OPINION: Street violence a bad rap for Atlanta’s music industry

A distraught woman cries on the sidewalk along Sunset Avenue in northwest Atlanta after two people were killed and two others were injured on July 24, 2020, when gunfire erupted outside a house party in the Vine City neighborhood, authorities said. Rapper Raezion Boyd, who was 18 and went by Rae Rae, had just been signed to Motown Records. He was one of the victims shot to death outside the house party. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)
Caption
A distraught woman cries on the sidewalk along Sunset Avenue in northwest Atlanta after two people were killed and two others were injured on July 24, 2020, when gunfire erupted outside a house party in the Vine City neighborhood, authorities said. Rapper Raezion Boyd, who was 18 and went by Rae Rae, had just been signed to Motown Records. He was one of the victims shot to death outside the house party. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Two weekends ago, a Grammy-nominated rapper driving a Bentley, said some gunmen chased his vehicle, shooting at him and causing his vehicle to overturn. They got out, he said, and apparently tried to finish him off although the targeted man, known as Cyhi the Prynce, scrambled away.

Last weekend, an armed crew fired 20-plus shots at those filming a rap video in an Atlanta scrapyard, causing people to run for their lives. Two men were shot and survived. The rappers, Roddy Ricch and 42 Dugg, were not harmed.

And this week, Atlanta rapper Killer Mike is pleading for sanity after his barbershop in South Fulton was shot up.

“I wanna say to the brothers tho. Please consider what would have happened if one of y’all actually hit one another,” Killer Mike wrote on social media. “The jail, the lawyer fees, the funeral cost and two black families loss.”

It is crazy out there. Last year, Atlanta had 157 murders, up from 99 in 2019. It continues unabated. So far in 2021, there have been 15 homicides, compared to eight during the same period last year. And it’s not hot yet.

Killer Mike was talking to his fellow Atlantans but he might have added a side note to those in the music business here to be really, really careful.

I checked the numbers: Last year, at least six rappers and one music producer were shot to death in Atlanta. Also, another six people who were with them, or were at a music shoot, were killed. On top of that, two rappers were charged with murder.

Cydel Charles Young, aka Cyhi the Prynce, posted this photo of his wrecked Bentley Bentayga after he said he was attacked by someone in a red car who fired several gunshots at him on Thursday night, Feb. 11, 2021. (credit: Cydel Young)
Caption
Cydel Charles Young, aka Cyhi the Prynce, posted this photo of his wrecked Bentley Bentayga after he said he was attacked by someone in a red car who fired several gunshots at him on Thursday night, Feb. 11, 2021. (credit: Cydel Young)

Credit: Cydel Young

Credit: Cydel Young

I contacted Cyhi the Prynce, aka Cydel Charles Young, and asked if this surprised him. No, he wrote in a long text from the hospital where he was getting treated, “because it’s like the hunger games out here. It’s like putting a bunch of lions in one zoo and telling them to share a piece of the food. There’s always going to be tension in those scenarios, so no I’m not surprised.”

It’s a combination of the financial toll of the pandemic, jealousy toward those who seem to have done well, and rivalries connected to their old ties to the street.

“Mainly, people in Atlanta are out of work, their loved ones can no longer support them, so ppl are going through extreme measures to either steal or take their frustration out on those who do have financial stability through the pandemic,” Young wrote. “Often times, too, there’s on-going tensions and beefs between artists and neighborhoods that cause them to spend money on protection or revenge, which can fuel that chaos as well.”

To write this column, I did interviews, researched the AJC files, including a year-end roundup of Atlanta’s 2020 homicide victims, examined police reports, and read stories in all sorts of media, including Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines.

The carnage started on June 13, when a truck drove by a crowd in the Edgewood neighborhood where a video was being filmed. The truck’s occupants opened fire, killing a musician named Christopher Weaver, 25, and Semaj Jones, 17. Five others were shot.

On July 11, a rapper named Rudolph Johnson, known as Lil Marlo, was shot to death as he drove on I-285. On July 22, two men were killed at a music studio on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. Cepada Hilton, 39, an aspiring producer who was out on bond on a murder charge, was the intended target. Gary Turner, 31, who happened to be near him, also died.

