Broward County cannot stop itself from generating problematic rappers who create fantastic music but destroy their careers. First, there was Kodak Black, who shot to fame despite the fact a fan says he brutally raped her. Then there was XXXTentacion, who, before his untimely passing, was accused of sexual abuse and other crimes.
Now rapper YNW Melly (born Jamell Demons) has joined the list. After he moved from the Treasure Coast to Broward to build his career, Melly's music exploded in popularity in 2019. In fact, he released a song with Kanye West. Now he's been charged with murdering two friends in his rap crew, YNW Juvy and YNW Sakchaser.
So here's a timeline of his rise and unfortunate fall:
Via the Fader:
Melly... was raised in Gifford, a small Florida town 150 miles north of Miami on the Atlantic coast. “It’s a little country,” he explained. “We just got a damn Popeyes.” While the southern part of Florida has become a hotbed of rap talent in recent years, Gifford, with its population of 10,000, is an unlikely location to birth a national star. As Melly tells it, it’s the sort of place people don’t leave. “Ain’t nobody ever made it outta there. Period,” he said. “We had one NFL player made it out, but he brought his ass right back. Lost souls out there… ’cept for the people I’m with.”
Growing up, Melly idolized Michael Jackson and closely watched videos of the pop star’s performances, studying his dance steps and, more than anything, the way he could move a crowd. “He was perfect to me,” he said. “I liked the way he carried himself, how humble he was, and the reaction people had towards him. I wanted people to have that same reaction when they saw me.” In eighth grade, he recorded his first-ever song at a friend’s house after school, using a microphone held up by coat hanger with a wave cap over it to condense his voice. From there, he started uploading songs to SoundCloud and posting snippets on his Facebook, quickly making a name for himself around his small hometown with bouncy freestyles that showed a noticeable Young Thug influence. But his local fame — along with his flashy sartorial choices — also brought unwanted attention. “When you into fashion and dressing, people are gonna judge you and try to test you,” he said.
At 16, Melly was involved in a shootout near his high school. No one was injured; he was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of discharging a firearm in public, according to a local news report. It was during a year-long jail sentence that he began taking his songwriting seriously, penning song after song that he put out upon his release. One of them, “Murder On Mind,” a piano-laced first-person narrative of Melly’s darkest thoughts as he sits in his jail cell, became a regional hit. But the second verse, in which he describes a murder, caught the attention of the state attorney, who read it aloud in court. Though he said they brought up other petty infractions, Melly contends it was the lyrics that landed him back in jail for violating his probation.
From the New Yorker:
"Murder On My Mind,” the biggest single by the Florida rapper YNW Melly, is an exercise in contrasts. He waxes about taking someone’s life as if the act were akin to making love, describing in exacting detail how he wakes up consumed with homicidal thoughts and how the scene would play out, over sombre piano chords. (The song’s ostensible and less popular companion, “Mind On My Murder,” finds him envisioning his own premature death.) The track is haunting in every sense of the word, and it’s precisely the juxtaposition of Melly’s soulful crooning with the bleak subject matter that makes his music so compelling.
His breakout mixtape, “I Am You,” from 2018, was filled with similar heartless but also heartfelt displays. One song, “Mama Cry,” is a jail-cell apology letter to his mother wherein he repents for the hurt he’s caused her in a cadence that resembles a sinister nursery rhyme. “Mama Cry” exists as a foil of sorts to the shameless “Virtual (Blue Balenciagas),” a gunplay fantasy set against a bright production that seems to twinkle like a ballerina jewelry box. When he threatens to “Up that .40, let that pistol sing a melody,” on the song’s hook, he drags the final note, giving the statement a melody of its own.
Like most SoundCloud rappers, up-and-coming Treasure Coast hip-hop artist YNW Melly has a bunch of face tattoos. Curiously, the 19-year-old Melly had an artist ink the word "Sakchaser" on his forehead, just above his left eye. The tattoo honored a fallen friend: A member of Melly's rap crew, YNW Sakchaser, was shot dead in October 2018.
