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Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo's star was rising before deadly drive-by

| Tuesday, June 19, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
Jimmy Wopo
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Jimmy Wopo

Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo called his defense attorney just after 4 p.m. Monday to tell him the good news: He was getting ready to sign a deal to go on a 27-stop summer concert tour and join a record label started by hip-hop star Wiz Khalifa.

"My job was going to be to get him permission to go on this tour and chase his dream," attorney Owen Seman said, noting Wopo needed the court's approval because he was probation in connection with 2015 drug charges.

"And 15 minutes later, that was it."

Someone driving on Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh's Hill District opened fire on a white Mazda SUV, striking Wopo and another person in the vehicle. Wopo, whose real name is Travon Smart, was pronounced dead about 90 minutes later at UPMC Presbyterian.

He was 21.

"He was right there," said friend Lisa Woodbury, who was playing Wopo's music as she walked through the Hill District on Tuesday.

She lives in his former childhood home. On Saturday, Wopo pulled over his car to the side of the street to talk with her.

"I believe in about a month Wopo would have been somewhere doing things that would have made us all so proud. But he's not here able to do that with us anymore, and I'm angry," Woodbury said, her voice wavering. "I'm frustrated, and I'm hurting for my community."

Seman said Wopo wanted to do everything by the book before going on tour.

"He wanted to do everything right — he was not just going to go," he said. "So he called his lawyer and said, 'Hey, Owen, this is what's happening in my life.' And it was ended."

Seman said leaving Pittsburgh would have been good for Wopo.

"It would have given him a fresh start," Seman said. "That's what a lot of these kids need. You can't change the past. At some point, you've got to be given a chance, and he was working so hard at this."

Pittsburgh police said in a statement Tuesday that they will "thoroughly investigate this homicide, as we do all homicides in the city."

Officials did not comment further on the active investigation, citing department policy.

Seman said Wopo's contract would have been with the label Taylor Gang Entertainment. It was founded in 2008 by Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa, who rose from Taylor Allderdice High School to national fame.

Representatives from Taylor Gang could not immediately be reached for comment.

The label represents other hip-hop and rap artists in the national scene, including Juicy J, Chevy Woods and Tuki Carter.

"This was not something minor. This is something that you work years for," Seman said. "There are internet rappers all over the place. Everybody wants this type of opportunity, and this young kid from Pittsburgh had it and had it taken away from him for nothing."

"Runnin to the money," Wopo wrote on Twitter about two hours before the shooting.

Harvey Daniels, a Pittsburgh native and hip-hop artist who goes by FRZY, said that while he didn't know Wopo, his social media posts and some of his videos could be interpreted as perhaps violent. He cited Wopo's last Instagram post that showed him holding a revolver with the caption, "I only raise killers."

FRZY said he mourns the loss of a young life, but he also worries about what Wopo's death will mean for his fans.

"I hope the people around him take this situation and use it to make people better, to show that that type of energy, it only ends one way," he said. "Now his brand is going to be what keeps his memory alive instead his brand keeping him alive."

Woodbury, Wopo's friend, said she wants to remember the good that he did.

"I want to remember him as the one who wanted to help where there wasn't anybody to help," she said. "I know he was headed for great things. There were some things he wasn't proud of, that he wanted to fix."

She said she wants to see change in her community.

"I want to fight for us," she said. "I want to figure out how we can keep our young men from feeling like the trigger is the only thing you can pull."

Megan Guza and Nate Smallwood are Tribune-Review staffers. Reach Guza at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib. Reach Smallwood at nsmallwood@tribweb.com or via Twitter @nsmallwoodphoto.

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