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The Late Sonny Gunnz Remembered At Sonar

January 12, 2009

Clever 1 | Image by City Paper Digi-Cam™

In a year that had already seen the deaths of such notable figures as Mr. Wilson and DJ K-Swift, Baltimore hip-hop experienced yet another loss toward the end of 2008. The little known but beloved rapper Eddie “Sonny Gunnz” Woods was shot in the back of the head in Brooklyn Park Nov. 23. His death made headlines when the Baltimore Police Department ruled it a suicide, and the rapper’s family is petitioning for further investigation. While ugliness and controversy surrounded the circumstances of his passing, his friends and peers celebrated his life, with a tribute concert the week after his death, and a “Long Live Sonny Gunnz” event at Sonar last Thursday, on the eve of what would have been his twenty-third birthday, Jan. 9.

Virtually everyone involved with the concert seemed to have some kind of connection to Sonny Gunnz; clearly, no one was treating it as just another show. One of his friends, local promoter Tay Tay, organized the bill, and it was hosted by one of his collaborators, Oowop City. And pretty much anytime there wasn’t a performer onstage, DJ Illah would simply throw on a Sonny Gunnz track, and a dozen guys in “rest in peace” t-shirts would jump up to rap along with every word. Perhaps more than any performance throughout the night, those moments were the most rousing and moving, and helped the night feel more like a celebration than a funeral. But we have to admit, there was something a little surreal and perverse about watching a young man who called himself Sonny Gunnz, who died of a gunshot, memorialized with a sing-a-long of his version of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” called “Shottie Pop,” without a hint of irony. Whether it strikes you as funny or just plain bleak, it’s the kind of thing you only see in Baltimore.

Of course, moments like that were plentiful even during the various rappers’ sets. Seemingly anyone who ever recorded with Sonny Gunnz got up to perform their collaboration, and invariably would let his verse play out. The highlight of Oowop City’s set was his song with Gunnz, “Speed Bags,” and one of the late rapper’s closest collaborators, Clever 1, turned in the most memorable set of the night, with a tight flow, an energetic stage presence, and a really stupid-looking hat. A close second was Tiffany Couture and Half Pint, a duo featuring a teenage girl whose flow and charisma could give Rye Rye a run for her money. Meanwhile Washington, D.C., rapper Whitefolkz, perhaps the most generic white Southern MC since Paul Wall, made one of his frequent visits to Baltimore to perform some more of his dull, derivative pimp anthems.

The “Long Live Sonny Gunnz” concert closed out with a performance by the surviving members of his crew, Black Friday Entertainment, and Oowop City made sure that the audience stuck around with some good old fashioned guilt, continually warning that leaving before their set would be taken as a show of disrespect to the memory of Sonny Gunnz. But once the Black Friday crew finally climbed onstage around one in the morning they were worth the wait, with the most powerful and raucous set of the night, peppered with more somber moments when the voice of Sonny Gunnz would come out of the speakers for 16 bars, while the rapper himself was notably absent.

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