TyWanza Sanders TyWanza Sanders
TyWanza Sanders
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Band Of Brothers: Friends Of Charleston Shooting Victim TyWanza Sanders Honor His Life And Legacy

For Torrence and Tyrone Shaw, Dominique Gray and T.J. Grant, a friend they never imagined losing was taken away in a heinous act of violence.

For Torrence and Tyrone Shaw, Dominique Gray and T.J. Grant, a friend they never imagined losing was taken away in a heinous act of violence.

Most of us have that one friend:  the one we vow we could never live without.

For Torrence and Tyrone Shaw, Dominique Gray and T.J. Grant, that friend was suddenly taken away from them in a heinous act of violence. The youngest victim of the shooting at Charleston, SC’s Emanuel AME Church, TyWanza Sanders, was an integral member of their band of brothers. On June 17, however, Sanders’ life would be claimed along with eight other innocent people – Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson and Susie Jackson – leaving his group of friends without their source of positive reinforcement.

A 26-year-old Allen University graduate, Sanders was killed while trying to shield his aunt, Jackson, from the attacker. His effort would not, sadly, save him or the 87-year-old from succumbing to their tragic fates. Just feet away, Sanders’ mother Felicia would survive the unthinkable ordeal by faking her own death, as her son lay in his final moments. This was not just a horrific news story that rocked the nation; these were heartbreaking losses that fragmented families.

In remembering their fallen comrade, Gray, Grant and the Shaw brothers collectively described a young man filled with ambition, promise and a genuine interest in helping people. They have come to know these qualities after over a decade of friendship, spanning from the preteen novelties of middle school to college maturation. A renaissance man of sorts, Sanders’ friends recall a young man with a wide – and seemingly peculiar – array of interests. From poetry, to playing the keyboard, to acting, to skateboarding, to cutting hair, there were no boundaries their “brother,” whom they affectionately called “Wanza,” couldn’t surpass.

Echoing the sentiments of his closest friends was also Charles Hickman, who served as student body president during his and Sanders’ time together at Allen.

“He was just a very smart, very quiet, but also very humble guy,” Hickman recalled. “TyWanza was also known as the guy with all the jobs. He had more jobs than anybody I knew. He worked at a department store, he also cut hair, he worked on campus, and he had a fourth job. We would just go places, and everywhere we went, we would see him, and we’d be like, ‘Oh my God, you work here too?’”

This was the TyWanza his loved ones had known for quite some time. Now faced with the task of keeping his legacy alive and commemorating the life of their newly-acquired guardian angel, his friends are working to raise funds for a scholarship in his honor. The TyWanza Sanders Scholarship, a previous effort by local non-profit organization Race 4 Achievement that was renamed in Sanders' honor, will be awarded to a student from his James Island Charter High School alma mater. Also contributing to the fund is A. Bevy Inc., another non-profit organization founded by a friend of Sanders. The scholarship serves as a fitting way to acknowledge his penchant for contributing to the advancement of others, and they ensure that Wanza would not have it any other way.

VIBE spoke with Sanders’ closest confidants about his life and how they intend to carry on in the face of their loss. Here, they revisit their oldest memories together, and discuss the social context in which their friend’s life was tragically cut short. – Iyana Robertson

