May 20, 2009 — -- When the rapper known as Dolla was shot and killed outside a Los Angeles mall Monday, the news traveled instantaneously.
On Twitter, where the rapper had just set up an account earlier in the day, the news of his murder and messages of rest in peace spread quickly. On YouTube, his song "Georgia Nights," from his never-released debut album "Dolla and A Dream," has been made into a tribute video, with a picture of him under the title "Dolla 'Georgia Nights' RIP."
Akon, the Grammy-winning producer and hip-hop artist who had signed Dolla to his label Konvict Muzik, released a statement to ABCNews.com Tuesday: "Dolla was part of the Konvict Entertainment family and an incredible artist. This is a senseless crime and the industry has lost a real talent. Our heart goes out to his family, friends, and fans."
Despite the outsize response to Dolla's death, however, many people were just learning about the 20-year-old rapper for the first time. His one hit, "Who the F*** Is That?" recorded with T-Pain in 2007, reached Number 82. His follow-up single "Feelin' Myself" was featured on the "Step Up" soundtrack.
"He wasn't a major figure," Sean Fennessey, the music editor of VIBE, told ABCNews.com. "I just didn't know a whole lot about him and I do this for a living."
Rapper Chuck D, from the influential hip-hop group Public Enemy, also knew little about Dolla, whose real name was Roderick Anthony Burton II and lived in Atlanta.
"I guess he was up and coming," Chuck D told ABCNews.com. "He had yet to release his album, which is kind of unfortunate. I think it's another unfortunate case of a young man not getting a chance."
Dolla was shot and killed after an altercation outside a Los Angeles shopping mall Monday. Los Angeles police, responding to a report of gunshots fired, found the young rapper suffering from multiple gunshots in a parking lot of the Beverly Center.
Police arrested a suspect, 23-year-old Aubrey Louis Berry of Georgia, at Los Angeles International Airport, according to an LAPD spokesperson. He is being held on $1 million bail.
Dolla Compared to Tupac Shakur
Dolla's publicist Sue Vannasing told Rolling Stone that he had been compared to Tupac Shakur.
"He had a very promising career," she said Monday. "He was being hyped as the next Tupac. He chose music to get off the streets."
Like Shakur, Dolla was cut down by a bullet in the prime of his life. But Fennessey doubted that there was much comparison beyond that.
"You hear that about a lot of people, that's a viable sales pitch," he said. "But I never identified him as such.
"He was certainly someone that T-Pain and others identified with a lot of promise and talent. I was pitched him as early as 2007," Fennessey said. "It seemed like he was on the brink of something. It just never entirely came together for him. His project had been on pause for a couple years."
There is a chance that Dolla may get the success in death that he was going for in life.
"When any artist is murdered, he is canonized in a way that he wouldn't be when he's living," Fennessey said. "It's possible that over the course of next week, we could hear more music from Dolla than we would have when he was alive. It's definitely possible he could become more of a major figure in death than in life."
Chuck D doesn't think so.
"The record industry is so different now," he said. "It's hard to move artists when they are living. The industry needs the artist more than ever to be present and living. Tupac and Biggie's [Smalls] thing [their deaths] was more than 10 or 12 years ago, and they had a certain volume of work already. Dolla hadn't even got off the blocks."
The biography on Dolla's MySpace page, however, said he had been rapping with friends Scrappy and Sas in a group called Da Razkals Cru in showcases around Atlanta since the age of 12. In 2001, the group was signed to Elektra Records, but they were dropped before they could release a record. In 2007, Dolla signed with Akon's label and Jive Records.
He also survived a troubled childhood. According to his MySpace biography, his twin sibling died at birth. Then, at age 5, he sat on his parents' bed with his older sister Divinity as their father took his own life.
After the family moved to Atlanta, then 10-year-old Dolla struggled to help support his single mom, even breaking the law sometimes, according to his biography.
"My music is universal," the rapper wrote on MySpace. "I can do street music or pop music. But whatever I do, I attempt to make meaningful songs with substance."