Gucci Mane is largely responsible for one of rap’s worst trends: gleefully mocking people who have died. Now, ten years after his first vicious dig at someone’s grave, he’s showing regrets, and urges fellow rappers to stop the practice in his recent track, “Dissing The Dead.”
In the song, the prolific Gucci implores everyone to stop making songs that jab at dead people. Two years after his infamous 2020 Verzuz moment, when he declared he was “smoking on Pookie Loc tonight”—a reference to a Jeezy affiliate who Gucci shot and killed in 2005 after a botched robbery—he admits he was wrong, and urges his peers to stop following his example, too.
From the song’s chorus:
I know my tongue is a sword
I know I should be more careful with shit that I said
I feel like I started a trend that’s never gon’ stop
They gon’ keep dissing the dead
Gucci doesn’t regret the killing: It’s the posthumous gloating he feels bad about, as he raps:
Why should I cap ’bout my name on a song?
I’m the one put your boy name on a stone
I dissed the dead and I know I was wrong
But I’m shooting like DaBaby, they break in my home
Granted, flexing his Cuban link chain in a graveyard in the “Dissing” video isn’t the most tasteful way to illustrate this mea culpa, but it’s still good to see a veteran rapper show accountability.
Let’s back up a minute for a quick recap of the Pookie Loc story. In 2005, Gucci’s career was taking off, thanks in part to his Young Jeezy collaboration “So Icy.” However, Jeezy wanted the song for his own album, which led to a war of words between the two Atlanta stalwarts. On “Stay Strapped,” Jeezy offered $10,000 to anyone who could steal Gucci’s “Icy” diamond chain.
On May 10, 2005, four assailants dressed in all black tried to rob Gucci while he was at the Decatur, GA home of a female friend. A scuffle ensued, shots were fired, the men fled, and three days later the body of Henry “Pookie Loc” Lee Clark III (who was affiliated with Jeezy’s label, Corporate Thugz Entertainment) was found at a nearby middle school. The day before Gucci released his debut album, Trap House, he turned himself into DeKalb police and faced a murder charge, but witnesses corroborated his claim of self-defense, and the District Attorney eventually dropped the charges.
The two Atlanta rappers continued feuding for years. Though tensions seemed to be easing in 2011, Gucci put a stop to the peace talks when he released “The Truth” in 2012, which contained the following verse:
A ten thousand dollar bounty put on my neck (brr)
I hope you didn’t pay them ’cause they didn’t have no success
He taunted Jeezy, rapping: “Go dig your partner up n—a, bet he can’t say shit.”
“The Truth” was followed by another eight years of barbs until Jeezy and Gucci improbably agreed to square off in 2020 for the most watched Verzuz ever. The face-off was designed to put the beef aside and celebrate the culture. Which is more or less what happened—though Gucci didn’t exactly display the maturity of an elder statesman. He wanted all of the smoke as he played various Jeezy diss songs. Tension ran high as Gucci played “The Truth”—and then gleefully blurted he was, “Smoking on Pookie Loc tonight.” (Thankfully, Jeezy didn’t take the bait, and things cooled off.)
But something relatively recent must have spurred Gucci’s regrets because on “Rumors,” a collaboration with Lil Durk that dropped just this past January, he once again brought up the shooting and seemingly baited Jeezy:
D.A. dropped my murder, didn’t have evidence to prove it (nah)
I think my house is haunted, yeah, by who? The ghost of Pookie (woah)
He ain’t killed nobody but keep rappin’ ’bout the shootin’ (pussy)
Still ain’t got revenge yet but keep makin’ up excuses (wow)
Chicago’s Lil Durk has also played a role in normalizing the once-taboo practice of badmouthing slain rivals. While Gucci helped make the phrase “Smoking on [insert enemy] pack tonight” a meme, the larger trend more or less originated in Chicago’s drill scene in the early 2010s, with Lil Durk—as well as Chief Keef, the late King Von and others—making songs dissing the dead. Most notably, they rapped about Shondale “Tooka” Gregory, a 15-year-old alleged gang member who was shot and killed in 2011. On Lil Durk’s 2020 platinum hit “Still Trappin,’” King Von raps:
This ain’t OG, this just smoke and this shit Thrax for real
This that shit that have you chokin’ and it got Tooka killed
N-—s chasin’ clout and claimin’ bodies they ain’t do for real
Tooka’s name has been dropped more often than Pookie’s, but there’s a big difference: Gucci was a rapper on the cusp of stardom, his murder case was national news, and Gucci had a motive to kill Pookie. Most sources say Tooka was allegedly a member of the Gangster Disciples—a street gang that rivaled Chief Keef’s alleged faction, the Black Disciples—and his murder was likely gang-related. He was, basically, an anonymous soldier in an endless war—the faceless “opp.” Most people only know him as the rap trope. In fact, “Smoking on Tooka” has been in so many song lyrics that some fans will be forgiven for mistaking him for a strain of weed.
