“And i ain’t scared n---a how i be lackin if i ain’t dead n---a,ill put a quarter pound on yo head n---a,watch shorty smoke it off with they friends n---a once you dead n---a.”—Young Pappy, “Savages”
When the cameras are rolling Young Pappy appeared untouchable. All swagger and hard. If for a few minutes on the video for his track “Savages” Pappy’s athleticism and Uzi-fired lyrics explode into your soul.
But even Young Pappy (whose real name was Shaquon Thomas) who dodged death twice in other previous shootings, couldn’t fend off his foes on Friday. No matter how deep his pockets or how much chest thrusting he did for the cameras—in the end the 20-year-old still had to step outside and survive in the danger zone of his North Side Chicago ’hood.
Thomas died too young after taking two slugs in the back. And unlike the bravado videos and the Law and Order quick-to-collar-killer plots—Young Pappy’s murder might fall in with a slew of other unsolved, MC murders.
Not long before Young Pappy, there was Chinx, another rising star who, on May 10, was struck at least eight times by 9mm gunfire while at a stoplight behind the wheel of his silver Porsche. The Queens rapper had performed earlier that evening and never made it home.
In a performance following Chinx’s death, Jay Z sermonized how anybody trying to rap their way to get out of poverty was a target. “We are kings and queens and we’re under attack. A young man trying make a way out of the hood,” he announced to mourning fans.
Already, the untimely, high-profile deaths of rappers are the stuff of urban legends. Tupac Shakur was sprayed by drive-by bullets in Nevada on September 7, 1996. He died six days later. Nobody’s been caught. Then his former friend-turned-rapping foe Biggie Smalls (whose real name was Christopher Wallace) was only 25 years old when he was gunned down in L.A. a few months later in what some say was a revenge killing. Jason Mizell, otherwise known as the legendary Run-D.M.C. DJ Jam Master Jay, was notoriously killed in a Queens studio in 2002. His murderer, like so many others, is likely still breathing free air.
The casualties of the dying breed of MCs is striking. Murder was the cause of a whopping 51 percent of deaths for rap musicians, according to a startling study released this year by Dianna Theadora Kenny, a professor of psychology and music at the University of Sydney.
She added a caveat: “This could be due to these genres’ strong associations with drug-related crime and gang culture.”
Too many other hip-hop phenoms and rising-star rappers felled over street beefs have been mere blotter blips, or fallen into the ether, getting only a little play from dedicated hip-hop pubs. Some of their cold cases have yet to get any heat on them, either.
And it’s feared these untimely deaths will remain unsolved.
Hip-hop expert Reggie Ossé, host of The Combat Jack Show and the former managing editor of The Source, asks if anybody is truly trying to pursue the killers of these rappers. “Whose job [in the police departments] is it to follow rappers and keep a close watch on them?” Ossé asked. “Why are these crimes unsolved?”
After Young Pappy’s trigger exit, do rappers have to start asking themselves if they are next? And if they are taken out, is anybody going to do much beyond spray-paint a mural to memorialize them on the streets?
Don’t expect the record companies to lead the charge to bail their performers out (Bobby Shmurda is still cooling his heels in Rikers because he can’t pay the $2 million bond) or do much to bring private eyes onto their books (even as they pocket the posthumous profits).
“I think at this point we have to come to realization that the label is there for the bottom line, which is profits made on records sold,” Ossé said. “So by any means necessary. If you have to live and die by the gun to sell records, so be it.”
Here are a few rappers who may have lived and died by the business end of the guns they preached about and whose cases remain open.
On East 140th Street in Harlem a haunting fresco shouts “Street Struck” featuring a bespectacled prince’s likeness wearing a massive golden crucifix and pointing his right hand at whoever dare looks. Lamont “Big L” Coleman was clipped back on Feb. 15, 1999 at 45 West 139th Street, shot nine times in the face and chest by drive-by assailants. A month later, a 29-year-old man who was a childhood friend of Big L’s named Gerald Wooley was hit with the murder rap and then subsequently released. The rapper would be 40 years old this year had he lived. And some say he was on his way, before the bullets did him in, to becoming a legendary rapper. He was way beyond up-and-coming or rising. He had already landed and people were astonished by his genius. “5 slash 3-0 slash 7-4 a lil bro was born with the mind of a psycho” was a line that rippled. Nas touted Big L as scaring him to death. “When I heard that on tape, I was scared to death. I was like there’s no way I can compete if this is what I gotta compete with,” he said.
