In May 2021, the rap world was rocked with a controversial viral video called “Who I Smoke”, by Jacksonville, FL rappers Yungeen Ace, Spinabenz, Whoppa With da Choppa and Fast Money Goon. The music video, a seemingly enjoyable time (and the first time) on the golf course for four young men, is in stark contrast to their sinister drill lyrics.
The novelty of the video made it a viral hit. Criminal Defense Lawyer and YouTube reactor Bruce Rivers laughed hysterically at the video, admitting later on that he didn’t initially realize the reality of the lyrics. One of the most subscribed-to urban/hip-hop react channels DJ Ghost (currently 5+ million subs across channels) broke out laughing to the video, in what would become his now most popular upload on his main channel.
The rappers, who are allied to some degree in bloody gang feuds playing out in the streets, rap cheerfully and directly about the murders of Jacksonville teenagers: The young victims to the gang war(s) they document through their discography. Each victim is a rival, many also soldiers. But many of the victims have also been innocent, and merely collateral damage.
The beat to “Who I Smoke”, produced by talented FL producer Drilltime Zani, cleverly samples Vanessa Carlton‘s hit “A Thousand Miles” into a fast-pace drill beat. The originality of it probably a huge reason it went viral to begin with.
It is not just a redux of the melody or a short loop, it is very clearly “A Thousand Miles”. The sample is also cleared, and is being rapped on with Carlton’s blessing.
In “Who I Smoke”, they notoriously rap:
-Yungeen Ace mocking the murders of three of his rivals in the hook. Adrian Gainer, Teki Lee Williams and Denetri Mixson.
Adrian “Bibby” Gainer Jr. was 16 years old when he was shot and killed (2019) in a notorious housing complex on Jacksonville’s northside known as Hilltop Village Apartments. Hakeem “Ksoo” Robinson, also a rapper and close associate to Yungeen Ace, was arrested for the murder of Bibby and is still facing trial for it. Ace raps in the same song “My killer make his face go, that’s one thing about Ksoo“.
Lil Nine, real name Denetri Mixson, was shot and killed at the age of 18 (2020). He was a passenger in a moving vehicle when an another car shot theirs up, causing them to crash into a Jacksonville business. As Lil Nine was shot badly and dying, he ran into the tire shop desperately before he fell to the floor and began succumbing.
Another passenger in the car, Xavier Pennick aka “Ionrap”, took out his phone and began recording Lil Nine’s body on the floor, as random bystanders are attempting to help him instead. Ionrap repeatedly shouts “Fuck n****s played, man”.
Teki Williams Jr
Teki Lee Williams Jr. was killed at the age of 20 (2019). Not too many details of his life or even death are public, aside from his Family’s FB posts, but during Spinabenz viral court hearing where the judge is played the song “Dead Ni****” by detectives, they clarify that Teki Williams was associated with 6block (large gang on the north side, rivals to Ace/ATK and allied with the likes of Foolio, Cojack and so on).
“Know I’m smoking Jit and one thing, they just can’t get him back”
–Yungeen Ace mocking the 2017 murder of Zion Brown aka “Tweaking Jit”. This is another murder one of Yungeen Ace’s friends was arrested for: Deontrae “Trae Shordy” Thomas.
According to JSO, Trae Shordy smashed a glass door to a home at around 1:30 am, and began firing shots inside. He shot 18 year old Zion Brown, who died of his injuries in the hospital.
He also shot two females, aged 9 and 16. The 16 year old was reportedly left with a bullet in her ankle, but had one successfully removed from her foot. She was also able to identify Trae Shordy as the shooter, securing an arrest warrant for him. As of this article, he is serving a life sentence without parole for Zion Brown’s murder.
“Rod K dead, and he’s never coming back boy”
-Spinabenz mocking the murder of Gerrard Bell Jr, known as “Rod K”
Rod K, real name Gerrard Bell Jr, was 22 when he was shot and killed in Jacksonville (Nov 2020). Locally he was a beloved rapper (with only a few songs) and he was closely associated with other big names in Jax like Foolio and Cojack (Vontaland/6block/KTA).
The circumstances of his death are strange. It appears Rod K was shot in an incident where he was the offender, and his death was self defense, but details on the internet are few and far between.