Torrence Shaw

Who TyWanza was: He’s one of a kind. There’s no other TyWanza Sanders. He was very genuine and had a lot of ambition. One of his favorite quotes was, "Ambition over adversity." There was nothing he couldn’t do. If he put his mind to it, he’ll do it. He just had a drive that I’ve never seen anybody else have. You couldn’t tell him that he couldn’t do something. He’ll motivate you to want to do stuff. It was like a radiant light, it gave off him and it makes you be like “Shoot, if he said we could do, then we could do it.” No if's, and’s or but’s about it.
My favorite TyWanza memory: We played football in high school, and TyWanza, he wasn’t the most athletic person ever. He came to practice one day, and he was asking the coach, “How can I get faster?” In the coach’s head, he knew Wanza wasn’t that athletic either. So the coach was like, “Well, uh, TyWanza… I don’t know how to answer that question.” [laughs]
TyWanza’s many talents: He was very talented at writing poems, he used to go to poetry night. A very talented barber, too. Any style you wanted, he’ll put it in your head; he was very talented with the clippers. He even skateboarded. He did it all,man. He played the guitar, he had a piano. He was just doing it all.
When I heard the news: My other best friend called me, and he was like, “You heard what’s going on in Charleston?” And I was just like “Yeah man, that’s pretty sad.” And then he told me TyWanza got shot. I was like, “What?! Whoa, whoa, whoa. I ain’t hear nothing like that.” He was like “Yeah, one of his cousins called me and told me that he was at the church when it happened.” So we were trying to call his cell phone, and it kept going straight to voicemail. We tried calling his mama, she wasn’t answering the phone. We called the house phone, nobody was answering the house phone. Then finally, we got in contact with his cousin, and he was like “Yeah, it’s true, TyWanza did get shot.” So we were like, “Is he okay? Is he in the hospital?” And he just got real quiet. You could hear his voice cracking, and he said “He didn’t make it.” That right there was it, man. We just broke down. And ‘til this day, we’re just trying to make it.
Our final conversation: I spoke to him the day before this incident happened. He was calling me just to tell me about some of his future plans. He was like, “Yeah man, I wanna go to grad school. I like writing poetry, and I kinda wanna take it to the next level and be a producer, and help write for other people.” He was looking into scholarships. So me and my other best friend were trying to help him with that. He said he wanted to go to grad school in Orlando. He had so much plans, and all of it was just taken away.
Checking in with his mother: She’s very strong. She’s taking it better than I thought she would. She said, “TyWanza always told me that he was gonna be famous. I just didn’t think he’ll be famous this way.” But knowing that he went out trying to save his aunt, that goes to show you that he’s a very caring, loving person. He’ll put anybody before him. He’ll give the shirt off his back to anybody. And him trying to save his aunt in the last moments of his life, just goes to show you that.

TJ Grant

The first time I met TyWanza: We met on the football field. He was scared to play football, because we were so small back then and the rest of the guys were so big. And I was like “Man, you might as well go ahead and do it, it’ll be fun. It won’t hurt you. Everything will be alright.” Ever since then, me and him were close.
Our final conversation: We were talking about the t-shirts we were gonna make for my wedding party pictures. I asked him what size he wanted, he told me the size, and then he told me he was about quit his job and go back to the barbershop. And I was just like “Well, if that’s what you want to do, and that’s your passion, go ahead and do it, man.” That was pretty much it. That was Monday [before he passed].
TyWanza’s spot in my upcoming wedding: He’s still in my wedding. The lineup is not gonna change at all. I’m just gonna light a candle, and I’m gonna have his picture right there because at the end of the day, he’s still gonna be there with me, by my side. Physical or not, he’s still gonna be there spiritually.
Who TyWanza was: He was a loving man, he loved his family a lot. He always had a smile on his face. Even if you were feeling bad, he’d put a smile on your face so fast. You’d be shocked, you wouldn’t want smile or laugh, but his jokes and humor made you laugh so much. And the love he gave you and showed you, it was impossible for you not to like him. If you ever told him you wanted to give up, he would say, “Man, don’t give up, you can do it.” He said, “There’s nothing easy in this world. You have to work for it.”
What I hope comes from this tragedy: I just hope people realize that everybody is all the same, trying to achieve the same goals: get ahead in life, have fun with family, and everybody be as one. The world would be a much more peaceful place.

