“I’ve Lost Brothers with the Same Name:” An Interview With Shootergang Kony

Steven Louis speaks with the rising Sacramento rapper about California’s criminal justice system, directing his own music videos and growing up with a single mother.
By    March 11, 2020

We’re trying to get a big bank we can fit all into one hand. Please support Passion of the Weiss by subscribing to our Patreon.

Shootergang Kony has been asked to switch up his name, many times. His mother still gets on his case. His attorneys are often pleading about it. He knows his name makes it harder to reach the radio or the charts, and easier to land a lengthy criminal sentence with gang enhancements. But the 21-year-old Sacramento native says he has no plans to go by any other title. People have died for that name. To change it would dishonor the memory of fallen brothers. Shootergang Kony, a young man with a rapidly-metastasizing legacy, will be here for a long time. So, get used to the name.

The prodigious talent is leading an invigorating wave of Sacramento hip-hop right now. For those listeners not acquainted with Brotha Lynch Hung, this is the first time that the city has ever “mattered” nationally. Shootergang Kony carries the weight of both his slain brothers and the commercial viability of an entire city’s music scene. It doesn’t phase him. He’s lived quite a lot in such a short time, and for the first time in his 21 years, he’s finally looking toward the future. Despite hailing from the capital of the biggest state in America, he knows that his career provides a very rare opportunity to put his city on. And despite being harassed by parole officers for as long as he can remember, he’s about to travel the country and embark on a 20-city tour with SOB x RBE. 

PoW spoke with Shootergang Kony in anticipation of the tour and on the heels of his excellent new project, Red Paint Reverend. — Steven Louis 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

In a few of these songs, you reference being harassed by cops and the criminal justice system since you were 12 years old. Is that true?

Shootergang Kony: Yup, I’ve been on probation since I was 12 years old. At that age, I went down for shoplifting, and from there, you’re caught. Probation will have you going back down for the rest of your life. Especially if you’re gangbangin and shit. Growing up, it’s fucked up. You just don’t grow up fast enough, and you fuck up before you’re able to figure it out.

That’s insane. What is it like, coming of age under those conditions?

Shootergang Kony: When you’re 12 and you’re on probation, you think it’s tight! You’re the only boy in your school that’s been to jail. You brag about shit at that age. That’s tight, you feel me? But it’s not tight when you’re older, and you realize you can’t even leave your city without checking in with your probation officer. I’m still on probation! For nine years now, and I have three more to go. Once you have that probation on you, they get you on gun charges and all that when you’re older. That adds three more years, five more years, whatever.

California has ridiculous gang enhancement sentencing laws.

Shootergang Kony: Gang enhancement got me charged at 15 years old.

What were you charged for?

Shootergang Kony: I went down for assault with a deadly weapon. Along with my brother, free Shootergang Jojo. We went to jail for beating this kid’s ass at McDonalds. It was just a fight though, you know? Some of these niggas get in fights and get suspended from school. We got in a fight and they called it “assault with a deadly weapon.” With gang enhancements, we were in jail for months. As little kids. Nowadays, when you’re older, gang enhancements add like nine years to your one-year gun charge! We were young, we were on a charge that should have been like one week. But because we gangbangin, the charge becomes way different.

How did you pass the time, locked in a cage at such a young age?

Shootergang Kony: Growing up in Sacramento, you don’t really think about no future. At 15, all the people we looked up to were in jail for murder and stuff. If you smoked someone or you did your thing, and you sit for it, you’re a legend. We just did what we did. That’s what it was. Passing time, as a younger dude…I don’t smoke no more, but at 12, 13, 14, I was smoking weed and Black & Milds and whatever. Sacramento isn’t really a positive place. There ain’t nothing positive going on really. It’s not depressing or sad to me, because it made me into a strong dude. I tell my mama all the time, because she hates that I be gangbangin and getting in all this trouble. But I did all that to get to the point where I’m making money, more money than you! You feel me? Not even trying to get at her! But if I wasn’t getting in trouble, maybe right now I’d be a broke college student trying to figure it out. No offense to no college students, but I have friends in school that say they’re ready to drop out. They can’t get it together. I’m glad I found what I was good at.

What would you tell that younger version of yourself, if you ran into that dude now?