Scott “La Rock” Sterling:
Scott La Rock and his rap crew, the Celebrity Three (which included none other than rap royalty KRS-One), were a force on stage. Hits like “South Bronx” on the album Criminal Minded were blowing up. Rock himself was a peacemaker, simmering down tiffs on the street as a social worker. The performers formed after they were crashing at the same men’s shelter in the Bronx. The group also included Rock’s protégé Derrick “D-Nice” Jones. On Aug. 27, 1987, D-Nice was pistol-whipped by a nefarious brute who claimed the rapper had been messing with his girlfriend outside Bronx’s Highbridge housing projects. “I know you trying to kick it to my girl. Yo, when I see you I’m gonna kill you,” D-Nice recalled, in a recent interview on Ossé’s show, the boyfriend telling him. D-Nice called his friend Scott La Rock, who came to aid his injured friend and quash the conflict. As the unarmed musicians drove around looking for the punks, D-Nice remembers gunshots. “Somebody was in the bushes and somebody ran to the roof and they just started shooting at us.” And for the first time he witnessed a murder: Rock was hit. “I see Scott swerving and I look and I can literally see the blood coming out of his head. It’s just crazy. It freaked me out,” D-Nice said. Two men were initially brought to trial for snuffing La Rock, but the case was weak and they were acquitted.
“Stacks” or Stack Bundles:
He was known as Stack Bundles, but beneath the hype, 24-year-old Rayquan Elliot was afraid of the price of fame and just wanted out of his Far Rockaway, Queens, housing project. At around 5 a.m. on June 11, 2007, somebody took out the Dip Set Byrdgang member as he carried a White Castle bag in his hand. He’d been hit in the head and neck by gunfire as he walked in the vestibule of his high-rise apartment building.
His aunt Davida Wooten told The New York Times that the rapper realized he needed to escape the daily gangster grind, where many around him were overcome with envy by his meteoric success. “He said they was hating on him, but he didn’t get out fast enough,” she said.
The case remained in limbo until Chinx’s murder, when Stacks’ brother Ronald Ulmer told The New York Daily News that there may be a link between the two slayings. “I really think they could be related,” Ulmer, 48, said.
When Chinx was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital, Stack Bundles’ sister Geannie Ulmer added to the assassination chorus: “[He] is laying in the same place my brother did. For what? For rapping? For what he believed in?” she lamented. “You got to look at that. Somebody’s out there aiming for us.”
Tagged as a “West Coast Biggie [Smalls],” Johnny Burns, aka Mausberg, hailed from the hardscabble bricks of Compton, Calif. He was spotted by hitmaker DJ Quik and appeared on the track “Down, Down, Down.” He was also believed to be a member of the Bloods gang. But before he really tasted the fruits of his lyrical labors, the heavyset Mausberg was robbed and shot to death in Compton at the age of 21. He had only begun making cameos on various recording artists’ albums, including Snoop Dogg’s. Before he was taken out, he waxed about his street cred: “I’m a gangsta that kicks reality. Being a gangsta is in the heart. It ain’t in the clothes you wear. It ain’t in the lingo you say. A gangster isn’t necessarily a gangbanger. A gangster is a real motherfucker that will handle his business at the drop of a dime. I rap about party shit, shit I been through with my mama, drugs, losing my homeboys. I rap about black steel toes and Polo T-shirts. I hold grudges...” His robbery and murder remains unsolved. But his album Non Fiction hit record stores a year later.
Until Nov. 30, 1995, when Randy Walker died after being shot four times in Queens Village, New York, he was a rising rapper who went by the moniker Stretch and a member of Tupac’s Live Squad. At the time, The New York Times chalked up the (still) unsolved incident as another fatal footnote involving rappers. “In any case, Mr. Walker’s killing is the latest in a string of incidents in which rappers have been caught in a web of violence, either as perpetrators or victims,” the article read. In a twist, before Stretch was hit, Tupac himself had turned on his rapping pal and called him a rat. “Stretch is straight snitchin’, talking about I had a pistol, and whap de whoo. That’s just like sending me to jail,” Tupac said. After Stretch’s murder, his mother was left to make sense of the senselessness. “My son was a very loving, kind person. I don’t know why they did this to him,” she said.