Deandre Conway’s Oak Cliff upbringing would seem outlandish and exaggerated if it were the plot of a movie. The rapper known as Yella Beezy was 12 when he lost his father. He started hustling to help provide for his family by 13 and sold his last rock of crack right before getting arrested with 2 ounces of marijuana.
Gentrification never made it to Beezy’s block.
Yet in less than a year, he has gone from being an underground sensation in the Southern rap scene to one of the biggest performers to come out of Dallas recently.
The former choir boy-turned-hustler’s 2017 hit single “That’s on Me” gained nationwide attention thanks in part to local radio station K104. His song was big enough for Beezy to land on Jay-Z’s radar, giving him the opportunity to open two shows during Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s On the Run II Tour. The track has spent the last five months on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and now at the tail end of 2018, Beezy says he plans on keeping the same mindset and process he’s always had, with only minimal, but profound, changes.
“I’m just going to try and do the same thing we did last year, except for get shot,” the 26-year-old rapper says.
Just as Beezy’s career was beginning to take off, more than a dozen shots were fired into his vehicle in the early hours of Oct. 14. Beezy, who was struck three times on his way home from a nightclub, almost became Dallas’ second most famous assassination victim. The attack occurred on the Sam Rayburn Tollway, and Capt. Dan Rochelle of the Lewisville Police Department says the investigation has been officially suspended because Beezy has not cooperated. There’s still no explanation as to what motivated the attack, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.
“I don’t talk to police,” Beezy says. “Only time I talk to them is when it’s an emergency. They took care of what they supposed to do by getting me to the hospital. That’s the only time I talked to them.”
Beezy has maintained his silence about the shooting, but for what it’s worth, he shows hardly any sign of slowing down after the attack.
"I ain’t never stopped dropping songs since my last mixtape," he says. "Just throughout the year when I came home I get beats and just go to the studio, same process."
Beezy was wounded as he drove along the State Highway 121 Bypass in Lewisville. Two bullets were still inside him when he made it to the hospital. One struck his chest, puncturing his lung, and the other struck his elbow, requiring surgery and physical therapy. Beezy was hospitalized for 11 days total and was released on Oct. 24.
It's been a challenge fitting in physical therapy between media obligations, video shoots and the two to three concerts he says he performs every week, at times wearing a sling onstage.
“When you get somewhere you just gotta grind harder,” Beezy says. “You can be in the spotlight one minute and you gone the next. So it’s about the consistency. You gotta just stay there, use the same mind frame, hustle mind frame, you gotta be hungry for it.”
To those ends, Beezy says he’s working on producing 10 to 12 music videos for his debut album as an exclusive licensee of HITCO (as opposed to being an artist signed to HITCO, which was widely reported. Beezy says he just has been exclusively licensed by HITCO). Ain’t No Goin’ Bacc was released Nov. 16, and Beezy has already dropped a video for “What I Did,” which features Louisiana rapper Kevin Gates. The hope is to generate more interest in the album over time, similar to the slow-burn rise “That’s on Me” experienced.
“A lot of times people will treat a record way different when they see a visual to it versus just the audio. It paints a different picture,” Beezy says. “So I’m just gonna shoot as much video as I can.”
A second mixtape is also in the works. Despite the partnership with HITCO, Beezy says he is still functionally an independent artist. Emphatically he states, “I ain’t signed nothing with nobody.”
“I don’t rely or depend on anybody. I use the same hunger and the same attitude I’ve been using. I don’t want to get comfortable. I don’t want to try and depend on nobody,” Beezy says, adding that HITCO will provide assistance only as needed. “A lot of people try to get babysitted by the labels and expect them to do everything for them. Me? I'mma work and if I need some help, help. But y’all still supposed to be doing your job at the same time.”
Ostensibly, Beezy will be able to continue releasing music and videos as they are completed, with minimal interference from label executives. The freedom offered by such an arrangement is bound to be vital as Beezy goes through the growing pains of rapid success. People around him view him as a larger figure than before, he says. Though he feels like the same guy he’s always been, between seemingly shrugging off three bullet wounds and the success of his mixtape, Lite Work Vol. 2, there seems to be good reason for his increasing fame.
By the beginning of 2018, Beezy was in high demand, with his fans outside of Texas flocking to his shows from Louisiana to Florida.
“The whole South kinda took me in real quick,” he says. “It kinda started off real heavy after that. At like the top of the year, we kinda went full throttle. … Sometimes we were in five places in one week.”
But it’s not just a good work ethic that fills venues. Beezy’s ability to write concise and catchy hooks, as well as his ear for beats, were evident as far back as 2016’s “Trap in Designer” and beyond. Falling somewhere between the club-centric ambiance of mumble rap and the hype-mongering braggadocio of Southern rap, his music is best described as modern. He uses simple lyrics intelligently, with an infectious flow that would sound equally appropriate in a noisy nightclub or coming from a cell phone outside West End Station during rush hour.
“I try to keep my sound original so I don’t sound like nobody else,” Beezy says. “I don’t try to sound like I’m from Atlanta or Cali or nothing. We want people to know, we from Dallas. That go from the haircut, from the way we dress, the way we talk.”
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Beezy epitomizes Dallas culture from his shag hairstyle to his gaudy diamond earrings. Even his mannerisms and enunciation can ring familiar, depending on which parts of the city one’s most familiar with. If nothing else, Beezy has given the city someone to root for, someone who walks, talks and acts just like you’d think he would. Like a guy who grew up in Dallas. But he says he never expected to be the guy to break open the scene for Dallas rappers.
“I wanted to, but I didn’t feel like I was going to do it. There was a couple people that were above me, so I just was rooting for whoever could open the door for us,” Beezy says. “It ain’t nothing. I knew I’d have to do a lot of work.”
It’s that mentality that has characterized so much of what Beezy has become. The same pragmatism that served him on the streets of Oak Cliff still colors his actions today. In this short attention span era when entertainment is more prevalent and easier to make than ever, plenty of pitfalls still lie ahead of Dallas’ latest star. And that doesn’t include the possibility that someone may still want to kill him. Regardless, he says, he knows what he’s getting involved in.
“I expected it, but I didn’t know what I was expecting,” Beezy says. “You know what you signed up for, so you can’t not do what you’re supposed to do.”