“I got a lot to lose 'cause in every situation, I'm the bigger artist, always gotta play it smarter” —Drake, “4 PM In Calabasas”
N.W.A. was considered the world’s most dangerous group after the 1988 release of their world-shaking debut, Straight Outta Compton. Lyrically, across 13 tracks, the album encapsulates their brazen acronym. Due to their instant commercial success and the controversial protest song “Fuck tha Police,” N.W.A. entered America’s consciousness as Black, bold, and furious. The six-man group wasn’t the first rap collective to alarm law enforcement and terrify politicians, but their brand of raw, uncut expression generated national attention. They became a portrait of America’s worst nightmare: the voice of the Black middle finger.
In 2019, rappers aren’t as dangerous. Even the brashest, most bonafide, gun-toting emcees aren’t striking fear into hearts like they did in the late 1980s and ’90s.
Take Charlotte, North Carolina’s DaBaby. The rising rap star made headlines in November 2018 after Jalyn Domonique Craig, 19, attempted to rob the 27-year-old rapper inside a Huntersville, North Carolina Walmart. The altercation ended with DaBaby shooting and killing Craig in self-defense. Although DaBaby wasn’t the aggressor, social media championed the authenticity of his actions. Hip-hop suddenly had a new artist that was as tough as their lyrics.
Notoriety from the shooting increased DaBaby’s visibility, a great benefit to his rap career, but violence continued to surround him. Back in January, a video was posted online of a fight taking place in the middle of a live performance. The footage shows DaBaby, microphone in hand, launching a haymaker that collapses his unnamed adversary.
Most famous is the March 2019 brawl against Cam Coldheart—a fellow Charlotte, North Carolina rapper—who taunted DaBaby inside a Louis Vuitton store. The two rappers had been feuding before their mall encounter. There was a fight, and once again, DaBaby came out victorious. The rapper parodied the conflict in the comedic music video for his single “Carpet Burn.”
With each viral knockout, DaBaby’s profile has grown, but the incidents haven’t made him a rapper we fear. Instead of intimidating and hostile, the “Suge” lyricist, much like his music, appears charismatic and sharp-witted. A natural, Southern cool surrounds him like a force-field. It’s the aura of a man that’s approachable, not apprehensive.
Still, something as trivial as asking your favorite new rapper for a photo creates a potentially dangerous situation. In May, a video of DaBaby’s bodyguard, members of his entourage, and Donald Saladin, whose rap name is Don Trag, fighting outside of Centro Nightclub in Lawrence, Massachusetts, was uploaded online. There’s no context to inform how the fight started, but in June, TMZ reported that Don Trag is suing DaBaby. He claims the incident occurred after he asked for a photo with the famed rapper.
Every situation must be handled carefully when a person of relative fame and assumed fortune is involved. But who’s to say an upcoming rapper or someone pursuing their moment of viral glory won’t attempt to take down the unbeaten Southerner?
Don’t forget how the internet reacted in 2015 when Suge Knight, one of hip-hop’s most intimidating legends, was knocked out by Greg the Barber in a Los Angeles nightclub. Knight was many years removed from being the muscle of Death Row Records, but the fall of a giant will always make noise. Imagine the bragging rights attached to throwing a punch that turns rap’s Floyd Mayweather into Ronda Rousey.
The likeliness of a physical altercation is rare for most, but the probability of unforeseen disputes increases when you are well-known. Look no further than A$AP Rocky’s highly publicized assault trial.
Born Rakim Mayers, the famed Harlemite spent the last month in a Swedish prison after a scuffle with two Swedish natives. On July 1, footage surfaced of Rocky―who stopped in Stockholm during the European leg of his Injured Generation Tour―Bladimir Corniel, and David Rispers involved in a fight with two young men. The following day, before his arrest, Rocky uploaded a short video that shapes the scene to his Instagram. The footage primarily shows his bodyguard, and Mustafa Jafari, the man Rocky was accused of assaulting.
