WSB-TV reports that Shawty Lo, the Atlanta rapper and founder of the group D4L, was killed in a car crash last night in Atlanta. His Audi crashed over a guardrail and hit several trees. Shawty Lo was ejected from the car and died on the scene, and two women who were riding in the car have been hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. The crash was originally reported as a hit-and-run, but police have since determined that it was a single-car crash. Shawty Lo was 40.
Born Carlos Walker, Shawty Lo grew up in the Atlanta neighborhood of Bankhead. In 2003, he rounded up a group of charismatic local rappers and founded the group D4L. The center of attention within the group was Fabo, the rubbery-voiced weirdo with the athletic dance moves. But Shawty Lo, a street guy with a slow and haggard delivery, was the one who put the operation in motion.
In 2005, D4L released the sparse, catchy debut album Down For Life, an album that pushed forward the bloopy, minimal snap music sound that was just starting to ascend within Atlanta. At the time, plenty dismissed snap music as fluffy, substance-free “ringtone rap,” but its sonic spareness has proven to be a huge influence on Southern and West Coast rap over the past decade. D4L hit #1 on the Billboard charts with their infernal dance hit “Laffy Taffy” in January 2006, but its deep cuts, like the freaked-out cult favorite “Scotty,” are its true legacy.
In 2007, Shawty Lo went solo with the euphoric, horn-drenched single “Dey Know,” which proved to be huge both in its original form and in the all-star remix that featured a peaking, exploding Lil Wayne. Shawty Lo would make more street hits after that: “Dunn Dunn,” “Foolish,” “I’m Da Man.” In 2008, he released his solo debut Units In The City. Around the same time, he got into a brief but noisy feud with T.I. over who better represented the neighborhood of Bankhead; the two eventually settled things and appeared onstage together in 2009.
Shawty Lo’s career would decline after that, but he’d stay busy, releasing his King Of Bankhead mixtape in 2014 and working to open up a Southern subsidiary of G-Unit Records. In 2013, the Oxygen network planned to air the reality show All My Babies’ Mamas, which would’ve starred Shawty Lo, his 11 children, and their 10 mothers. But after online protests about the way the show perpetuated stereotypes, Oxygen canceled it without airing any episodes.
Shawty Lo wasn’t the most versatile or technically gifted rapper, but he had a powerful, low-key charisma, and he had a great sense of which songs to pick. His influence helped power snap music from a local phenomenon to, briefly, the dominant sound in rap music. And at the 2008 Hot 97 Summer Jam, I watched him lead an entire football stadium, tens of thousands of people, in the arms-jogging dance from the “Dey Know” video. Below, watch some video evidence of what he did.