the rap writer’s endless grief.

“Did you hear about XXXTentacion?” he said, to all of us. The older dude who worked on our floor, that I didn’t know at all, was the one who broke the news to us that the young rapper, had been murdered in broad daylight. Seconds later, the video of him laying in his driver’s seat was on the large Mac displays we had in our office, back when I worked out of one of those. I hurriedly said “don’t show me,” because well, I can’t deal with seeing people breathing their last breaths, no matter how much the internet has desensitized us. I felt hollow for the rest of the day, and out of sorts: I was no fan of X due to the crimes tied to his name, but I knew he had talent, and I was two months removed from seeing him turn Rolling Loud Miami, into a total frenzy. He was gone now. Permanently. And I knew right there, in that moment, as I ate dinner, alone in a restaurant, that these rapper deaths would hit closer and closer to home. One day it would be someone I really had love for. I hoped I would be prepared. I was not.

I could say the rise of Pop Smoke in NYC was something you had to be there for; he got hot so fast that he was already stretching outside of the boundaries of tri-state area by spring 2019. I knew who he was, of course, I heard his songs, I thought they were cool, but I didn’t “get” what he was doing until I met him. I had no idea what to expect, after watching and reading his other interviews; rappers who haven’t been in music very long, can be standoffish, or guarded. He comes to the office, with just a few of his friends and his publicist, and he’s disarmingly cool, like someone I would’ve grown up with, even though I was at least 11 years older than him. What was most striking about Pop, was his happiness. He was happy to do press, to talk his shit, to be successful, to make music and be loved for it. But most importantly, he was happy to be himself, completely comfortable in his own skin in an industry that makes husks of promising young talent, because it only loves their output, with little care for the human being behind it. After I met Pop, Meet The Woo, his debut tape, made sense to me, the songs landed, he had a fan and supporter in me.

Y’all know where I work, and you know what we on when the new year starts….the Freshman List. Every year, it’s a who’s who of the rappers who are up next (and with the speed of how rap moves, those who are up now). January 2020, Pop Smoke came to the office to do his Freshman pitch, where he is interviewed by staffers about what his next steps are for the year, he discusses why he should be a Freshman and how he feels about the idea, things of that nature. I was working on something else, so I was going to check on Pop when he got out of the meeting. It was kind of late, like 7 or 8 pm, and he strolled out of the back, the same stocky, star power-exuding dude I remembered. He, of course, got picked to be a Freshman, because understand: he HAD to be. He loomed LARGE in the city (and beyond), he WAS Brooklyn Drill to most people, by far the most recognizable act within it. I dapped him up and told him congrats, and he def poked fun at how muscular I was after I shook his hand (likely too strongly)…which is crazy, cause he was also strong as shit. It was great to see him, and he was ecstatic to be a part of this.

February 19th, 2020. Pop is dead, murdered in a home invasion in Los Angeles that still doesn’t make sense to me, the reality of it just being too much. He was 20 years old, man. Seeing his light be snatched away, knowing where he was headed and how committed he was to getting there, was really disturbing as fuck to me. I don’t think I really ever recovered, because I basically couldn’t feel anything, when I realized the rumors were true, Pop, that guy we all loved in the office, was gone. Forever. Look past the music for a second; the person, the human being, was gone. And we had to sit with that. And I say “sit” as a figure of speech, because working within rap means you are endlessly moving through death, hoping it gets easier, or in my own personal case, hoping the constant loss of life doesn’t strip me of my humanity, of my ability to feel pain for these artists, and that hole that never really fills in their absence. I remember standing outside, talking to my coworker’s about Duke Deuce’s tape which dropped the same day, Memphis Massacre 2, and how Pop’s death made it hard to focus on such a strong project. I was in a daze for the rest of that day, the rest of that week, the rest of that month, my only respite being denial, refusing to accept what happened.