Two people were killed and at least five more were injured on June 13, 2020, in a drive-by shooting in the Edgewood neighborhood of northeast Atlanta, police said. (Atlanta Police Department photo)
Caption
Two people were killed and at least five more were injured on June 13, 2020, in a drive-by shooting in the Edgewood neighborhood of northeast Atlanta, police said. (Atlanta Police Department photo)

Two days later, 18-year-old rapper Raezion Boyd, who went by Rae Rae and had just been signed to Motown Records, was shot to death outside a house party. Weeks earlier, he had just dropped a song about having a big “bankroll.” One magazine called him “part of the new generation hip-hop wave filled with artists narrating street stories through their youthful eyes.”

In October, Anthony Lamar McIntyre, 28, who called himself MarleyMaxx, was killed on West Peachtree Street. He had a college degree in public health communication and moved to Atlanta, he wrote, to enlarge his fan base and spread his brand.

In November, the Chicago rapper King Von, aka Davon Bennett, 26, came to Atlanta to party after releasing an album. He got into a fight outside a club with a Georgia rapper’s crew and was shot to death, as was Mark Blakely, also from Chicago.

December was a violent month. On Dec. 1, Herman Gibbs, 32, known as Baby Boy, was shot to death outside a studio on Campbellton Road. Andre Majors, 29, an upcoming comedian who was with him, was also killed. On Dec. 12, a man named James Adams, who was a friend of rapper YFN Lucci (Rayshawn Bennett), was killed by a shot to the head. Police say Adams was a triggerman in a drive-by shooting and Bennett was the driver. Bennett was charged with felony murder, even though it was his guy who got killed. That’s how the law works.

Drew Findling, the rapper’s lawyer, says his client was not the aggressor in the incident. He said Bennett had just purchased a $300,000 Mercedes Maybach the day before, and the idea of using it in a drive-by shooting is crazy.

“I don’t think anyone uses a 1-day-old, $300,000 car as a tank,” Findling said.

Rapper King Von was shot dead outside an Atlanta night club.
Caption
Rapper King Von was shot dead outside an Atlanta night club.

And finally, on Dec. 15, Azal Lockett, a budding rapper who moved to Atlanta and called himself Chase Billiano, was shot to death in his car on Campbellton Road.

Findling said it is an overgeneralization to call all those who’ve been killed or were in trouble “rappers.” He said that’s like giving equal credence to NBA players “and those in the park shooting baskets.” Some, he said, are simply wannabes giving the hip-hop biz a bad name.

“I’ve seen a lot of positives come out of the industry,” he added. “I’ve seen an industry extremely engaged in COVID relief and in political engagement.”

I spoke with Atlanta attorney Jacoby Hudson, who grew up at Bowen Homes along with Rudolph Johnson, Lil Marlo, the guy killed on I-285 in July.

He said Johnson was a dear friend he called “Rudy.” He said Rudy was a shy fellow who exuded a tough, brash persona when he became Lil Marlo.

“He took on the Teflon Don persona,” said Hudson. “Rudy got shot up because it was a retaliatory thing. You have to create this street personality. It became, ‘We’re tough guys, we have money, we have drugs, (screw) you!’”

“A lot of times you cannot turn back.”

Hudson says the cars, the drugs and wads of cash in videos can create “hate and jealousy” and make those in the limelight a target. “And believe it or not, a lot of them don’t have any money,” he added.

But perception is reality, and reality can get you killed.

Cyhi the Prynce (Cydel Charles Young) told me, “I think we don’t reward each other for making it out of our circumstances. If you leave the hood you get bashed, you’re not real anymore. So, you have to either bring your neighborhoods with you or go back to it — and that’s where I feel like we get caught up a lot of times.”

“It’s feeling like you have something to prove — proving you’re still the same person you were before the money,” he said. “People knowing you have money, so they rob you for such. There’s not enough celebration around the success of making it out, there’s more celebration and praise around staying true to the streets — we need to shift the narrative to celebrate stepping away from the chaos.”

About the Author

ajc.com