Dominique Gray

My earliest memory with TyWanza: I wouldn’t say this is the first time I met Wanza, but this was the first memorable experience I had with Wanza. I got off work, and just like any other middle school or high school kids, we’d go to the mall, or the movies with our friends, or the bowling alley. So after I got all washed up and ready to go out with my friends, Wanza pulls up to my house with my friend Martin in what would be the epitome of your first car. We called it “The Toaster.” It was a silver Volvo, with no a/c. You had to manually put the windows down, and there was barely any radio. So he came to pick me up, and I’m like "What did I get myself into?" We were about to go out with all my friends, try to talk to some girls, and we’re in this car. And South Carolina is hot. So you can imagine being in a car that’s already old, and doesn’t have any a/c in 100-degree weather. We were sweating, which gave birth to the name, “The Toaster.” So we all pull up, I think it was at Checkers, our local meet-up spot. And we just all started ragging on Wanza. Then he looked at me and was like "Well, if you don’t wanna ride in my car, you could’ve just stayed yourself on the highway. You don’t have to ride with us." And that ended it for me, ‘cause I definitely needed to get home.
Our coming-of-age moment: When I graduated. Out of our main, core group of seven friends, only Torrence and Wanza was able to make it, because they were in the Columbia area. I remember seeing how proud he was for me to graduate, and to accomplish my goals, and he saw his coming down the line as well. When we both respectively graduated, he looked to up me and he said that he’s proud to see the man I’ve grown up to be. Which he always used to say, and I thought it was just Wanza talking. He used to always big me up like that.
If I could speak to him one last time: I’d tell Wanza that I love him, and that I can’t wait to see him again, and to please just keep shining. I’m sorry for not fully believing him in every aspect of his life that he wanted to do. His mom told me something that was very telling and brought everything full circle for me. She said “Wanza only had 26 years to live his life. And though you wanted him to fixate on one individual task, he needed to get done everything he had to get done, because God only gave him 26 years to live.” So I would tell him that I respect the fact that he dipped and dabbled in everything that you can possibly think of, and tell him that I’m grateful to have him as a friend for always having my back.
Visiting his home after his death: When I got there, they had his room locked up, but I asked his mom if I could go inside. So, we actually changed the room up. I saw his keyboard, and his mic, and that little beat pad that producers use. I remember when he called me when he bought it, I was like, “Oh Lord, Wanza done got this now. This ain’t never gonna stop. I’ll never hear the end of this.” He had his guitar in there. I remember when he had a ukelele – this man had a ukelele. But it was just Wanza [laughs]; it was what you expect out of Wanza. Think of something random, and Wanza’s doing it, or Wanza did it. I also saw his letter of acceptance to the school down in Orlando to pursue his dream of producing. I didn’t believe it when he called me, but after talking to his mom and seeing the physical document, it really was true. This weekend, he was supposed to be coming down to Orlando to look at apartments.
What I hope comes of this tragedy: I just hope America wakes up. It’s a bigger issue than what everybody’s trying to pawn it out to be. When Obama did his speech, one thing he said was that America needs to look back and reflect on the fact that things like this are not a common occurrence in other advanced countries. And that really hit home with me. We’re all human beings on this earth.

Tyrone Shaw

Who TyWanza was: He was the realest. He was a real person. He always had a smile on his face. He didn’t let anything bother him that much. He always had a positive attitude on things. He was the life of the party. Every moment he lived, he had fun. No negativity. He was just that type of dude you would want to have in your circle. He was very ambitious also. He always wanted to do better and strive to do more to better himself as a person and challenge himself as an individual. He liked to see his fellas, his partners, doing good too. If he’s doing good, then everybody else is doing good. He encourages people; he encouraged us to do better for ourselves.
My favorite TyWanza memory: We played football together, also at James Island High. He played defense, he was a cornerback, and I played receiver. Wanza wasn’t the most gifted in athletics. He was just getting used to playing football, he never played football before, so he came out that year and tried out for the team. He made the team, but at practice, the defensive coach would do their defensive back drills, and Wanza wasn’t the type to catch the ball very well. So the defensive coach would throw the ball, and every time he would catch the ball, he’ll yell out “Touchdown Wanza.” He never catches the ball; he’ll catch the ball every once in a blue moon. And every time he did, we’d go crazy. So the defensive coach would always say “Touchdown Wanza,” and that carried on throughout his high school career. It was all fun and games.
Our final conversation: He just went on and told me about the things he planned on doing in the next couple of years down the road, telling me that he’s going to church now. He actually was thinking about settling down too, because he saw me having a child now and starting a family myself, and he said he found himself a young lady. He was talking to the young lady, and he felt like he wanted to settle down with her. I told him to go on and do if he felt like he was ready and not to hold anything back.
If I could speak to him one last time: I’d tell him that I’m proud of him and what he’s done. I’m proud of him for the man he was focusing on being. He just died so young, and he just had a lot going for him. I was just anticipating what he was going to do, and how he was going to do it, because he was going to bring us with him on that ride, no matter what. If I could have that last talk with him, I’d just say “I love you, and I’m proud of you man, for being that stand-up guy that you were.”
Knowing that TyWanza did not die in vain: I just heard today that the guy that committed the murders was actually at the sermon that night, he almost changed his mind – just because of how nice those people were. Allowing him to come in the church, with open arms. I guess it really hit him how nice this race of people can be. I could tell when they showed the video at his bond hearing, that deep down inside, he knew he made a mistake by doing that. I got that sense because when all those families gave him that forgiveness, and I know that ate him alive. Knowing that he’d done such a heinous crime, he’d expect people to retaliate, and his plan backfired in his face. I know deep down inside, in his soul, that he knew he made a mistake. That’s what I get from that. And I forgive him. I really do. Because God doesn’t make mistakes at all. Things happen for a reason, things are meant to happen. Unfortunately, it was my homeboy that was involved in it. But I know now that he left his mark here and his legacy will continue to live.

