King Me: The life, death, and lionization of Lor Scoota

City Paper

At the corner of Harford and Moravia, just three hours after beloved West Baltimore rapper Lor Scoota was shot and killed in his car, there is little evidence that anything happened. Some yellow police tape is still up, someone has swept broken glass into an orderly pile near the curb, but that’s about it.

People wander by and stop in front of the Harford Road Liquors where Scoota’s car ended up after the shooting and a couple of drivers slow down to look at the place. Over the next hour or so, a few cars roll down Harford Road blasting Scoota’s music: drug-dealing hit ‘Bird Flu’ and ‘Norma Jean’s,’ a moaning ode to the Baltimore strip club.

Then again, hearing ‘Bird Flu’ and ‘Norma Jean’s’ hollering out from cars is common on any given night in Baltimore. Scoota was probably the city’s most celebrated rapper and its most promising in terms of transitioning into national success. “Lor,” by the way, is essentially a synonym for “Lil,” the word written as it’s pronounced via Baltimore’s chewy accent.

At 11 p.m., broadcasting live from the S&S Lounge, Baltimore rap station 92Q plays ‘Bird Flu.’ DJ Jay Claxton interrupts to scream out condolences.

“We doing it for Scoota right now, R.I.P. to Scoota, Baltimore’s own Scoota,” Claxton shouts. “We gotta stop this craziness right now yo, I’m serious, I’m serious. Too many of us leaving too soon. Condolences to the family.”

A little before 7 p.m. on June 25, according to the police, the shooter, who wore a white bandana, stepped in front of Scoota’s car and fired, hitting Scoota, who was driving at the time. Scoota, who was 23 and whose real name is Tyriece Watson, died at the hospital not long after the shooting. He had just left the Touch the People, Pray For Peace in These Streets charity basketball game at Morgan State University, organized by activist Stokey Cannady, Shoe City, and others.

Major rap figures such as Meek Mill and Yo Gotti tweeted out tributes to Scoota and, locally, Scoota’s name became the top trending topic on Twitter.

Across three massive mixtapes since 2014—“Still N The Trenches 2,” “Still N The Trenches 2.5,” and “Still N The Trenches 3”—Scoota grabbed hold of the city. In conjunction with the rise of East Baltimore rapper Young Moose, Scoota helped bring a hip-hop renaissance to Baltimore, affording the city one of its clear compelling personalities and a template for streets-to-internet success. National eyes were drawn toward the city. He brought with him a crew, YBS (Young Ballers Shining), including its most popular member YBS Skola, whose bouncing song ‘Whole Lotta Money’ is a local favorite.

Lor Scoota is best known for and will now forever be known for ‘Bird Flu,’ his quite funny, incredibly catchy, and unrelentingly grim 2014 song about hustling. Over a springy, steely beat, Scoota sneezes (“ooh, achoo!”), and declares he’s "got the bird flu" (a bird is a kilo). Then the twisting, maddening hook: “We selling scramble, coke, and smack/ Keep them junkies coming back.”

Like most Scoota songs, it’s darkly comedic, puckishly triumphant, and pretty sad, oozing a kind of lived-in realism. Moreover, ‘Bird Flu’ elides the simple platitudes of dope-dealing where details are glossed over and pain ignored. He acknowledges that stuff—like what it means to sell to an addict—and then he chuckles about it. “Let the fiend taste the coke, he said he couldn’t feel his jaw,” Scoota raps at one point. “I called the plug and told him ‘Thumbs up, good job.’”

The song came equipped with the Bird Flu dance—an angular, instructional shake that involves rising up and down, bending your elbows, sticking your ass out, turning your wrists in a cooking motion, all in sync with the eerie, lithe production. All of Baltimore does the Bird Flu dance. You see it at concerts, cook-outs, weddings, parties—it doesn’t matter. In a Scoota obituary for Vice’s music site, Noisey, Baltimore writer Lawrence Burney called it “the modern-day Electric Slide” of Baltimore.

A glance at people doing the Bird Flu on YouTube includes an adorable boy in a red, white, and blue polo; a tween in his socks sliding across an oh-so-’70s linoleum kitchen floor; a girl in what looks like the administrative office of her middle school; a particularly limber girl in her school uniform; two boys in their front yard in a housing project, singing the lyrics, trailing a bit behind the beat but nailing the dance; TSU Terry, the founder of the TSU Dance Crew; five kids lit by car headlights in a townhouse parking lot; and a girl and her dad doing it in unison on the beach—the name of that video, “Daddy doing the bird flu dance.”

