Hundreds gather to pay their respects to slain Baltimore rapper Lor Scoota. (Kim Hairston and Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)
As hundreds gathered Friday for the funeral of Lor Scoota, the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant raged against the racism and inequality that the slain rapper saw in the city and that shaped his lyrics.
"You can kill the messenger," Bryant said. "But you can't kill the message."
Scoota, born Tyriece Travon Watson, was fatally shot while driving back from a peace rally June 25 in what police called a targeted killing at a busy intersection in Northeast Baltimore. Police say they've received tips about the crime, but no arrests have been made.
At Friday's funeral and at a block party that celebrated his life, residents and fans recalled Scoota and his message.
Dressed in a black cassock, Bryant delivered the fiery sermon at his church, Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore, touching on the dangers of speaking out and the risks that messengers for common people — from Jesus to Malcolm X — have faced throughout history.
People responded enthusiastically to the message, cheering and applauding.
The image of Scoota was everywhere. To get into the church, mourners passed three larger-than-life-size photographs of the 23-year-old. People posed for snapshots with them after the service and clamored to get copies of the funeral program. Others wore his picture on their shirts, depicting him with angel's wings or standing at the gates of heaven.
The service swung between jubilant cheers for Scoota's life and chilling moments of sorrow. As the choir sang Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam," a young man held his head in his hands. Some mourners walked from the church in tears. A distraught young woman had to be held up by others.
Scoota's song "Bird Flu" became a hit in the city, the lyrics striking an authentic chord with listeners. Councilman Nick J. Mosby called him a "'hood poet."
"He was Baltimore and Baltimore was him," Mosby said.
His fame and ambition attracted jealousy, Bryant said. "Whenever you speak for the masses, you will be a target for murder," he said.
Scoota's body lay at the front of the church. He wore a black shirt with white stars around the collar, his thumbs in the pockets of white pants.
His death Saturday shocked the city, and hundreds of people of all ages showed up at the church to pay their final respects. Many more have gathered across Baltimore to pay tribute at events that included a vigil Sunday and a wake followed by a concert Thursday.
Bryant called on the mourners to seek to better themselves, borrowing Scoota's motto to urge them to be "up next."
The pastor also railed against business owners who he said are disdainful of their majority-black communities, and also against African-American parents he said were willing to spend money to see Beyonce but not to look after their families.
And in an apparent reference to a tense confrontation between the police and people celebrating Scoota on Pennsylvania Avenue this week, he said he wished the police would surround Annapolis in riot gear. He condemned legislators for spending too little on education and too much on prisons.
"It's rigged for us to always come up last," Bryant said.
Hours after the funeral, hundreds of people gathered for a community block party outside the Capital Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore. While children danced near a DJ booth, fans wore T-shirts bearing the rapper's image.
Ronald Butler, 58, of West Baltimore said he knew Scoota and encouraged kids in the neighborhood to avoid violence. He called the rapper an "outstanding spokesperson in the neighborhood."
Tony Watson, 31, of Park Heights called himself a fan of Scoota.