To donate to the TyWanza Sanders scholarship fund, email [email protected]

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Sitting inside the small, compact basement is Allbirds’ latest partner, creative director Ugo Mozie with his hands crossed and eyes closed in deep thought while discussing his new ventures and many accomplishments — all before age 30. Mozie was born in Nigeria and predominantly raised in Houston, Texas before attending college at St. John's University in Queens, New York to major in Public Relations & Business Law. Since 2009, the year he dropped his first fashion line, he racked up quite the clientele that includes Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Travis Scott, Larry King, Jeremy Meeks, and Celine Dion.

What makes Mozie standout from the current wave of fashion stylists and creative directors is that he never lets go of his culture. Instead of shying away from it, he embraces the unique style of Nigerian attire from his hip fedoras to sleek male fits to the colorful pants and pattern-spotted shirts. Aside from his day job as a fashion creative, he also gives back to his African community as a social activist with his non-profit organization WANA. Its mission is to let the world know of other great African talents and creatives.

Rocking a Nigerian kufi cap with a smooth caramel leather jacket (reminiscent of movie character Indiana Jones), the 27-year-old dives into his partnership with Allbirds, how his upbringing informs his professional decisions and having someone like Beyonce on his list of clientele.

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VIBE: How did your connection with Allbirds come about? Ugo Mozie: My partnership with Allbirds came about with mutual friends knowing some teams at Allbirds, and Complex recommending me as a person who had an insight in sustainability and doing projects that are helping the environment and promoting sustainable living. We had a conference call, and I realized that we pretty much vibed in the same frequencies and had the same vision when it came to preserving the Earth and doing things to also upcycle things we found from the Earth like trash and recyclables.

How does Allbirds fit within your business goals? Allbirds fits into my personal business goals because we share the same vision when it comes to preserving the environment and sustaining the Earth.

What looks are in for the winter season, for men and women? For the winter season, I think this year is really all about minimal chic. It's about strong statement coats, underdressed by simple silhouettes and simple color, monochromatic under. I feel like where there is a lot going on in the environment with the politics that people are really showing their style of simplicity,elegance, and the details.

 

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While working on these amazing projects this year, I had no clue that I would be recognized and able to share the story and project with you all so soon. Thank you @complex & @allbirds for allowing me to share a big part of my passion with the world. Let’s keep spreading the love and pushing toward sustaining the world. #shadowmanvan @wanaorg

A post shared by Chief Ugo Mozie II (@ugomozie) on Dec 13, 2018 at 2:05pm PST

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On Tuesday (Jan. 16), Future made the revelation that he was sober. Who knows, maybe he traded the lean in for alkaline water and fresh juices. While this may have come as a shock to fans who have often linked the rapper to heavy drug use, what was even more astonishing was that Future concealed his sobriety for weeks or even months—not because he was diligently working on weaning himself off of the dangerous drug of choice without distractions, but because he feared how the announcement would affect his music stats and fan base.

It’s certainly customary for fans to tie a characteristic or specific subject to an artist’s music or brand. For instance, Mary J. Blige makes breakup music, Trey Songz markets sex, and Lil Peep frequently made emo, drug music. Future’s artistry in particular is deeply rooted in drug use as a method of self-medication to cope with heartache, pain and suffering. He’s arguably recognized as the godfather of this new generation of mumble rappers, who romanticize drug use as a form of self-care. Percocets and molly not only served as the tools for a catchy chorus in 2017’s “Mask Off,” but also provided a lens into Future’s real-life pastime.

