"This is my introduction to the motherf---ing world, man. I want y'all to know I'm in this s--- for the long run. I ain't like these young n----s, man. I ain't trying to hit the stash. I'm trying to eat forever, man." — "Intro," Lor Scoota
In rap, nicknames are common — and no one in Baltimore had a more apt moniker than Lor Scoota. He went by "Up Next," and it wasn't false braggadocio.
"They like, 'How the f--- this n---- take over, get so high so quick? Probably because most of my fans know me on some private s--- / 'Still in the Trenches,' I had the whole city rockin' it," Scoota raps, lit blunt in hand, with confident ease in the video for his 2015 song, "King Me." Paired with its casual visual, the track captures an artist aware he's on the verge of something greater.
But the West Baltimore native, born Tyriece Travon Watson, will never see where his talent and drive would eventually take him. At 23, Scoota is gone.
On Saturday, he was shot to death after speaking at a peace rally at Morgan State University. The loss reverberates around Baltimore like the bass heard as passing cars blare Scoota anthems in his memory.
Beyond a Baltimorean, a family member and a human being — what we lost was a captivating and uncompromising talent whose best work was surely ahead of him.
While we memorialize artists, the acute pain felt by so many right now is nothing new, in a city where Scoota's death is one of 136 homicides to date this year.
That sense of paranoia — that a violent death here can come at any time — informed Scoota's music constantly, whether he was talking self-protection ("If I can't bring a pistol, I ain't coming in / Tell security don't check me, just let me in") or recognizing that his success bred envy ("When you up, they don't treat you the same no more," he raps over Future's "March Madness").
This cold reality manifested itself in an even more chilling outlook: "I ain't worried about nothing, n----, as long as I'm living / I'm from Baltimore City, no love, no pity," Scoota raps on "Only Life I Know."
But he possessed a quality many lesser rappers lack: Scoota understood the importance of showing all sides of the street — not just highlighting the luxury brands and other riches he strove for, but underlining the consequences, loss and trauma prevalent in oft-ignored neighborhoods like his. This strain of rap has bred loyal national followings for artists like Meek Mill and Boosie Badazz, so it's no coincidence they mourned Scoota's death on social media. Scoota was cut from their cloth — and his recent output in particular showed he could have been on his way to joining their ranks in due time.
On his final project, "Still in the Trenches 3," Scoota made his desire to leave Baltimore known. (His friend and well-known dirt bike rider Chino Braxton and popular Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang echoed similar sentiments recently.)
"Trying to get out the city, I ain't tryin' out the city / They don't get it though, they don't really feel me though / Cause I don't put no guns in my video / Waiting on me to go, well here it go," Scoota raps on "No Turning Back."
With each new song — including May's "Swear to God," the last single he would release — Scoota showed he was continuously refining his craft, polishing his hooks and tightening his verses for maximum effect. The work was paying off, as seen on The Game's Instagram, where the Los Angeles rapper acknowledged Scoota's behind-the-scenes contributions to his album, "The Documentary 2."
While Scoota refrained from holding guns in videos (in D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy's video for "Cut It," Scoota is the only empty-handed figure surrounded by many looking ready for war), he was flawed, just like countless other artists of all genres before and surely after him.
His lyrics were boastful, at times threatening. His biggest hit "Bird Flu (Remix)" is a cheery-sounding ode to the potency of Scoota's "scramble, coke and smack." Too often, women in his songs are used as faceless symbols of success, and rarely in respectful terms. Scoota was a street rapper through and through — you won't find any head-scratching reaches for the pop charts in his discography — so he rapped as the streets talk. Authenticity is not always pretty.
And yet, sainthood should never be a requirement of the artist.
Scoota was a product of his harsh West Baltimore environment, and his music completely reflected it, for better and worse. It explains his king-like status among students around the city. With a checkered Louis Vuitton belt holding up expensive denim and his gold chains glistening in the sun, Scoota represented what so many young and poor Baltimoreans dream of — a way out. He looked and sounded like them, and he was using his own talent to make a better life. Scoota was the head of a fittingly titled crew, YBS — Young Ballers Shining.
"Me and my n----s, we on the same page / They feel my hurt, my pain and my rage / All my n----s was standing on blocks / now all my n----s is standing on stage," Scoota rapped on "Seen It All" from "Still in the Trenches 2.5."
As Scoota was on the cusp of tasting success outside of Baltimore, Baltimore once again got in its own way of progress. He is now one more heartbreaking story of potential being cut short here.
You don't have to be a serious hip-hop fan to hear his work and realize he had more to offer than many aspiring artists. Now, all we have left are the songs and music videos — documents that have given so much joy and motivation to communities in the city that need it most. Not only are they evidence of Scoota's talent and potential, but they serve as stark reminders of what was taken too soon — from his family, his fans and Baltimore.