After Mother’s Day bloodshed, a stark divide over hip hop’s Rolling Loud

Kodak Black arrested on federal and state weapons charges

Florida rapper Kodak Black was arrested on federal and state weapons charges just before he was supposed to perform at the Rolling Loud Music Festival on May 11, 2019.
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Florida rapper Kodak Black was arrested on federal and state weapons charges just before he was supposed to perform at the Rolling Loud Music Festival on May 11, 2019.

Mother’s Day brunch could not have been more picture perfect on the poolside patio at the oceanfront Trump International Beach Resort. Until the shootout began.

“It sounds like thunder,” Larisa Svechin remembers her four children crying as they ran toward her. But Svechin, vice mayor of the upscale seaside town, knew it wasn’t thunder, not today in the United States, where mass shootings have become unexceptional.

NBA YoungBoy performs at the Lil’ WeezyAna Fest at Champions Square on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, in New Orleans. Amy Harris /Invision/AP

The gunfire was coming from the valet parking plaza at the hotel’s entrance, leaving one person dead and at least four wounded. It was a drive-by shooting, right there on Collins Avenue in broad daylight, born out of a feud between rival rappers, one of whom was waiting for his ride to the Rolling Loud hip hop music festival at Hard Rock Stadium five miles and a world away.

The deadly Mother’s Day shooting was the “most horrific thing” that’s ever happened in Sunny Isles Beach, Mayor George “Bud” Scholl said at a city commission meeting a few days later.

Commissioners swore they would prevent such a terrifying incident from happening again in their placid, largely white community where towering beachfront condos and luxury hotels have replaced the famous strip of quirky, mid-century motels, like the Ocean Palm, which catered to nudists, the Castaway and the Sahara. To protect the city’s residents and reputation, commissioners said that upon conclusion of the police investigation, they may formally ask that Miami Gardens, Florida’s largest black-majority city and home to Hard Rock Stadium, ban the festival.

“This event spawned multiple incidents throughout South Florida,” Scholl said, referring to a handful of shootings and arrests across the county tied to Rolling Loud performers this year. “We’ve got nothing against the music but we’ve got a lot against this type of violence.”

Oliver Gilbert, the mayor of Miami Gardens and leader of one of the few all-black city councils or commissions in the county, argued that a stadium concert can’t be blamed for teenagers’ decisions to settle disputes with guns. Miami Gardens, burdened by a high violent crime rate, still welcomes Rolling Loud as a popular annual event.

“By the time someone gets to this point there are a lot of social institutions that have failed,” Gilbert said. “I don’t think Rolling Loud and I don’t think hip hop brings violence in that way.”

Rolling Loud and its internationally known performers puts Miami Gardens on the map as the city tries to attract development dollars.

“Miami Gardens doesn’t have a beautiful ocean. What we have is a stadium. We have an opportunity to build an economy that is intimate and unique to Miami Gardens,” Gilbert said, pointing out that there was no violence within the festival grounds. What’s more, he said, the contract for the event is not with the city, but with the stadium.

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Cardi B pours water over her head at Rolling Loud in May 2019. Handout

Rolling Loud must be controlled, Sunny Isles Beach commissioners agreed. They suggested lobbying neighboring cities to expel it from the area, or, if that doesn’t work, discouraging event goers from lodging in Sunny Isles Beach by having hoteliers “vet group bookings” — though for what exactly was unclear — or raise room rates to prohibitive levels whenever the festival comes to town.

“No economic benefit will make [the violence] OK,” Commissioner Dana Goldman told a reporter. “How do we control something that’s outside our borders?”

Cities in Miami-Dade County are constantly struggling to reconcile residents’ displeasure with large, loud, rowdy events and the benefits of tourism dollars and global publicity.

During spring break, Miami Beach resembled a war zone as police, wearing riot gear, surveyed South Beach from portable watch towers and patrolled the sand in all-terrain vehicles, busting college kids as part of a city campaign to make the traditionally wild, month-long party “a lot less fun,” said a commissioner determined to rein in the bedlam. But not everyone felt the police were handing out punishments equally.

“I feel like they’re here to regulate the African-American community,” one spring breaker, Jerome Hynes, told the Miami Herald.

For Memorial Day weekend, Urban Beach Weekend descends on Miami Beach, bringing with it a certain amount of drunken brawls, shootings and gridlock that causes residents to flee for three days. Just as it did with Spring Break, the city has implemented an aggressive crowd control strategy.

The city of Miami grew disenchanted with the electronic music festival Ultra and bounced it from downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park to Virginia Key this year, which resulted in transportation chaos, harm to marine life and more complaints about the relentless heavy bass noise. Ultra may relocate to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Rolling Loud moved from Bayfront Park to Hard Rock, the Miami Dolphins’ home. Sunny Isles Beach is the closest beachfront city to the stadium. Now they want that gone too.

“We don’t want this music festival because it’s spilling crime and mayhem into our city,” Goldman said of Rolling Loud.

On Mother’s Day, in the moments before the AR-15 rifle fire sent Trump Resort diners into a panic, Svechin was celebrating with her children and her husband, who had just returned to their table after a cigarette break outside the hotel’s front doors.

Then the first cracks of the fusillade echoed through the air. The initial shots, at least four, came from a black Cadillac Escalade, aimed at rap star and hotel guest YoungBoy Never Broke Again, also known as NBA YoungBoy, whose legal name is Kentrell Gaulden. His entourage fired at least 21 shots back as the Escalade sped north.

One bullet hit YoungBoy’s girlfriend in the shoulder. Three members of a family vacationing from Texas were grazed. Cars waiting in the valet area were pocked with shots.

