David Boykin, a rising local rapper best known around Baltimore as President Davo, was identified Monday as the victim of a fatal shooting Friday in East Baltimore just south of Clifton Park.
Baltimore Police say officers responded around 6:17 p.m. Friday to the 2000 block of Cliftwood Avenue for a report of a shooting. They found the 28-year-old unresponsive and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Boykin was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Police have since released few other details about the shooting. The popular musical artist’s death deals another painful blow to Baltimore’s tight-knit music scene, which is still reeling from the fatal shooting in August of Christopher Morton, better known as the hip-hop producer “WhiteBoy.”
Boykin was counted among a generation of Baltimore-area hip hop artists — Young Moose, Tate Kobang, Lor Scoota, Creek Boyz, YBS Skola and YG Teck, to name a few — who in the last decade have attracted large followings for their distinctly regional sounds. President Davo’s most popular track song “I Don’t Wanna Be A Playa,” a remix of Big Pun’s single “Still Not A Player,” was heard for years around Baltimore at parties and on car stereos.
Fans shared comments grieving their loss as news of his death spread with lightning speed across social media over the weekend.
Close friends and professional acquaintances say they remember President Davo for his distinct style of pairing crisp rap lyrics and freestyles with softer, melodic singing. He worked tirelessly to churn out new music for his social media accounts and YouTube channel. Before his death, President Davo was getting ready for a scheduled performance with YG Teck at Rams Head Live! on Oct. 15.
Drea England, the performer’s manager, on Monday remembered President Davo as an “undeniable talent” only rivaled by his fierce commitment to community engagement. He recently partnered with the Baltimore City health department to talk with students about the dangers of opioids, she said. He was working on multiple new songs and music videos.
While other Baltimore musical artists built careers off their talent for singing or rap, Boykin had a rare gift for doing both, England said.
“He had that diversity that separated him in Baltimore as an artist,” she said.
Other artists admired the warm working relationship the two of them shared, England said. And they clamored to collaborate with him — an offer he never turned down, she said.
Baltimore rapper StarrZ counted himself a friend and fan of President Davo’s. The two met years ago coming up in the city’s music scene. They bonded over having two daughters and together recorded a song titled “9 to 5.”
“There’s a lot between me and him,” StarrZ said. “He wasn’t no regular artist. His voice was an instrument. He never wrote anything down. We made magic [together].”
StarrZ knows people tend to say great things about musical artists when they die, but “no one was more talented in so many areas,” he said of his friend. That was reflected in his wide fan base, which included men, women and kids of all ages.
“He was a package deal,” StarrZ said.
Close friend Anthony Williams first met Boykin about 10 years ago, when “I Don’t Wanna Be a Playa” was closer to a one-minute freestyle than a song. He urged the young artist to expand on the lyrics. Within days, President Davo paid $20 to record the song and two others at a recording studio in an Owings Mills basement, Williams said.
When the time came to film the music video, the new friends worked their networks and called in favors to source extras and props. One friend pulled out hundreds of dollar bills from his bank and tucked a few $20 bills in front to create the illusion of wealth. Another brought his sleek SUV for Boykin to ride. Williams called a girl he was dating to make a cameo in the video.
“They just mad cuz my ass gon’ be famous one day,” President Davo sang in the subsequent video. “Mad cuz they fans, ain’t they fans, they my fans now. I’m the hottest youngin, hands down.”
Boykin’s lyrics at times touched on harder realities he faced in Baltimore, including brushes with the law. Over the years, he faced a number of criminal and civil charges.
Williams wants his friend to be remembered instead for the many good deeds he did for his hometown, like the back-to-school events he participated in and the clothing and food drives he often organized.
Williams noticed President Davo was appearing in his social media feeds on Friday and figured the musical artist had once again dropped some news songs. Then a friend FaceTimed him to tell him the news of Boykin’s death.
“I was crushed,” Williams said. “I’ve been crying ever since.”
Boykin leaves behind two daughters and a son. Shanta Bunch, who shares her 4-year-old daughter Dynver with Boykin, knew him as a loving and involved father whose children followed him wherever he went, like little shadows, she said.
Bunch said Monday she isn’t sure how to tell Dynver that her father has died. The little girl has been asking lately, “When are we going to Daddy’s house?”
“He was just like a piece that held a lot of things together,” Bunch said. “He was like the key to his family.”
Bunch described Boykin as highly intelligent and committed to giving back to his community. He often organized clothing drives and distributed food to neighbors at Division and Laurens streets in West Baltimore, where he lived for a time as a child. He started experimenting with music when he was 14 years old and eventually grew a fan base across the country in cities like Atlanta and New York, she said. Even pop star Justin Bieber notably danced along to President Davo’s music, a moment captured on video and circulated on President Davo’s Instagram account in early 2015.
“People followed his lead,” Bunch said. “People were like ‘You’re like the president,’ and he just stuck with that.”
As President Davo, Boykin’s contributions to the Baltimore rap scene were significant, said independent journalist Jordan Taylor, who interviewed and wrote about the young artist as he gained fame. He stood for what he wanted rappers to represent, Taylor said.
“He was very melodic and wasn’t afraid to put that front and center at a time when Baltimore musical artists weren’t necessarily doing both,” Taylor said.
For many listeners and artists, rap music offers a vehicle to process pain in other parts of their life, Taylor said. “Great artists are able to transform their pain into beautiful music,” he said. “Their trauma and hopes and dreams become a tangible soliloquy.”
Days after Boykin’s death, Williams thought back on his final interaction with his friend just a few weeks prior. Boykin’s mood seemed “heavy,” but he promised to come visit Williams in Los Angeles soon.
The two always linked up when they could — until Boykin was drawn back home to his community in Baltimore.
“I just don’t want the city to forget that man,” Williams said.
Baltimore Banner reporter Taji Burris contributed to this report.