King Von Credit: Esdras T. Thelusma

In the early hours of Friday, November 6, 26-year-old Chicago rapper Dayvon Bennett, better known as King Von, was shot and killed outside an Atlanta nightclub. Von emerged a couple years ago as part of a newer generation of locals refashioning drill’s austere, hard-edged aesthetic in their own image. He imbued his tough-as-nails verses with touches of sweet melodicism, and he could evoke joy and alarm with just a few steely lines delivered in a tight, bouncy flow. Von built off the music of Lil Durk, and they were close collaborators—the drill figurehead released Von’s music through his Only the Family label. Durk and Von were both were charged with attempted murder (among other things) for their alleged roles in a July 2019 robbery—the case is still pending. Von had run afoul of the law before, including an arrest for murder and attempted murder related to a 2014 triple shooting. He spent three and a half years in Cook County Jail before he was acquitted in 2017.

The connection between the factional violence that informs drill and the people who make the music is real and messy; Von’s death comes only four months after rival rapper FBG Duck was shot and killed in broad daylight while shopping on Oak Street. Since Chief Keef’s breakout in 2012, drill has too often been the target of wrongheaded public hand-wringing—as though the music is a cause of violence rather than a reaction to violence, which itself is fueled by generations of suffering from economic neglect and systemic racism. Drill can help listeners from outside the communities that produce it empathize with people who continue to endure these injustices at the hands of local leaders who, say, claim to be progressive but refuse to redirect any of the $1.65 billion police budget to fund neighborhood services. Among the up-and-comers whose new vision of drill brought them national fame, few could match Von. He dropped his third-full length, Welcome to O Block (OTF/Empire), a week before his death, and it will be difficult to separate that tragedy from the strained optimism he sometimes expresses in his music. On “Can’t Relate,” Von raps about his haunted past and newfound fortune with the conviction that his path forward will be paved with gold. As he mourns the time he lost with his sons while locked up, his ironclad voice suggests he can put such concerns behind him simply by force of his will. I hope whoever discovers Von in the coming months and years will listen to Welcome to O Block with open ears.   v