When messages such as a breakup, sex and addiction become the primary focuses of an artist’s narrative, we inherently expect them to continue with those trends, especially if the music is a success. Future’s DS2 debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Mary J’s 2017 studio album Strength of a Woman—which discussed her public divorce from manager and husband Martin “Kendu” Isaacs—debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. But Hendrix’s inability to share such a positive transition in his life says more about the negative effects of fan culture and the music industry as a whole than it says about him.

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There is a danger in requiring artists to stick to their brands, especially when it focuses on abusing and glorifying a harmful lifestyle. Fans have to be willing to allow artists to evolve because that transformation extends far beyond the music; their art mimics life. You will not die if artists like Future or The Weeknd pivot the focus of their music away from chronicling drug use, but they could, and that should be the only point that matters here.

If we can support artists like 21 Savage as he explores other subjects besides his chains (Nipsey Hussle cosigned 21’s decision after DJ Akademiks suggested that he didn’t want to hear anything else from the artist) or salute Jay-Z as he's evolved into talking about investing in stocks and collecting priceless artwork, then it shouldn’t be difficult to endorse the Future's new chapter—whatever that may be—as well.

Future is gearing up to release his new album The WZRD on Jan. 18, and if you can seriously criticize his music not because of the quality but because it doesn’t sound like his typical doped up brand, then Future was never the problem—it’s you.

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When speaking on the lineage of hip hop, Queensbridge is integral to the conversation, as the public housing complex is regarded as fertile ground and the home of some of the greatest MCs in rap history. While Nas, Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga and others are among the first to come to mind when looking back at QB's most renowned exports, Tragedy Khadafi can be credited with helping bridge the gap between the neighborhood's legendary run during the late '80s and its golden era of the '90s.

At a time when rap had yet to fully find its footing, Tragedy Khadafi displayed lyrical abilities and techniques that were beyond his years as one-half of the Queensbridge rap duo, the Super Kids. Tragedy was scooped up by Marley Marl, who inducted the teenage into his Juice Crew collective. However, Tragedy, who was notorious for his exploits in the street, would be incarcerated during the late '80s, returning the to game as Intelligent Hoodlum and releasing a pair of albums during the early '90s. Since settling on the name Tragedy Khadafi around 1995, the rapper has not only made a name for himself, but others, helping usher C-N-N to the forefront of New York City hip-hop and serving as a conduit between Queensbridge's plethora of poetical thugs and the rap game.

In 2018, Tragedy Khadafi was as prolific as ever, releasing the solo album The Builders this past September, as well as Immortal Titans, his collaborative project with producer BP. A seasoned vet with the willingness to adapt to an ever-evolving rap landscape, Tragedy Khadafi is preparing for the next phase of his career, expanding his brand with a new podcast, and a pair of new releases slated for 2019.”We're working on a Drive-By's album for the podcast, “Tragedy reveals. And I'm working on a new solo album, Uniform Garments.”

Tragedy Khadafi hopped on the phone with VIBE to chop it up about his new music, lawsuits against iconic rap figures, being the prototypical Queensbridge MC, memories of the Juice Crew, making the plunge into the world of media, and more.

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VIBE: You recently released your solo album, The Builders, this past September. How has the reception been to that project? Tragedy Khadafi: I got a lot of good responses on the project and honestly, I kinda did that real quick. I didn't even really concentrate. I don't wanna take away from it, but that was nothing in comparison to what I'm doing right now.

What would you say was your goal or mind-state with while recording this album? I was looking at the climate and I was looking at the terrain and I wanted to make an album I wanted to hear. And I wanted to give my fans and supporters something that I know that they look to.

One song on the tracklist that jumps out at listeners is "Stacked Aces," which features a guest appearance from Havoc of Mobb Deep. What was it like working with him again, with the QB connection and your history with one another? It's always interesting when me and Hav’ hook up ‘cause we're like brothers, we’re like family. We got our ups and we got our downs and we go through different things, but we always seem to keep a line to each other, so it was interesting to get back with him because I hadn't seen him in a while. It just always works well when we come together.

