In the video for his breakout single "Moolah," local rapper Young Greatness scrambles for cover outside a corner store as he sings about “being on the block when the shots go bang.”
A similar scene played out in real life early Monday when the 34-year-old rapper, born Theodore Jones, was gunned down outside a Waffle House in New Orleans.
Police are searching for two people in connection with the fatal shooting, which happened about 1:35 a.m. in the 2900 block of Elysian Fields Avenue.
The victim was found lying face-down in the street with a gunshot wound to the back; he was pronounced dead at the scene. The Coroner's Office later confirmed the dead man was Jones.
Young Greatness has enough time to sleep, wake up and do it all over again. From New Orleans, he leaves for Atlanta, then Sacramento, Californ…
On Monday, Jones' mother, Jeanine Rose, told WDSU-TV that her son had been in New Orleans to attend a funeral and was on Facetime with his manager when the shooting started in the parking lot of the Waffle House.
She had strong words for the city, saying that because of the pervasive violence, there are "too many mothers making slow walks to sad tombs.”
It seemed that Jones had escaped the city's streets. After years of struggle, legal woes and hard work, he had finally established himself as a viable rapper.
He was raised in New Orleans' St. Bernard housing development, achieving early success on the football field. He graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 2002, only to be uprooted by Hurricane Katrina three years later.
He landed in Houston, where he focused on his hip-hop career. Inspired by the work ethic of Houston rappers, he spent countless hours in recording studios.
In a 2016 interview with Gambit, he described returning to New Orleans in 2007 to sell drugs in order to pay for studio time and gear. His nascent music career was sidelined by a stint in the LaSalle Correctional Center in north-central Louisiana.
He eventually resumed his career. A 2015 mixtape, “I Tried to Tell 'Em,” introduced him to a wider audience.
That audience expanded even more with the melodic single “Moolah.” In the refrain, delivered in a sing-song cadence, Jones says, “All my life I hustle just to get that moolah … and stack my change up and go see the jeweler.”
Released in November 2015 via the respected Atlanta record label Quality Control, "Moolah" gradually rang up more than 30 million views on YouTube and landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The accompanying video was shot on the streets of New Orleans, including at the corner of Ursulines Avenue and Treme Street. It contains familiar local iconography, from cemeteries and crawfish to Mardi Gras Indians, as well as street scenes associated with local hip-hop culture such as pit bulls and revving motorcycles. A casket is a recurring motif.
Just months after "Moolah" was released, Rolling Stone named Young Greatness to its monthly list of “10 Artists You Need to Know,” comparing his style to that of rap stars Fetty Wap, Future and Migos. By chance, Jones appeared on the list in the same month as another act from New Orleans, the rock band the Revivalists.
In the article, Jones described how growing up in New Orleans affected his music.
“From the start of my career, I always was melodic because that's how I came up — second-line music, we sing,” he told Rolling Stone. “That was already instilled into me. … We used to go so much to where I was the child in my household that started rebelling on going to the second-line. Every Sunday, I gotta get a haircut, get new clothes….
“It's just a party on feet. The Saints win the Super Bowl, they're gonna have a second-line. The Pelicans win a game, they're gonna have a second-line. ‘Moolah’ go platinum, they damn sure gonna have a second-line!"
The song didn't go platinum, which denotes sales of 1 million copies. It did, however, achieve gold certification for sales and streams in excess of 500,000.
In July 2016, Jones performed "Moolah" on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," accompanied by the show's musical director, fellow New Orleanian Jon Batiste.
The success of “Moolah” brought Young Greatness to the attention of Cash Money Records, the prominent rap label founded in New Orleans in the 1990s by Bryan “Birdman” Williams and his brother, Ronald “Slim” Williams.
In 2017, Cash Money signed Young Greatness to a contract.
“The first time I heard him, I knew he was going to be big,” Bryan Williams said at the time. “He’s got a grasp on melody that few artists have. It’s the sound of the future.”
As the news of the rapper's death began to circulate, fans and other musicians took to social media Monday morning to express their grief.
Prominent fans included Alvin Kamara, the star running back for the New Orleans Saints, who posted a photograph of himself and the rapper with the caption "RIP brother...."
RIP #YoungGreatness 🤦🏾♂️— OM3GA (@OmegaThaKid) October 29, 2018
R.i.P young greatness— its DOLPHHHHHH! (@YoungDolph) October 29, 2018
RIP #YoungGreatness I was a fan frfr— Gossipofthecity (@gossipoftheciti) October 29, 2018
Police have not released the names of the two people they are seeking or their suspected motive, but they did release a picture of a "person of interest."
The shooters took Jones' car after the killing; it was found by mid-morning.
Anyone with information on the case was asked to call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.