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Requiem for a Rapper

Why was Kenny Smith shot by police? While his family and friends wait for answers, they ponder the tragic loss of a promising artist

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Smith's early passing left behind not only a knot of unanswered questions, but a body of musical work. A decision was made to release Kenn Ball's output, not as a free mixtape as originally planned, but as an actual album on the Rbc Records label. Thaddeus Gibson helped finalize the project and prep the release. In June, the Aviation Lifestyle crew threw a party for the posthumous release of Birth Place of Aviation.

Little was left to tend the flame for "Dinner Date." Thanks to the catchy hook, the song shouldered its way into regular radio rotation. A video was the next step. Still shell-shocked from the younger rapper's death, Little was clueless about where to start.

The clip that Little eventually put together rearranges the standard nuts and bolts of a hip-hop video into a fitting memorial: MC rapping into the camera? Check. Bouncing booties? Of course. Chugged champagne? Absolutely. But when it's time for Kenn Ball's verses, the screen becomes a montage of still photos and video clips of the dead rapper. Toward the close of the track, a stenciled silhouette of Smith's face appears above the word "Forever" pressed onto T-shirts – actual clothing that Smith's friends and family wear around town to this day.

The song took off, eventually finding radio play in markets outside of Cleveland. By August, sitting on his porch, Little marveled at the reaction it got the previous night at a concert in Toledo. "Everybody knows that song. It's crazy," he says. "Every time I perform that, I let the crowd rap Kenny's part. I don't even got to say shit."

But a higher profile brings detractors. Little says he fields a lot of accusations that he's trying to use Smith's death for his own benefit. The suggestion, stirred in with the obvious grief, sets him off.

"This ain't no music shit. Fuck the music, fuck all this rap. I would give that song back any day to give Kenny back to his mama. Not even for me, just for everybody who loves Kenny, I would . . . give Kenny . . . what the fuck . . . fuck that song, dude."

After waiting a beat or two, he calmly adds: "But the case isn't over yet, so I'm not tripping."

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