How did that song come together? Well actually, I had reached out to him because I wanted to try to get him another situation. What a lot of people don't realize is I brokered the deal and A&R'd Havoc's first solo album with Nature Sounds, which is The Kush. And the plight was for Hav to be given that decorated honor as the East Coast Dr. Dre, so we wanted to make that album Havoc's Chronic, so we called it The Kush. So I wanted to reach out to him again and create another situation. It didn't exactly turn out that way, but we ended up exchanging some tracks, going back and forth, and I actually liked that one a lot. And he was just like, 'aight, go 'head, rock with it' and we took it from there.

You collaborated with producer BP on the album Immortal Titans this year as well. What's the genesis of your relationship with BP and what sparked the two of you to team up for this project? Well with BP, it was interesting. He initially reached out through me through a business associate and manager who actually runs Deep Concept and works very close with Erick Sermon. He reached out to me through the manager for a feature and I told him, 'look, I'm not into doing features no more, I’m into doing whole projects. So he was like, 'word,' so he actually came up with some more beats and we worked out the situation where I would record more songs for the project and it went together well. His production was very high quality and it seemed to be a marriage with my lyrics, so it wasn't hard work, it was all natural. I actually did the whole album in seven days.

The whole writing and the recording, too? Everything, yeah.

You recently filed a lawsuit against Master P. What was the genesis of the lawsuit? My attorney is helping me put in a lawsuit, which we got back a response from Master P's attorneys. We're basically suing him for copyright infringement and things of that nature due to the fact that he took the title and concept "Intelligent Hoodlum" and actually dropped an album called Intelligent Hoodlum (in 2017). It went over a lot of people's heads because I guess people concentrate more so on his other ventures. But he came out with an album and it came across my attention so I approached him on Instagram and tried to open a forum to have a courtesy talk, opposed to just suing him. Then I waited seven months and he left me no choice but to go at him legally, at that point.

What’s the status of the lawsuit, at this moment? We just got response back from the label and they're basically admitting fault, to my knowledge. We're also suing Ice Cube for doing a similar act by coming out with a song, "Arrest The President," and not acknowledging who the originator of that is, which is me. So we're suing him, too, right now.

In a recent interview, Marley Marl said that he feels the style of rap coming out of Queensbridge during the '90s can be traced back to your song "Live Motivator" from Marley Marl's In Control compilation. Would you agree with that statement? Yeah, I would definitely agree. And that's not to take nothing away from Nas or anybody else who came after me out of The Bridge, but truth is truth. You definitely see that there, that was pretty much the archetype and I just think they took it and modernized and made it their own, as they should.

You were also the youngest member of The Juice Crew, which was the hottest rap collective in New York during the '80s. What was it like being around superstars like Roxanne Shante, MC Shan, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane and how would you describe your interactions with them? The best way I can explain it was like a young Kobe [Bryant] being under Magic Johnson and Earl The Pearl and Wilt Chamberlain and have them as standards to hold yourself to, but actually in your life, you're having interactions with him them. Because I’m sure those players were a standard to Kobe at some point in his life, with Jordan or whatever, but the difference is that I actually had Jordan in the room with me, you know what I'm saying. Having Kane, having Rakim and having Shan—and Marley, to be honest. That was like having Jordan in the room with you. It wasn't me watching Jordan on TV or watching videos, it was me being on the court with Jordan. So to equate that feeling or try to imagine that as a kid out of the projects, off the streets and now you're amongst rap's elite. It had nothing but a great and positive impact on me, the whole way, even to this day.

A lot of rap fans are aware of your solo career, but are unaware that you got your start in rap as part of a duo called The Superkids as a pre-teen. What are your memories of that group coming together and being one of the first kid rappers with street credibility? It was all organic. It was fresh off the streets, it was born the streets it took form in the streets and it grew off the streets. It came by way of a relationship I had with a DJ named Larry Panic. Larry Panic was an ill graffiti artist, DJ and street fighter and he introduced me to Hot Day and me and Hot Day formed the group the Super Kids. We was trying to get on for a long time and it wasn't happening fast enough, so we kinda put ourselves on. We went and pressed our own records up, at that age, we went and made our own mixtapes. And I followed the same template when I got with C-N-N because it was like nobody wanted to put us on the mixtapes at first, so I was like, 'f**k it, let's make our own mixtape.' So I got that from being a Super Kid.

