Remember My Name
King Von speaks on his come up two weeks before his tragic death.
Words: Eric Ducker
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
On Nov. 6, 2020, hip-hop lost one of its most promising talents when Chicago rapper King Von, 26, was shot and killed outside the Monaco Hookah Lounge in Atlanta, just one week after the release of his debut album, Welcome to O’Block. Around 3 a.m., an altercation between two crews turned into a shootout that also involved two officers from the Atlanta Police Department—one working as off-duty security for the club. In addition to Von, Chi-Town native Mark Blakely was killed during the incident and four people were injured including Savannah, Ga.’s Timothy Leeks. Leeks, 22, was arrested a day later while at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and charged with Von’s murder. The APD now says the case is closed.
Three days after the incident, King Von’s manager, Jameson Francois, who was with Von at the hookah lounge and was shot in the leg that night, appeared on DJ Akademiks’ YouTube channel to tell the story of what happened. Francois explained that the shooting resulted from a physical altercation between Von and an individual Francois hesitated to name at first but eventually identified as “Quando” or “Quan”—Savannah, Ga. rapper Quando Rondo. The internet had been buzzing before Francois’ interview with rumors that Von was fighting Quando before he was shot. Two security camera tapes of the incident, recorded from different angles, show Von fighting with someone before a gun went off, but everyone else was hard to recognize. Websleuths also believed they identified Leeks on camera by matching the grainy image of the shooter with photos from Leeks’ Instagram. Leeks posted the day before showing him and Quando wearing the same outfits they allegedly had on in the security footage.
Exactly two weeks after Von’s murder, on Nov. 20, Quando, who had been completely quiet since the shooting, dropped the song “End of Story,” addressing the incident and ultimately confirming his involvement. “Lul Timmy riding right or wrong” and “Damn right we screaming self-defense, he shouldn’t’ve never put his hands on me/Look at the footage, that’s all the evidence, see them pussy niggas shouldn’t’ve ran up on me,” Quando raps. His lyrics lead to speculation that Leeks will be claiming self-defense in his case, but none of that was known at press time. Whatever happens next with the case remains to be seen. Unfortunately, Von’s death has been added to a list of hip-hop tragedies that have plagued the culture, particularly over the past three years. And Von’s career was just getting started.
King Von, born Dayvon Bennett, entered the game in 2018, and was signed to OTF (Only The Family), the label of childhood friend, Lil Durk, and also Empire Distribution, Records and Publishing Inc. That same year, Von released his breakout single, “Crazy Story.” Vibrating with vivid details and sly asides, the record established Von as the rare modern rapper who excelled in the lost art of storytelling. Before his death, XXL planned to feature King Von in this issue’s Show & Prove section, a showcase for emerging artists. What follows is one of King Von’s final interviews, conducted on Oct. 22. The Q&A offers a quick glimpse of where he came from and where his life may have gone.
R.I.P. King Von.
XXL: Where are you?
King Von: Shit, I’m in my new house.
Where is that?
It’s like 50 minutes out of Atlanta.
Is it quiet?
Quiet as hell.
You like that or does it get boring?
It’s good. It’s great.
Why have you been staying in Atlanta?
Because this was where Durk was at. Durk picked it. It’s the only place I had to go other than Chicago, so I came out here with him.
Do you miss Chicago?
Nah, I see Chicago often. I go out there, so nah, I don’t miss it. It’s right there.
Did you always live on O’Block? Did you grow up there?
Have to ask my mama. I was 9 or 10, but it wasn’t O’Block at the time, it was Parkway Gardens. Before that, we were living on 78th and Wolcott. Before that we were living in low income places, but my grandma lived on 78th and Walcott. She lived right there. We was still living over there, but my mama moved to Parkway when I was 9 or 10, so my grandma still lived there. So, you know how that go. You got to your grandma’s house to go to school. I was going to school by my grandma’s house, but I was living with my mama over there, so around 7, 8 o’clock I’d go over there, then in the morning go back to granny’s house to go to school-type shit.
When you moved to Parkway, did you know any of the kids who lived there?
I ain’t know nobody. I was too young. They was shooting a lot, so we’d be on the floor a lot. My mama [would] say, “Don’t go outside. It’s too bad out there.” But I’d be bored in the house and shit. I’d beg her to go outside and I’d go outside and get into fights and shit. That’s when I’d get to knowing people. I’d go out there and get into a fight. There were some bad kids out there. You get to fighting each other and next thing you know, you’re cool. They see me again, we back fighting, then we cool. I got to hang with people and shit.
That’s how you get to know people.
Yeah, you got to fight first.
When did you start rapping? When did that become something you were interested in doing?
Like three years. It’s been three years since the first song been out, “Beat Dat Body.” Me and [THF Bay] Zoo. He beat his murder too, so we made a song called “Beat Dat Body.” I started rapping [at] that time.
Is that when you started taking it seriously?
That was when I first started getting on the mic and shit.
You weren’t even thinking about it?
People would talk to me about it in jail. A lot of niggas was getting at me, like, “Durk fucks with you. You need to go rap and shit. You can do it.” But I was like, “Nah, I’m going to let him rap and I’m going to figure out something else.”