Shootergang Kony: I for sure would’ve told my younger self to watch who you keep around, you know? Your friends have a big-ass impact on you. My mama told me that my friends gonna shape me. I always tried to say like, “I’m my own nigga!” I am my own dude, but, like, that shit is true. When you keep good company, people that make money, you’re gonna end up making money. Your surroundings are everything. I’ve got a son, so I’m gonna tell my son that. Keep good company. That’s what I worry about. People that are bad for you, people that don’t care about themselves, they’re gonna make you not care about yourself. Don’t move reckless, you feel me?

Tell me a bit about your mother. She’s an immigrant from Sierra Leone, right?

Shootergang Kony: Yeah. She was working three jobs. My mom’s a single mother, I never knew my dad. I don’t have a lot of flashbacks or memories from all that time, but I know my life probably would’ve been better with a father. Everyone’s life would. It’s regular for us to only have moms. My whole circle, we only have moms, everyone in my friend group was raised by single moms. That shit really sticks with you. But my mom worked hella hard and never did nothing wrong. She’s a registered nurse and a legal citizen. When she came out here, she barely spoke English. But she worked three jobs, hella hard, bro.

Tell me about your job. You’re not just a rapper anymore, but a director too?

Shootergang Kony: Ever since I was young, I wanted to be an actor. I didn’t like school, but I skipped every class except theater. I liked that shit. I had theater sixth period, so I’d come in sixth period and then go home! I really fucked with that, and I always wanted to act. I’m good at it. I like directing my own shit because I can really sit there and paint the perfect picture that’s not over-dramatic, because I’m the one that’s seen it. And this is how I’m gonna keep going. I just need to find the right route to take, and then I’m steppin’ on the gas. All these music videos, I mean, people always want something to look at on top of something to listen to. When you’re looking at it, that’s when it becomes undeniable.

On that song, “A Sinner’s Story,” you say that you didn’t understand going to church as a kid. “All these ghetto angels, they had to die for a reason/wanna question God, but they tell me I’m overthinkin’”

Shootergang Kony: I can sit here and count my blessings, like, they’re hella good. And to a fan that don’t know nothing about no pain, they can act like my life is perfect. I’m a rapper and I got money! But I’m sitting here, thinking to God like, am I only doing this because my brothers died? I wasn’t successful before my brothers died, you feel me? I lost four brothers in one year, and when you’re going through shit like that, it’s like, you gon question God. I didn’t ask to lose everybody just to get here! Is this a lesson, a sacrifice, like…yeah, I thank God for where I’m at, and maybe that’s the way life was supposed to play out. But I don’t think it’s a sin to question. For me, I don’t really have a religion, I don’t follow something I don’t understand. But I believe in God.

What happened that year? How did you and your people get through it?

Shootergang Kony: Man, the whole year was just crazy. In February, my big brother Terryon died. My brother Diamond died in October. My brother Deray died in November, and then another brother died in December. I’m with all my people, my other brothers, going from one funeral to the next one. Every time we hit that podium, there’s one less person. It’s crazy, going through that. There’s no way you won’t question God. How you gonna live when everyone you grew up with is dead? I lost my grandma and auntie and all that, but I would be lying if I said that losing my grandma felt the same as losing someone I was with every day. You can’t compare it, but, it’s a different type of death when an older person dies. When people around your age are dying, that’s not supposed to happen, that’s a different kind of pain.

I can really only imagine. At your darkest, did you ever picture your own funeral, considering you & your friends were mourning so many losses?

Shootergang Kony: When you go through shit like this, you have those dreams every night. But, the bigger I get, the more that keeps me motivated. My brother Shootergang Jojo is in prison right now, and that feels like another loss, because he’s gone for 13 years. That’s who I started rapping with. He’ll tell me, like, “you obviously are the golden child if you’re the only one of us still out there. You’re meant to do everything.” That’s my man. He says that if this is God’s plan, he don’t have no problem being the sacrifice and all that. I question, like, “why am I the gifted one? I don’t want that shit! Somebody else can have that shit, that responsibility.” I think about this every day.

There’s some real power in your name, Shootergang Kony. You’re repping your fallen brothers, your people, by putting your team in your title.