Now, however, police claim YNW Melly, born Jamell Maurice Demons, was the one who pulled the trigger.
Miramar Police reported last night that Demons and another member of the YNW crew — Cortlen Henry, AKA YNW Bortlen — were arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Anthony Williams and Christopher Thomas Jr. — known as YNW Juvy and YNW Sakchaser — on October 26, 2018. A police media release said Henry drove a getaway car. Melly, the cops said, killed his friends.
Melly turned himself in to police last night. In an Instagram post, he dismissed the charges as "rumors" before reiterating his love for his two slain friends.
"To all my fans and supporters no I did not get locked up in Washington, but I am turning myself in today," he wrote. "I want you guys to know I love you and appreciate every single one of y’all, a couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice... unfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me and my brother @ynw.bortlen and we want y’all to remember it’s a ynw Family I love you @ynwsakchaser1 and @ynwjuvy #freeus"
It’s difficult to imagine that someone who committed murder would release a song confessing to his alleged crime, but in the case of YNW Melly, fans are wondering if he did just that.
Melly’s hit song “Murder On My Mind” went gold last month, moving half a million units — and this past Wednesday, the 19-year-old turned himself in to Miramar Police on two counts of first-degree murder in the October deaths of his friends Anthony Williams, 21, and Christopher Thomas Jr., 19.
Melly... stands accused of shooting his friends multiple times and staging a crime scene to look like a drive-by shooting. He allegedly enlisted the help of another friend, Cortlen Henry (AKA YNW Bortlen), to set up the scene and drive the victims to the hospital, where they later died of their injuries.
The incident conjures a haunting image: two gruesome deaths shrouded in mystery, thought to be the result of senseless violence, but upon closer examination, perhaps the result of something more sinister.
Melly’s “Murder On My Mind” alludes to the same sense of tragedy. His melodic, monotonous flow over heavy 808s tells a graphic story of a killing, particularly in the song’s second verse.
“Yellow tape around his body, it's a fucking homicide/His face is on a T-shirt and his family traumatized/I didn't even mean to shoot 'em, he just caught me by surprise/I reloaded my pistol, cocked it back, and shot him twice,” the track begins.
As it continues, Melly sings the intimate details of a victim’s final moments:
“His body dropped down to the floor and he had teardrops in his eyes/He grabbed me by my hands and said he was afraid to die/I told 'em it's too late, my friend, it's time to say goodbye/And he died inside my arms, blood all on my shirt.”
The verse is immediately followed by the song’s hook, laced with references to various weapons.
“I wake up in the morning, I got murder on my mind/AK-47, MAC-11, Glocks, and 9's,” he sings.
It's unknown what kind of gun was used to kill Williams and Thomas Jr., who were known among friends as "YNW Sakchaser" and "YNW Juvy."
Melly and YNW Bortlen are both allegedly suspects in the 2017 death of Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Chambliss, per an XXL-spotted article by local Florida outlet VeroNews.
"After that shooting in Miramar, our detectives will be following up for possible information in connection to the Garry Chambliss homicide," Capt. Tony Consalo told reporters Thursday. "Perhaps, given their current situation, they might be able to shed some light on the case."
Consalo did not directly confirm whether both men had been officially made suspects. The VeroNews report cites "high-ranking law enforcement sources" saying investigators believe they were involved in the shooting death of the off-duty deputy. These sources also claim that the fact that Melly and Bortlen were allegedly at the scene of the shooting in Gifford two years ago is "common knowledge" among locals. Furthermore, these same sources have alleged detectives now believe one of them fired the shot that ultimately killed Chambliss. Melly and Bortlen are accused of having been "standing in a group and firing gunshots" when Chambliss was hit by a stray bullet.
The Indian River County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to Complex's request for comment.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.