His gradual return began in January, when Quavo returned to the studio to record “Without You,” a song holding his regrets. He performed it at the Grammys after a week of rehearsals that sometimes ended with him crumpled in tears, then vowed not to put it out. “I love that song, but I honestly don’t ever want to hear it again,” he said.
After the performance, video footage showed he and Offset arguing backstage, though both have since played down the dispute. Though the pair rapped an energetic tribute together at the BET Awards in June, there are no plans for a refashioned Migos to make music again. “We’ll get onstage any time we want to,” Quavo said, with finality. “It’s just we don’t want to. That’s it. We’re good.”
In the months following the Grammys, Quavo went silent on his management team, then popped up sometime in April or May, recalled Kevin Lee, a co-founder of the powerhouse Atlanta label Quality Control. Quavo had recorded 12 songs (“Super, super aggressive, super angry,” the rapper said) over a 48-hour period that he wanted to release immediately.
“It was just raw,” said Lee, who is known as Coach K. “To the point where I was like, ‘If that’s how you feel, you know, we need to get that out of you’” — either to therapy or back to the studio.
It makes sense that the recording booth would be restorative for Quavo. The “Bando” had been both the title of Migos’ first buzzy single in 2012 and their nickname for the basement of Quavo’s mother’s house in Lawrenceville, Ga., where the trio took turns recording verses with Quavo serving as de facto recording engineer (and sometime producer). He and Takeoff had just built a state-of-the-art studio in the basement of the home they shared — Takeoff in the west wing, while Quavo took the east — and recorded almost daily in the run-up to “Only Built for Infinity Links.”
Quavo, who played high school football and counts top athletes like LeBron James among his fans, has said he tries to approach music with an athlete’s rigor, striving to make five or six songs per day. Even with that consistent practice, it had been difficult for him to figure out what his album would become without rage as its primary mode.
He spent the next few months trying to dig into other emotions and sounds. He was able to spin “Turn Yo Clic Up,” an anthemic motivational single featuring Future, around the line, “I took a loss, but you still gon’ get beat,” as a way of letting fans know he wasn’t defeated. But Quavo said he worried that if there were many more songs like it, fans would think he was having too much fun.
He next made “11:11,” a two-minute track in which Quavo threads a chorus about crying himself to sleep between verses in which he brushes off both a Migos reunion and devil worship. He grew more introspective on “Hold Me,” basically a trap gospel song, and “Rocket Power,” on which he repeats, “I had my heart ripped out my chest.”
Though Quavo had sometimes produced tracks on Migos albums and mixtapes, he left the beatmaking to others for “Rocket Power,” preferring to concentrate on his lyrics. His writing took on a new focus, too. When asked if he had punched them in — adding words line by line in the studio — he needed to scroll through his phone to remember which hooks he’d actually written down first.
As he swiped, he was surprised to see whole verses written for some songs. “We always punch in and we’re always freestyling,” he said, awed, and still referring to the group in the present. “So damn, I did take my thoughts and put them on pad this time.”
He guarded the music like a diary, withholding it even from his management team nearly up until the album deadline, partly because of his vulnerability and partly because it would be his first time releasing music that Takeoff hadn’t heard first.
“When the finished product came, it was more or less like Take was talking to him,” Coach K said. “There were some emotional records. But then there were some party records. It was like they were having conversations.”
Quavo said it wasn’t until after the album was done that he learned he was unintentionally working through an ad hoc version of the stages of grief — anger, sadness, acceptance. Though he’s made emotional progress, he’s wary of re-emerging in the public eye. He’s sat courtside at N.B.A. games and made the rounds at Paris and New York fashion weeks, then seen comments on social media chiding him for seeming to enjoy himself.