Shootergang Kony: And they try to get me to change my name hella times! For real. Everybody says it’ll be easier, like, without the name. My homies’ moms and my mom. My mom done tripped about my name hella times. We’re famous in this city. When I go to court, the judge is calling me Shootergang Kony. The D.A. is calling me Shootergang Kony. They paint our lives for us. Shit, the D.A. looks at me and says “this guy will be back in jail in two months.” That’s why I can’t change my name. There’s loyalty in that name, royalty. I’ve lost brothers with the same name. I don’t feel comfortable giving it up.

It recalls a lot of what Drakeo the Ruler & the Stinc Team are going through down here in L.A. They’re really using rap lyrics in court, what the fuck?

Shootergang Kony: They’ll say you’ve got freedom of speech, but then you can’t rap about what you wanna rap about!

You’ve done a lot of living at 20 years old. I had no idea how young you were until “Glock 21.”

Shootergang Kony: I’m actually 21 now, I made that song before my birthday in October, hah.

Still! You have such a bright future, there’s room for a real long career. You said you didn’t think about the future as a kid, but what about now?

Shootergang Kony: For sure. I gotta think about the future now. I have a son, and I have niggas that I want out the hood. I don’t want none of my niggas out here no more. I’m still out here myself, you feel me! I have a lot to make. I have more people to think about.

Do you have a favorite song off this new project?

Shootergang Kony: One month “this one” is my favorite, the next month “that one,” I don’t know. But overall I’d probably say “Sinner’s Story.” My chest was hurting when I was writing that song. I write my shit, I don’t really like just punching in because it’s meaningless. When you punch in and freestyle, you talk about the first thing that comes to your head. I don’t wanna do that, you feel me? I wanna talk about something real. And you’d be surprised. Every rapper that works with me, they’ll say I’m one of the quickest artists you’ll ever encounter when it comes to writing music. I can do a whole song in two or three minutes. When I start typing, I don’t stop. I could be freestyling, but I’m just typing out hella shit. My fingers don’t stop moving, then I take that and make a song.

What other artists, rappers or otherwise, are you trying to work with in the future?

Shootergang Kony: For real, I want to work with singers. I wanna work with, like, H.E.R. I need a Justin Timberlake feature, or like a Kanye West feature, one of those. I aim big. Because otherwise, I just like to rap and make music by myself. But I listen to all types of music. I don’t even be listening to rap like that. I listen to pop, R&B and all that.

Did you grow up on rap? What were you listening to as you discovered your talent?

Shootergang Kony: I grew up on Wayne, 50 Cent, shit like that. I’m younger. I fuck with, like A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes and Nelly, but Lil Wayne was what we listened to going to school. He was going nuts.

Are you excited to tour with SOB x RBE? Twenty cities is nothing to sneeze at.

Shootergang Kony: I just talked to my P.O. today to sign off on my travel pass, so I can go where I want. It’s crazy. Sometimes you’ll come across a P.O. that doesn’t fuck with you and wants to trap you. But right now, you can’t deny that I have a real job, that I’m an artist. I pay taxes, I have a company, a spot, cars. So can’t nobody tell me I’m not a real rapper. That’s what they used to tell us, the P.O. would say we were fake rappers. Now that I have proof, my P.O. is cool. He lets me do my thing. I’m an independent artist, so I’m really doing hella work. Sometimes I just wanna sign so I can chill and don’t have to think about all this. But when I talk to my mom or my baby mama, I sit back and remember that I can’t stop. We can really build an empire. I almost feel like it’s betraying them if I sign a deal. Once it’s Ms coming in, maybe then we can talk, hah. But before that, I gotta do this. I gotta make our name last forever.

It’s really up to us. I gotta make it. We are the first entourage out of Sacramento! This is the first wave out. If we don’t do it right, it’s our fault. I have to make a platform out here, because we’re slept on. Right now, they’re looking at Sacramento, like, they’re shaking shit up! But we got something to prove. We’re not from other places, where you can just jump out and get listeners. I’m from a place where I have to force you to listen to me. It’s my job, to get to that position and make sure the real talent from Sacramento is heard. That’s all niggas jobs, from wherever you’re from. If you get big, you don’t owe nobody nothing, but you for sure owe your community some type of exposure. You have to. That’s what being a big homie is, making sure that anyone with real talent doesn’t get overlooked.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!