Meet the Rapper Who Blew Up by Playing Memorial Concerts

The thing T-Rell remembers the most is the pain.

The Topeka, Kansas rapper and singer (“Top City,” in his parlance), born Terrell Terry, is talking about the September 2014 car accident that left him with lingering back pain and a dead best friend. T-Rell and his manager Chris Partee, known as 8-Ball, were in a Ford Explorer driven by another friend, Sevon Covington, headed from Dallas through Oklahoma. A car stopped short in front of them, in an attempt to move into a median for a U-turn. The Explorer swerved to the right to get out of the way, the vehicle flipped over, and 8-Ball flew out the windshield.

T-Rell was put in an ambulance, and then helicoptered out to Oklahoma City, where he was treated for two fractured ligaments. But it was in the ambulance that the pain became more than physical.

“They told me in the ambulance that [8-Ball] didn't make it,” the rapper remembers now. “I don't even know if they're supposed to do that, if you're in a traumatic wreck like that—to tell you that somebody passed away. It broke my heart.”

Chris Partee had been far more than a manager to T-Rell. They met when Partee moved to T-Rell’s hometown of Topeka in order to attend Washburn University. Partee, the scion of a vice president at Colgate Palmolive who frequently had business in China, was alone in a new town. T-Rell, just 15 at the time, hit it off with this college student who, in the rapper’s recollection, “didn’t know nobody, so he kinda clung to me.”

They told me in the ambulance that he didn't make it. I don't even know if they're supposed to do that. it broke my heart.

The two became fast friends. After a while, it dawned on T-Rell that his friend who was studying mass media and business would be the perfect person to look after a fledgling music career. And he was. “He was more motivated than me,” T-Rell says now of his late friend, who he frequently refers to as his brother. “He did everything.”

After the accident, T-Rell was laid up at his mother’s house for a few weeks, trying to make sense of it all and wondering if he even wanted to continue making music. But then he thought about 8-Ball yet again, and came to a conclusion.

“I was thinking to myself, he didn't have to be my manager,” T-Rell recalls. “He didn't have to do no music, none of that. He was already rich. His dad was the vice president of Colgate [and] owned a couple million dollar house in Lawrence, Kansas. He could have been living there, doing everything he want to. But he was grinding with me. So I was like, I can't let him down. I can't let him die without me pushing.”

And it was in that state, drugged up on pain meds and missing his best friend, that T-Rell came up with the song that would change his life. He remembers of writing his tribute to Partee, called “My Dawg,” that “I didn’t even wanna do it at first. Then I got motivated.”

He freestyled some lines, “just speaking my heart.”

I just wanna pour another drink with my dawg
And I just wanna sit and talk some shit with my dawg
All the late nights in the club, you never once not showed me love
Because nobody got my back like my dawg

Once released, the song started spreading throughout the region. And then a funny thing happened: people started adopting it to pay tribute to their own dead friends, and they wanted to hear T-Rell sing it.

The rapper remembers the first time this occurred. In Starkville, Mississippi, a kid named Lil’ D had been killed by a burglar.

“I got this call from a promoter who said, ‘This kid got killed and all my city is doing is playing your song. Kids. Adults. Grandparents. It’s touching people. We gotta bring you down here,’” he remembers.

Getting to Starkville was no picnic. There was a car with a blown engine, a last-minute rental, and a new manager who refused to take the trip. But eventually, he made it.

“I had no security. I’m in the hood by myself. It’s just me and the promoter, and I’m going to this family’s house and I’m gonna sing the song to them—no PA and no stage,” he continues. “It’s so emotional in there, but when I walk in the house, everybody’s face just lights up. I sang that song for their grandparents and the kids, the mother. It’s so crazy. Then I pulled up at a gas station and kids come out like crazy singing the song.”

That Starkville show was the beginning of an unexpected ride for T-Rell. He got another booked to perform at another memorial concert, and then another. And now, it makes up a little less than half of all his bookings—he performed at 40 in 2017. “I’ve done 16 cities in Mississippi alone,” he tells me.

