Late Rapper Hits No.1 With Drake's 'In My Feelings'


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans rapper Renetta "Magnolia Shorty" Lowe co-stars in the current No. 1 song in the country, even though she died nearly eight years ago in a notorious double homicide.

Samples of Shorty's voice are woven into "In My Feelings," the omnipresent single by superstar Canadian rapper Drake.

"In My Feelings" has spent six consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 100 chart and will likely wind up as one of the most popular songs of 2018. It has also inspired its own viral video dance craze, the "Kiki Challenge."

"Oh my goodness, it's remarkable," said Renell Lowe, Magnolia Shorty's eldest sister. "I had started to feel like she had been forgotten about in the music industry. I'm ecstatic to see that she's back in the spotlight. She deserves it. The whole family is thrilled. God is good, that's all I can say."

Magnolia Shorty, an early star of the New Orleans "bounce" scene and the first female artist signed to Cash Money Records, is not the first local rapper to play a posthumous role in a hit song.

Terius "Juvenile" Gray's only No. 1 hit to date, the 2004 release "Slow Motion," featured James "Soulja Slim" Tapp. Tapp, a friend of Magnolia Shorty's, was shot to death not long after recording vocals for "Slow Motion."

More recently, local bounce artist and social media provocateur Messy Mya's voice opened "Formation," the hit single from Beyoncé's "Lemonade" video album. Mya, whose real name was Anthony Barre, was killed on Nov. 14, 2010. Beyoncé released "Formation" nearly six years later.

(Mya's sister, Angel Barre, the sole heir to his estate, claimed her late brother's voice was used without permission and sued Beyoncé in early 2017 for copyright infringement. In February, the suit was dismissed after the parties reached a confidential settlement.)

But the global success of "In My Feelings," which is steeped in the sound of New Orleans bounce, is something else entirely. Magnolia Shorty, her big sister said, would have loved it.

"This was her dream," Lowe said. "Her dream was taken away from her. She's still living out her dream through the grave. Her dream still exists, thanks to BlaqNmilD (a producer of 'In My Feelings'). I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. I'm thanking Blaq every day for bringing her legacy back up."

A key behind-the-scenes figure in New Orleans hip-hop since the early 2000s, Adam "BlaqNmilD" Pigott contributed to two songs on Drake's current "Scorpion" album. The first, "Nice For What," which featured New Orleans bounce artists 5th Ward Weebie and Big Freedia, hit No. 1 early this year.

Pigott was more involved in the production of "In My Feelings." Working with Drake and producer Noah "40" Shebib at a Toronto studio, they stitched together the sonic elements of the song.

Over the years, Pigott has assembled a vast library of samples of New Orleans singers and rappers. While listening to early mixes of "In My Feelings," he realized one of those old recordings by Magnolia Shorty would fit seamlessly into Drake's new song.

In early 2010, Pigott recorded her for a remix of the Jadakiss single "Smoking Gun." Shorty's version became a regional hit across the South, her last hit while she was alive.

Months later, she and Jerome "Man Man" Hampton were gunned down on Dec. 20, 2010, inside a car at the entrance to a New Orleans East apartment complex. Police determined that Hampton was the gunmen's intended target. Shorty, 28, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mourners filled the 5th African Baptist Church on South Robertson Street for her funeral. Those mourners included Lil Wayne, Juvenile and Cash Money co-founder Bryan "Baby" Williams.

An estimated 2,000 people joined in the funeral procession led by a horse-drawn carriage. During the procession, the Stooges Brass Band played "Smoking Gun."

Seven years later, Pigott extracted elements of Shorty's recording of "Smoking Gun" and spliced them into Drake's "In My Feelings." Shorty's voice is audible during the break in the middle of the song. It also complements Drake in a sort of call and response.

"When Drake sang, 'Kiki, do you love me?' it was so perfect for Magnolia Shorty to come in, 'You're the only one I love,' " Pigott said recently. "It just fit so perfectly. When Drake heard that, he instantly liked it."

The official video for "In My Feelings" was filmed in New Orleans in July. The storyline revolves around a dream Drake has about being a New Orleans rapper, complete with a grill on his teeth. Big Freedia and Saints running back Alvin Kamara make cameo appearances.

In a scene shot outside Dat Dog restaurant on Frenchmen Street, Caresha "Yung Miami" Brownlee, half of the Miami rap duo City Girls, wears an airbrushed shirt bearing the message "Free JT." Brownlee's partner in City Girls, Jatavia "JT" Johnson, recently started serving a two-year prison sentence in Florida for credit card fraud.

Such real-life messages and memorials are not unusual in rap videos. The video for Juvenile's "Slow Motion" opens with a hand-painted sign reading, "Thou Shall Not Kill," a reference to Soulja Slim's murder. Several people in the clip wear T-shirts emblazoned with "R.I.P. Soulja Slim."

Pigott would have liked to see a similar shout-out to Magnolia Shorty in the "In My Feelings" video.

"That's the thing that's missing," he said. "That's the only thing we all are upset about. Magnolia Shorty impacted the record a lot. They should have put a picture (of her), or had some people with Magnolia Shorty T-shirts. They could have done a candle lighting at the end, anything. It was just crazy not to see anything about Magnolia Shorty in that video."

Her late sister may not be in the video, but Lowe, who works as a counselor for incarcerated juvenile offenders, still gets excited whenever "In My Feelings" comes on the radio.

Hearing it for the first time "was a surreal moment," Lowe said. "Every time I hear it, I want to hear the whole song play out. I don't want to get out of the car until the song is completely finished playing."

– by Keith Spera, AP reporter

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