"When I got a little more money, I bought myself a sampler," he says. "I'd sample a beat and write lyrics to that beat all day."
He studied Busta Rhymes and Wu-Tang Clan and mimicked them in his bedroom mirror.
"I did my homework on every aspect of hip-hop," he says, incorporating gritty events he witnessed in real life. "I seen a nigga get his head bashed in with a bat," he growls. "I seen motherfuckers get shot up in their cars on the highway. I seen slimy hos set a nigga up to get robbed. If you really listen to my music, you realize this is what I am rapping about."
As he got deeper into the drug game, though, Gunplay forgot to follow Ice Cube's advice in the N.W.A. classic "Dopeman" about not getting high on your own supply. By the time he turned 18, he was spending $600 to $700 a week on drugs. "All my homies sold it; nobody really did it," he says. "But I didn't give a fuck."
His life changed in 1997 when he met an overweight former state corrections officer named William Leonard Roberts II. "He would just be swerving through the hood, hanging out in Carol City," Gunplay says. "We just clicked. He took me under his wing."
As Roberts transformed into Rick Ross, Gunplay — alongside fellow Carol City rappers Torch and Young Breed — formed the group Triple C's, short for "Carol City Cartel." He supported Ross during the Bawse's lean years, driving with him up and down I-95, hitting strip clubs, and sleeping in $30-a-night hooker motels while hustling mixtapes.
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."