You Can't Bury Me
Octavis Berry still watches over the League of Extraordinary G'z
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We Gon' Make It
Octavis Berry rapped about death because even in life, death was no stranger.
The youngest child of Pauline Starnes, he lost his oldest brother, Kenny, to a drive-by shooting in 1994. LaDarrick Torry, Berry's second brother and Dowrong's father, died 16 years later when his house was invaded and he got shot defending his home. In between, in 2004, Kenny's eldest son died from burns incurred while saving his younger brother from a burning vehicle. Only a sister, Angela Enoch, survives among Berry's four siblings.
"It's hard to talk to her some days," Sanders says of Starnes. "There's no way in hell I could deal with that. Pauline's a sweetheart, a very Christian woman. She does believe in her Savior, but she's endured a lot."
Those hardships contributed to the League's bond: It represents family in a space where the physicality of biological families have ceased to exist.
"Everybody wants to be part of a family, man," says Tyrone "Bone" Jones, a former deejay on KAZI 88.7FM. He's been SouthBound's manager since 2001 and runs 2 Da Bone Records, the label that released the first albums from that group and Dred Skott. He's the elder statesman of the crew – an adviser to the League – and, as Lowkey affirms, "part of the family."
"People see us and want to be a part of it,"' says Jones, "because we gellin'." That's why the Sanchez house is filled to near capacity with rappers from other groups on Saturday afternoon. That's what makes the League better. Their dependence on one another is divine; they think the world of each other's rapping ability and recognize the role the group plays in their healing process. Dowrong, 18 years old and now without his father and two uncles, has taken over a number of Berry's verses, including the classic "Yes He Is."
"This group is what he left me," he says. "He created the League of Extraordinary G'z and in passing away, he gave me the League."
"I'd die for these niggas," Greezo says. "Low, I'd jump in front of a bus for that dude. This ain't talk. I lost my son four years ago, and then Tay. I lost the woman that I love. This is all I have. I know what happens when I die, because I've seen it. All we have is to go hard."
Now they go hard in an effort to provide for Berry's children. He had three with LaShonda Simonton – Tavarius, Octavis Jr., and Krystal – and he helped her raise a fourth, Shontay – a point that comes up regularly with the League during conversation.
"I watched those kids grow up," Coby says. "I've known those kids for 10 years. They call me Uncle Reggie. If it's wintertime and it's cold out, it's only natural: school time – get the books.
"They know me like that, and that's real cool. I told them that if they need anything, they can call me. That makes all of us go harder to be in a position where if they call, we can facilitate. I don't have any kids of my own."
"We're all going to die," adds Greezo. "The only thing that we have is what we leave behind for our kids and the future generations of the League."
I Am Not Afraid
The newest member of the League of Extraordinary G'z was born March 29, 2012. Serenity Lakentay Berry – 20 inches and 8 pounds, 4 ounces – is the first and only child of Octavis Berry and Stephanie Sanders.
"She looks exactly like him," says Sanders, from her home in Missouri where she now lives with her mother. "She'll look at me all serious, and I'll see him in her so much. When she scratches her eyebrow, her pinky turns to the side just like her dad's. And she's got his fat baby boobies, too. Her chest looks like his."
Sanders was three months pregnant with Serenity when Berry died, and in an effort to familiarize her with her father, she played Dred Skott's "I'm Not Afraid" to her belly when she rested.
"If you listen, it almost sounds like a lullaby," she says. "I played that almost every day while she was in the womb. I waited until a week after I had her and played it again, and she fell asleep instantly."
The song has doubled as Sanders' anthem. She's a strong woman, cheerful in conversation and proud as hell of her little girl ("I want to show her to the whole world"), but Berry's death crushed a lifelong dream that she had for her children.
"I had two dads," she says. "I had a biological father that gave me up, and I had a dad that adopted me – who now has nothing to do with me, either. The one thing that I wanted for my children was for their father to be there, and now my child can't even have her own father.
"My thing now is, 'Why did God cheat my daughter out of having a dad?' I got cheated out of two. Why does she have to be cheated? That's the one thing that I wanted for my child, was that she'd grow up and enjoy being around her dad."
Then she recalls the League in the days immediately following Berry's death.
"I don't remember who it was, but one of them said something like, 'Your baby may have lost one daddy, but she's got seven more right here.'"
For donations to the Berry family, see www.octavisberrydonations.com.
LOEGZ takes its name from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film about a cast of extraordinary individuals who, as Reggie Coby attests, "all come together when they're needed to handle shit."
"Everybody in LOEGZ is the shit by themselves," he adds, "but when we come together, it's some superfreak type shit." Here's proof.
"Yes He Is," Concealed Weapons III (May 12, 2011) Berry, S.Dot, and Tuk spit quick like Twista over a soulful hook and murky piano sample. Berry raps: "We in the industry's respiratory like a detrimental germ. Ain't no cure for it, so you might as well let the kush burn."
"70s," Dred Skott 4 President (Nov. 4, 2008) Reggie Coby gets soulful, riffing on leisure suits, the Jackson 5, and "Superfly" over a mean blues guitar lick.
"That Ain't Right," Seasons Change (April 20, 2009) The brothers Hein point a jagged finger at posturing rappers. "You say what you feel is street. I say what the streets feel," raps Sandman, before Greezo wipes the floor with rugged realism.
"Don't Touch Me," Dred Skott 4 President Octavis Berry on full display, funny as he is ferocious: "When I invade your living room, fuck your couch. Nigga, we here like we live here, too. I'm lounging, breaking up a pound on your momma's good china."
"Next Level," single (March 1, 2012) S.Dot, Dowrong, and Tuk get "up on your neck, ass, and elbows" over trunk-rattling soul and a backbeat that could have come from a Black Milk session.
"Keep Movin'," Seasons Change. SouthBound flips the Beatles' "When I'm 64," reels in singer Rochelle Terrell, and digs its toes into the dirt: "Go find my worst enemy, even he admit that we the shit."
"We Gon' Make It," Concealed Weapons II (May 31, 2010) "Niggas on that lame shit like candy paint and swangs and grills. Nigga, when that ink dry, I'm investing in scholarships for my children following thinking daddy can't do wrong. Tay almost 13. Nigga, we shoulda been on. But everything happen for a reason, so I take it, cause in my gut I got a feeling that we gon' make it." "We Gon' Make It" lyrics by Octavis Berry