At these shows, beefs get left behind. Family disagreements, rivalries between gangs—everyone puts that aside to pay tribute to their dawg. T-Rell remembers one particular show in Magnolia, Arkansas where the power of his song became evident.

“These two dudes got killed in a car accident,” he explains. “I get brought out there for their party. It’s wall to wall. Two thousand people in there and picture this—two different gangs. You got two different sides of the hood, because these two people were so loved in that city and my record was that powerful. These people were hugging each other, coming together, no violence, no fights, loving each other. I always do this thing where I say, ‘If you love your dog, hug your dog.’ So everybody’s hugging in the crowd, holding their lighters up.”

The shows can be emotional, for performer and audience alike.

“I be crying sometimes when I perform,” T-Rell admits. “Sometimes I break down and I cry on stage, and it engages the fans even more. They love it because that’s genuine. You see a performer crying on stage that’s performing a record, you know what that song means to that person.”

t-rell promo
Image via Publicist

It’s been two years of memorial concerts, and they are not slowing down. Many of the people at each show follow T-Rell to other venues, to the point where a crowd in Omaha nearly tore the venue apart when the rapper’s set time ended before he had a chance to perform “My Dawg.” “It literally might be unsafe if I don’t to that record,” he remembers thinking, and performed it a cappella.

T-Rell’s career got a boost recently when Boosie Badazz hopped on the “My Dawg” remix, the video for which is, as of this writing, hovering just below three million views. But getting to that point took some of the determination that T-Rell learned from his late manager.

T-Rell openly admits to “chasing after” Boosie for a while before landing the verse.

“When he got out of prison, I said, I want this record to blow up. It was already doing good numbers, but I want that [snaps fingers]. So I said, who better than Boosie? My manager at the time was a promoter. He booked Boosie in Kansas City and in Wichita. I said, boy, you gotta put me on these shows. I was in every V.I.P, every backstage, trying to link with him. I got a thousand pictures with him. He finally gave me a shot in Omaha, Nebraska.”

But getting the verse was only the first step in T-Rell’s plan. Next was following Boosie on tour—whether the Topeka rapper had been booked on the show or not.

“I said to myself again, a whole bunch of people got features with Boosie, but how many people tour with him? So I just followed every show. Went to every concert, performed. And it worked out for me. My buzz is crazy in the South.”

The whole process ended up with Boosie—T-Rell’s favorite rapper growing up—acting as a mentor. T-Rell was even around during the recording of Boosie’s BooPac project, “doing backgrounds and picking up game.”

With his burgeoning career—the devoted fans; the busy gig schedule; collabs with Boosie, Kevin Gates, and Moneybagg Yo; a brand new album, Can’t Stop Me; and much more on the horizon—T-Rell can’t help thinking about how his dawg would react if he could see it all.

“He’d be hype right now,” the rapper says of 8-Ball. “He would be proud of me not giving up.”

More from Complex

White Family Charged in Deaths of 2 Black Men Found Chained to Cinderblocks

Brett Boettler, 16, is facing first and second-degree murder charges in the deaths of two black men whose dismembered bodies were found chained to cinderblocks, while his family all face accessory charges in a reported “gun sale gone bad,” The Associated Press reports. Alize Smith and Jarron Moreland's bodies were found dismembered in an Oklahoma City pond after being reported missing for four days.

While Boettler, along with his brother Kevin Garcia-Boettler, mother Crystal Boettler and her boyfriend Johnny Barker are all white, authorities say the crime was not racially motivated.

“We definitely explored that, and the evidence absolutely shows that this was not racially motivated,” said Cleveland County prosecutor Greg Mashburn.

The murders are still part of many conversations across social media comparing them to lynchings.

Reportedly, the whole incident started from a pre-arranged meeting to purchase a gun from Moreland and Smith. After the Boettler brothers picked up both men in their van, Garcia-Boettler told police he heard a gun cock and that was when Boettler fired his gun. After that, the brothers reportedly went to their mother's house, then getting help from her and boyfriend Barker with disposing of Moreland and Smith's bodies. They were removed from the van, covered with a tarp, attached to cinder blocks and dumped into the pond. 