My connection to Von was very similar to Pop’s, but a bit more involved, just because of how different Von’s route was to fame. Mired in legal troubles and unable to get his feet out of the street, Von pretty much came out of nowhere and dropped “Crazy Story” and “Took Her To The O” within 12 months. “Took Her To The O” was when I realized “Von is going to take off, and everyone has to accept and realize this.” I actually interviewed him nearly a week after Pop got murdered, and remembered feeling that “I hope he gets to hang around and enjoy this shit” feeling. Losing artists you actually knew, were around, and helped promote puts you into that kind of mindset; you become fearful, you worry about these people, you wonder will they get to bask in their success, or will all of this get cut short. Von was cool as hell too, just like Pop, and unflappable and very open, speaking very clearly and honestly to me about his jail time and cases, without me asking or really pushing (I think it’s extremely police when interviewers press on topics like this, but thats another conversation). I was a fan of Von, but worried his the criminal investigation (accusation of a shooting in Atlanta, alongside his friend and OTF leader/labelmate, Lil Durk) he was wrapped in would hold him back at XXL. He really did want to be a Freshman, his team pushed hard for this, and he was easy to work with. I was in his corner, but understood the reality of the situation.

In winter 2020, we were trying to launch Who Am I? Live, an IG Live interview series split between me and my colleague, where we Scheduling, destiny and perfect timing led to us opening the show with Von, and us both having to trust each other on something new. I had to believe that Von would be engaging and open to talking, and that I’d ask the right shit, and he had to trust that I would do my best to give him room to let his charisma and music shine though, and give his fans what they wanted.

Von was incredible in the interview, giving me a tour around his hotel room, introducing his friends, playing a ton of unreleased music, and even playing one of his videos before they dropped. He rose up to the moment and so did I, and I hope he realizes how much he held me down and legitimized me, as I did something I hadn’t done before. The aftermath of this interview had my parents, who are both in their 60s, singing Von’s praises, this young dude from Chicago who had been through it all. That specific interview was a source of happiness for me; I was dealing with my own depression/anxiety issues, worrying about the love of my life’s fibroids and the pain she was feeling, and just trying to survive the pandemic, when it felt like letting your guard down for a second would put you in a coffin.

Just over a week later, Von was gone, killed in a fist fight with Quando Rondo that turned into a shooting. I was in Houston when I found out, where I had been for about a month with my girlfriend, so I was alone while she was at work. I felt that familiar sinking feeling, but I chose to not believe social media, and held out hope that there had been some sort of misunderstanding, that Von just got shot but wasn’t dead. I came into a work meeting on Zoom as they all realized it was true, Von died on the way to the hospital, 700 miles from his hometown, the victim of social media beef that boiled over. I muted myself on Zoom, because I was crying in an empty room, and could not compose myself to say anything to my coworkers. I was in a lot of emotional pain at the time, which would soon lead to my anxiety disorder getting so bad that I had a gnawing in my stomach that would go on to last for months. I was worried about my girlfriend, I was worried about myself, I was worried about everyone I loved in the middle of a pandemic that was cutting lives short left and right, and I was under a lot of duress at work. Then I wake up to Von being killed over some bullshit, and I was expected to continue on like everything was ok.

I texted my sister and my parents and told them Von was dead, and even reading the text messages makes me remember how distraught I felt in the moment; it’s something I can’t forget, even now. Those thoughts were in my head again, where I didn’t feel I could be this close to hip-hop anymore, and just push through the psychological effects of “This person I’m cool with is dead now, and they can all be snatched away from us, in an instant.” It was fucking me up, it still is. The very thing I knew would happen to me, did. And it came quickly. Obviously, I hung in there, but the deaths really didn’t stop, and there is no simple answer to slow it down, no path to peace without nuance.

Before Von died, Juice WRLD died via overdose, which was terrifying and something I still haven’t come to terms with. Young Dolph being killed just weeks ago was too much; I loved the man and his music, and who he was, what he represented, and was beside myself to meet him the one time I did. Every time these deaths happen, like Drakeo The Ruler this past weekend, or Slim 400, or Mac Miller or Nipsey Hussle, I lose a bit of myself to this shit, to this hip-hop world I exist in that I contribute to. This is not about me being a fan, which I will always be. This is about me working in rap, getting to know these people, then refreshing TMZ to find out they got their lives taken or died in the most heinous ways.

Every time a rapper is lost, it chips away at my will to maintain my proximity to covering the genre. But the reality is, going back to being purely a fan is no easier, and may be more difficult in certain ways. Plus, walking is somewhat cheating my gift and my dream, and I owe something back to hip-hop, for all it’s given me; I love being a part of this shit. With each additional rapper death, it becomes more and more difficult to bounce back; it makes this all seem little futile and very finite, knowing that any rapper you’re a fan of, could be gone in the blink of an eye.