Tate Kobang, Baltimore’s most well-known rapper right now, recently recorded a freestyle over the beat to ‘Bird Flu.’ Even if you’re bigger than Baltimore these days, you’ve got to pay homage. Washington D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy made an appearance on an official remix of the song. Scoota himself had been courted by the industry, in the oblique ways that the music biz slowly allows new blood in these days: He’d appear on Instagram recording in Los Angeles and New York; Meek Mill had given him praise; P. Diddy posted ‘Bird Flu’ last year without comment, a sly way of building mystery and buzz; a recent Instagram tribute post by rapper The Game suggests Scoota did some behind-the-scenes work on Game's recent record, “The Documentary 2.”

We go one way or the other way with the dead: We rip them apart or we build the dead up into something they weren’t and never even said they were. In Baltimore, victims of gun violence, especially the young black men who make up the majority of the victims, are usually criminalized and blamed for their own death. For the most part, Scoota has avoided this and instead suffers another troubling indignity: He has been oversimplified and cleaned-up.

Baltimore Police Department spokesman T. J. Smith noted that Scoota was killed after attending an event to promote peace and offered an atypically sympathetic reading of his life: “A lot of young people knew him and looked up to him,” Smith said at a press conference. “And whatever he might’ve been doing in the past, it appears he was doing some things to change his life and use those experiences to help empower other young people in our city.”

Minister Marvin McKenstry Jr. said, “We need to recognize [Scoota] for the artistry,” rather than the way he was killed.

Echoing that post-uprising sense that we need to engage and meet the youth on their own terms, Derrick Chase, with Stand Up Baltimore, suggested parents sit down and listen to Scoota’s music with their kids in an attempt to understand why they loved him so much.

While Scoota’s big song was a harsh, hilariously bleak track about selling poison and giving no fucks, he had become increasingly engaged with his community, often preaching non-violence. A May Instagram video shows Scoota reading a book about Martin Luther King Jr. to first graders at Samuel Coleridge Elementary. There is also his very public refusal to tote a weapon in any of his videos—an ethical stance he even clung to in his appearance in the recent video for Shy Glizzy’s ‘Cut It.’ In parts of the video, Scoota is one of the few not gripping a gun.

In the fall of 2014, Scoota also recorded “a sports remix” of ‘Bird Flu’ in anticipation of the Ravens’ season and the Orioles playoff run. It got some play on 92Q and should’ve become a semi-official anthem for the city—it certainly made more sense than The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army,’ and was at least homegrown.

Back in 2011 and 2012, Scoota was a low-level crack dealer, dispensing gray-top vials around midnight near the corner of West Lafayette and North Arlington avenues, as one police sergeant described in an arrest report. City cops took a sandwich bag of drugs and $28 in cash off Scoota one night in December 2011, a bust that led to probation and his entrance in a state “Violence Prevention Initiative” aimed at keeping the potentially violent criminals from reoffending or getting hurt. Scoota was enrolled in drug treatment but offered his probation officer no evidence that he ever attended. His lawyer said he was too poor to cover the $205 in court costs by the court-imposed deadline. He listed his last employer as "Youth Works," the mayor’s summer jobs program. His occupation: “Janitorial.” In 2011, he was also charged but never prosecuted for second-degree assault.

If we’re going to dig through Scoota’s record, then let’s also point out that according to documents, one of Scoota’s arresting officers was Sgt. Joseph Donato, who has a few controversies chasing him. The Baltimore Sun reported that in 2009, Donato was accused by then-Baltimore Raven Tony Fein of racial profiling and in 2010, Donato arrested a man for filming police officers “beating two handcuffed men on Baker Street.” And City Paper reported that Donato was sued along with other officers for racial discrimination stemming from a 2010 incident that U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake called “unacceptable behavior by members of the Baltimore City Police Department, including a warrantless home search." The case was dismissed.

Even after local success and apparent efforts to fly straight, Scoota faced escalating criminal charges. In April of last year he was caught at BWI Airport with a pistol, its serial number filed off. On the morning of December 17, he allegedly attacked his girlfriend and grabbed her phone as she got into her car to drive to work. Scoota was charged in two different cases. The domestic violence case was dropped when no one showed up to the trial, and a separate case charging him with theft and assault lingered on the books. His mother paid his bail—$25,000 cash on a $250,000 bond, according to the paperwork. Judge Catherine C. O’Malley, wife of the former governor, signed a body attachment warrant for the victim and then dropped the case on Feb. 19 of this year.

