Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Dec. 13. I’m Justin Ray.
“It was a black light, or a dark cloud,” Slim 400 said in an interview posted this past March. “It was dark, and I was just kind of reminiscing with my homies.”
The rapper was explaining what sounds like a mental purgatory he entered when he was shot multiple times in 2019. He explained how his life flashed before him while his body decided whether he would stay on in this world, or if his time had come.
Although he did survive that shooting after surgery, unfortunately he wouldn’t be so lucky this year. Slim 400, 34, whose real name is Vincent Cohran, was killed in a shooting last week only hours after he dropped a new music video. Inglewood police are collecting evidence and pursuing witnesses for the ongoing investigation, though no suspects have been arrested, my colleague Christi Carras reported.
Los Angeles has long been an incubator for music acts that change the entire industry, so in some ways it isn’t surprising that these grisly cases happen in the city.
For today’s edition of the Essential California newsletter, I explored the current state of murder cases involving rappers, including one you may not have heard about, and one of the most infamous killings in all of music history.
Age at death: 20
In February 2020, a group broke into a Hollywood Hills home and took the life of Pop Smoke. The rapper was one of the most promising voices from the New York drill scene, a regional variant of a hard-edged, gothic sound, The Times has reported. Born Bashar Barakah Jackson, Pop Smoke “gave a generation of New York rap fans a new wind at their back and did so in just a few months,” August Brown wrote.
In July 2020, two adults and two teenagers were charged with murder over his death. This year, more details were released about Pop Smoke’s killing, including how detectives tracked his alleged killers. For instance, the home invasion that led to the rapper’s death was conceived by teenagers. The crime netted the accused killers a watch they sold for just $2,000.
Age at death: 33
Nipsey Hussle’s March 2019 death sparked immediate outcry in Los Angeles, primarily in the very neighborhood where his life ended. Hussle had worked hard to enrich South L.A.; he once gave a pair of shoes to every student at an elementary school in Hyde Park. He opened a shared workspace in the neighborhood to help connect young talent in impoverished communities with opportunities in Silicon Valley and beyond.
The rapper was shot dead in broad daylight outside his store in South L.A. A conversation about snitching led to the fatal confrontation, The Times reported, citing grand jury testimony. In May 2019, the alleged shooter, Eric Holder, was indicted on one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. If convicted, he faces life in state prison. He has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set to take place Jan. 5, 2022, according to Rolling Stone.
Age at death: 21
Atlanta-based rapper Dolla was most known for his 2007 song “Who the F*** Is That?” featuring T-Pain. Dolla, whose real name was Roderick Anthony Burton II, was shot in the head in the valet waiting area of the Beverly Center mall in 2009. The rapper had arrived at LAX from Atlanta earlier that day.
The man who shot and killed the rapper was acquitted of murder. At his trial, Aubrey Berry, 24, testified that he opened fire in self-defense. He claimed that Dolla had been part of a group of men who kicked and punched him 11 days earlier at an Atlanta nightclub. He said that Dolla then threatened to kill him in the parking garage of the upscale mall; he said the rapper reached toward his back as though he were drawing a gun. However, police found no weapon on the rapper. Nobody else has been arrested in connection with Dolla’s death.
Age at death: 24
With only two albums of studio material, Notorious B.I.G. had a major effect on the music industry. “His wheezy, gruff and almost lazy cadence was his greatest asset, and he used the delivery as something of a secret weapon, crafting lyrics that had the ability to creep up on the listener from behind,” former Times staff writer Gerrick D. Kennedy wrote in 2012.