ABC reports that detectives later would find the van in question, which Barker admitted to having helped clean in order to destroy evidence. They found “cleaning products and a power washer around the vehicle,” “dried blood spatter on the ceiling of the van,” as well as “a bucket of water with a chainsaw bar inside and soaking in the water along with several jigsaw blades.” 

While Boettler is also charged with having a gun after juvenile conviction, he along with Garcia-Boettler and Barker also face charges for the desecration of a corpse and unlawful removal of a body. Boettler's mother only faces charges of being an accessory to murder, charges Garcia-Boettler and Barker also face.

More from Complex

Shohei Ohtani Crushing MLB; Paul George “Can See” Staying in OKC | Out of Bounds

On today’s episode, Gilbert Arenas and the #OutofBounds boys kick things off by talking about fights. Next, they react to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina trying to fight Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo for referring to him as “motherf*cker” while arguing a called third strike with an umpire. Are athletes becoming too sensitive? Gil certainly thinks so, and explains why he was never phased by anything anybody said about him. Then, with Japanese pitcher and slugger Shohei Ohtani starting the season super hot for the Los Angeles Angels, OOB looks at how difficult it is for foreign players to adjust to a new league and culture. Gil, who had international teammates in the NBA and also played abroad in China, breaks down the differences between coming to the U.S. and going overseas. According to Hibachi, one is much more difficult. Following that, the squad looks at how the Celtics used and traded Isaiah Thomas — and the subsequent injuries to Boston’s stars — and debates the existence of sports karma. There are strong feelings on both sides of this divide. Plus, Gil gives his prediction for a Celtics team trying to win a playoff series without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. In “The Pull-Up,” OOB closes the show out by offering career advice to Paul George, who recently said he “can see” himself staying in Oklahoma City and isn’t basing his free agency decision on whether or not the Thunder win a championship this year. Gil vehemently objects to reporters even asking about his future, but also has a sober analysis of where PG will take his talents next season…. And finally, Gil manages to disrespect a young fan of the show, so there’s that.

More from Complex

Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Warriors React to Suffering Worst Loss of Season Against Jazz

The Warriors once again look like the favorites to win the NBA Finals this season. At 40-11, they are heads and tails above every other team in the league. But throughout the course of the season, they have shown that they can be beaten—and even blown out—when they don’t put forth their best effort.

Back in late October, the Warriors sustained a 111-101 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis, just days after knocking off the Rockets in their season-opening game. In late November, Golden State got trounced by the Thunder 108-91 in Oklahoma City. And earlier this month, the Warriors got their rear ends kicked at home by the Clippers 125-106 in a game that featured Lou Williams going off for 50 points. It doesn’t happen often, but those teams have shown that, if you catch the Warriors on an off night, you can give them a taste of their own medicine.

On Tuesday night, the Jazz were the latest team to unexpectedly beat up on the Warriors. Ricky Rubio notched a double-double with 23 points and 11 assists and Joe Ingles knocked down a career-high six three-pointers on his way to 20 points as Utah jumped all over Golden State at home en route to a 129-99 win. The 30-point loss was the Warriors’ worst loss of the season so far.

After the game, several Warriors players tried to explain what happened. Kevin Durant, who scored 17 points during the contest, put a lot of the blame on himself. He admitted to not doing a very good job on the defensive side of the ball while guarding Ingles.

“I can’t let Joe Ingles get loose on 3s like that and expect us to play well on the road, especially in here,” KD said. “I got to start off the game better if we want to win games.”

Steph Curry, who scored just 14 points on 1-for-7 shooting from behind the three-point line, wasn’t happy with the way his team played as a whole. He revealed that, during the fourth quarter, he told Draymond Green it was one of the worst games he’s ever seen the current Warriors team play.

“I asked Draymond on the bench in the fourth quarter if he could remember that bad of a performance that we’ve had in recent memory,” Curry said, “and we really can’t. You can’t just show up, especially on the road, and expect to win. That’s kind of cheating the game.”

Green, meanwhile, was slightly less concerned than his teammates were about the Warriors’ putrid performance. He said he actually thought the Warriors were going to pull off a massive comeback at some point. And even though they weren’t ultimately able to do it, he didn’t sound too worried about what the loss would mean for his team in the long run.

