Rapper PnB Rock knew well the danger Los Angeles posed to people in his industry. 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 think they think I’m here without being there,” the selfish rapper admitted to hip-hop arbiter DJ Akademiks. “Where I’m from, we’re like sneaky criminals. But in LA they are brave.’
The haunting episode has gained even more notoriety since PnB Rock, real name Rakim Hasheem Allen, was fatally shot on September 12 while having lunch with his girlfriend at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles — a popular family restaurant in Los Angeles. Witnesses say an unknown gunman stole Rolex watches and jewelry from PnB after shooting him multiple times. The suspect has not yet been arrested as part of the ongoing murder investigation.
PnB, whose gritty rendition of the Northwest Philadelphia street corner where he grew up, was a rising talent, rapping alongside Lil Wayne, Quavo von Migos and other star hosts. A recent collaboration with Chance the Rapper on Ed Sheeran’s Cross Me was a taste of PnB’s crossover potential.
PnB at the Real Street Festival in Anaheim, California on August 11, 2019. Photo Credit: Earl Gibson III/Rex/Shutterstock
As Drake, Meek Mill, Cardi B and more mourn the loss of the father-of-two and generous soul whose ethereal melodies and heartbroken lyrics set him apart from drill-rap To contemporaries, PnB’s death sparked concern about the occupational hazards of his art form. They’ve also raised old debates about rap’s machismo culture and whether record labels are too eager to cash in when tragedy inevitably strikes.
“The whole thing about getting up and crushing and rushing is it’s about getting your own,” rapper Rick Ross said in a PnB tribute video. “The young king should be able to eat waffles with his family without losing his own. Get your own.”
Unfortunately, unhappiness was a recurring theme in PnB’s life. He saw his father murdered when he was three years old and his uncle when the rapper was 15. PnB, the second oldest of four, also lost his older brother to street violence. “Since then I’ve been moving differently,” says DJ Akademiks. “Anyone can die. The last person you would expect to die.”
As a student, PnB developed a reputation for fighting, stealing, and other rule violations. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for drug possession. He then became homeless.
His love for hip-hop and R&B heavyweights Tupac and Jodecim allowed him to pursue music. In 2014, at the age of 22, PnB released a mixtape of songs he wrote while incarcerated – which landed him a deal with Atlantic Records a year later. In June 2016, he released the brooding single Selfish, inspired by studio crush. The song peaked at number 51 on the Billboard US Hot 100. Rolling Stone included him on their list of “10 New Artists You Need to Know”.
In 2017, PnB re-emerged with his debut studio project, Catch These Vibes, and followed the album on tour with Lil Baby’s Grammy-winning hit.
PnB’s second and final album, TrapStar Turns PopStar, was released in May 2019 and debuted at No. 4. Just this month, PnB released a single called Luv Me Again through New Lane Entertainment, the label he left after Atlantic split founded in 2021. He appeared to be regaining his early career momentum.
Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, California, where rapper PnB Rock was killed September 12. Photo: Earl Gibson III/Rex/Shutterstock
After his death, there was an urgent need to assign blame. PnB’s girlfriend, Stephanie Sibounheuang, was slandered for posting a geotagged Instagram story about her fateful lunch at Roscoe’s, a local chain that Barack Obama frequented while he was campaigning for a second term in the Oval Office.
Nicki Minaj was one of those who took extreme offense at Sibounheuang’s post. “You are not as loved as you think you are!!! You are prey!!! In a world full of predators!!!” She tweeted in a warning to her colleagues.
New York rapper Fat Joe lamented that there seemed to be no more honor among thieves. “I used to record people,” Charlamagne tha God said on his TV show Hell of the Week. “I’m not against them robbing [PnB]. Why do you have to kill him? That bothers me. And not only destroy this family, but what about the other families that sit in Roscoe’s and watch their brains get blown out before their eyes? You destroyed an entire village with one shot.”
Ice-T used PnB’s shocking murder as an opportunity to echo an old grudge against flamboyant, out-of-town rappers who couldn’t read the subtly menacing landscape of his hometown. “If you notice LA rappers don’t wear a lot of jewelry,” Law & Order star Cop Killer tweeted. “Me, Snoop, Cube, Dre, The 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 roads?”
Rotating the whole time, 16 years after its release, is a leftover track from Compton’s original The Game called Murda. “So take my advice and I’ll talk to all the rappers,” he spits over a haunting Dr. Dre beat away. “If you eat at Roscoe’s, watch out for the chain thieves. Leave slowly or they will kill you.”
Perhaps more than any other form of music, rap is intent on blurring the lines between art and life. Warnings of dire consequences followed as early as 1987, when DJ Scott (La Rock) Sterling, a permanent New York host and one half of the duo Boogie Down Productions, was cut short at the age of 25. Tupac and the Notorious BIG started a morality panic in rap music in the late 1990s. Even as PnB rose to prominence, he maintained his connection to the streets and prided himself on walking between fans and foes with no security. So it was with Roscoe again. “Why don’t you have me with you?” his younger brother PnB Meen, also a rapper, complained on Instagram. “I always have you in the back, front and sides… I can’t believe that shit.
In all, 90 rappers have been killed in the past 35 years — or about two a year, according to hip-hop magazine XXL. Little more than a few such cases have been solved; fewer are still being investigated, putting the rapper murder solve rate well below the national average of 54.4%. “In a way, rap music and violence seem to go hand in hand,” DJ Scott La Rock’s manager told the New York Times after his client’s murder. “But it’s not the music itself; it’s the environment. Violence predates hip-hop.”
A mural commemorates musician Nipsey Hussle outside his Marathon clothing store in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Patrick T Fallon/Reuters
PnB is the latest rapper to be cut down in his prime. Other recent hip-hop casualties include his former collaborators XXXTentacion (2018) and Pop Smoke (2020); PnB also joins Biggie (1997), Smoke and Nipsey Hussle (2019) in the sad list of hip-hoppers who lost their lives in the City of Angels.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore called Sibounheuang’s Instagram post the likely motive for the robbery, which investigators believe was the work of two people. However, investigation quickly shifted to PnB’s possible industrial and lyrical content. Ten years ago, executives might have looked pale; Now they are drawing attention to at least one major case of extortion against rappers in Georgia.
PnB Rock’s family is said to be negotiating with the county coroner over possession of his body, which they intend to ship back to Philadelphia for burial according to Muslim tradition. It’s the kind of intimate complication that escapes notice when rappers get killed.
While the public seems to have gone numb to these tragedies, few in the industry have. French Montana went so far as to accuse record companies of buying life insurance for their rappers, in part to profit from their alarmingly high mortality rates. “[They’re] he was praying to make millions when he died,” he explained in an interview with DJ Akademiks in July. “You’re being realistic.” You should have life insurance anyway, but when the label does, when you don’t, it’s crazy.
Much less speculative is the fact that there is money to be made from the increasing interest in artists after their death. Three days after PnB Rock’s death, Selfish topped Apple Music’s Top 100.