And so, Scoota becomes “contradictory” or a “paradox,” navigating success and this royally fucked city, doing some good, doing some bad, recording some gristly music that plenty of people loved and seemed to offer Scoota some perspective on his life and his chaotic hometown.

Then, on the particular day of his murder, Scoota was leaving a charity event, as he often was—and he was shot. According to police and the context clues—just minutes after he left the event, in the middle of the street—it was a targeted shooting.

The day after Scoota’s death, over at Penn-North, activists, artists, rappers, and West Baltimore community members gathered for a Unity Rally against street violence to pay tribute to Scoota. Organized in part by Darrell Carter, who raps as 3D, and fellow rapper Tyree Colion, activists including PFK Boom, Shorty Davis, Abdul Salaam, and members of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle showed up. The group organized a quick “photo op” (their words) in which the group briefly shut down traffic for about five minutes and posed for a picture embodying unity.

“We’re gonna be the blueprint for what we want to be,” said activist PFK Boom before the group entered the street. And he reflected on his own past. “A lot of people are hurting. I’ve hurt people. Physically, mentally, spiritually,” he confessed.

Once the group entered the street and spread out, they raised their fists and shouted, “We all we got, we all we need.”

Colion paced through the group and spoke and tied Scoota’s death to many others within the community.

“It’s about us killing us,” he said.

As the gathering turned into a small block party, Salaam declared, “Let’s go home and love somebody.” PFK Boom added, “Hug somebody you ain’t hugged before you came here.”

These sentiments, of ending cycles of violence, connecting with people previously unknown, would dominate the many Scoota memorial events throughout the week.

As the party began, Carter jumped on the mic and stressed that it should be over at 5:15 p.m. He said that was the agreement with the police and that the people here should honor it. He told the group of 50 or so that “police will shut it down either way,” and mentioned “bean bags” and other ways that police might disperse the crowd with force.

The dance party was small and most people didn’t dance, just standing while mouthing Scoota’s lyrics. A member of Scoota’s family wearing a YBS hat danced to Scoota’s ‘ King Me,’ almost in her own world. Police kept their distance. The more imposing force was the Nation of Islam—suited, serious, they stood near the DJ table observing, offering silent protection.

The party ended at 5:30 p.m. with people of all ages posing for pictures, arms around one another shouting, “We love you Scoota” and “Scoota up next.”

Carter and others scooped up their laptops and speakers, folded up a table, and thanked everyone, especially “the Nation.” The party continued into the night at L & R Studios, a studio on Maryland Avenue that Carter operates and where, along with recording his own work, he offers up a place for kids in the city to learn how to make beats and play music.

Across town almost an hour later at Harford and Moravia, about 24 hours after Scoota’s shooting, a makeshift tribute with balloons tied to a fire hydrant and some flowers resting next to Harford Road Liquors.

Someone had also taped a note to the window: “We must stop killing each other! This is not the antebellum south. You don’t have to be the whipping boy anymore!”

This attitude was reflected on 92Q’s weekly show “Rap Attack,” which that night was dedicated to Scoota.

As is often the case, 92Q became a sounding board for black Baltimore in shock. Hosts AJ and DJ AngelBaby spun Scoota songs in between mainstream rap hits and played calls from Baltimoreans, all of whom expressed shock, frustration, and rage over the death and haters and city hall and violence. During the uprising last year, 92Q took calls from residents about how Mondawmin was being handled and their experiences with police. Following April 27’s riot, Scoota recorded PSAs for 92Q in which he told people to keep the peace, while also making it clear he knew why they were so mad and why they got violent.

“Rap Attack’s” Scoota tribute trickled to an end around 9 p.m. and AJ and AngelBaby transitioned into playing the entirety of Jay-Z’s 1996 album “Reasonable Doubt,” which turned 20 years old the day before—the same day Scoota was killed. It was a strange coincidence. Often, when people analyze Baltimore hip-hop right now, they compare Scoota to Jay-Z and Young Moose to Nas. Which is to say, they both embody hip-hop archetypes: Scoota as the pop-aware MC, and Moose as the scrappy live wire cult rapper. 

Unlike Jay-Z and Nas, Scoota and Young Moose never beefed, though a cynical record business and the crude, drama-obsessed streets would’ve loved it—East Baltimore ball of realness and West Baltimore street-popper with hella cred going after each other. Instead, the two said kind words about one another and made some appearances together—including at City Councilman Nick Mosby’s Eye Am Baltimore school tour speaking engagement, which went to high schools post-uprising and spoke to the kids, encouraging them to stay in school and not get into the life, as it were.