His afterlife as a rap punchline is especially painful for those who mourned him. In recent years, Tooka’s mother, Dominique Boyd, has become an outspoken advocate for her son. “My son had nothing to do with nothing in this rap industry. He didn’t even know how to beatbox, let alone bust a lyric for a rap,” Boyd said, in an interview with Say Cheese earlier this year. “For him to be disrespected and [mocked for] his death? They’re the ones who are making him famous and blowing him up like this, ’cause they can’t stop saying his fuckin’ name…You don’t even know my son.
“I just wanna know why,” she continued. “Why? That’s all I have to ask them. What has my son done to y’all to make y’all disrespect him like this? Every song they make has got, ‘We smokin’ on Tooka. Fuck Tooka this, fuck Tooka that. You know how long my son has been gone? Since 2011. This is 2022 and he’s still a trending topic.”
Boyd’s advocacy may be working. Last August, Lil Durk tweeted that he would no longer mention the dead in his songs or perform songs with their name in it. Chief Keef also discouraged another rapper from even bringing up Tooka’s name during a live stream last year.
It’s good to see Durk and Gucci vow to stop dissing the dead in one way or another. The question is who else will follow, as the trend has been going strong on its own. Calling out dead opps may have hit its nadir last summer when Florida rappers Spinabenz, Whoppa Wit Da Choppa, Yungeen Ace, and FastMoney Goon went viral with “Who I Smoke.” The song sampled Vanessa Carlton’s hit “A Thousand Miles” as the rappers taunted dead rivals in Jacksonville, who most fans probably never heard of:
Who I smoke? (Who?) Bibby (and I need you)
Who I smoke? (Who?) Teki (and I miss you)
Who I smoke? (Who?) Lil Nine (and I need you)
And now I wonder (and I miss you)
As if the song wasn’t disrespectful enough, social media helped escalate tensions when rapper Ksoo, a Yungeen Ace affiliate, convinced former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette to pose with a Mike Bibby jersey—a taunt aimed at rival rapper Foolio, over the death of his 16-year-old friend Bibby. Ksoo was later charged with Bibby’s murder.
Hopefully, the positive example Gucci, Durk, and Keef now seem intent on setting are followed as much as the negative one they set before. This all leads to questions about the ethics of rap fandom, which often grapples with the uncomfortably voyeuristic interest some fans have in hearing young black men brag about killing each other while they sit at home, never having to step foot inside of Chicago’s O’Block or Atlanta’s Zone 6. Simply enjoying a song shouldn’t require fans to travel to neighborhoods infamous for gang violence, nor are rappers responsible for the issues plaguing the communities they actually have to live in. But spitting on the graves of the deceased goes beyond “reflecting realities” and crosses into a taboo that’s impossible to justify.
Rappers have agency in how they play their feuds, and are using their beefs for commercial purposes. In beefs like Gucci vs Jeezy, 2Pac vs Biggie, or even Lil Durk vs YoungBoy Never Broke Again, fans often rooted for or against their rappers in disputes that, while only theoretical to the audience, could leave someone dead. Casual fans should be wary when they hear lyrics escalating cycles of violence in gang warfare. No, rap music is not meant to be factual, but sometimes it is. Sometimes, there are real bodies buried, there are real victims. For people like Pookie, Tooka, and their families, it’s just like what Gucci says on “Dissing The Dead”: “None of this shit no pretend.”