“I'm just foolish enough to believe that we always have a chance,” Green said. “So even going into that fourth quarter, I'm like, 'OK, here we go. All right, here comes a run. They're playing great, but they can't really get over 16, 18. We can cover that really quick. Here we go.' It just ain't never happen for us. So it's cool.”

But Warriors head coach Steve Kerr wasn’t as forgiving as Green was. He attempted to light a fire under the Warriors by blasting them for their “pathetic effort.” He also referred to the “disgusting basketball” he saw them play while speaking with reporters after the game.

“We just didn’t start out the game with any force defensively,” Kerr said. “We weren’t staying into bodies, they were just stopping behind screens, we were lazy on our switches. We played with no sense of urgency, no sense of purpose.”

The good news for the Warriors is that they should have a good chance to bounce back from their loss to the Jazz during their next game on Friday night. They will travel to Sacramento to play the Kings, and seeing as how the Warriors already suffered a surprising loss to the Kings during a home game back in late November, they should have absolutely no trouble getting up for the game and getting back on track.

The Warriors will follow their game against the Kings with another road game against the Nuggets on Saturday night before returning home next Tuesday night for a nationally-televised matchup against the Thunder.

More from Complex

Russell Westbrook Torches Wizards After Thinking LeBron James Picked Him Last in NBA All-Star Draft

On Thursday afternoon, LeBron James and Steph Curry took part in the first-ever NBA All-Star draft. They went through the long list of this season’s NBA All-Stars and chose who will play alongside each of them on their respective teams during the All-Star Game next month. And when the draft was over, LeBron shared the list of players who will be running with him.


Most people looked at the list and quickly realized LeBron had put the players on his team into alphabetical order. We’d guess he did this to avoid revealing who he had picked first as well as who he had picked last. In fact, we’d guess the NBA chose not to televise this portion of the All-Star process specifically to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. People on social media would have inevitably made a huge deal over whoever ended up going last in the draft.

But when Russell Westbrook first saw the list, he didn’t realize it was in alphabetical order. All he saw was his name at the bottom of it, and he mistakenly believed LeBron had taken him with the last pick in the draft. Furthermore, he believed LeBron had taken John Wall with the pick ahead of him.

By chance, Westbrook and the Thunder played Wall and the Wizards on Thursday night, and Westbrook—possibly because he had seen LeBron's list just prior to the game—went off during the contest. He scored 46 points and threw down this thunderous dunk during Oklahoma City’s 121-112 win over Washington.

And when the game ended, he spoke with reporters about his thoughts on LeBron picking him to play on his team in the All-Star Game. Westbrook said it was “cool,” but his teammate Carmelo Anthony yelled at him and told him to tell everyone “how you really feel.” Westbrook smiled before admitting he was a little miffed about being picked last.

“I see I was the last pick on the list,” he said. “I was just trying to figure out how…”

At that point, Westbrook was informed about the list being in alphabetical order, and a light bulb went off in his head. He responded by yelling back at Carmelo. “See, I told you, man!” Westbrook said. “Alphabetical order, man! Of course I was first!”

It was a funny, lighthearted moment in the end. But after Westbrook admitted he thought he went last in the draft, him dropping 46 points on Wall and Wizards suddenly made so much sense.

Draft misunderstanding aside, LeBron’s decision to select Westbrook in the All-Star draft will reunite him with his former teammate Kevin Durant. KD went first overall in the draft to LeBron’s team, and he had a pretty classic reaction to it on Thursday night. He put up the Players’ Tribune meme that everyone always uses against him on Instagram to announce how happy he is to be playing with LeBron’s team. He also put his Warriors teammate Curry on notice and said he’s gunning for him in the All-Star Game. Curry picked Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the draft but not Durant.

The All-Star Game will take place on Feb. 18. If all this buildup to it is any indication, it should be a pretty decent—and dare we say competitive?—game.

More from Complex

Watch Klay Thompson Do the Most Random Interview Ever While Walking Around NYC

After playing against the Nets in Brooklyn on Sunday night, the Warriors had an off day on Monday. And that gave a couple of Golden State stars the opportunity to fulfill some media obligations in New York City.

