When I think about Shawty Lo, I think about my youth. “Dey Know” came out during my first year of college. It’s marching band trumpet sample feels defeaning and Shawty Lo raps over it without a sense of urgency. He’s gliding,slowly taking in the moment; his raspy, dragged out rapping is melodic and easygoing. He raps like he’s enjoying himself. In the music video for it, he does his signature dance which involves running in place, arms pumping forward as if competing in a track race. This was my introduction to Shawty Lo as a solo artist, before this moment, before this I knew him as one of the non-Fabo members of D4L: a group that was a very big part of the Snap era in Atlanta and as a result, a big part of my high school years. I loved Snap and Shawty Lo’s music in this time of my youth but I don’t have the reverence for his discography the way I do a T.I., a Jeezy or a Gucci. I have a feeling that many other people probably feel the same way, including those in charge of writing about music for culture magazines. On Wednesday September 21st, Shawty Lo was killed in a car crash on the I-285 southbound ramp to Cascade Road. For many of these publications, Shawty Lo’s death is the first time he’d ever been written about. It’s appreciated that a man who played such a vital role in Atlanta and in rap music is being remembered by people but it’s a shame that it took his death for it to happen. There is this disconnect happening where a majority of the people who will tweet or discuss Shawty Lo’s death will focus on the hit songs he made (as I’ve done), but for others he meant something more. You don’t have to be from or live in Atlanta to know it but you have to be ingrained in that scene. The Bowen Homes Carlos repped Bankhead and Atlanta to the fullest. His music meant something to that community. He was their hometown hero.
The hometown hero doesn’t get the same glory outside of their city but inside, you’re almost like royalty. And for a city so closely tied to hip-hop and current pop culture, being beloved means a lot. T.I. will always get credit for representing Bankhead in Atlanta to the fullest but Shawty Lo was right there: funding and participating in a rap group ahead of their time. Making sparse, playful party music when the more rugged street style was getting most of the respect. Even when Shawty Lo made his more street solo albums and mixtapes, there was a joyful, exuberant energy to it. The music was thrilling and caused your body to move almost in spite of itself even while Shawty Lo rapped about real gutter shit. It was beautiful and it meant a lot to me especially at the time in my life when it came out but no matter how I feel, it doesn’t match how the people of Atlanta, more specifically Bankhead, feel about this loss. For all of the success and legendary things he accomplished, he was truly theirs.