COLUMBIA, SC — The music, with it catchy beats and lyrical stories, spoke to millions of young rap fans around the world.
At only 19 years old, Columbia rapper Speaker Knockerz had managed to become famous without a record label. He and his father, who worked as his manager, used YouTube and other social media to make his name.
"It was a catchy sound," said 20-year-old Stacey Rose, a friend, said of the music. "It wasn't so thug and street. You could have fun with it."
Born Derek McAllister Jr., the rapper was found dead March 6, in the garage of his home. The cause of death has not been determined.
He was born in New York, but move to Columbia as a child with his mother, Mesha Wilson, who was looking for a better life for her family. He attended Kelly Mill Middle School, Ridge View High School and the new Westwood High School.
He started creating beats when he was 13 years old, his mother said.
Within a few years, his beats were in demand from well-known rappers such as Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz, who paid for his music. He also started writing lyrics to go with his beats and traveling to perform in other states.
Speaker Knockerz posted dozens of songs and well-produced videos on YouTube, and millions of people watched. His song, "Rico Story Trilogy," had 3.5 million views. He sold his songs on iTunes and Amazon.
Brianna Barnes, 20, met Speaker Knockerz in 7th grade when his locker was below hers. She described him as a skinny kid with a big head and a goofy personality. They became fast friends.
"Before the money came he was a humble clown," Barnes said. "After the money came he was a humble clown."
She said his lyrics were catchy and simple and, after a couple of listens, almost anyone could sing along. The words of songs such as "Apology" and "Cash Out" articulated feelings she had but couldn't express.
In "Annoying," "it was everything you want to say about that annoying person that bothers you," Barnes said. "And 'Cash Out' is how you feel when you want to go spend all of your money."
His grieving parents held a party in his honor Saturday at Lucky 13 in the Vista. Hundreds of people attended from near and far. His mother said her heart was broken. But she was proud that her son's short life had touched so many people.
"I'm so glad he used his gift and shared it with the world," Wilson said. "When God gives you a gift, he gives it to you to bless someone else.
"He didn't waste his time on Earth."
Speaker Knockerz funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Bible Way Church of Atlas Road.