited, but you believe in it so much, it’ll register. It’ll register to the mind that it’s creative. And that’s what I did with this.”

In order to take things to the next level, from what he still calls “the greatest group” to a solo performer in his own right, Offset believes that he has to be fearless. It is the commonality he sees across all of those who have influenced his re-invigorated approach, from Tyler, The Creator and André 3000 to Michael Jackson. “They don’t have any fear,” he explains. “And they gonna make you look at them. And you’re going to talk about it. Because it’s like, why be an artist if you’re afraid to display the art? Display the art! People want to see it. They expect it from you.”

A second solo album had initially been announced for November 2022, but when his childhood friend and fellow Migos member, Takeoff, was murdered in Houston on the first of that month everything was put on hold. The loss has wounded Offset deeply, and inevitably finds its way into the music: the first song he made after Takeoff’s passing would be ‘Say My Grace’ – with Travis Scott – which sees him questioning God on the losses of both his brother and his grandma.

On the album that would eventually be released almost a year later, Offset has largely pivoted toward records that are less serious and more fun. There’s a sense that he does not want to capitalise off his pain and grief. Instead Offset wants to entertain, to offer the world – and perhaps himself – some relief. “It’s really not smile music no more right now, especially in rap,” he offers. “Everything’s ‘Shoot-em-up! Bang Bang!’ And I’ve been there, done that, ain’t no salt on that. That’s where I come from. But I just wanted to show growth.”

Offset is quick to acknowledge the input of his team, who he has opened up to collaborating with. He admits that historically he has been guilty of creating in a vacuum when it comes to his solo output, without hearing the critique of others. For ‘Set It Off’ he enlisted an A&R for the first time, working closely with Gelareh ‘G’ Rouzbehani. “This, in my career thus far, has been one of the most collaborative A&R experiences I’ve had,” she tells me. “He doesn’t have an ego, and he went in like a true artist and focussed on creating a body of work that he could be proud of decades from now. He valued the people that are on his team and the people that he brought on board for their opinions on their respective expertise.”

‘Hop Out the Van’, complete with its helium-voiced hook and a slice-of-life visual that shows Offset dancing through the NYC subway – head-to-toe in his Offset Tears collab with Tremaine Emory’s socially progressive Denim Tears brand – is one of the most fun moments on the album. But it wasn’t necessarily a dead cert for the final cut. “It was a fun record, but if it was up to me, I would have put something else that probably wouldn’t have caught the attention like that record caught,” he admits. “So having a full team around me that’s focused on just me is also like a big help. And me being able to create to my fullest capacity.”

G recalls playing ‘Hop Out the Van’ to positive reaction from the likes of Travis Scott and Don Toliver, as well as many of Offset’s close friends, before he eventually conceded. “If he feels like he doesn’t like a record, but a majority of the people that he’s played it for are loving it, then he’s gonna rethink the strategy,” she explains. “He’s smart enough, and he’s also a businessman to think, ‘I may not like it, but the people like it. And we’re making records for my fans.’ So that was one of those where I think we just continued to play for a lot of people, and everyone had a really positive reaction to it. And he said, ‘Cool, let’s put it on the project.’”

Offset’s enjoyed seeing the way the general public found their own ways to relate to the music. “It’s beautiful to me actually,” he explains. “I didn’t want my album to be focussed on certain things, like losses and stuff like that. So for it to touch people in different ways is a beautiful thing!” From choreographed dances to viral trends, even the deeply personal ‘Say My Grace’, found TikTok creators repurposing it as the soundtrack to thanksgiving dinners. “I was talking about some real shit [on ‘Say My Grace’]. People got the message, but at the same time for it to be inserted at thanksgiving; which people share with their family. It was just beautiful to me.”

Another album highlight, ‘Worth It’ features Don Toliver, and samples Busta Rhymes ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’. Offset even borrows Busta’s flow for his second verse, subverting Busta’s lyrics about wilding out for reassurance to a lover that he’s been keeping things low-key in the studio. Offset puts the track in the same lineage as Migos’ mainstream breakthrough ‘Bad and Boujee’. “Our biggest songs and our most success came from relatable records. Like ‘Bad and Boujee’, that made a woman feel great. So I wanted to make ‘Worth It’ where I could get my female fan base up,” he says, acknowledging the long-standing influence of women on musical success. It’s no coincidence that as well as two features from Cardi B, Offset enlisted Latto and Chlöe Bailey to play off against him on a pair of NSFW collaborations. “I recognise that the game is changing,” he acknowledges. 

“His wife being on two records, they always have a great chemistry, so that was a no brainer,” says G. “‘Fine As Can Be’ with Latto… this was probably the quickest verse coming back to us that I’ve maybe had in my career so far, and she killed it, devoured it. This record, she just absolutely loved,  it inspired her to go in the booth and come with a verse and ‘Offset heard it, and was like, this is insane! ‘’Princess Cut’ just felt like such a feminine kinda record, and who better than Chlöe Bailey to be a part of something like that? Offset works well with a lot of people… it’s just about how good you are, and your work ethic more than anything else. It’s what made sense at the time.”

While ‘Set It Off’ succeeds in showcasing Offset’s more lighthearted side, his vulnerability pierces through more than he credits himself for during our interview. Tracks like ‘Say My Grace’, ‘Upside Down’, ‘Don’t You Lie’ and ‘Dissolve’ reflect on themes of loss, loneliness and love, and are sequenced through the album in a way that provides a seamless listening experience between uptempo records designed for the live show and the vulnerable moments that would draw Offset’s fans in closer to the artist behind them.

“We felt like the fans would really love that,” explains G. “To understand him on a deeper level, whether it’s about his past or whether it’s about things that he deals with daily – being famous, his relationship, family, losing his brother. So a lot of that stuff was kind of sprinkled in throughout the project. He’s not gonna go out into the world and say it, but if you listen, and you’re a fan of music, then you hear those moments throughout the record.”

The album closes on a particularly reflective note. ‘Healthy’ is a short, melodic piece acknowledging the dangers of suppressing emotions. “‘Healthy’ was me pouring out how I felt, being by myself. It’s kinda hard doing it this way by myself… It was kind of hard in the beginning. Just showing people a little emotional side,” says Offset. At its conclusion, ‘Set It Off’ returns to the man behind the music, but this time on his own terms. “I didn’t want to keep putting a light towards my hard times,” he says. “But on that record at the end, it was just letting you know I still go through it. I’m still a human.”

Order your copy of CLASH 127 here.

Words: Grant Brydon

Photography: Erwan Blaszka

Creative Direction: Offset & She She Pendleton

Hair: Ebony ‘Lady Lockz’ Wright & Joshua Meekins

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