Peter and The Chicken.

You ever felt impending doom? Not the anxiety-based one that isn’t connected to anything, but I mean, real, actual, I’m-going-to-die-and-it-may-really-happen kinda shit. Being in a pandemic and you know, staying in the house and being very choosy with where I decide to take risks (I’m no gambler), gives you a lot of time to think. This COVID shit has been horrifying, and I am thankful me, my direct family and my friends have survived it, although I have lost some loved ones. But, I’m always close to dying. I’ve been there so many times in my life, that one would think it would change my outlook, maybe make me less abrasive, maybe value my days better, but no, not really. I know this life shit is fickle and fragile, and it makes me laugh to myself in confusion, every time I think about it.

Way back in late 2009/ early 2010, my college (yall know where I went) was having REAL issues with the neighborhood we were in. A lot was going on: Students were getting robbed and assaulted by local residents(and really, thats a product of a big ass school buying up your culture-filled neighborhood and pushing the people out), my friends were getting into beefs that turned very serious, one of which directly included me, someone got stabbed up in a fight right outside of my apartment window, we had become numb to hearing gunfire when we went to parties. Things were, in all reality, very fucked up. I say this after nearly being killed by campus police just 3 years earlier; this was as bad as things had ever been down there. And I really did think I was going to get killed before I graduated, because my understanding of the universe was based in “chances.”

You are going to have brushes with danger; I had been lucky over, and over, and over, and I knew that shit was gonna run out one day. You can lie to and play with everyone on this Earth; you cannot bullshit the universe. If you know in your heart of hearts, that just being out and about when things are so tense, can raise the chance of you being harmed, you are either bullshitting, the way you operate needs to change. So I laid low, but even with that me and my boy, who I love to this day, had to dip out of a party and sneak back to my apartment because someone in there wanted to shoot it up, because he saw us in there (over a money beef I inherited, just because I was present). Literally looked at us, then told the party he was gonna clap the shit up. Then we had to watch for him circling the block, after we dipped. That’s what I was doing in 2009 and 2010; trying to not die. After just barely not dying in 2006. Before I was walking around the Bronx in the dark in 20111, regularly, trying to get to my GF’s house in a hood where no one knew me but her, knowing I was pushing it every time I did this shit. Then wanting to die in 2015, while in the pits of depression. Then ACTUALLY having to rush my parents out of a house fire in 2020, while trying to also not get killed by COVID. I’m always dodging death; I never stopped.

I had been distracted enough to believe trying to get through COVID was something that was beyond me, but it wasn’t, I’m always trying to outrun some shit. The way I feel between vaccine shots (I already got my first) makes me feel the same way I did when I was running through the dark in Norfolk, hoping we weren’t being followed. The way I felt staring out of my bedroom window, not knowing someone was going to get stabbed in the middle of the giant mob. The way I felt when my homegirl hit us up hysterical, because there was a dead body in front of her college crib, on a back block. The same way I felt watching my childhood home, with smoke coming out of all its windows as the basement got reduced to cinders, hoping the house wouldn’t explode. Some foul shit is always around the corner, but I haven’t known it any other way, for a very long time. The fact that something as joyous as getting vaccinated could remind me of how close to the edge I’ve been, says a lot about how I see things. I got the first shot, I was happy for about an hour, then I got sad, thinking about how paranoid I’d be until my second, and how taxing all of this has been to live through. I also got wrapped up in how weird this whole experience has been, but I’m just…surviving. I don’t think it’s particularly brave, or valiant; I’m just alive, and I appreciate that.

I will be fine, because I know I will be. But, I know the reality of things. I know how shit can go wrong. Me understanding how things play out, and how poorly they can go, is why I think so well on my feet. That’s all I ever had; being in situations where I had to make the right choice or die, be it literally or metaphorically. People who love you can say whatever they want, you can put on whatever facade you feel like showing off, none of that shit matters. In the moment of truth, I’m going to do what I have to do, because I need to, and you better do the same. I’ve done so, many a time, and I know that a lot of things in this life are predicated on split second decisions. I take solace in that, but living in the pandemic has shortened my fuse; I’m not patient, I don’t like wasting time on bullshit anymore, I find it frustrating when someone’s head is in the clouds, I can’t stand when people don’t say what they mean. Our time is limited, and my hourglass nearly emptied one too many times to play. I can’t stand indecisiveness in big moments, and that’s partially because of jealousy; I didn’t get to bullshit in those moments, because I would have died, that innocence was stolen from me a long time ago. Thankfully, I did survive all this shit, and I get to give life another go with each new day, as I try to give more than I take.



