On May 18, 2009, Hip Hop lost one of its own in Roderick Anthony Burton, II. Known to the Rap community as Dolla, the 21 year-old emcee was plugging away at his debut for Jive Records, through Akon‘s Konvict Muzik. In the parking lot of a P.F. Chang’s restaurant in Los Angeles’ Beverly Center, Dolla’s life was taken from him by a reported 12 fired bullets, by 23 year-old Aubrey Lewis Berry. In a trial earlier this year, Berry claimed self-defense, and was acquitted of Dolla’s murder on all charges, serving no time.
As Hip Hop has lost talented individuals we were simply just starting to listen to, understand and celebrate before in Mausberg and Stack Bundles, Dolla’s close friend, business partner and deejay, DJ Shabazz, spoke to HipHopDX about the man he worked side-by-side with for nearly five years, and the plans for his music getting to the people.
Just days before The Miseducation of Dolla mixtape released, Shabazz admitted to DX that “This whole last year has been a great big roller-coaster ride, but especially the last month with the whole acquittal and everything.” That’s highly understandable, considering when Shabazz admitted, “Dolla was like my little brother. I was with him every single day, 24 hours a day, literally, [from the last three years until] May 18th of last year. Our circle was extremely small, there were only five of us.” Just like in films of such tragedies, the friends’ last conversation was hopeful that the hard work was paying off. “We were actually sitting at lunch, talkin’ about how shit was just about to blow up, as far as the route he was taking.”
Twelve shots changed that destination forever.
Part of the reason DX spoke to DJ Shabazz was to understand that in his six or seven years of professional performing, he had gained some high profile supporters in addition to Akon. “T.I. actually had us come to his [recording] session. He was working on Paper Trail. On his own studio time, he sat there and listened to all of Dolla’s tracks, and was really like, ‘Let’s do something. Let’s make it happen.'” That meeting was particularly meaningful, as T.I. was Dolla’s favorite artist. Additionally, Dolla closely followed the music and styles of Andre 3000, E-40, Mac Dre, and 2Pac. Shabazz notes that Dolla shared some of the similar sentiments as Shakur. “You’ll hear that on the new mixtape: the anger at the poverty, gentrification, [and strong commentary on the] youth in the black community.” Scarface also influenced Dolla, as Shabazz recalled, “For a good year straight, we listened to M.A.D.E. every single day.”
Shabazz became Dolla’s official deejay after a spot-date at the famed Playboy Mansion. Shabazz handled the music, just after Dolla had signed with Jive’s A&R executive Ant Rich. The Bay area deejay felt a deep bond with the Atlanta-based rapper. “His mom calls me her son. His brothers are my brothers, his sisters are my sisters.”
However, while Dolla may have appeared green to the industry, the rapper had deep roots, and like The Clipse, a fruitless previous contract at Elektra Records with group, Da Razkalz Cru. Shabazz said, “He saw the highlights of the music industry, but once Elektra folded, that all came crashing down. It came down to, ‘Do I just go to public middle school? Or do I get this music shit crackin’?'” Like many tempted by fame and fortune, he chose the latter.
After the success of Akon, Dolla reconnected with one of his earlier collaborators. “Akon actually did a lot of tracks for Razkalz, before Akon was the Akon we know,” revealed Shabazz. “Dolla, was to my recollection, the first artist signed to Konvict. He was signed when he was like 16, 17 [years old], but 25, 30 at heart. He was beyond his time.”
Deeper than just contracts and influences, Shabazz was asked about the potency of Dolla’s songwriting. The deejay looked within his partner’s catalog and pulled out, “One of my favorite records is ‘Role Model.’ If you listen to the lyrics of the song…when he did it in the studio with T.I., I came in during the session, and I had goose-bumps when I heard it.” Speaking specifically, Shabazz noted, “The actual lyrics that he’s saying…in one of the parts he says, ‘Only niggas I knew was rappers and drug-dealers / Pretty good at the rappin’ / Damn good at the trappin’ / So picture how my life would’ve been if my daddy was an actor / A lawyer, a teacher, a judge / Probably never touched a track, probably never sold a drug.’ That’s just real powerful stuff.” The track is even more prophetic considering Dolla’s father committed suicide in front of his eyes, when the rapper was just five years old.
“He has a lot of heartfelt tracks. Hopefully, after [The Miseducation of Dolla ], it creates this ball of destruction of every artist in the industry asking, ‘Who was this kid?’,” said Shabazz of their plans with the mixtape. “We gonna pump it out now so everybody can hear what we heard.”
As Stack Bundles, Mausberg and even Big L all released notable posthumous albums, Dolla may see his work come to stores. “Fortunately for us, Ant Rich at Jive was his friend [too]. Ant is obviously gonna do as much push as he can,” the deejay said,a also acknowledging that Dolla’s younger brother has mic aspirations. One of the album-ready songs is “11/25,” where the young rapper begins his life story at his birth. Shabazz notes that the song has evoked tears among the people he’s played it for.
All of that talent accounted for, DJ Shabazz was asked to react to the acquittal verdict from the May ’09 shooting he witnessed. “It’s absolutely horrible,” he said, expressing even further frustration that the defense attorney’s on Dolla’s murderer used lyrics in their argument. “I can’t believe the eight or nine jurors actually bought into the whole story about the lyrics, ’cause at the end of the day, they’re just lyrics. They can’t prove what the camera can prove about the incident. It’s caught on film.” Video footage showed the two camps exchanging words at the popular Chinese restaurant. “They didn’t play any of the positive music he made, they only played the negative. It just shows you how fucked up our justice system is.”
“Twelve bullets, is that really self-defense?” asked Shabazz. “I’m speechless. At the end of the day, it’s all in God’s hands.” He pointed to Michael Vick’s jail-time, noting that a human killer walks free.
Given the self-dense case, DJ Shabazz was also asked if Dolla really initiated that day’s subsequently fatal confrontation. “We just happened to be at the same restaurant dude was at. I’ve never seen the dude, but I guess there was an altercation in Atlanta a couple weeks before – that I don’t exactly know all the details to, ’cause I wasn’t there,” explained DJ Shabazz. “I hear stories, but I wasn’t there. When we went to the valet, there wasn’t really any confrontation. I was standing next to Dolla when we walked out to the valet. The dude was lookin’ at us. If you go anywhere and a dude is lookin’ at you to the point where it’s lookin’ like it’s an issue, you’re gonna address it. You’re gonna say somethin’. The only words that came outta [Dolla’s] mouth was, ‘What’s happenin’?’ Dude say, ‘Nothing.’ That’s all it took.”
Moments later, gunfire erupted in the parking lot. Shabazz still does not understand the motives or the defense. “Unless he saw something different, none of us rushed out the door. If you go to the P.F. Chang’s in L.A., when you open the door, it goes right to the valet.” Citing video that suggests the same, he added, “We were all workin’ out; I had food in my hand…That was the last thing I recall before everything went down.”
On May 18, 2009, everything changed for Dolla and those who knew him and his music. Through mixtapes like this month’s The Miseducation of Dolla and more to be heard, DJ Shabazz is hoping many more can mourn with Hip Hop.