In the video, it’s obvious there is a language barrier, but something occurs between the two, and Jafari refuses to let it go. He pushes his luck. He keeps pushing until Rocky and crew push back. Now, a small street fight becomes a national story because a multi-million dollar rap star is in the center.
Regardless of why the altercation occurred, A$AP Rocky found himself in a situation where his life and freedom were at risk. The fight circulated online because Rocky’s famous, but who’s to say visibility didn’t intensify a minor incident? He brought the static that created the storm.
Earlier this year, while at an airport in Ibiza, Atlanta-born superstar Future and his bodyguard were in a similar altercation with a harsher outcome. TMZ reported, with footage, an incident wherein Future’s bodyguard is struck from behind. The video doesn't reveal who or what sparked the aggression or why the bodyguard walks away before the unsuspecting blow knocks him unconscious.
Once Future’s bodyguard hits the ground, laying face-first, the assailant and his company celebrate the knockout as if they had just scored a touchdown. One guy shouts, “Future’s guy is out,” while another snidely remarks, “Pick ya, boy, up, Fuucha.” The men do not attempt to harm the hit-making celebrity, but they know who he is. There’s pride in their boast. They didn’t just win; they beat someone famous, and the world would know it.
One of the most tragic events in the long-lasting career of renowned rapper and philanthropist T.I. is a fight-turned-fatal-shooting in 2006, which claimed the life of his late childhood friend and assistant, Philant Johnson. T.I. has detailed what led to the shooting that night in Cincinnati in several songs, the most notable being the 3x Platinum “Dead And Gone” featuring Justin Timberlake.
For this story, though, the most suitable documentation is T.I.’s heartbreaking testimony during the 2008 murder trial. “First, I apologized, because I felt that all those rounds were fired for me,” he says, recounting a conversation with Johnson’s mother. The guilt and paranoia born from that night had a life-changing effect on T.I.’s livelihood and career.
“Killed my folk a year ago, still in my sleep they threaten me / Paranoia stressin me, ain't nobody protectin me / I'm dealin with the pressure from my partner dyin next to me / No one's arrested, they comin for me eventually” —T.I., “Ready For Whatever”
Attention, much like fame, is a double-edged sword. Living underneath society’s thumb is a privilege that comes at an expensive cost.
J. Cole isn’t America’s most dangerous rapper. Menace was never his brand. But on “Sunset,” the Young Nudy-featured deep cut found on Dreamville’s well-received Revenge of The Dreamer III compilation album, the Fayetteville, North Carolina-born superstar boasts that his gun is big enough to make God flinch. Unlike the guns that appear in songs like “A Tale of 2 Citiez,” “No Role Models,” and “Firing Squad,” from his third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, for the first time, Cole sounds uneasy after an incident of mistaken identity.
On the second verse, Cole raps, “I put the pedal to the metal when I seen the muzzle, I couldn’t help but think to myself, boy, keep your ass in the house, the city is bad for your health.” There is no fear in his voice, but his tone carries a sincere desire for safety. J. Cole has two kids. He has a wife, family, friends, and a label of artists depending on him. Although “Sunset” isn’t a confession of paranoia, his worrisome attitude is palpable. No matter how normal he seems, J. Cole is not just anybody—being Jermaine Lamarr Cole comes with an imbalance of risk and reward.
Unfortunately, rappers must be skeptical—of fans and friends, business partners and management, labels and lawyers, enemies, and law enforcement. They must be suspicious of everyone. Whether on a domestic tour or overseas, every person they encounter could be the reason they don’t make it back home. Not even the home is safe.
What is “safe” when the world that made you a God has the power to disrupt your heaven? What good are roads paved in gold when the streets are always watching? All it takes is one conflict to crumble a kingdom. In the immortal words of JAY-Z, “What’s a nigga to do?”
By Yoh aka Hip-hop's Most Dangerous Writer aka Yoh31