YNW Melly was seeking justice.
“They Took My Brothers From Me Over Jealousy,” the 19-year-old Florida rapper, whose real name is Jamell Demons, wrote in an Instagram post on Oct. 27, 2018. Just one day earlier, two of his childhood friends had been shot multiple times and killed in what appeared to be a drive-by shooting, and he wanted whoever was responsible to be found, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
On Wednesday, police in Miramar, Fla., announced that they had at last made arrests in the case — and that it was Demons and his friend Cortlen Henry, 20, who were responsible. Both now face two counts of first-degree murder.
Police allege that Demons shot Anthony Williams, 21, and Christopher Thomas Jr., 19, and then with Henry’s help, “staged the crime scene to resemble a drive-by shooting.” Attorneys for the two men could not be reached for comment.
“I am turning myself in today 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,” Demons wrote in a Wednesday post on Instagram, where he has about 1 million followers.
Demons exploded on the Florida rap scene in August last year with the hit song “Murder on My Mind,” which as of early Thursday had about 65 million streams on Spotify. The young rapper, who recently released a track featuring Grammy Award winner Kanye West, has been hailed as one of the genre’s rising talents, many believing that he could be the next big thing to come out of a state that has birthed rap megastars such as Lil Pump, Kodak Black and the late XXXTentacion.
But despite being described as having “an undeniable voice” and the ability to produce “raw, emotive, haunting songs,” Demons’s path to success was far from easy, plagued by a stifling small-town upbringing and several brushes with the law.
The rapper was born on May 1, 1999 in Gifford, Fla., a town with a population of just over 9,500 that is located about 150 miles north of Miami. In one interview with the Fader last year, Demons called his birthplace “a little country.” Getting out, he said, is near impossible.
“Ain’t nobody ever made it outta there. Period,” Demons said. “We had one NFL player made it out, but he brought his a-- right back. Lost souls out there ... 'cept for the people I’m with.”
Two of those people were Williams and Thomas Jr., who grew up in Gifford with Demons and shared his dream of making it in the rap industry. Both men were featured in a documentary about Demons’s life that was shared to YouTube in December.
“To be like this is crazy,” said Thomas Jr., who went by YNW Juvy, as he sat poolside at Demons’s South Florida home. “To be where I’m at, it’s crazy.”
Success in Gifford, Thomas Jr. said, amounted to a 9-to-5 job and a house.
“Rapper? That’s what you want to be? Better get a job at Wendy’s,” Williams, known as YNW Sakchaser, joked later in the documentary, mocking the people who had doubted them.
As Demons tells it, music has always been part of his life. Growing up, he would sit outside his house every morning with a pink radio and play his only CD — a Chris Brown album.
“I be right by myself, doing all the dances,” Demons said. He wanted to one day become Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne and Brown all rolled into one, he told XXL Mag last September.
In the documentary, Demons’s mother, Jamie Demons-King, who got pregnant with him at 14, said she knew in a single moment that her son was destined for fame.
It happened when Demons was in kindergarten. Originally tasked with beating bamboo sticks during a performance of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” from "The Lion King,” Demons told Billboard in August that he decided he wanted to be “the number one singer.”
“It was just mind-blowing” Demons-King said, remembering the performance. “He had the most beautiful voice ... he was not shy, he was dancing. We were all just like, ‘This little kid, he’s going to be somebody.’"
But talent wasn’t enough to keep Demons from getting tangled up in the drama of the streets.
At 16, Demons was charged with firing a gun at a group of people near a local high school about 10 minutes away from Gifford, TCPalm reported at the time. No one was injured, but Demons was sentenced to a year in jail, according to the Fader.
In jail, he began to focus on his music, penning “Murder on My Mind,” which would go on to be one of his biggest hits, XXL Mag reported. His first EP — aptly titled “Collect Call” — dropped in 2017 while he was still incarcerated.
He was released in March 2018 and despite several arrests over misdemeanor drug charges, Demons managed to largely steer clear of controversy as he moved to South Florida and continued his ascension in the rap world.
Then in October last year, Williams and Thomas Jr. were killed.
“He’s sad, he’s upset, obviously,” Demons’s attorney, Bradford Cohen, told the Sun-Sentinel at the time. “Those were his best friends.”
Cohen declined to comment at that point on whether Demons had been present during the shooting.
At the time, police had little information about what had happened. Authorities did not know where the men had been shot because they were driven to the emergency bay at Memorial Hospital Miramar, where they died, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The back window of the car that brought the aspiring rappers to the hospital appeared to have been shot out, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Demons’s documentary provided more details.
“Four days after the completion of this film, YNW Melly and his friends were the targets of a drive-by shooting in Miami, Florida,” read text superimposed over footage of Demons staring out over the ocean. “YNW Juvy and YNW Sakchaser were killed.”
Police said Wednesday that “further investigation, supported by forensic evidence” led them to believe that the drive-by had been staged and Demons shot his friends. Authorities identified Henry, also a member of the YNW rap crew, as the person who had brought Thomas Jr. and Williams to the hospital.
In his message to fans before turning himself in, Demons appeared to take the charges in stride. According to court records, he has not been arraigned and no court dates have been set yet.
“Unfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me and my brother,” he wrote on Instagram.