Lupe Fiasco’s “DRILL MUSIC IN ZION” remains my album of the year for a multitude of reasons. His untouchable lyricism was on full display, with his trademark capacity for metaphor and constructing worlds through words firing on all cylinders as he flowed over selections from collaborator Soundtrakk’s vault of instrumentals. To top it all off, he somehow recorded and produced the whole thing with GarageBand and a USB microphone — all over the span of three days.
While I’m still trying to process how he managed that last bit, I’ve also been reflecting upon the project’s insight into armed violence since the project was released. The succinct yet immensely potent opening verse to his closing track, “ON FAUX NEM,” encapsulates the most unfortunate reality of hip-hop into all but nine words:
“Rappers die too much. That’s it, that’s the verse.”
It might be the shortest verse ever penned, but there’s no point in shrouding truth with filler. This year alone, we’ve seen Kodak get shot at outside of an afterparty hosted by Justin Bieber, Lil Tjay in critical condition after falling victim to armed robbery, JayDaYoungin killed in front of his own home — and now this.
PnB Rock was shot and killed on Monday while out for lunch in Los Angeles after an unidentified man robbed him of his jewelry. The Philadelphia rapper’s girlfriend was present at the scene, and he leaves her and two daughters behind.
This was a punch to the gut. It feels like forever ago since PnB was putting out smash features on tracks like “Too Many Years” and “Everyday We Lit,” and while I haven’t been keeping up with his music as of late, he was undoubtedly as caring as it gets — not just about his music, but for his fans, kids and Philadelphia community.
Hip-hop fans have become so desensitized to death within the industry that, without the release of his interview with DJ Akademiks last week, PnB’s murder would’ve been chalked up as another day at the office after a brief period of mourning. It’s become the norm for beloved rappers to pass away on a near-monthly basis, and it’s come to a point where many treat the absence of drugs and violence within hip-hop like a “days without an accident” board that you might see on the wall of a factory.
But this interview put things into perspective in the most haunting manner imaginable. PnB Rock reflected on an incident that occurred amid the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, involving an instance of L.A. gang affiliates following him and his family while shopping in Fairfax. He eventually left the area without a problem but sensed that the group was there to rob him in retrospect.
“I never got robbed, never in my life. I ain’t gonna say ‘never,’ because I don’t like saying ‘never.’ I’m not superstitious enough like that, but I haven’t been robbed,” he said before touching on the dangers of gang culture in L.A., saying that he tends to only visit spots where his safety isn’t in question.
Again, this interview was conducted a week before he was killed. It almost seems as though he jinxed himself. Regardless of any disturbing coincidences, the most telling segment of their discussion is when PnB notes how regularly rappers get robbed unbeknownst to the public — “It’s so common … [but] why would you wanna make that sh— hot?”
Shortly after news came out about the fatal shooting, Trippie Redd took to Instagram to call for labels to protect their artists, recalling a conversation he had with XXXTentaction in which the former insisted that there’s no benefit in riding around without security. Look what happened to X.
I’m definitely not one to tell rappers how to live their lives, but the news about PnB made me think about rising superstars that left us at the hands of armed robbery alone — X, Pop Smoke, and almost Lil Tjay, to name but a handful. PnB was independent at the time of his murder, but I don’t think there’s an excuse for major labels and managers to not do everything in their power to protect the poster children of their respective brands.
When EMPIRE signed X for $10 million, they should’ve gone above and beyond to ensure that escorts were accompanying him wherever he went. Similarly, Republic Records should’ve employed every measure to ensure that breaking into Pop’s rental home was an impossibility. Instead, neglect and complacency on the behalf of these labels saw to their artists encountering unimaginable situations, and these same platforms are capitalizing on the legacy of the deceased in light of them being gone.
As Trippie so candidly pointed out, it shouldn’t be hard for labels and management teams to hire a security guard or two. Do better. The same goes for those trying to blame PnB’s girlfriend for his death because she posted a geotag of the restaurant — that mistake doesn’t happen if security is involved.
There is no good reason for rappers to die this much. Rest in peace, PnB Rock.
Aiden Mega is a Senior at Boston University. His Column, ‘Sing About Me’ runs weekly on Thursdays.