What backs up this theory though, besides the news article, is Spinabenz rapping in another song (“I Don’t Smoke Kendre”):
“Rod K died, he was spinning, guess he freeze-d up / Fuck his last words Ku, the last thing he seen was us“
“Spinning” means that Rod K was driving through opposition territory looking for someone to shoot. Spinabenz then directly implies it was them (KuKu gang/1200) that he was spinning on, and they got the best of him instead. Possibly one of the most direct “self snitches” in modern drill rap, if it is pertinent to real life of course.
And of course, many more deceased young men are mocked throughout “Who I Smoke”, these were just a few that “stood out”. And with all of this mayhem set to her own hit song, many were surprised (and confused) by the way the legendary Vanessa Carlton would eventually respond to all of this.
Vanessa Carlton’s approval and subsequent doubling-down
With the sample behind “Who I Smoke” being cleared with love, Vanessa Carlton received criticism. She took to Twitter to explain her side, and essentially flipped the situation to her critics being racist.
She implies a double standard exists. No one bats an eye when a popular song is played during Reservoir Dogs (a fictional movie), as a mans ear is being cut off. This is “visceral and cinematic” to us, according to her.
But now when she is being criticized for cosigning young black artists that she thinks are doing the same thing, “all of the sudden it is a problem”. She even cites a research paper for her argument.
Unfortunately she failed to address the distinction between harsh, painful reality, and a graphic piece of fiction.
Some history + the mothers of the deceased
The “smoking opps” lyrical trend (smoking weed and referring to it as deceased opposition) originated with drill godfather Chief Keef around ten years ago, with him mockingly smoking “Tooka” (Shondale Gregory) in his biggest tracks. It sparked a worldwide rap trend, that goes on to this day throughout all of drill culture.
The mothers and even brothers of the young men being mocked, especially in the songs that have become viral radio hits, have been silently suffering for the entire time.
The mother of Tooka came out and spoke to household urban platform Say Cheese TV more than ten years after Tooka’s death and discussed the way it caused her emotional and psychological horror, as well as Shondale’s siblings.
She says that she tried her best to call Chicago radio stations and clubs in order to state her case, and begged them to stop playing the songs. Allegedly they ignored her, continuing to play the songs mocking Tooka and eventually solidifying’s Keef’s stardom.
The mothers in Jacksonville, like those of Adrian “Bibby” Gainer and more, have met the exact same fate as Ms. Dominique all these years later.
“It’s like somebody taking a healed wound and opening it back up and stabbing at it over and over again,” Elizabeth Gainer said.
One of the mothers of a murder victim mentioned in a song told News4Jax she reached out to YouTube, asking if they could take one of the videos down, but the company never responded.
“I hope and pray that the person, or the persons, who are rapping about that, they understand that you have a mom, too. Would you want your mom to feel the way other moms feel?” Melissa Jackson said.
The sons of Gainer and Jackson were both murdered, and their names are mentioned in the songs that have been heard by millions.”-Travis Gibson for News4Jax
The papers Vanessa Carlton sourced for her argument and comparison
Carlton told her critics to read a qualitative study by a Eastern Michigan University student, published in McNair Scholars Research Journal.
Interestingly enough, the conclusion to the author’s paper almost seems to negate and contradict the context Vanessa Carlton used it for:
“The Black community must develop a pedagogy that allows-Nyambura Njee
the community to reconnect with our historical, social, and
political culture. We must be critical of the images of Blackness
that are popularly consumed; it is of utmost importance that we
transform the way that Blackness is viewed. Loving Blackness is
a political act that can transform the way that we consume Black
images and the way that Blackness, and therefore Black people,
are seen. Until then, we will continue to suffer from a collective
identity crisis, supported by negative images and representations.“
You can read the paper in its entirety right here. Authored by Nyambura Njee (Student / Eastern Michigan U) who is also seen below:
To conclude: Is Vanessa Carlton willfully ignorant, and willing to turn a blind eye to so much violence in order to secure the “bag” from “Who I Smoke’s” popularity? Or do you think she is naïve and not conscious of just how consequential the track is? Either way, seems like she failed to do some due diligence, and created a racial issue out of an issue that is purely about humanity.
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