Moose and Scoota recorded at least one song together, ‘In The Streetz,’ a stark statement of intent. It begins with some throwback style camaraderie, you can clearly hear the usually dour Moose excited to be on a track with Scoota. Moose’s verse is nearly off the rails—bursts of memories from his life, teachers mad at him, stash spots long forgotten—while Scoota steps to the beat gentler. He’s slowly swimming in a sea of hard-to-shake details and angry threats (there is a moment where he says he will beat up a girlfriend if she betrays him), almost drowning in them. It is a dogged, determined, seeing-red street rap.

There is footage of a video shoot for ‘In The Streetz’ from early May, right after the uprising, but the video never came out, perhaps because of Moose’s ongoing issues with the law.

Moose—who is currently in jail, being held without bail, and, according to Moose’s father, in solitary confinement—posted (or had someone post) a message to Instagram about Scoota’s death. A picture of the two of them together, middle fingers out—Moose’s blatantly, Scoota’s more subtly—reads in part, “A lot of #motherfuckers ain’t want see dis day happen but when you doing you and you really making noise you click up with the next nigga making noise especially that’s from your city you niggas kill niggaz in your city b4 you would think about robbing the nigga dats not from ur city.”

As Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun observed, that feeling is common following Scoota’s death: a sense that this city eats its best alive. Scoota wrote a whole song about this topic, 2015’s ‘No Turning Back.’

So many of Scoota’s songs soak in a sense that perhaps he was doomed: “I’m trying to make it out before I make it on the news,” he raps on ‘Intro’ on “Still N The Trenches 2.5”; on ‘Feel It In The Air,’ a noir-ish freestyle over Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel’s 2005 song of the same name, he exclaims, “If I died today, my campaign would start a riot.”

Scoota made two great, singularly Scoota songs—the agog ‘Bird Flu’ and the semi-celebratory ‘Norma Jean’s.’ And he has plenty of other very good songs, including, ‘Heaven and Hell,’ ‘Percs Calling,’ ‘Swear To God,’ ‘We OK,’ and his most recent single, ‘Snapchat.’

Briefly now, a totally subjective list of eight other great Scoota songs for the uninitiated:

-‘Ain’t Too Many’ feat. Shy Glizzy: About a year after Glizzy’s appearance on the ‘Bird Flu’ remix, the street rap hero of Washington, D.C. shows up on this "Still N The Trenches 3" track. The song finds Scoota plugging his rhymes between the open spaces of a budget Wagnerian beat. "Niggas get they lead checks and act like they on top the world," Scoota scoffs at one point.

-‘Intro’: The cinematic opening track on “Still N The Trenches 3” begins as melodrama: slow-grinding moody blooz morphs into piano-based introspection and then explodes into a Latin-tinged trap skitter. Here, you witness Scoota’s tragic optimism (“I’m living better than I was but I’m still in the trenches”) and, later on, a clever line where he ties the Baltimore lead problem to the city’s other major issue, gun violence—which, Scoota observes, is also a “lead” problem.

-‘King Me’: Scoota bounces self-evident boasts and memories from back when he was dealing off bumpy drums, speeding up his flow then slowing it down to compensate for its shifting, scrunched-up soul beat.

-‘Letter To Mom’: A song-length apology to his mother (who first called him Little Scooter when he was a child) for all the things he has done that he shouldn’t have and all the things he should’ve done that he didn’t. It begins, “This right here, this a letter to moms/ To let her know all the shit I’m doing is wrong.” What follows are details about being sent to group homes, stealing from his mom, and occasionally some brighter moments (getting the high school diploma he told her he’d get; memories of lying at the foot of her bed as a child). He calls her “the only friend [he] had.” You keep waiting for the big moment, a soaring reconciliation, but it never comes. The song is left unresolved.

-‘Panda’: His “G-mix” of ‘Panda’ retains the stop-start whirl of the ubiquitous Desiigner song, but seems slightly more profound and engaged than the hyper-concentrated turn-up of the original. Scoota rides its odd beat like a skater on a choppy asphalt, adjusting to its busied pieces. 92Q had taken to playing Scoota’s version, giving a bit more life to the endless plays ‘Panda’ receives right now. It was also a hit with the kids, usurping ‘Bird Flu’s’ appeal in recent months.

