By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
By Ashley Zimmerman
By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
By Ashley Zimmerman
In 2004, Gunplay married a 23-year-old Bahamian woman named Phillippa Tanya McCartney. But the union didn't last long. The couple divorced four years later and share custody of their 8-year-old son, Richard III. (Gunplay also has a daughter with his current squeeze.)
After Ross' breakout 2006 hit, "Hustlin'," Gunplay quit his day job at KB Toys but kept peddling nickel and dime bags. And his own drug use intensified. During a photo shoot for Ozone magazine a year later, he swallowed a Molotov cocktail of Ecstasy, purple drank, yeyo, weed, and Xanax. "That day, I told myself my new name is Five-Drug Minimum," Gunplay says proudly.
His drug-related criminal history is surprisingly bare. He was popped in 2001 on two felony counts of weed possession and tampering with evidence, but one charge was dropped and the other withheld from adjudication; in 2009, he was busted in Pembroke Pines for illegal possession of a firearm and misdemeanor pot possession, which landed him two years of probation.
But onstage he became a caricature. He was the goon in Ross' entourage, the guy responsible for procuring ganja buds and starting beefs. In 2009, a visibly inebriated Gunplay called out 50 Cent in a grainy cell phone video posted on You Tube. During concerts, he often looked like he just cleaned out a Walgreens pharmacy counter.
Yet Gunplay believed he could make his own mark as a rapper and not a character. In 2010, he scored his first commercial hit, "Rollin'," a gangster party anthem with Waka Flocka Flame. In early 2012, he won over critics and mainstream listeners with his bars on Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar's "Cartoon & Cereal."
The rapper also got press for his outlandish ink, including a swastika he unapologetically had etched into his upper back. In an interview with hip-hop blog Pigeons & Planes, he summed up the tat as his "symbol of genocide to the bullshit. Mass murdering the bullshit... I came to Hitler, that motherfucker."
His headline-baiting personality and powerful delivery led Def Jam to sign him.
Then, last spring, it all began unraveling. On April 14, 2012, Gunplay was caught on a security camera pulling a semiautomatic pistol on a North Miami accountant named Turron Woodside and grabbing him by the throat. When the rapper's friend Randy Devon Jones tried to intervene, Gunplay bitch-slapped Woodside in the face with the butt of the gun. Before fleeing, he snatched a diamond necklace off the bean counter's desk.
A month later, in March 2012, Miami-Dade prosecutors viewed that same security tape and filed armed robbery and aggravated assault charges. Even worse, the footage made the rounds on the internet, from TMZ to WorldStarHipHop. Gunplay's side of the story goes like this: Woodside had cheated him out of money. His volatile reaction was exactly what you'd expect from a Carol City rough rider.
Facing serious time in prison, Gunplay did what came naturally: He got out of Dodge. He spent five months shacked up in a flophouse in Atlanta and released a mixtape on the sly featuring his deepest song to date, "Bible on the Dash." The song's hook explains his state of mind: "I got a problem and a plan, revolver in my hand/Trying to keep it cold, but y'all don't understand."
Eventually, though, he took his lawyer's advice and returned to Miami, turning himself in to police October 10. He was released on a $150,000 bond and placed on house arrest, and spent the next three months making new tracks, playing Xbox, and contemplating the life sentence hanging over his head.
His trial was set to begin this past February. But before jury selection, prosecutors dropped the charges. Woodside had left town and refused to continue cooperating.
Gunplay insists he's become a better person through the ordeal. "I've realized I can't deal with niggas like I normally deal with them in the hood," he says. "If you put words in my mouth, I can't punch you in the mouth, break your kneecaps, or do any other stupid shit."
Before he heads back inside to record another track, Gunplay shows off his newest tattoo: a razor blade slicing his left wrist, and blood pouring out of his vein.
"It means the old me is dead," he says. "The stubborn, disrespectful motherfucker who got money one day only to be broke the next is gone. I stopped not giving a fuck all the time. Sometimes, you have to give a fuck."
Ben Bell rides through the parking lot of a dilapidated public apartment complex at NW 185th Street and 29th Avenue. He points at a crumbling façade.
"These apartments used to be called the 'pink and white buildings," the Carol City music producer says. "This is where Flo Rida was born and raised. He shot one of his videos over by the basketball court."
The CD player in Bell's beat-up white Chevrolet Caprice blasts tracks by one of his own artists, Beast Mode. "Carol City was once a thriving middle-class, mixed-race community," he rhapsodizes. "Now we've got countless murders on a daily basis, and the crime rate is at an all-time high."
As its native sons teeter between violence, prison, and rap greatness, the town that birthed them is still fighting its own struggle for stability. More than a decade after its gang wars ended, Carol City has never come close to regaining its distinction as a safe middle-class black neighborhood.