Everything is crazy.

I broke up with my girlfriend about 4 weeks ago, I’ll probably never publicly explain why, just know it was fucked up. No one cheated.

While breakups are terrible, the fallout that comes with them may actually be worse.

I’ve kinda had to weather the storm, so to speak. I am definitely lonely, and I sometimes feel a vague listlessness that is just “there”. I’m doing MUCH…MUCH better now than I was at first, but I did what I had to do.

In the first two weeks, I had to clench my jaw so I wouldn’t throw up, on a daily basis. I was consistently nauseous. That is how much the shit was bothering me.

So, I dealt with that, I didn’t do any dumb shit, I didn’t diss my ex then, and I will not now. My healing regimen is solely based on seeking inner peace and making sure I’m around people who love me. I didn’t know being amongst people who put your well-being first felt like this; its been quite some time.

I’ve learned that people don’t actually know me, at all. People who have known me forever.

When some foul shit happens, they accuse me of being motivated by things that have never meant anything to me.

I was told I broke up with my girlfriend because I wanted to be single for the summer.  Not a chance.

If you think I broke up with my girlfriend because I wanted to get my meat moistened by other women and have more time to listen to Young Thug, you are a moron.

“You don’t work through things” “You don’t care about your girlfriend”. “You’re selfish”, “You’re unfair”.

There’s an underlying problem with all of this shit throwing. When you date someone for a year, there will be things you have to overcome between the two of you. I did it. I did it multiple times. I didn’t say a word publicly, because I respect her up to this very moment. To say I don’t care, or I don’t work through things, or I’m not loyal….when I’ve TRULY given all of myself, is amazing. Even worse, I’m all about justice and always have been. So “fairness” is paramount to me, even though very few things about reality are “fair”.

I’ve had to listen to these things, while I mourned my own relationship. I was even spoken to as if I enjoy breakups. Ive been dumped twice, I’ve initiated break ups twice(only two were “actual” relationships). All 4 were extremely trash, albeit this one isn’t as bad as the last one. If I could AVOID breakups, I would. And good lord, did I try to avoid this one.

I’ll never tell you what to tolerate and not tolerate in your relationships. Do know, however, that if you tolerate something you actually can’t deal with, it’s going to kill you from the inside. Then your choice becomes “do something about it” or “die”. I hope you won’t choose the latter.

I will never be that person who bends their moral and personal standards so far that they are no longer themselves, Just to keep the peace. Just to be happy. Just for “things to be ok”. My ex is a good enough person, but I can’t get down with certain shit she does, that she is not willing to change. So, I went on my way.

I knew in my heart and soul I could not deal with said transgression long term. So I made my choice. That should be fine with everyone. It’s not. Oh well.

When I say “transgression” do know I don’t mean “STOP MAKING ME SLEEP IN THE WET SPOT!!” or “HOW MANY TIMES ARE WE GONNA WATCH LOVE AND HIP HOP, OMFG!”. It was SERIOUS. You can ask anyone who dated me (no you can’t, you don’t know them), I’m really not a nitpicker, I’m going to let you live. I just want you to be safe, I want you to be happy, I want you to be alive. I don’t care about anything else, honestly. I want you to operate as your best self, even if our visions don’t align on what that means.

People are treating me “differently”….because I broke up with a woman. It’s unbelievable. It’s irritating. It’s a SUPER minority (I’m talking less than 5 people here), but it exists. I haven’t really paid attention to it recently, but the fact that they even EXIST makes my blood boil.

One of my very close friends told me “you always run, you should talk it out, you don’t love your girlfriend???”, the MINUTE I told him we split. No “are you ok?” or “whats been going on with you two”, just that, scolding. Chastizing. Then acted like I was ridiculous for requesting empathy first and disagreement later. He went on to say that “I always take the moral high ground and expect it from other people”, as if what I ask is too much or the wrong thing to do.