-Lor Chris’ ‘Rappin Like I’m Trappin’: Big apocalyptic trap music and nothing more has Scoota only on the extended, mealy-mouthed hook. Still, a prime example of Scoota’s expansive pop-savvy.

-‘Ready Or Not’: “Scoota weaves together a line about how the killings permeate social arrangements and social media...The lyrics don’t condemn the killings. Not in the way Kendrick [Lamar] does on ‘The Blacker the Berry’,” City Paper contributor J. Brian Charles wrote of ‘Ready Or Not’ in April. “But Lor Scoota doesn’t have the luxury to explicitly denounce violence or the community. He is still surrounded by that violence, still navigating the community. His political statement is about the cost of survival, the need to stay close to your friends, the mental toll of repeatedly seeing the death on Instagram.”

-‘Young Bull’: Over snappy space-trap—Scoota’s ear for Vangelis-like production was quite good—he details his brother’s incarceration, suicidal thoughts, an absentee father, how he started selling weed, getting his first gun at 14, and more. He finds a room for a whip-smart cluster of internal rhymes when he raps, “It’s something about the Avenue that put that trappin’ in you/ Because every nigga in my hood hit a pack or two.”

As the reality of Scoota’s murder set in, the police investigation slowly moved along. On the Monday after he was killed, the Baltimore Police updated the progress. Asking for tips and requesting videos of the basketball game Scoota attended before his death, they set up a special number witnesses could text. Police said they have been receiving a number of tips, unusual here when the story tends to focus on how uncooperative people are with the Baltimore Police.

On Monday evening, West Baltimore came out to Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate Scoota’s life. Children stood on cars and did the ‘Bird Flu’ dance and people screamed out his lyrics. It was a large and extended celebration that recalls the spontaneous joy of protests in the days after Freddie Gray’s death—that same kind of partying to keep from crying. People paraded up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, doing the ‘Bird Flu.’ It was all reminiscent of the rather infamous funeral procession of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. in 1997, but with Baltimore’s signature flare.

It also paralleled Biggie’s funeral procession because back in 1997, B.I.G. mourners too were met with police in riot gear.

The crowd began to swell around 7 p.m. and so did the police presence. Mourners moved into the street and as many refused to go home, some police put on riot gear and ordered them to disperse. Outside of the perimeter of the police set up, people walked up to officers with their IDs out in the hopes of getting home. Police ordered them to find another way back. As police established a line, dirt bikers rode up in recreational defiance.

One man did a rather Bird Flu dance-like shuffle in front of the police as several activists and other community leaders, including Green Party mayoral candidate Joshua Harris, helped to ease tensions. Catherine Pugh, Democratic candidate for mayor, was there too.

In the end, the night remained peaceful thanks to community organizers, including Tyree Colion, who had helped organize the Unity Rally, and others who negotiated with the police. There were three arrests.

Kesharna Horne, who knew Scoota well and helped organize the vigil, encouraged people to go home when it got tense. Still, she said later that police “ruined something that wasn’t supposed to be ruined.”

There were no photos allowed inside Wylie Funeral Home where Lor Scoota was on view on Thursday.

Outside in the parking lot, 92Q’s Lil Black hosted a tribute party to Scoota, which included local rappers, community members, spoken-word artists, and more. The two most common refrains of the day were “Stop the violence” and “Scoota up next.” Police hovered in the distance and the Foxtrot helicopter circled—something that attendees frequently commented on. Members of Safe Streets meanwhile, hung around the crowd and some even danced a little.

Briefly, the viewing was closed after a photo of Scoota’s body made it onto social media. Lil Black encouraged everyone to report it to Twitter and to not retweet it. On the Internet, where nothing goes away, it’s rather hard to locate the photo—more tangible evidence of just how revered Scoota was.

And save for quick appearances by Shy Glizzy (sporting a YBS hat), YBS Scola, and dirtbiker Chino Braxton, which sent the crowd back toward the funeral home and then to Glizzy’s car, nothing got people going like Scoota’s music. Kids breathlessly, artfully did the ‘Bird Flu’ dance and then bounced up and down to ‘Panda’ and repeated. Both songs played at least a dozen times each across the two or so hours and the response grew each time. Look, it was a party and you can’t really put a party into words.

It was also an example of Baltimore’s ability to hold two opposing ideas in its mind at the same time. Scoota’s oft-brutal music brings people together.

