‘An entire village destroyed in one fell swoop’: How PnB Rock’s murder shook up hip-hop | hip-hop
Rapper PnB Rock was well aware of the dangers Los Angeles posed to people in his line of work. During a podcast appearance earlier this month, the 30-year-old described a confrontation that took place while he was out with his girlfriend and daughter. “People see me with my family, and I guess they think I’m missing here,” the selfish rapper confessed to hip-hop referee DJ Akademiks. “Where I come from, we are sneaky criminals. But in LA, they’re bold.
The haunting episode has only gotten worse since PnB Rock, real name Rakim Hasheem Allen, was shot and killed on September 12 while having lunch with his girlfriend at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, a restaurant Los Angeles’ iconic family. Witnesses claim 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 moniker refers to the northwest Philadelphia street corner where he grew up, was a rising talent who rapped alongside Lil Wayne, Quavo of the Migos and other star hosts. A recent collaboration with Chance the Rapper on Ed Sheeran’s single Cross Me was a taste of PnB’s crossover potential.
As Drake, Meek Mill, Cardi B and others mourned the loss of the father-of-two and generous soul whose ethereal melodies and loving lyrics set him apart from drill rap contemporaries, PnB’s death rekindled concerns about the occupational hazards of his art form. It’s also rekindled old debates about rap’s macho culture and whether record labels are too eager to capitalize when tragedy inevitably strikes.
“All about getting up and grinding and hustling is about getting your act together,” 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 his. Get yours.
Sadly, unhappiness had been a recurring theme in PnB’s life. When he was three years old, 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 then,” he told DJ Akademiks. “Anyone can die. The last person you expect may die.
As a schoolboy, PnB developed a reputation for fighting, stealing, and breaking the rules. At 19, he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for drug possession. He then fell into homelessness.
His love of hip-hop and R&B heavyweights Tupac and Jodeci encouraged him to escape into music. In 2014, at age 22, PnB released a mix tape featuring songs he had written while incarcerated – which landed him a deal with Atlantic Records a year later. In June 2016, he released the brooding single Selfish, inspired by a studio crush. The song peaked at number 51 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone touted him in a list of “10 New Artists You Need to Know”.
In 2017, PnB re-entered his first studio project, Catch These Vibes, and later toured the album with Grammy-winning hitmaker Lil Baby.
PnB’s second and final album, TrapStar Turnt PopStar, was released in May 2019 and premiered at No. 4. This month, PnB released a single titled Luv Me Again through New Lane Entertainment, a label he launched after breaking up with Atlantic in 2021. He seemed to be regaining his early career momentum.
After his death, there was urgency to blame. PnB’s girlfriend Stephanie Sibounheuang has been vilified for posting a geotagged Instagram story of their fateful 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 of those who particularly opposed Sibounheuang’s post. “You are not loved like you think!!! You are prey!!! In a world full of predators!!!” she tweeted in a warning to her peers.
New York rapper Fat Joe lamented that there doesn’t seem to be any honor among thieves anymore. “I used to stick people up,” he told Charlamagne tha God on his Hell of a Week TV show. “I’m not against them stealing [PnB]. Why do you have to kill him? That’s what bothers me. And not only destroy this family, but what about the other families who sit at Roscoe’s house and see someone blow their brains out in front of them? You destroyed an entire village in one fell swoop.
Ice-T used the shocking murder of PnB as an opportunity to take up an old reproach against the failure of flashy, out-of-town rappers to read the subtly menacing landscape of his hometown. “If you notice LA rappers don’t wear a lot of 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 its release. “So take my advice and I’m talking to all the rappers,” he spits over a weird Dr Dre beat. “When you eat at Roscoe, watch out for chain thieves. Take it out slowly or you could get killed.
Rap, perhaps more than any other musical form, aims to blur the line between art and life. Warnings of dire consequences followed as early as 1987 when DJ Scott (La Rock) Sterling, a founding New York animator and one half of the duo Boogie Down Productions, was cut to 25. The back-to-back murders of Tupac and the Notorious BIG sparked a moral panic over rap music in the late 90s. Even as PnB’s profile rose, he maintained a connection to the streets and was proud to be able to walking among fans and enemies without security. This was again the case with Roscoe. “Why don’t you have me with you?” his younger brother PnB Meen, also a rapper, lamented on Instagram. “I always have you behind, in front and on the sides… I can’t believe this shit.”
A total of 90 rappers have been killed in the past 35 years – or about two a year, according to hip-hop magazine XXL. Just over a handful of these cases have been resolved; fewer are still being investigated, putting rappers’ homicides solved rate well below the national average of 54.4%. “In some ways, rap music and violence seem to go hand in hand,” DJ Scott La Rock’s manager told The New York Times after his client was murdered. “But it’s not the music itself; it is the environment. Violence was there long before hip-hop.
PnB is the last rapper to be shot in his prime. Other recent hip-hop casualties include former collaborators XXXTentacion (2018) and Pop Smoke (2020); PnB also joins Biggie (1997), Smoke and Nipsey Hussle (2019) on the disheartening list of hiphopers who lost their lives in the City of Angels.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore named Sibounheuang’s Instagram post as the likely incitement to the theft, which investigators suspect was a job for two. But the investigation quickly shifted to PnB possible industry jams and lyrical content. Ten years ago, tracks might have been considered irrelevant; now they’re drawing attention to at least one major racketeering case involving rappers in Georgia.
PnB Rock’s family are said to be bargaining with the county medical examiner for possession of his body, which they want returned to Philadelphia for burial in accordance with Muslim tradition. It’s the kind of intimate complication that tends to escape notice when rappers get killed off.
While the general public seems to have become desensitized to these tragedies, few within the industry have. French Montana has gone so far as to accuse record labels of taking out life insurance policies for their rappers in part to take advantage of their alarming death rate. “[They’re] praying for millions” after his death, he explained in a July interview with DJ Akademiks. “They are realistic. You’re supposed to have life insurance anyway, but when the label does, if you don’t, it’s crazy.
Far less speculative is the fact that there is money to be made from increased interest in an artist’s catalog after they are killed. Three days after PnB Rock’s death, Selfish has risen to No. 1 on Apple Music’s Top 100 chart.