Took him two weeks and two separate arguments to admit he was wrong. I just stopped speaking.  We probably won’t be speaking too much going forward, because he’s done this repeatedly, and questioned my character in such bullshit ways. He told me to not break up with a previous girl and said I was being hasty, and “omg she’s so cool and so smart how could you” etc., etc and basically went to war with me over MY breakup. Never mind the fact that said girl came back in a few months and said “you were right for dumping me, I understand why.” So if she understands, why can’t you? And if I’m of such poor character, wouldn’t this be coming from someone else? It NEVER has. It’s all so crazy.

Her “mistake” that did us in, opened my eyes to other weak points in our relationship that I didn’t make enough of a stir about, that I let spin out of control. I am an enabler, in that sense. That means I wasn’t without blame for what my relationship became. But it simply was past the point of fixing. So I stepped up and handled it. Predictably, she said some totally out of line things in the aftermath, that just solidified my decision. I don’t lose sleep over those words; I don’t lose sleep over being vilified by people that don’t matter. I can only be true to myself, and I live that every day I wake up.

mortality. (love your people.)

I saw my grandmother get cremated.

I was still a child. My dear grandma Lorna. I saw it. I was about 16, maybe. It was right after her funeral ended. I don’t know how I even ended up witnessing this in the mausoleum…but I did. The shit hurt me so much that I didn’t even cry. Until this moment right now, I wasn’t even sure that what I saw was even a “thing”. Denial. Everything I just read about cremation after funerals… matched exactly what I saw. Just a casket rolling into flames. As my family talked to the mausoleum staff. Beautiful service. Beautiful woman. Terrifying imagery. She died so suddenly that I didn’t get to process she was gone; that cremation skipped my emotions to the end of the book. I feel like she’s still with me all the time, and I’m 27 years old now. I tend to find it corny when people say the deceased are “still with them”. But I get it now. I get it today.

That situation made me avoid funerals as much as I could, going forward.

One of my good friends in HS lost his mother a few years ago. I love that guy. I didn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t. Mentally, it was not an option. I felt bad for years. Felt like I left him hanging (because I did). Cowardly shit. I should have been there at that tough time.

I saw him 2 months ago, after not seeing him since then, pretty much. It was all love, smiles, daps and hugs. I’m thankful that he didn’t take that personally. If he did, he didn’t express it to me. If he saw me and flipped on me, I’d deserve every part of it. But…he is a better man than me, clearly.

My best friend from college, my dog, my brother…he lost his mom too. Maybe 2 years ago. I knew she was sick, but the news blindsided me. He dealt with it quietly. Much love to him. Amazed at how strong he has remained since. I handled this better than the previous death I mentioned. I had to. Couldn’t fail my friend.

Most recently, my best friend from HS let me know about two weeks ahead of his mother passing. I knew the funeral would be soon. I knew I would have to go, to support, because of love, because I aim to do what’s right.

I was fucking terrified of that funeral.

I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have to go….selfishly. I just didn’t feel like I could take the trauma of a funeral. I let that go in a matter of days. I committed to going because I love him and his family. They have both been there for me at my absolute WORST. When I didn’t know what to do, he helped. When I went through an absolutely disastrous break up, he was right there with me. Broke, drunk, unappreciative; he accepted me and held me down.

So I was going. No matter what. I haven’t even been to a funeral since I was 19(my grandfather). I don’t go to church. I had no idea how funerals even play out.

But I went.

The funeral went perfectly. There was a lot of love in that room. I got to sit with my friends…so it wasn’t so bad. I went up to my man, as he stood inches from his mother’s open casket. He thanked me for something I put on this blog and said he appreciates it because I spoke from the heart. That familiar hot and teary feeling covered my eyes. I put my head down and just said “thank you, we’ll talk”. My eyes were as big as half dollars, trying to keep those tears in. I sped away to my seat. I spent the night blown away at how warm and inviting everyone was. I spoke to my boy, his girlfriend, showed his family love, then made my way back to the train and went home.

I texted my girlfriend and told her the funeral went well. She asked was my friend ok. I told her he was good…then I disappeared into the night, whisked away by the 2 train.