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You Can't Bury Me

Octavis Berry still watches over the League of Extraordinary G'z

By Chase Hoffberger, Fri., June 8, 2012

Beat the drum: The League and its extended family gathered last month at the Frank Erwin Center for this portrait.
Beat the drum: The League and its extended family gathered last month at the Frank Erwin Center for this portrait.
Photo by Sandy Carson

A local rapper died last October because nobody would tell him he was dying.

His name was Octavis Berry, and he rapped as Esbe da 6th Street Bully. Berry was one-half of local hip-hop duo Dred Skott and a founding member of the League of Extraordinary G'z – a dedicated rap troupe that combines the entities Dred Skott, SouthBound, and Da C.O.D. Group functionality is more family than formality.

Berry didn't have health insurance. The hospitals he visited for chest pains had no one to bill for an MRI scan that would have revealed a pulmonary embolism – one that filled his lungs with blood until he eventually couldn't catch a breath.

Berry had complained of chest pains since the League's Southeast tour last summer. He'd tell his girlfriend Stephanie Sanders, a woman he planned to marry, that it felt like a stabbing in the chest, like a knife pushing gradually into his rib cage. Sanders sent him to the hospital when he got back, but the doctors told him he had asthma; he wasn't using his inhaler right.

He developed a cold, which doctors later diagnosed as bronchitis. That turned to pneumonia, which lasted for weeks unmedicated. He'd started coughing up blood in August – keeping a sock in his closet for hocking globs into every morning. Sanders thought the blood was coming from his gums since the episodes would occur after brushing his teeth.

He started to take longer getting up stairs. A week before he died, he couldn't jog to the end of the block.

"I thought that he was just hot," Sanders says. "He was overweight already, and we'd been in a relationship for two years. We were getting comfortable. He had gained that extra 30 pounds being in a relationship. I didn't think that he was gaining this weight because his body was reacting wrong."

He swelled up like a blowfish during his last week. The water weight took hold.

"That was his blood pooling," says Sanders, becoming silent for a spell. "It just really sucks."

Berry's first time on stage
Berry's first time on stage
Photo courtesy of The Berry Family

Octavis Berry died at 9:43pm on Oct. 14, after collapsing at 11th Street and I-35 near Brackenridge Hospital. According to Sanders, doctors there report the rapper had been hostile during treatment and had to be restrained. She believes that's what finally ruptured the artery.

Bully Basics

Saturdays are family day at Sanchez Street in the house where Octavis Berry lived his final days.

Home to Reggie Coby, Leroy "Greezo" Minor, and band manager Kunal Sharma, plus a temporary abode to Robert "Lowkey" Hein, Tucker "Tuk da Gat" Ivey, and LaDarrian "Dowrong" Torry, the house is the mecca for all things League-affiliated.

"This was just supposed to be a mixtape," explains Greezo, who, at 30, is the oldest member of the group, which also includes Stephan "S.Dot" Sweeney, Johnathan "Lil' J" Brea, and Michael "Sandman" Hein, who's currently serving in the Navy. "It wasn't a group until a few months of us recording. When we first got together, I was still on house arrest. I wasn't out. Reggie, Low, Tay [Berry], and Sandman was grinding with the rest of Da C.O.D. When I got out the house, Tuk was already going to Reg and Tay's every day. It had already started forming like a family."

The League of Extraordinary G'z is family, but it's also the richest collection of rappers Austin has seen in years. The seven members remain relentlessly dedicated to their craft, spending the majority of their free time recording, rehearsing, and critiquing each other's work. They spin solo tracks on repeat, check one another on verses, and tweak their sets to balance energy and spotlight affiliate members like DJ Kurupt and RaShad "Blaxsmith" Smith.

The hard work has yielded a wealth of celebrated street releases since the group's 2010 inception: three installments of the Concealed Weapons mixtape series, two Loftin-N-Austin comps, an S.Dot and Tuk da Gat helmed White Boy Mixtape (four of the League's eight original members are white), and a slew of independent releases from the three groups that make up the crew. They've toured the Southeast and Pacific coast, earning the adoration of rap icons Dead Prez and Organized Noize's Ray Murray – one of the group's foremost inspirations. Local rap pioneer Bavu Blakes considers them a few chess moves away from unprecedented achievements among homegrown hip-hop artists.

"We believe in something that's never even existed," Greezo says. "I remember going to South by Southwest in 2005 and passing out my mixtape. This white lady, I handed her my CD because I found out she was in A&R. She said, 'What do you do?' I told her I was a rapper from Austin. She laughed at me in my face and handed my CD back, didn't even give me a chance to say listen to the motherfucker.

"'You're a rapper from Austin? Bye.'

"That's fertilizer and momentum," he adds. "We believe in energy."

That, they have in scores. With a live setup that includes a DJ, a drummer, up to 10 different rappers, and a lion mascot who jumps around in the group's trademark Texas T-shirt, League shows offer as much heat as any other performance you'll see in this vast city of music.

Family Ties (l-r): Octavis Berry, Pauline Starnes, Angela Enoch, and LaDarrick Torry
Family Ties (l-r): Octavis Berry, Pauline Starnes, Angela Enoch, and LaDarrick Torry
Photo courtesy of The Berry Family

"It's almost a competition," Lowkey says of trading bars with his bandmates. "We all want to come harder than the next. Whoever's on the song with me is going to try to eat that song off the bone, so you better come hard, or else you gonna get rapped out the room."

Berry was the group's most prominent MC, a vibrant, party-sized personality who befriended Norwegians and planked atop aquariums on tour. He was the one who conceived the League of Extraordinary G'z, and he was the nucleus for the community that's gathered around the collective. A blown-up portrait of him hangs above the board on which the group tracks songs. He's keeping watch over the League he built.

"I miss his energy and having him around," says Coby, his group mate in Dred Skott, who, for all intents and purposes, was Berry's second half. "But he wouldn't want the show to stop. He'd want you to go harder. I know because he told me."

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