Published: August 31, 1987
By age 25, Scott (La Rock) Sterling had achieved what many people only dream of.
As part of a duo called Boogie Down Productions, he was on the verge of signing a major recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. Their first album – a collection of rhythmic rap tunes on a smaller label, B-Boy Records – was about to hit the record charts and he had kept a promise he had made to himself: He, a young man from the South Bronx who had become a high school basketball star and had earned a bachelor’s degree in business, would settle for nothing less than stardom. It All Comes to an End
All that came to an end Wednesday when Mr. Sterling was fatally shot outside the Highbridge Garden Homes on University Avenue in the South Bronx.
According to police and hospital reports, at least one gunman fired from an apartment window across the street at a jeep occupied by Mr. Sterling and four friends, striking him in the head and neck. His companions, none of whom were injured, took him to Lincoln Hospital. He was transferred to Misericordia Hospital, where he died Thursday.
There have been no arrests in the case. The police believe Mr. Sterling was caught up in a dispute but had not been singled out as a target.
The death of Mr. Sterling, who was known to fans as Scott La Rock, has shaken youths in New York City and around the country who were familiar with his music. Some say the tragedy illustrates how violence and the hip-hop music scene seem to come together like the clapping hands at rap concerts and films.
Hip-hop – a blend of recited street poetry and intricate, rhythmic beats played and mixed by a disk jockey, which was the role played by Mr. Sterling – began 10 years ago in the Bronx and Harlem. It is popular among people of varying ages and backgrounds. But with its messages about poverty and other social ills, it is before all else a music closest to the nation’s poor, inner-city youth.
”In some respects, rap music and violence seem to go hand in hand,” said Scotty Morris, Mr. Sterling’s manager, who was in the jeep when the shooting occurred. ”But it’s not the music itself, it’s the environment. Violence was here long before hip-hop.”
Mr. Sterling encountered many people with criminal pasts but it never stopped him from trying to help and inspire others on the streets and through his music.
In dozens of interviews with neighbors, business associates, friends and family, he was described as a big brother, a pied piper, a leader and inspiration to youth.
B.D.P.’s first hit single, ”South Bronx,” in which the refrain, ”The South Bronx, The South, South Bronx,” is repeated throughout, was in part an effort to instill pride in those who lived there, said Mr. Sterling’s partner in the group, Kris Parker.
On the night Mr. Sterling was shot, he had gone to the Highbridge Garden Homes at the request of a 16-year-old former member of his musical group who said he was being harassed by older youths in a dispute over his girlfriend.
According to witnesses, by the time Mr. Sterling and his friends arrived, those harassing the youth were not in sight and he spoke to some of their friends gathered outside on University Avenue between 165th and 166th Streets. After trying to make peace, he had climbed back into the jeep when the shooting started.
The police would not say if Mr. Sterling had a record of trouble with the law, adding that such information is not made public on victims of crimes.
”Scott would have come to help anyone,” Mr. Morris said. ”That’s the way he was and he was never the type to start trouble.” Rekindled the Hope
For two and a half years, Mr. Sterling was a social worker at the Franklin Armory Men’s Shelter at 1122 Franklin Street in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Former residents of the shelter remember when he first arrived, a broad-shouldered young man fresh out of college, 6 feet 2 inches tall, wearing a tie and carrying a briefcase. There he set up group counseling sessions for young homeless men before taking an extended leave of absence in April to go on a musical tour.
”He was able to rekindle the hope of those who had lost all hope,” said Joseph K. Eady, the shelter’s director. ”He had a tremendous impact. Some residents actually went into the rap business themselves, got their own apartments or had other success due to Mr. Sterling.”
One of those touched by the counseling was Mr. Parker, a quick-tongued rap artist now known as KRS One, who became Mr. Sterling’s partner and wrote most of the group’s street-wise lyrics.
While teaching about the streets, the group often portrayed or hinted at violence its audience knew too well. On the cover of their first album, ”Criminal Minded,” Mr. Sterling and Mr. Parker are pictured in their trademark warm-up suits sitting behind a desk holding drawn guns. A grenade sits on the table and a strip of machine gun ammunition is draped across Mr. Parker’s shoulder.
In an interview, Mr. Parker said that with the album title and cover, he and Mr. Sterling were not advocating violence but, rather, were explaining that ”people who are criminal minded are the people on top today. Look at the Iran-contra scandal.”
Friends decribed the offstage Mr. Sterling as a quiet man. He lived with his fiancee, Deatema Brown, in a fourth-floor, one-bedroom apartment in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.
Mr. Sterling’s parents separated when he was 4 and he lived with his mother and brother in the Morrisania and Morris Heights sections of the Bronx and South Ozone Park, Queens. He graduated from Our Savior High School in the northern Bronx, where he was a varsity basketball player.
He then attended Castleton State College in Castleton, Vt., where he earned a varsity letter and graduated in 1984 with a degree in business administration.
It was during his college years that his interest in music was piqued. Unhappy with the local radio stations, he ”imported music from New York,” said his roommate for four years, Lee Smith Jr. of Tarrytown, N.Y., and he worked as a disk jockey on the weekends at a restaurant called Dugan’s.
”Our turntables were on our desks and our books were on the floor,” Mr. Smith recalled. ”I would come home and hear the bass before I opened the door. I knew he was mixing music.”
Since the shooting, impromptu and planned memorials have been held for Mr. Sterling. At a memorial last Thursday evening at the Latin Quarter on West 48th Street, the main club in Manhattan for rap music, a crowd of 200 sat silently as series of speakers offered words in his memory. Funeral services are scheduled for noon tomorrow at the First Presbyterian Church in Hempstead, L.I.
But perhaps the biggest memorial will come in the weeks and months ahead. The Boogie Down Productions duo recorded enough music for at least three more albums, Mr. Parker said. At a sold-out concert of rap artists this week at Madison Square Garden, a moment of silence will be dedicated to him during the time he would have been performing in his biggest show ever.
”We’re thinking of not getting another D.J.,” said Mr. Morris, the manager. ”We’ll just shine the spotlight on the still turntables where he would have stood. We still feel as though he is with us.”