Steph Curry stopped by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Monday night, and during his appearance on the show, he spoke about everything from serving as a taste-tester for his wife Ayesha at home to having his own line of Under Armour sneakers. He also made a well-timed joke about Fallon’s decision to take up “smoking” as a hobby while he was on the show. You can check out Curry’s appearance on The Tonight Show (“smoking” joke at the 1:20 mark) below.

But that was far from the most newsworthy media appearance made by a member of the Warriors on Monday. Because while Curry was taping his Tonight Show segment, his teammate Klay Thompson was off taking part in a media appearance of his own, and it involved a very important topic: Scaffolding. Yes, scaffolding.

If you’ve ever walked around New York City, you know that scaffolding is literally everywhere. It’s hard to walk for more than a block without having to walk under it. And somehow, Fox 5 in NYC was lucky enough to land a man on the street interview with Thompson, who talked about his approach to scaffolding as he made his way around the Big Apple on Monday. You can check out a portion of the interview below.

“I usually observe if the piping and stuff is new,” Thompson, who was identified as “NBA Player” by Fox 5, said. “Sometimes, you know, if it’s something that looks like it’s been there awhile, I kind of try to avoid that.”


If this seems like the most random interview you’ve ever seen an NBA player do, you’re not alone. This clip of Thompson talking scaffolding has been making the rounds on social media, and it’s been getting quite a reaction out there.

Can we request more clips of Thompson talking to local news people in every city he visits? The Warriors travel to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder on Wednesday night. Good luck topping this, OKC.

More from Complex

Carmelo Anthony’s Son Is One of the Main Reasons He Ended Up on the Thunder

When Isaiah Thomas got traded to the Cavaliers as part of the Kyrie Irving deal this summer, he wasn’t happy about it. At all. In fact, he’s still not all that thrilled with the way things went down, and he has committed himself to not speaking to Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge for the foreseeable future. But there was one person who was ecstatic when he found out Thomas had been traded: His own son James.

“LEBRON! LEBRON JAMES!” his son yelled when he found out about the trade, according to a piece Thomas penned for The Players’ Tribune. “Dad—Dad. You get to play with LeBron James!”

And it sounds like there’s another famous NBA player’s son who was also incredibly happy when he found out that his dad had been traded to a contender.

Carmelo Anthony spoke with The New York Times this week, ahead of the Thunder’s season-opening game against the Knicks on Thursday night. He revealed that long before he considered waiving his no-trade clause to accept a trade that would take him to Oklahoma City, his son Kiyan came to him and told him that he should consider making a move to the Thunder. Carmelo hadn’t thought about it much up until that point, but he said it definitely played a role in his final decision to go to OKC.

“My son said he wanted me to play for OKC,” Carmelo said. “Even before OKC was in the picture.”

Carmelo suggested it wasn’t the only time he had discussed the possibility of a trade with his son, but he said Kiyan was pretty adamant about the idea of him playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

“My son has a basketball mind,” he said. “So I will always throw little topics at him. He was like, 'Dad, where are you getting traded to?' I told him, 'I don’t know, where do you think I should go?' He said: 'You really want me to give you my opinion? I think you should go to OKC.' It worked out.”

It sure did—and OKC fans have Kiyan to thank.


Elsewhere in his interview with the NYT, Carmelo addressed the fractured relationship he had with Phil Jackson. He admitted that he only spoke to Jackson twice all last season, and accused Jackson of trying to trade him away from the Knicks “for a bag of chips.” He also spoke on how difficult it was to deal with it all while also trying to focus on playing basketball.

“When I signed with the Knicks, I wanted to be in New York and I believed in Phil,” he said. “Then last year it went to: I was being pushed out. There were things being said about me that I didn’t know where they were coming from. And I still had to go to the gym and play and practice and deal with the media, answer all those questions every day.”

You can check out the Times’ full piece on Carmelo ahead of his game against the Knicks here.

More from Complex

Carmelo Anthony Takes Subtle Jab at Knicks Over Joining OKC

Carmelo Anthony has only been playing for the Thunder for about 10 days now. But to hear him tell it, he’s already way happier playing in Oklahoma City than he ever was playing for the Knicks.