So why did you start?
Because the other shit I was figuring out ain’t work. I was going down a list of shit I could do. There’s only so many options if a nigga like you has felonies and shit. This one wasn’t working for me. This one wasn’t going right. I ain’t good at this. This is gonna get you a lot of time, so I’ma try rapping.
Was it easy?
Shit, nah, it ain’t easy. I’m good at shit though. The first time I do something, I’ll probably be good at it. Say there’s a garbage can over there or whatever and see who hits it first. I’ll probably hit it first. You know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but I’m good at shit, so I figured it out early.
Was anyone giving you advice or pointers when you first began to rap?
It’s crazy. If I look back, I saw like, you know how movies be and shit, like you watch the beginning of movies to the end, and shit’s giving you hints all the way to the end. Then at the end you’re like, “I should have saw that comin’.” It was hints all through my life. People would tell me, “You got the image so you should do it.” I had a nigga in jail, my homie in jail, he got like 72 years or some shit. When I told him when I was in jail I was going to try [rapping], he was like, “A song and shit, you can get it. I ain’t gettin’ out in no time. My dream is to rap. You’ve got the energy, you know Durk, you could do it.” I didn’t listen to him, but he used to be in the back of my head. That’s my homie. That’s a nigga I met in jail.
Did you start when you were in jail?
Nah, I ain’t start. I kept that in mind, though. The plan wasn’t to rap. So, I got out for a year. I got back in the streets, back out here. Then, it wasn’t workin’, like, I kept going broke. I kept finding myself back at zero. I kept finding myself in trouble, so I told Durk, “I’m ready to rap now. I’m ready.” And that’s when I started.
What did Durk say?
He said, “C’mon, but you really gotta want to do it. Ain’t no holding no hands or nothing like that. You want to do it, you got to do it.”
How did you meet Durk in the first place?
We from the hood. Parkway. Just growing up in the neighborhood.
You got out of prison in 2017, after serving three years, for murder and attempted murder, before the charges were officially dropped. On “Armed & Dangerous,” the first track of your new album, you talk about how when you got out of prison, you saw that all the tensions and conflicts in Chicago neighborhoods were now familiar to people around the world because of the popularity of the music and Chicago artists. Was that strange? That this local situation was now a global concern? That people outside of Chicago were paying attention?
It’s been goin’ on for a minute. It’s been going on for 10 years plus, you feel me? How long [Chief] Keef been rapping and shit? And Durk been rapping? It’s normal now. They been doing that since 2010, ’11. You see what I’m sayin’? I’m gettin’ bigger, you just got to know how to handle that shit. People goin’ to be up in your business now. You’ve got money and the shit that comes with the fame. They in your business, you’ve got to walk lightly. Give positive vibes out even though what we rappin’ about is really just entertainment right now. It’s just music. The people, they watchin’, they know what it is, so what the fuck you gonna do? Ain’t nothin’ to do.
How was making this new album different than your other projects? Has it all been done during these last months during the pandemic?
It’s really just working. It’s me back at it, steady workin’. New material, just getting better. It’s just me upgrading, me developing, getting older. I just started. This is really my first real project coming out.
Was there any style or type of songs that you hadn’t done before that you were interested in trying?
Nah, I be trying really everything. This time around I got some melodies in now. I got some shit called “Demon.” That shit different. I be comin’ at that bitch in Auto-Tune. I be singin’ on the bitch. I put some feelings into that one. What else I got? I got slow shit for the hoes. I got some shit I came with, I don’t want to say, “Fuck that nigga,” but it ain’t straight drill, straight kill. It’s talking about some female shit. It’s some different type, it’s some real street shit. Everybody’s going to relate to it. We on the same pattern, we just going up. It’s developing, it’s getting better, everything getting better, the sound and shit. The wordplay, the storytelling, I got big stories. Ooh, the stories. I’ve got another story for ya. It’s bigger. It’s more dramatic, too. It’s more slow tempo. It’s more movie-like. How “Crazy Story” give you that… This one give you that sit-down-and-look-it-type story.
Talk about the storytelling songs. Do you think about the whole plot before you start writing, or does the story develop as you’re writing?
It depends. I did it different ways. I’ve got a few stories on this one, but the one I’m talking about, the big dramatic one, that’s crazy. I ain’t really overthink it. I didn’t think it from the back to the front at first. With “Crazy Story,” I thought it from the back to the front. I thought about the ending first, then what’s going to happen. I’m gonna try to rob a nigga and I’m going to end up not robbing him. I end up getting into it with some other niggas. So, I had that in mind comin’ in with that. This one, I have that. I just went in and I felt it. I’m just goin’ to talk about this young nigga. I’m going to talk about my little homie, whatever comes to my head. My little homie doing the story, he’s doing all types of shit, robbin’ muthafuckas, he got to shooting muthafuckas, he got to tweakin’ in that bitch.
What’s that song called?
“Wayne’s Story.” You gonna say we went crazy on that. I’m going to make it like a trilogy. It’s gonna be another shit you can look forward to. They been killing me about the “Crazy Story.” They want four or five, so I’m going to throw this one out there. They going to want two or three after this. It’s a good story. It’s really dramatic, suspense, all that. It’s nice. Good characters in there.