But one bullet — usually referred to as stray, as if it’s lost instead of poorly aimed — traveled nearly 300 yards west between strip mall restaurants and across a parking lot and struck Mohamad Jradi in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Jradi, 43, was sitting in a minivan after completing his shift at the Hertz car rental agency. He never got home, victim of incalculable odds and rapper revenge.

Sunny Isles Beach police officers stand near a van where a man was found shot to death after a nearby shooting that reportedly involved rapper NBA YoungBoy on May 12, 2019. Joe Raedle Getty Images

“It’s crazy that the bullet missed every single car but his,” said Jamar Pierce, a supervisor at the Burger Fi restaurant, where customers dove for cover and employees herded people away from the front windows when the shooting broke out. A police sniper arrived and took up position on the roof. At the kosher Mozart Cafe and the Matryoshka Russian deli, patrons also ducked under tables and scrambled for safety.

“This is a very calm, nice, rich area where you never see altercations,” said Pierce, who also attended Rolling Loud as a fan. “This music attracts a certain kind of people. Inside the stadium, it’s a good scene, security is tight. But outside, you never know what rough stuff might happen.”

NBA YoungBoy slipped away from the crime scene in Sunny Isles Beach, leaving his girlfriend behind, and took the Rolling Loud stage as planned, rapping “Thug ‘N” with his crew, who were wearing ski masks. He was also the apparent target of a different shooting early Sunday morning when someone opened fire at a party bus that had just left The Office strip club. Two people were hurt.

Four days after leaving Miami, he was sent to jail in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for violating probation for a 2016 shooting there, which police believe was retaliation for the killing of one of NBA YoungBoy’s friends, known as NBA Boosie, legal name Keondre Ricks, 18. YoungBoy was also arrested on domestic violence charges while on tour in Georgia, but his lawyer said those charges have been dropped.

Witnesses in Sunny Isles Beach originally thought there were two separate shootings there, one in front of the hotel and one in front of Hertz, where there is now a memorial for Jradi — candles, bouquets of flowers and cards lauding his kindness: “Not only one of the best human beings was murdered but also the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

NBA YoungBoy, 19, and his record company have offered to pay funeral expenses for Jradi’s family.

“I think what is shocking is you’re a completely innocent victim in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Goldman, the commissioner, said. “One senseless boom and you’re gone.”

What left people trembling was the universal thought: “It could have been me.” Svechin said her family would have been in the valet area preparing to leave when the shooting started, if not for the fact that their reservation had been pushed back at the last minute. “Now kids are saying they’re scared to walk to school,” she said.

“As a community, I can’t remember being so outraged,” Scholl said.

Sunny Isles Beach police officers work near the entrance to the Trump International Beach Resort on May 12, 2019, after a shooting that reportedly targeted rapper NBA YoungBoy on the street in front of the resort. Joe Raedle Getty Images

In a quandary about Rolling Loud’s future, the Sunny Isles Beach commission has decided to convene a round table of North Miami-Dade leaders. Sunny Isles Beach and Miami Gardens elected officials share little common ground in their pursuit of solutions. Where Gilbert sees societal structural failure leading young men to violence, Goldman sees a moral failing in violent young men who glorify weapons and gang life in their music.

Gilbert believes the first step is gun control. Police seized seven guns at the Sunny Isles Beach shooting scene. Access to guns is too easy, no matter where you grew up, Gilbert said. “Every person that’s hurt — it damages us collectively,” Gilbert said.

Scholl and his commission are intent on regulating the hip hop festival.

“The truth is you can’t blame a song for someone committing violence because we all heard the same songs and we didn’t do it,” Gilbert countered.

The two sides agree that organizers of Rolling Loud should be held accountable for the performers they book, given that it wasn’t the fans who caused the problems.

“I was very critical of the concert promoters,” Scholl said. “It was their artists that were involved.”

Police were busy during Rolling Loud weekend. Nearly every case of violence involved performers who had a history of dangerous behavior.

In Miami Beach, Chicago rapper AAB Hellebandz was shot dead on Espanola Way around 2 a.m. on May 11. People on the street scattered and hid behind cars when they realized that what sounded like fireworks was gunfire. Two other men were shot on the scene but survived. Suspects fled in three cars, one flashing a gun, and police gave chase but didn’t catch them. Two police cars crashed during the pursuit. Hellebandz, whose legal name is Ameer Golston, was wanted in Atlanta for attempted murder and armed robbery, Miami Beach police said.

At the stadium, popping sounds on Friday night caused a frightened stampede of concertgoers, some of whom were trampled and injured — similar to what happened at the A3C festival in Atlanta last fall when a false shooting alarm during Lil Wayne’s set resulted in 12 injuries.

Kodak Black, a local rapper and one of the headliners, was arrested on weapons charges as he was about to go on stage.

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Kodak Black performs on the “Dab Stage” at the Rolling Loud music festival on Dec. 16, 2017, in San Bernardino, Calif. Jay L. Clendenin TNS

For Black, whose legal name is Bill Kapri, the arrest was the latest on a long rap sheet. He was arrested on drug and weapons charges in April as he crossed the Canadian border into the United States. He was recently arrested in Broward County for grand theft, child neglect and marijuana possession. He is awaiting trial on allegations that he raped a high school student in South Carolina.

Gilbert and Scholl said concert organizers should take care to screen artists and stop inviting those with violent criminal records.

Rolling Loud co-founders Tariq Cherif and Matt Zingler could not be reached but the festival posted this Tweet: “If you didn’t enjoy Rolling Loud despite the hiccups, stay home next year....This is hip-hop.”

“The true arbiter of the industry are the people who are buying the music,” Gilbert said. “I think we have to be better arbiters of what we accept as a community.”