Robert Labranche was arrested 27 times, spent much of his early life in and out of jail and was so poor that he said he used to eat garbage while growing up in Liberty City.
But by the time he was in his mid-20s, Labranche had reinvented himself as a South Florida rapper named “Bizzle,” He was an entrepreneur known for paying it forward by helping to get kids in his community off the street.
He owned a car wash, an entertainment company, a window-tinting business and at one time ran a seafood restaurant. He was a father of two small children, whose last message about them would prove prophetic.
Labranche, 37, was shot multiple times Monday night outside his Liberty City car wash with his children in his SUV, parked just steps away. They were not injured and did not see their father killed, police said.
Labranche, whose music is popular in Miami-area strip clubs, created his own record label, Chowtime Entertainment in 2000. Two of his songs, Lip-biting Animal, and Naked Hustle, were considered strip-club anthems. He used social media to promote the songs, which were widely played in Florida nightclubs. He also organized massive parties aboard yachts and at clubs, featuring DJs and exotic dancers.
“He cleaned up his life in his mid-twenties. After having kids he wanted to do legitimate business ventures,” said Alex Pierre-Louis, his former business manager.
Labranche was a respected businessman who employed young men at his Magic City Car Wash on Northwest 54th Street and Seventh Avenue, friends and family said.
“He did a lot for people in the community. He’d rather you make money washing cars than hustling on the streets,” said Daniel Jean-Charles, a friend.
On Tuesday, a steady stream of friends and family gathered at the car wash to remember the man known for his catchy club hits, but also for his generosity and sense of humor.
“For me, he was a loving big brother always there for me when I needed him,” said Joe Smith, a childhood friend. “This here is senseless.”
Friends said they believed that the killer may have been an employee with whom he had had a dispute, but there was no motive or suspect as of Tuesday.
Labranche’s younger brother was too grief-stricken to speak with reporters.
On his Myspace page, Labranche wrote about his troubled childhood, noting that he spent a good deal of it in jail. But he eventually turned to music, finding comfort in artists like Gloria Estefan and 2Live Crew, whom he said aided his path to recovery.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bizzle had been arrested 27 times, on charges ranging from cocaine possession to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. But his last arrest was in 2008, and since then, he had come to appreciate being a father and helping others, his friends said.
Five hours before he was killed, he posted on his Instagram “Never tell your problems to anyone. 20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.”
According to Miami police, officers on patrol heard shots about 8 p.m. and began canvassing the area. They found Labranche’s body on the ground in the corner of the car wash.
Labranche’s two children, both younger than 10, were inside an SUV he was apparently driving at the time.
“Fortunately they didn’t see the incident,” Miami police spokesman William Moreno said. “They were on the other side of the building.”
Initially, Labranche was mistaken by several television stations as another rapper, also named Bizzle. That Bizzle, also known as Lavyss, lives in Los Angeles and specializes in Christian rap music.
“Man, Praying for Bizzle AKA Chowtime’s family,’’ the rapper wrote on his Facebook page after hearing about the killing. “I know a lot of you are happy it’s not me, but it’s still REAL for his fam. They don’t get to find out that it’s not true. His children were with him at the time and now their lives are changed forever. Keep them lifted up in prayer!”
“This is someone who was definitely loved in the community,” Moreno said of Labranche.
Two relatives were briefly detained and removed from the crime scene, Moreno said, to protect evidence.
Bizzle started his label in 2000 and managed several local artists. He also ran a restaurant, Inner City Seafood, at 4350 NW 17th Ave., before reinvesting in his own music in 2006. He performed at a pep rally at Miami Beach High and also in local clubs.
Tampa-based DJ Smallz, said Bizzle’s single Naked Hustle, which was released in 2008, catapulted the Miami rapper’s name beyond South Florida. A video of it posted on Youtube shows him singing it in a strip club amid pole dancers.
“It’s a classic club record that will never die. It’s part of Florida club music history,” said DJ Smallz. "The song took a life of its own and spread like wildfire .”
At the time he was killed, Labranche was splitting time between Miami and Alabama, where he planned to open a nightclub. He also organized bus trips for people to come to South Beach for Urban Beach Weekend, an annual hip-hop festival held on Memorial Day weekend.
Despite his fast-paced career and club lifestyle, Labranche took time to be a father. In his last Instagram message about his children, posted two days before his death, he said he was grateful for the mother of his children, whom he described as hardworking.
“I know if anything was to happen to me my kids straight,’’ he wrote.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Miami Police Department’s Homicide Unit at 305-603-6350 or Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477.
Miami Herald staff writer Diana Moskovitz contributed to this report.