You have said before that some of your stories are inspired by the books you were reading in prison.
Yeah, real life and then the books is what helped me. Art designers paint that picture so well. The books paint the best picture. They gonna give you everything. That shit helped me. I get to reading that. When I read, my mind be sometimes, I read, I don’t know if everybody do it, but you’ll be into it so good you’ll be reading a book you don’t even know what you readin’ no more. You’re in your thoughts. I be getting into my thoughts. I be thinking about some whole other shit, but I’m reading, looking at the pages, but I’m somewhere else thinking about some real shit. I get caught in that zone.
Were there any writers that you particularly liked to read?
Sister Souljah, I fucks with her. The nigga JaQuavis and Ashley, I fucks with them. They made The Cartel. Some Muslim guy, man, he made [The] Ultimate Sacrifice, 1, 2, 3. They some Muslim brothers, I think one of them is locked up. I fuck with they shit. They go crazy. I fucks with the Twilight books, that shit was decent.
I read a lot of books.
Would you ever write a book?
I wrote a book. I got a book I wrote when I was a kid. When I was 9. It was just a school project so they made it a hardcover. It’s at my mama’s house. I wrote a book about going to the store.
I was 8 or 9. That shit’s crazy. I’m going to show you all one day. I want to write a book for sure. I just don’t know what it’s about, though. I think I got to write a tell-all book and just release it when I die.
You could write fiction.
I can do that, but this book would be better. That shit would be crazy. So, I gotta do some shit like that, but make sure someone release it as soon as I die. That shit would be crazy.
Chicago producer Chopsquad has been doing a lot of work with you lately. How did the two of you link up?
I met Chopsquad through Durk. On the road when Durk was doing his shows, before I was even rapping. I’d just be on the road with Durk, that’s my muthafuckin’ boy. We was in the hotel room and shit and [Chopsquad] came in, talking that shit. I was like, “Who the fuck is this nigga?” You know what I’m sayin’? But he was making songs with Durk and shit. I didn’t care about it. I don’t make songs, I’m just lookin’ at his little chain and he got some money on him. I’m just steady lookin’ at him. That’s how I met him and shit, but then I started rapping and he got to fuckin’ with me and shit. So, I’m with Durk, I’m going through beats. I was like, “You give me beats. I can go crazy on this shit.”
Some of your tracks you wrote without a beat at all. Are you still doing that?
Sometimes when I go back in my bed, I just brought my notes here. I got a lot of papers I wrote in jail, so I go back. If there’s a song that I fuck with so hard, like I did most of them that I fuck with the hardest. All the shit hard, but I still got some that I can do. So, I’ll go back and read them, get the flow, rap ’em how rap ’em, how I think it’s supposed to sound, because it’s been a minute so I probably forget the flow or something. I’ll try to get it back, put it together and I record it in a voice memo then I’ll send it to the nigga DJ Chopsquad and he make the beat and sent that shit right back and then I get [it] and I do it. That’s how I do it with the shit I was writing. I wrote “Took Her to the O” [and] “How It Go” in jail. I wrote “Crazy Story” on the bus. I wrote [“The Code”] with Polo G. I wrote a lot of shit. I wrote some decent amount of shit.
Are you writing less now?
Ain’t no time to write. I’m just going in there and play the music, play the beat and I’ll see what I come up with. Let me bob my head. Let me sit there and catch the beat real quick. Let me see what sounds decent.
Do you think you can do that because you’ve been rapping for longer now?
Yeah, of course. You do something enough, you get better at it if you keep doing it. It’s only a matter of time. I’m getting the gist of it. If I had time, I could sit down and write. I could write a book for you, but I ain’t got time. I got shit to do. I got studio time here, so I ain’t trying to listen to no beats. I used to listen to beats all day. I had time. I would sit on my couch and play a beat and I could sit there and write to it. Or I could just sit and come up with something with a pen, but I ain’t got no time.
If you’ve got no time anymore, what are you busy with? With everything going on in the country now, what’s keeping you busy?
We still got shows. I’m booked up every weekend for the next few weeks. The studio. Taking care of regular shit. Shit be going on, family shit, everything. Still got cases. Still gotta do this, do that. Gotta stay afloat. Still got to shoot videos. Still gotta record. Still got to execute. Ain’t enough [time] to really go sit down. I’m trying to work, I got to be healthy.
You’ve said before that when you first started rapping that this felt like the right option for you.
It ain’t feel like the right option, it was the last option. I did everything else. What else could I do that I’m good at? That I could excel at? This is one of the choices, one of the options I had.
Have more options opened up for you?
Of course, because there’s money involved now. Money opens up more, for real. Now there’s all type of avenues, all type.
Check out more from XXL’s Winter 2020 issue including our DaBaby cover story, an introduction to DaBaby's Billion Dollar Baby Entertainment label roster, an interview with South Coast Music Group founder Arnold Taylor, who discovered and signed DaBaby, and more.
See Photos of XXL Magazine's Winter 2020 Cover Shoot With DaBaby