On Monday, Carmelo—who is a three-time Olympic gold medalist—told reporters that playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George on the Thunder feels a little bit like playing alongside his fellow Olympians as part of Team USA. And while explaining why that is, he managed to take a shot at the Knicks and the talent, or lack thereof, that he was surrounded with when he played in New York City.

Olympic Melo connotation comes into play [where] I’m surrounded by great players,” he said, according to the New York Post. “I try to get where the game is easier for myself, easier for everybody else. That’s where I can come in and not have to do too much and bring my game and help me blend with other guys. I’ve always been a product of my environment. Whatever the environment wants from me, that’s what I give my environment. This environment is different, reminds me of being around Olympic teams, those great teams.”

Elsewhere, Carmelo also spoke about how his move to the Thunder has rejuvenated him and put some energy back into his game. It sounds like playing for the Knicks was dragging him down and sucking a lot of the fun out of basketball for him, which isn’t going to be a problem now that he’s in OKC.

“I’m like born again a little bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m in college again. My second college campus being around in a city with a college feel. The energy and joy is back with the game of basketball. I can feel it when I wake up. That energy is different. I think you’ll see something special.”

Can you blame Carmelo for being this happy? After what he endured in NYC over the last few years, the idea of going into a season with a championship being a realistic goal has to feel great. And while the Knicks players who played with him probably won’t be thrilled to hear what he had to say about his time with the team, it’s hard to argue with the things he said and it’ll be interesting to see what he looks like once he starts taking the court for the Thunder on a nightly basis.

More from Complex

Carmelo Anthony Reveals 2 Major Trades That Almost Happened This Summer

Carmelo Anthony sent shockwaves through the NBA community last Saturday when he agreed to waive his no-trade clause so that the Knicks could deal him to the Thunder. It gave Oklahoma City three superstars on its roster—Anthony will be joined by Russell Westbrook and Paul George next season—and it also made the Western Conference even more talented than it already was (R.I.P. Eastern Conference, smh).

On Thursday, Anthony sent even more shockwaves through the NBA community with some comments he made on SiriusXM Radio. While talking about his trade, he said that he came close to being traded not once but twice at other times during the offseason. One of those trades involved him heading to Houston to join James Harden and Chris Paul on the Rockets.

“A deal was done with Houston early, then for some reason, whatever happened behind-the-scenes, it didn’t go through,” he said. “It fell through, then we had to really start paying attention and thinking about other options.”

That trade, according to Anthony, nearly went down in July. And there was another trade involving Anthony that almost happened a few weeks before that on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft. Anthony claims that he and George were scheduled to be dealt to the Cavaliers in deals that would have put Anthony, George, and LeBron James on the same team during the upcoming season. But that trade was also called off before it was finalized.

“It was funny because me and PG was supposed to be in Cleveland on draft night,” he said on SiriusXM. “We were communicating about that. The deal was actually done, and it got called off on draft night, so me and PG stayed connected throughout the course of the [offseason]. We never even talked about OKC, though.”

It’s pretty crazy to think about how all of this played out. And it’s also pretty crazy to think about what might have happened if Anthony had been traded to either the Cavaliers or Rockets. It could have affected where a bunch of other players, including guys like Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade, landed. And it could have shaken up the NBA even more this summer. What an offseason.

More from Complex

#LifeAtComplex: Michael Beasley Tells Us He’s Not Afraid of NBA Super Teams

#LifeAtComplex is a daily vlog that offers an inside look at Complex. Watch as Tony Mui takes viewers behind-the-scenes in the office—you never know who or what will pop up.

On today's episode, Tony plans out a trip to Oklahoma City via Google Assistant so he can bring Carmelo Anthony back to the Knicks. Tony also chops it up with Michael Beasley about the upcoming season, and the new Knicks star makes it clear he's not afraid of any NBA super team. Later, Tony, Beija, and Justin show off a Billionaire Boys Club x Private Label duffel bag that we're giving away.

Subscribe to Complex on YouTube to check out more episodes of #LifeAtComplex, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

More from Complex