His is one of the most infamous murder cases in the city’s history. The rapper was killed in a drive-by shooting while leaving a music industry party at the Petersen Automotive Museum, located in the Miracle Mile neighborhood. Biggie’s autopsy was finally made public more than 15 years after his fatal shooting. Despite numerous LAPD investigations, lawsuits and rumors, the killing of the rapper — whose real name was Christopher Wallace — remains unsolved. But there are plenty of theories about who is responsible for the crime, some more convincing than others. On Friday, LAPD Capt. Jonathan Tippet confirmed to The Times that Notorious B.I.G.’s killing is “still an active/open case.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a Texas state law that bans most abortions there, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’ll push for a new California law that deters the manufacture and sale of assault rifles in the state. In a statement Saturday night, the governor said he was outraged by the court’s failure in a decision Friday to enforce long-standing constitutional protections in favor of abortion rights. But by not striking down the Texas antiabortion law, which relies on private citizens for enforcement, Newsom argued that the court has endorsed states’ ability to create similar legal mechanisms to safeguard laws from federal court review. Los Angeles Times
This isn’t the first time that the Torrance Police Department has been accused of widespread racism. In the wake of a Times investigation revealing the details of years of racist, homophobic and otherwise vile texts sent by more than a dozen Torrance police officers, some L.A. County residents have noted that Torrance has a long history of struggling with inclusion, often centered on the practices of its police department. In 1995, the Justice Department launched an investigation into racist policing in Torrance and sued the department over alleged discriminatory hiring practices. In court documents filed as part of that case, former officers said they were taught by supervisors during their probationary periods that some African Americans were “upstanding Black citizens” while others were best described by a racial slur. Los Angeles Times
Torrance police cars are seen in this 2019 photo.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
The Sacramento City Council will consider not towing vehicles where homeless people are living unless they can offer them a shelter bed first. Mayor Darrell Steinberg added the item to the agenda late last week after the city was criticized for towing the vehicles from a North Sacramento industrial park without offering people shelter. “Ensuring the cleanliness and safety of business corridors and neighborhoods is essential,” Steinberg said in a statement Friday. “So is helping people who desperately need help.” Sacramento Bee
I didn’t get a chance to link to this in newsletters last week, but I wanted to mention that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges confronting youth. Symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms, according to Murthy’s advisory. And, in early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared with the same period in early 2019, according to research cited in the advisory. “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable,” Murthy wrote. Los Angeles Times
CRIME, POLICING AND COURTS
Sacramento promotes Kathy Lester as city’s first female police chief. City leaders on Friday announced that Lester has been promoted to succeed Chief Daniel Hahn after his retirement at the end of the year. “Kathy Lester is not just a home-grown talent and a historic appointment; she is 100 percent the right person to lead this department at this time, displaying an unparalleled breadth of experience as well as the values critical to our communities,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement. “I know she will be terrific in this position and continue the high standards set by Chief Hahn.” KCRA
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
A large bear has been spotted wandering through the heart of downtown Redding. The bear, which reports show has been minding its own business, has been caught on camera dashing into a construction zone and crossing a street. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is monitoring the situation and will intervene only if there’s a threat to human life or if the bear is injured, the Redding police department said. KCRTV
The Omicron strain of the coronavirus was detected in California’s wastewater last month, even before the World Health Organization declared it a “variant of concern,” lab data suggest. In a statement to The Times, the California Department of Public Health said that a sample of wastewater collected in Merced County on Nov. 25 contained a mutation that suggests the Omicron variant was present in California at that time. That’s one day after South African scientists informed the WHO of the new variant and a day before the WHO gave it the name Omicron and declared it the newest coronavirus variant of concern. Los Angeles Times
The hunt for a million-dollar timepiece that disappeared. Reporter Daniel Miller (who is a fun dude in real life) is out with an interesting story behind a complex, double-sided watch. It is not only able to tell time, but it can also chart sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon, the signs of the Zodiac and so much more. The magical device was created 112 years ago for J.P. Morgan (you know, the bank guy). Just a few years after the watch’s completion, Morgan died in 1913 at the age of 75. In the mid-1970s, the pocket watch disappeared, spawning an enduring mystery. This story is about Miller’s quest to track it down in California. Los Angeles Times
The double-sided J. Player & Son pocket watch.
(British Horological Institute / Horological Journal)
Taco Bell nixed plans to test a product from Beyond Meat Inc. after the fast-food chain was dissatisfied with samples. Two Beyond Meat employees from the team that developed the samples were fired, according to Bloomberg. The product was meant to mimic carne asada. “Taco Bell and Beyond Meat are thrilled to be working together to create a plant-based protein that’s just as craveable as Taco Bell’s current meat options,” the companies said in a joint statement. Beyond Meat, which is based in Los Angeles, announced in February that it had a multiyear deal with Taco Bell parent Yum! Brands Inc. that also included the company’s KFC and Pizza Hut chains. Bloomberg
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Jamie Foxx was born Dec. 13, 1967. Foxx is an executive producer of “Hip Hop Family Christmas,” a star-studded holiday movie that was just released. In it, a prominent family of hip-hop musicians tries to reverse its scandalous image by participating in a live Christmas special.
Taylor Swift was born Dec. 13, 1989. Her fans were swooning over the rerelease of her album “Red.” Here are some of the reactions.
I want love like this.
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