Rapper PnB Rock well knew the dangers Los Angeles posed for people in his line of work. During a podcast appearance earlier this month the 30-year-old described a confrontation that had taken place while out with his girlfriend and daughter. “People see me out with my family, and I guess they think I’m out here lackin’,” the Selfish rapper confessed to hip-hop arbiter DJ Akademiks. “Where I’m from, we, like, sneaky criminals. But in LA, they bold.”
The haunting episode has only become more so since PnB Rock, real name Rakim Hasheem Allen, was fatally shot on 12 September while at lunch with his girlfriend at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles – a landmark family dining establishment in Los Angeles. Witnesses say the unidentified gunman stole PnB’s Rolex watch and jewelry after shooting him multiple times. A suspect has yet to be arrested in the ongoing murder investigation.
PnB, whose sobriquet nods to the north-west Philadelphia street corner where he grew up, was a rising talent who had rapped alongside Lil Wayne, the Migos’ Quavo and other star emcees. A recent collaboration with Chance the Rapper on the Ed Sheeran single Cross Me was a taster of PnB’s crossover potential.
While Drake, Meek Mill, Cardi B and others mourned the loss of the father of two and generous soul whose ethereal melodies and lovesick lyrics set him apart from drill rap contemporaries, PnB’s death has reignited concern over the occupational hazards of his art form. It’s also dredged up old debates around rap’s machismo culture and whether record companies are too eager to capitalize when tragedy inevitably strikes.
“The whole thing about getting up, grinding and hustling is, it’s all about getting your own,” rapper Rick Ross said in a video paying tribute to PnB. “A young king should be able to eat a waffle with his family without losing about his own. Get your own.”
Alas, misfortune had been a recurring theme of PnB’s life. At age three, he saw his father murdered, and his uncle killed when the rapper was 15. The second eldest of four, PnB also lost his older brother to street violence. “I’ve been moving differently since,” he told DJ Akademiks. “Anybody can die. The last person that you’d expect can die.”
As a schoolboy, PnB developed a reputation for fighting, stealing and otherwise flouting the rules. At 19, he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for drug possession. Afterward he fell into homelessness.
His love of hip-hop and R&B heavyweights Tupac and Jodeci abetted an escape into music. In 2014, at age 22, PnB released a mix tape featuring songs he had written while incarcerated – which earned him a contract with Atlantic Records a year later. In June 2016 he dropped the brooding single Selfish, inspired by a studio crush. The song peaked at No 51 on the Billboard US’s Hot 100. Rolling Stone touted him in a list of “10 New Artists You Need to Know”.
In 2017, PnB reintroduced himself on his debut studio project, Catch These Vibes, and subsequently toured the album with the Grammy-winning hit maker Lil Baby.
PnB’s second and final album, TrapStar Turnt PopStar, came out in May 2019 and premiered at No 4. Just this month PnB released a single called Luv Me Again through New Lane Entertainment, a label he launched after breaking with Atlantic in 2021. He seemed to be recapturing his early career momentum.
Following his death, there has been an urgency to assign blame. PnB’s girlfriend, Stephanie Sibounheuang, has been vilified for posting a geo-tagged Instagram story of their fatal lunch date at Roscoe’s, a local chain Barack Obama visited while campaigning for a second term in the Oval Office.
Nicki Minaj was one who took particular exception to Sibounheuang’s post. “You’re not loved like you think you are!!! You’re prey!!! In a world full of predators!!!” she tweeted in a warning to her peers.
New York rapper Fat Joe lamented that there no longer seemed to be any honor among thieves. “I used to stick people up,” he told Charlamagne tha God on his TV show Hell of a Week. “I’m not against them robbing [PnB]. Why you gotta kill him? That’s what bothers me. And not only destroy that family, but what about the other families that are sitting in Roscoe’s and they see somebody get their brains blown out in front of them? You destroyed a whole village with one shot.”
Ice-T used PnB’s shocking murder as an occasion to reprise an old gripe against flashy, out-of-town rappers’ failure to read the subtly menacing landscape of his home town. “If you notice, LA rappers don’t wear a lotta jewelry,” the Cop Killer turned Law & Order star tweeted. “Me, Snoop, Cube, Dre, Game, Kendrick. The list goes on. It’s not because we’re broke. LA is just a dangerous place, rapper or not. Why test the streets?”
All the while a leftover track from Compton native The Game called Murda has been making the rounds 16 years after it was released. “So take my advice and I’m talking to all rappers,” he spits over an eerie Dr Dre beat. “When you eat at Roscoe’s, watch out for the chain snatchers. Take it off slow or you might get killed.”
Rap, perhaps more than any other musical form, is purposeful about blurring the line between art and life. Warnings of the dire consequences have followed as far back as 1987 when DJ Scott (La Rock) Sterling, a foundational New York emcee and one half of the duo Boogie Down Productions, was cut down at 25. The back-to-back murders of Tupac and the Notorious BIG set off a full-blown moral panic over rap music in the late 90s. Even as PnB’s profile rose, he maintained a connection to the streets and took pride in being able to walk among fans and foes without security. Such was the case again at Roscoe’s. “Why u ain’t have me with you?” his younger brother PnB Meen, also a rapper, lamented on Instagram. “I always have ya back and front and sides … I can’t believe this shit.”
Altogether, 90 rappers have been killed in the past 35 years – or about two per year, according to the hip-hop magazine XXL. Little more than a handful of those cases have been solved; fewer still remain under investigation, putting the clearance rate for rapper homicides well below the national average of 54.4%. “In some respects, rap music and violence seem to go hand in hand,” DJ Scott La Rock’s manager told the New York Times after his client’s murder. “But it’s not the music itself; it’s the environment. Violence was here long before hip-hop.”
PnB is the latest rapper who has been cut down in his prime. Other recent hip-hop casualties include his former collaborators XXXTentacion (2018) and Pop Smoke (2020); PnB also joins Biggie (1997), Smoke and Nipsey Hussle (2019) on the disheartening list of hip-hoppers who have lost their lives in the City of Angels.
The LAPD chief, Michel Moore, singled out Sibounheuang’s Instagram post as the probable prompt for the robbery, which investigators suspect was a two-man job. But the investigation has quickly shifted focus to PnB’s possible industry beefs and lyrical content. A decade ago the leads might have been considered beyond the pale; now they call attention to at least one major racketeering case involving rappers in Georgia.
The family of PnB Rock was said to be haggling with the county medical examiner for possession of his body, which they want to ship back to Philadelphia to be put to rest in accordance with Muslim tradition. It’s the kind of intimate complication that tends to escape attention when rappers are killed.
While the public at large seems to have grown numb to these tragedies, few inside the industry have. French Montana has gone as far as accusing record labels of taking out life insurance policies on their rappers in part to capitalize on their alarmingly high fatality rate. “[They’re] praying on making millions” off his death, he explained in a July interview with DJ Akademiks. “They’re being realistic. You’re supposed to have life insurance anyway, but when the label does it, if you don’t have one that’s crazy.”
Far less speculative is the fact that there is money to be made from the bump in interest in an artist’s catalogue after they’re slain. Three days after PnB Rock was killed, Selfish zoomed to No 1 on Apple Music’s Top 100 chart.
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