For a stretch of time in the mid-2010s, the voice of PnB Rock was inescapable on hip-hop radio. Almost as soon as he arrived on the national scene from Philadelphia, he was in demand, a master of the hip-hop hook, soaring on YFN Lucci's "Everyday We Lit" and Kodak Black's sentimental smash "Too Many Years." Crossover success wasn't far behind — from his song "Horses" off the "Fate of the Furious" soundtrack and from his 2019 feature alongside Chance the Rapper on Ed Sheeran's song "Cross Me."
Fans were drawn to his style of melodic rapping, shining on choruses that burrowed into ears. The emotion and vulnerability in his lyrics resonated too, whether Rock was singing a tribute to the friends he'd lost or a love song to the woman on his mind.
"He made honest music that reflected how a lot of us feel in this city and how a lot of us have felt for a long time," said John Morrison, a writer and DJ from Philadelphia whose work has appeared on NPR, Bandcamp Daily and more. "Folks in my age group, folks younger than me, across the board."
Monday afternoon, however, PnB Rock became the latest artist to fall victim to gun violence in Los Angeles. While eating with his girlfriend, Stephanie Sibounheuang, at Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles in South L.A., an unknown assailant tried to rob him of his jewelry and shot him multiple times before running out a side door.
Less than an hour after the shooting, Rock, 30, was pronounced dead at a local hospital. A suspect hasn't been named.
Fans, collaborators and industry figures mourned the death of yet another young hip-hop artist. Many also decried the gruesome video of his final moments that rapidly spread on Twitter.
"Rip dawg you didn’t deserve that," fellow Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill tweeted. "Every time I see one of my friends bleed out on camera or killed on camera, I feel a sick feeling I can’t even really explain… it puts me more and more back in survival mentality!"
Rock was born Rakim Allen in Philadelphia on Dec. 9, 1991. Life would challenge him early; his father-figure uncle was murdered when he was a child, leaving his mother to raise him and his four brothers on her own. Rock's mother soon moved the family to a suburb in northeast Philadelphia in an attempt to keep her children on the straight-and-narrow, but soon enough, Rock was sent to a youth detention center after robbing a kid in the neighborhood.
The incident severed his relationship with his girlfriend at the time, who was so sure of his innocence that she ran over to the police, emphatic that they'd arrested the wrong guy.
"She was 100 percent sure [I didn't do it]," he told Vice in 2017. "I was living a double life. I didn't want to scare her and her family. They accepted me into their house."
After serving time in prison for committing more robberies, he decided to try his hand at music, seeking to follow in Drake's footsteps after hearing his landmark album "Take Care." He dropped his debut mixtape "Real N— Bangaz" in 2014, and within Philadelphia, his music connected instantly.
Even early in his career, Rock wanted to bring a tougher, street edge to his singing, preceding the current wave of R&B artists such as Brent Faiyaz and 6lack who are heavily influenced by rap. When he put out "RnB 2" at the end of 2014, the music boomed out of car speakers across the city, especially "My City Needs Something," written in response to an increase of shootings in his hometown.
"Younger heads in Philly were playing his music everywhere," Morrison said. "For Philadelphia, our music scene is still very neighborhood based and communal. You'll go to somebody's neighborhood and hear what they're playing. Our new artists still catch fire from the underground up."
In 2015, Rock scored his first national hit with "Fleek," turning the term from a viral Vine video into a song that put him on the national map. Through haunting keys and an infectious chorus that blurred the line between singing and rapping, he established the formula for his future hits.
One year and one day after he released "Fleek," he followed it up with "Selfish," which became his highest charting solo song, peaking at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2017, he was named to XXL magazine's prestigious Freshman Class (alongside, among others, Playboi Carti, A Boogie With Da Hoodie and XXXTentacion). By that time, he was a beacon of light to aspiring artists back home.
"As influential as we've been as a city, the number of rappers from here who have made it to the mainstream, you can run down the list and it isn't that long," Morrison said of Rock's post-stardom impact within Philadelphia. "[He made] deeply emotional, soulful music. To see young people here resonate with that emotionally, and then see that guy making that kind of music pop off and get bigger, is a special thing."
Rock would go on to collaborate with some of rap's biggest stars; Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, Lil Baby, Lil Durk and Pop Smoke, among them. (All told, Rock appeared on eight Billboard Hot 100 hits.) He also worked with hometown hero Meek Mill on his 2018 single "Dangerous" alongside R&B singer Jeremih.
Rock's reach stretched to Los Angeles when he linked up with rising star 03 Greedo in 2017 for "Beat That Thang Down." Greedo shared his dismay at the loss of another artist on Instagram Monday night, posting images of the two together from the song's music video.
Most recently, PNB Rock had parted ways with Atlantic Records, seeking to secure a larger slice of the pie on his own. He had just released his first independent song, "Luv Me Again," on Sept. 2. Just 10 days later, Rock was killed in broad daylight. He leaves behind two daughters, ages 2 and 8.
"It's sad, it's frustrating, it's deeply traumatic, it's exhausting," Morrison said. "It's just like being retraumatized over and over and over again. To see this young man who had a hell of a future in front of him be taken away from his family and the people that love him, is just infuriating."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.