Anybody who took the stage to speak—emotionally raw rappers, impassioned preachers, sensible community organizers, real talk-delivering poets—was second to Scoota.
To close the evening, DJ Manny, Scoota’s touring DJ, rushed through a supercut of Scoota classics. As the crowd began to slowly amble away from Wylie and toward Fulton Street, Minister Marvin McKenstry Jr. told them to remain peaceful and calm and that he’ll see everybody at the funeral the next day.

"Make sure [the police] have no reason," to do anything to them, he added.

Nick Mosby stood in front of Scoota’s white casket in the center of Jamal Bryant’s Faith Empowerment Temple and told 700 mourners of all ages that, “[Scoota] was Baltimore and Baltimore was him.” He called Scoota a “hood poet, a trap poet” who rapped about “what people go through on a daily basis.”

In Bryant’s eulogy, a mash-up of the Biblical story of killing the messenger Saul and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he addressed the drugs and violence in Scoota’s lyrics.

“You can’t be mad with the messenger,” he said. “If you don’t like the message, change what the messenger is seeing.”

Bryan also delivered an 'Ether'-level diss track of a speech aimed at those in the city with all power. He called Scoota “an incredible Baltimorean” and insulted nearly everyone else, including the Baltimore Sun, NPR, the cops, and local politicians. “Get out of my pocket” was the theme as Bryant highlighted how the black community is exploited from all sides by, he said, Korean business owners, “Arabs who will sell you fried chicken...then act like they don’t need you,” and “Vietnamese hair sellers” who “don’t mind selling you a weave as long as there’s nothing on your mind.”

“I wish the police would come in riot gear and surround Annapolis, where the real looters are,” he added, tying the issues surrounding the Baltimore Uprising such as frequent divestment and profound segregation to the reasons for Scoota and so many others like him's tough come-up.

Amid photos of Scoota on the funeral program, including one in which he is reaching from the gates of heaven, there were quotes from Scoota’s songs. A line from ‘Letter To Mom’ (“Thank you for everything you did...I ain’t forget what you taught me ma, I ain’t forget, I love you”) shared the page with a loaded line from ‘Feel It In The Air’: “And if I die, my campaign gonna start a riot.”

At one point early on, Scoota’s mother wept and stomped her feet in front of the casket.

After the service, Scoota’s casket was carried out into a hearse. Mourners left blasting Scoota songs as they turned onto Reisterstown Road, headed to the public celebration of the rapper organized by Stand Up Baltimore.

There, more 'Bird Flu' dancing, more joy-tinged remembrance, as well as an increasingly palpable frustration with media who didn't even know of Scoota until he was murdered. Many spoke continuing the theme of change and anti-violence as residents ate burgers and hot dogs cooked up Shorty Davis. Lt. Melvin Russell of the Baltimore Police led to the group in fervid prayer, eyes closed, microphone in one hand, a styrofoam snowball cup in the other hand. 

The news of Scoota’s death drummed up an immediate and simultaneous mix of rage and resignation, though neither sentiment ever overtook the other. That’s possibly a distinctly Baltimore feeling. Hardly a surprise at all that it happened, but still, really though? We want things to be just one way, but things are not just one way, ever. Still, “rapper shot up in his car leaving a peace rally” is just irresistibly ripe with meaning. But so are so many other moments from Scoota’s life.

There is Scoota in the video for the ‘Bird Flu’ remix, rocking a fresh Orioles jersey, big handsome smile on his face, Shy Glizzy by his side, rapping effusively, excitedly, shrewdly about the drugs he’s going to sell and the desperate people that will cop them—a canny confession of how he got a little more cold and dead inside. ‘Bird Flu’ is all inconvenient truths. “Drug money gonna buy you what you want,” Scoota raps at one point, taking the radical pragmatism of the streets, which confounds so many, and making it obvious and, well, haplessly fun to hear.

And then there’s Scoota hunched forward holding a children’s book about Martin Luther King Jr., a bunch of Samuel Coleridge Elementary School students staring up at him.

As he finishes reading one of the pages announcing the victories of the civil rights movement, he offers up his own take before turning to the next page.

“So, all that marching, Martin Luther King everything he was doing for us,” he says. “They finally agreed to just let us all sit wherever we want, eat wherever want, drink from whatever water fountain we want, because we didn’t use violence and stuff.”

When he talks, he distributes his eye contact across the whole group of kids as if to make sure no one is given more of his attention than another.

In ‘Bird Flu,’ Scoota is a voice of the streets.

In that classroom, a voice for the streets.

He was very good at playing both roles.

Additional reporting by Edward Ericson Jr., Reginald Thomas II, and Baynard Woods.

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