Tumultuous album openers are expected from Meek Mill, but it’s the “Outro" on DC4 that’s a surprise eruption of rawness; the closer is strong enough to start the album. The song begins with a fiery verse from Lil Snupe—with a voice that gives away his youthfulness and Louisiana roots, his lively conviction is infectious. So lively for just a moment, you can almost forget it’s the voice of a young man no longer with us. It stings to hear him talk about death around the corner, being a target because he was coming up, and the goal to remove his mother from the hood for good. The most chilling aspect of posthumous verses is knowing every word comes from a ghost that isn’t aware that their time ran out—a reminder of how you can be full of promise and potential and gone before that promise and potential are realized.
“They killed my lil nigga Snupe, my nigga was the truth, and all he wanted was a Coupe,” Meek raps on the tribute song for his murdered protegee. A Coupe, a luxury vehicle, something so simple, yet, so desirable through the eyes of someone that didn’t have much; it was more than just wanting a car, it was about wanting wealth, obtaining the unobtainable, and grasping everything he couldn't have in his short life. The song ends with Snupe retelling a story about his first time in a Bentley with Meek and rapping for 15 minutes straight. You can hear the enthusiasm in his voice, elated, like a kid who just bought a candy store. The audio clip ends with Snupe saying Meek promised, “To change his life.”
There’s a video online of Snupe freestyling for Meek for the very first time, likely an early encounter between the two. Only 17 with no fear in his flow, no sign of any nervousness, he raps to Meek as if he’s just another classmate sitting at the lunch table. I wonder if Big Sean was this confident when he rapped for Kanye? Meek is so impressed that for the next seven months, he had Snupe freestyling everywhere—in the studio with French Montana, on Sway In The Morning, and Cosmic Kev’s radio show. Wherever they went, Meek took pride in his freestyle abilities and would throw out words and topics for the young rapper to weave into his rhymes. He had a lot of promise, raw, but with some polish, he would have shined like a freshly cut diamond.
One of the most memorable Snupe videos online is a battle between Snupe and Retro, an artist endorsed by Washington Redskins’ wide receiver DeSean Jackson. It’s an insane video—T.I.’s judging, Mick Vick is there, two young men in a storm of spectators rapping under the pressure of 10K being up for grabs.
T.I.'s presence, in particular, is interesting in retrospect. You can see by his reaction that he’s impressed by Snupe's rhymes and wit. Throughout his career, T.I. has been one rapper who has given many artists on the rise a chance to change their lives. Young Dro, Big Kuntry Kane, B.o.B., Iggy Azalea, Travis Scott, and even a young Meek Mill was under the Grand Hustle umbrella before MMG. He isn’t afraid to give an artist the chance, and a chance is what he gave Doe B. Alabama hasn’t had a rapper on hip-hop’s radar since Rich Boy, but Montgomery Doe was slated to be the voice that would put Alabama back on the map. Sadly, in the same home that he repped so heavy, he was gunned down.
Signed to Interscope and a part of T.I.’s Hustle Gang, Doe B was another rapper who was bringing back the feeling of authentic street rap. The trap music he made was closer to T.I.’s sophomore album definition of trap and the popular sound that has dominated mainstream music. It was out of the mud music, coming from nothing music; from rags birthed a rapper, and the stories he told connected with people making them fans. Mixtapes gave him the foundation, the deal brought connections and visibility, the stars were slowly aligning for him, but before he could reach new heights, he was dragged down by a tragic event.
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T.I. always spoke highly of Doe—he told Pharrell about him, he told Jay Z about him, he spoke at his funeral and recorded a tribute song that appeared on Paperwork. When Big Sean released “1st Quarter Freestyle” he mentions a friend acknowledging his appearance, a look that shouldn’t be worn by someone so successfully, and he replied, “Cause I just lost my nigga Doe B and a fuckin’ Uncle Phil.” Sean wasn’t the only one—Drake sent out a tweet, B.o.B spoke to XXL, and Rich Homie Quan, Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, and Project Pat reminisced on the late rapper with Noisey. The highest praise is always offered when you are longer around to hear it.
Home is where the heart is supposed to be, but for some rappers, home can be the most dangerous place. Boosie painted this picture the clearest during in an interview with Rolling Stone, “I don’t feel like it’s good for rappers who are on the level I’m on to be in their city like that. That’s where you’re gonna get killed at.” Lil Snupe died in Louisiana, Doe B in Montgomery, Chinx in New York, and Bankroll Fresh in Atlanta.
Fresh wasn’t on Boosie’s level, but he was on the way. There are always a few artists who are creeping closer to the spotlight, and Bankroll was one of those artists. He had the sound, he had the charisma, and he had the movement—let anyone in Atlanta tell it, Bankroll was next, the cities hottest hot boy. Another street rapper, authentic, but could crossover into the mainstream market like Jeezy, Waka, and Gucci before him. When I heard the news of the shooting, what surprised me most was the location—murdered at the studio. This wasn’t some random studio, this was Street Execs Studios, to Bankroll, that was home. He lost his life in the one sacred place a rapper should feel safe. Slain in the office, shot in his city, a star fell before he could reach the sky. Out of all the tributes, and there are many, Cam Kirk and Metro Boomin delivered my favorite.
What makes each of these stories so sad is how all these rappers were on the cusp of escalation in their respected careers. It leaves a void, a big “what if?” when young flowers are stomped on before blossoming. I think back on Big L often—an artist that’s impossible not to come across once you start digging into older, underground hip-hop. Talented isn’t a strong enough word to describe his lyrical prowess—a true wordsmith. Once a year, it’s good for your soul to revisit Lifestylez Ov da Poor & Dangerous and L’s legendary freestyle on Stretch and Bobbito—a moment in ‘95 where a young, hungry Jay Z-assisted in one of the most celebrated hip-hop freestyles. Sadly, his curtain fell before he could continue to prove himself as one of hip-hop’s finest lyricists. A pen that potent was able to leave a mark on the genre, but left a bigger void. Irreplaceable.
There’s a long list of artists who didn’t get a chance to reach the mountaintop. Artists like Big Pun, Stack Bundles, Capital STEEZ, and you can even argue Tupac, Biggie, Sean Price, J. Dilla, and Pimp C all left this world before reaching the highest heights this industry has to offer. It’s important to honor our fallen soldiers, and remember to give roses and praise to the ones that are still here with us. If 2016 has taught us anything with the passing of artists like Prince, Shawty Lo, and Phife Dawg, death is truly around the corner for us all.
By Yoh, aka Paris Yohtana aka @Yoh31.