I believe I had just turned 13 and that's when it started. Hot Day was a DJ at a local skating rink called USA, located in Queens, and I would go there and perform. We actually did our first record, it was called "Go Queensbridge / Live At Hip Hop USA,” and we rocked there and actually took the tapes and pressed it and made a record out of it. And we actually used "Take It Off" by Spoonie Gee. It was on Tuff City Records and when we brought it to radio it got more spins than the original record.

After your release from prison, you reintroduced yourself as Intelligent Hoodlum, which saw you being to rap more about enlightenment and knowledge of self. How would you describe that period of your life and career? Initially, when I came home, I can hold Big Daddy Kane responsible. Big Daddy Kane was one of the first people to introduce me to knowledge of self and at first I was like, 'man, I don't wanna hear that sh*t.' And it was an incident where he got into a situation with one of G Rap's entourage. The way he handled it I was like, 'son, this dude is tough.' Not only is he nice on the mic, but he's tough, too. So once that happened, it made me—in a sick way, at that time 'cause I was on my street sh*t—respect what he was saying in terms of knowledge of self and that was my first introduction to it. And I had just came from and I started going through Marley's phone books looking for certain people to talk to and I came across Chuck D's number. Chuck D would talk to me before he even knew me and put me on to certain literature and certain books about certain icons in the revolution, like Huey Newton, H Rap Brown and Assata Shakur. And I started getting interested in it because where I came [from], I was under the ignorance that black people was only hustlers, shooters and killers. And from there it just kinda took off and I took on the moniker Intelligent Hoodlum, which I got from Malcolm X's book after I read his autobiography by Alex Haley. And there's a chapter called "Hoodlum" and I put "Intelligent" in front of it 'cause I saw myself moving in a more different direction and being a better me. And I kept the "Hoodlum" 'cause I was like, 'I'm never gonna forget where I came from, but I know where I'm going now.

One of the more underrated aspects of your career is your track record of helping break new talent, particularly acts like Capone-N-Noreaga. What made you take such an active interest in the careers of others while in the midst of your own? I saw a lot of talent in those brothers you mentioned and one thing I learned from Marley is how to cultivate talent and bring out the best in people. You know, like when Marley got with LL, it brought out a better LL. Of course it had to exist in LL, but it took Marley to see it and be able to help him direct it and channel it in the right way and that's what I see. I consider myself like the Cus D'Amato; Cus D'Amato brought out the best in Tyson and he understood Tyson. I love hip-hop so much that I understand the MC. I understand, not only his rhyming ability, but I understand his plight and I understand his origin. I'm able to see that in a person the minute I meet them, so it's only natural that I help bring that out in other artists. And like I said, I love hip-hop and I never wanted the MC to die. No matter who it comes through or what form it comes through or what vessel it encompasses, I always want the MC to be alive.

When those relationships didn't always remain amicable, did that ever leave you bitter or disillusioned from collaborating or working with artists in any way? That's one of the best questions anybody's asked me, straight up and down, 'cause it's true, and it had for a long time because there's a gift and a curse in loving the culture so much. You can't help but become emotionally attached and it's still a factor that it's a business. I was able to cultivate the talent, put myself in it, but I had to learn more to balance in terms of the business aspect and keeping things on a certain level business-wise and keeping certain boundaries business-wise. Now I'm at a place and space within my mind and in my mindframe that I have now, I'm able to do that, but it had to come with maturity. Did it leave me bitter at first? Of course it did, I'm not gonna lie and say it didn't. But like I said, it took time for me to grow and get past it and not hold it against individuals because ultimately it's on you when you have certain expectations of people. People are always gonna be the human nature of people, so you gotta learn to work through that and it took me time to realize that and kinda conquer it within myself. And that's why I feel great about where I'm at now mentally, because I'm able to become emotionally attached to a project or to an artist, but yet still keep that boundary of business with respect to myself and the value I bring to it.

