21-Year-Old Rising Rapper, Jimmy Wopo, Gunned Down in Pittsburgh

Stephanie Strasburg/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jimmy Wopo, a ris­ing star in the hip-hop mu­sic world who was about to sign a con­tract that would have taken him out of Pitts­burgh, was shot Mon­day in the city’s Hill District neigh­bor­hood that he of­ten rapped about.

Wopo and an­other man were am­bushed at 4:22 p.m. as they sat in a sport-util­ity ve­hi­cle in the 2400 block of Wylie Avenue; he was pro­nounced dead at 5:56 p.m. at UPMC Pres­by­te­rian. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.

A law en­force­ment source said Wopo was in the driver’s seat of the 2007 Mazda CX7. Bul­let holes could clearly be seen in the driver’s side win­dow. The source was not au­tho­rized to com­ment on the in­ci­dent and spoke on the con­di­tion of an­o­nym­ity.

Wopo’s death also was con­firmed by his man­ager, Tay­lor Maglin, who told the Post-Ga­zette, “Jimmy has passed away, and we ask that you keep his fam­ily in your prayers dur­ing this tough time.”

Mr. Maglin had posted a call for prayers for the 21-year-old mu­si­cian on Face­book, fol­lowed two hours later with a pledge to keep Wopo’s mem­ory alive for­ever.

Pitts­burgh po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the shoot­ings and had re­leased no in­for­ma­tion on sus­pects or a mo­tive. Wopo’s passenger was listed in stable condition.

Jimmy Wopo was the stage name for Travon Smart, who started rapping when he was 14 at the Bedford Hope Center studio in the Hill District.

Since then, Wopo had become one of the most sought-after young talents in hip-hop, and was recently considered for XXL Magazine’s annual Freshman list recognizing the genre’s up-and-comers.

Wopo made a style of hip-hop music called trap rap, which combines bass-heavy beats with raw and unfiltered lyrics. Some artists use it as a way to share their lived experiences with their fans. Wopo was no different.

Wopo found himself following in the footsteps of Pittsburgh rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, who both amassed large followings outside of Pittsburgh. But Wopo, unlike Miller and Khalifa, had remained in the city. “I’m really in the heart of Pittsburgh — where the savage at,” he told the Post-Gazette’s Scott Mervis in 2016 when two of his videos surpassed 1 million views each.

Wopo was on the cusp of the big time… and of getting out.

Wopo called his attorney, Owen Seman, just 15 minutes before the shooting, to discuss a contract he was about to sign with Taylor Gang Entertainment, the label founded by Wiz Khalifa. Mr. Seman said it was for a 27-date tour scheduled to start July 27th.

“He would be making life-changing money,” said Mr. Seman. “His life was about to change. He was going to be gone… He was going to be out of Pittsburgh.

“The kid had finally, really… really… He was there.”

Wopo was planning to move to Los Angeles in the coming months, according to his close friend and producer, Norman Dean.

“We were supposed to start fresh out there,” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Seman said he was preparing to go to the judge in charge of Wopo’s probation and request permission for him to travel. He had been con­victed of drug charges twice and last sum­mer was sent to jail for 60 days for vi­o­lat­ing pro­ba­tion.

“These guys don’t make any real money until they sign a deal,” said Mr. Seman. “The idea these guys make all this money is just not true. They’re still living in the hood because they don’t have the money to get out yet.”

Mr. Dean, who has mixed and engineered Wopo’s work since they met two and a half years ago, said he talked to Wopo on Sunday about getting into the studio soon to make more music.

Through their music, Mr. Dean said, the two became brothers.

“We really became family. I watched him grow, not only as an artist but so much as a person,” said Mr. Dean, 24, of the South Side. “I saw him mature and watched his heart grow.”

“He was a great man,” Mr. Dean added. “He was a great person. He was a great friend. He always did everything he could to make sure all of his family and all of his brothers were taken care of.”

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