In the lexicon of street characters (the dope boy, the revolutionary, the backpacker, etc.), the knucklehead holds a special place. He's the young kid more interested in fighting than making love, and agitates loudly toward a better position in life. It's a rite of manhood few are exempt from. Some (think 2Pac or, more recently, the Game) even turn their youthful rages into memorably febrile hip-hop art.
Darryl Richardson II, aka Lil Scrappy, would seem to fit the profile. As the author of "No Problem" and "Head Bussa," he personifies the brawling, hardheaded incarnation of Southern rap. In his songs, the club is a place where busters who run their mouths get stomped with impunity. They exude a gleeful kind of violence akin to youth-gone-wild classics like A Clockwork Orange and Menace II Society.
But in person, Lil Scrappy seems like a nice guy. In conversation he doesn't stare menacingly, but talks a lot and frequently chuckles while flashing a toothy grin. And while most would-be gangsta rappers take pains to hide their pre-stardom biographies (perhaps in fear of revealing a criminal record far less decorated than they allege), he rambles on and on about his life story.
"One time I stabbed a dude in the head eight times and blacked out on him. I just remember stabbing him twice," says Lil Scrappy during an interview in the office of his record label, BME Enterprises. He's clothed in a plain white T-shirt and jeans, and a massive BME diamond pendant -- a symbol of a shark preparing to devour a disc -- hangs from his neck. "But when I seen the pictures, it was a whole 'nother thing. Police was like, 'Man, how you live with stabbing a man eight times in his head?' I was like, 'I didn't stab him that many times. Somebody framed me, cuz!' I blacked out."
If the man had died, says Lil Scrappy, "I wouldn't even be sitting here right now." According to Scrappy, he was able to get off on self-defense because the victim had a criminal record. Nevertheless, the incident was the nadir of a teenage life spent running the streets. Making rap music was a release. "It's like a stress reliever," says Lil Scrappy, who is now 22. "Your mind is focused, and you don't seem to get into trouble when you're focused and creating something."
Signed by BME, Lil Scrappy first appeared on a 2004 compilation, The King of Crunk & BME Recordings present Trillville and Lil Scrappy. Initially Lil Scrappy and Trillville chafed at the arrangement, and fought for BME head Lil Jon's attention. Despite having to share the spotlight, Lil Scrappy immediately stood out with his knuckle-hard tracks, though he believes they were often misinterpreted. He notes that "F.I.L.A." (Forever I Love Atlanta) is about civic pride, and "No Problem" isn't a fighting song, but a cautionary tale. "I'm like, 'you don't want no problems,'" he says. "It's like, watch what you're doing."
Regardless of their original intent, Lil Scrappy's tracks made him a rising star. Then early last year while performing a show in Palatka, Fla., someone in the audience threw a Heineken bottle at Lil Scrappy's face. The glass cut up his teeth and gums, which required $45,000 in reconstructive surgery to fix. "I'm still healing from that shit," he says, mumbling. "It looks way better than it looked [before] ... so it's almost like they helped me. They hurt me and helped me all at the same time. I love 'em." He chuckles.
During the next several months, Lil Scrappy struggled to recover from his injuries. He says few of his friends checked in on him. "Normally, I get them calls all day. 'What's up, what's going on, blah blah blah.' Ain't nobody called," he says. "I got calls from my management, but they couldn't tell me too much. They was like, 'We gotta wait for you to get through hell, my nigga. What you want me to say?'"
One day 50 Cent called. "He was like, 'I heard about what happened. Fuck that shit. I'll put a big-ass diamond in your mouth so you can go smile and nobody'll see that shit.' I said, 'Naw, I'm cool. I'm good.'" But the gesture helped build a friendship that led to Lil Scrappy becoming an honorary member of 50 Cent's rap crew, G-Unit.
As the two cemented their relationship with promises of collaboration, rumors abounded that Lil Scrappy was leaving BME for G-Unit Records. But Lil Scrappy is still with BME, and his solo debut, Bred 2 Live, Born 2 Die, is scheduled for release Tues., Dec. 12, through BME/Reprise Records. 50 Cent and G-Unit participated in its making, appearing on and producing several tracks. Young Buck, a member of the G-Unit camp, cameos on the first single, "Money in the Bank."
With 1-year-old daughter Emani to take care of, Lil Scrappy is trying to grow up. "You change because you don't want to do half the shit you do or shit you would do if you didn't have her," he says. "'Cause a nigga want to raise his kid, want to see her grow, and do all kinds of shit that you wish you would've did but didn't do."