Do you feel your street cred or rep hindered your career? At times I did, but I realized of course I want more, who doesn't? Jay-Z wants more, Rick Ross wants more. LeBron James wants more, Nas wants more and these are some of the upper echelons in the game. And at first, I felt that way, but I'm exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life and I'm not gonna have any regrets cause all that's gonna do is stifle my growth. I just feel like I am what I am and who I am and to some its means a lot, to some it may not, but to me, it means everything. And that's what's more important.

With 30 years deep in the game, what would you say are your biggest milestones and lessons learned? The parting of C-N-N taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about people, human nature and myself. The passing of my mother, the passing of Big and Pac, and I can honestly say when my son fell out the window and almost died, those are like the biggest milestones of my life.

In addition to staying active on the music front, you've also jumped into the world of media with your new podcast, DBWCC. What does that acronym stand for, and what sparked your interest in starting a podcast? It was initially my brother's creation. It's funny because when I went to do the Lessons album with N.O.R.E.—and this is us getting back together after the wars, after “Blood Type,” after "Halfway Thugs," the back and forth, the rumors, the blatant attacks on each other—we finally got back together and developed some form of relationship. And I drove from New York to Miami with my sister and my brother Chris Castro and that's what DBWCC stands for, Drive-Bys With Chris Castro. So we all drive out to Miami and while I'm out there recording with N.O.R.E.— we did the album in like two days—my brother is telling me that I should create a podcast. And this probably like year or two before Drink Champs and my brother is like, 'the new thing is podcasts;' he told me and N.O.R.E this and we kinda brushed it off.

Later on, N.O.R.E. obviously got into it, but he put this seed in my mind then because he's always been immersed in the now culture of hip-hop, as well as the true era of hip-hop. I looked around at the world I'm in and looked at the marketing and said, 'you know what, this makes sense because people aren't buying records anymore, they're buying experiences. They're buying cultures and they're buying brands,' so we came together on this. And I executive produce it and I'm a co-host on the show and we kinda wanted to take it in a different direction from a "Tragedy" thing 'cause like you said, I have so many titles and labels attached to the artist that we wanted to give DBWCC its own start, its own lane, so to speak.

Away not from Tragedy, per se, but to give people another side of me because people are so used to me being serious on tracks that they don't realize that I have a humor side, that I'm a funny motherf**ker. This particular forum allows me to be that person I am, that other character my family knows me for, but my fans and supporters in the world doesn't necessarily see that from me because I'm always coming at issues. But with this show, I'm just able to be more comfortable more to speak. Not to say I'm not comfortable with my music cause I am, it's just a different side of me and I'm not gonna lie, I love it. It's growing. I'm getting a lot of good feedback and we want our show to be an organic show. We don't want the regular bio-link interview, so that's why we get you in the car, we get you in the seat and we come at you from an organic way, an authentic way. It's more so conversation, opposed to an "interview."

With Noreaga, Fat Joe, Joe Budden and other veteran artists expanding their brand in various ways, do you feel the shelf life for a rapper to be relevant in hip-hop is longer than ever before? I feel like we live in a different time and KRS-One said something some time back that I'm seeing come to fruition. He said, 'we're off the plantation now, but ni**as don't realize we free.' This technology, it levels the playing field; you don't necessarily need a label, and it allows you to be more direct with your fans. Your fans want to grow with you, they want to walk with you, they want to see into your life. And sound is one thing, but visual helps bring it all together and through this particular forum, it helps to do that. Now your music or your records are more or less like commercials, they're not the pillars of your career or the pillars of your climb, not they're more like commercials that should segue into your visual, into your medium forums. That's what they should be and that's what I see them as.

What would you say is the next step or level for Tragedy Khadafi, musically or otherwise? The next step, otherwise, is I wanna come out with a series of books as opposed to just looking at hip-hop as music and I wanna touch on these certain things that we're talking about. l wanna touch on media, I wanna touch on diversity. I wanna touch on overall growth and building social value and allowing to create wealth for artists; that's something I'm very adamant about and that's something that I'm very proactive in doing. Musically, I'm just gonna keep making the music I make and giving the fans what they want from me, what they need from me, and that's where I'm gonna keep growing and evolving into. But more so concentrating on my social platforms, in terms of marketing and branding and really just creating more wealth around my brand and within my brand.

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