During her “Formation” tour stop in Atlanta, Beyoncé took a moment to pay tribute to Shawty Lo. While singing her hit “Diva,” Beyoncé danced to Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know.” The entire Georgia Dome erupted as she paid homage to the Atlanta rapper who recently died after being involved in a car accident. But it was more than a tribute to Shawty Lo. It was music’s biggest star taking a moment to recognize an artist whose life was initially saved by the art itself.
To understand the life of Shawty Lo, you would need to understand the feeling of growing up in the Bowen Homes housing projects located in an area of Atlanta formerly known as Bankhead. According to City-Data, more than 45 percent of the residents of Bankhead live below the poverty level, a rate that doubles the average for the city of Atlanta. Born to a mother who battled drug addiction, Shawty Lo was raised by his grandmother who died when he was 17. He basically raised himself and never believed that he would live past the age of 21.
But the beauty of music is that it can change circumstances in more ways than one. While Beyoncé was in Houston spending hours honing her singing and dancing skills as a teenager, Shawty Lo found himself on the streets of Bankhead and music became his greatest tool for survival.
Shawty Lo never aimed to be the biggest artist in rap. But it was more important for him to be the biggest rapper from Bankhead. Because he knew that if he could make it out of Bankhead, it would serve as a glimmer of hope for those who felt trapped by the pervasive destitution.
Beyoncé and Shawty Lo represent two completely different spectrums of Black music. One is a megastar who is the most significant artist of this generation. The other is a rapper who served as a leading voice for Atlanta’s snap and trap music scenes.
But when Beyoncé decided to dance to Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know,” they were connected in that moment. If Shawty Lo can inspire the world’s most renowned artist, there is another kid from Bankhead who can do the same and, possibly, even more.