Danny ‘D-Boy’ Rodriguez: The Story of Christian Hip-Hop’s 1st Martyr
The date was October 6th, 1990. A gunshot wound and the subsequent car crash took the life of Christian rapper Danny D-Boy Rodriguez. On that day, he became the first martyr of CHH. Much like Jesus, the same streets he roamed saving souls, also became the same streets that took his life. Danny’s family which includes fellow artist M.C. GeGee and the hip-hop community was never the same. Now, 28 years later, Rapzilla is going to piece the story together detail by detail.
Let’s break the fourth wall…M.C. Gegee (Genie Lopez) spoke to me for nearly an hour and a half about being an early female rapper and the legacy her brother left. This story idea was first generated last year after a Throwback Thursday article I did. I reached out to Genie through Facebook about an interview and she said yes. About a year later, I finally had the chance to do it this past August.
Upon researching D-Boy, his family, and the circumstances around his death – this article became a mission to me. I felt a sense of familiarity with the story that made it become something I was MEANT to cover rather than GOT to cover. I will explain this later in a separate article.
We’ll start the story with a young Genie Rodriguez (now Lopez). She is Danny’s younger sister, and she idolizes her brother. Wherever Danny went, she went. Whatever he did, she did. They were more like best friends than siblings. In a lot of ways, Danny was a fatherly figure she desperately needed in her life.
“He was truly even more than a brother. He was a protector,” Genie explained. “We had an alcoholic dad and a chaotic home life. Danny would often be standing in the middle of it. Danny would get up and take pictures of me for homecoming and prom. My brother even came to my graduation. Everybody knew, do not mess with her, you know who her brother is.”
The siblings had come from a big Brady Bunch of a Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) family. Her father had three teenaged children who he didn’t really have relationships with. Her mother was living on the streets and without her seven-year-old son. He was being raised by his grandmother. Both of them had issues with substance abuse and stability, and yet they came together, had three more kids and started a ministry. Life was a whirlwind.
“One of the things I had compassion for was, they were new converts, but nobody was like ‘Here’s how you do family’,” said Genie, coming to this realization after the death of her father in 2008. She forgave him for a rough childhood.
“All we had to do was watch our mom. I say, my mom, because my dad played more of a support role. He continued to struggle with his addictions through life,” she explained. “What I learned is I had to forgive my dad and love him. What do you get with that? I look back in a different lens. Danny was always there. He saw that perspective and I would say, ‘But don’t you see this Danny?’ And he’d say ‘It’s ok’. He always gave me those pep talks that it took me to my forties to see.”
Danny and Genie’s mom, Cookie, was a Jesus filled spark plug in the 60s and 70s. She was one of the first female evangelists to come out of David Wilkerson’s famed Teen Challenge in Times Square. That’s where her parents met, were ordained, married, and then shipped off to ministry. They started the female equivalent of Teen Challenge in Pennsylvania.
“We served with Pastor Wilkerson in Brooklyn and he truly throughout my life was my spiritual grandfather,” said Lopez. “That’s why we’re in Texas now, he moved us here. We were with my mom the whole step of the way in PA. She had to go into the streets of NYC while we were in Dutch and Amish country Pennsylvania to get the women away from their pimps and drug dealers.”
She continued, “We were half street, half country hicks. Either we weren’t wearing shoes or we were mimicking Run DMC. People would look at us and ask, ‘Who are these kids’?”
When they eventually moved to Texas, they formed The Street Church Academy to focus on anti-gang activities.
Genie said that her mom created an uproar within the ultra-conservative church when Cookie decided she would no longer wear a skirt to preach. She caused more of a ruckus when she preached in the main sanctuary and gasp, even got her ears “double pierced.”
“We were in the front row of that,” said Genie. Later on, when she began to do music, she faced her own sexism within the church. But more on that later…
All while ministering in the streets and rural Pennsylvania, Danny was cultivating his skill as an emcee. He saw how quickly rap music was reaching the youth and with the emergence of N.W.A., Public Enemy, and the like, he saw that a message can be placed in music.
Danny would spend his school time freestyling in the lunchroom and writing raps. He traded in what could have been a promising semi-pro hoops career for filling notebooks with rhymes. He’d write raps for Genie to show off in school and she’d write poems for him to give to the girls. They had a good little business going for each other.
“When we got to Dallas he didn’t really care if he was allowed in churches because he always had an audience,” she explained. “He was truly a street minister. Where he needed it to work, it worked. When your critics are actual gang members they are going to let you know the truth, so Danny honed his talents with a true core of action.”
Eventually, Christian rap pioneer Stephen Wiley would gain success as well as groups such as DC Talk and P.I.D. Danny knew the time was right to take D-Boy to the next level.
“I know there were other rappers before Danny but he was the first one on the streets,” said Lopez. “We couldn’t play artists like DC Talk or Stephen Wiley. Danny liked them too, but he knew it wouldn’t fly in the streets. They would laugh at us if we tried or Danny mimicked them. Not saying it wasn’t for a certain audience, but ours wasn’t having it.”
D-Boy would sign with Frontline Records and began crafting his debut project Plantin’ A Seed which dropped in 1989. His song “Pick Yourself Up” reached No. 8 on the Christian charts, the only time he charted.
His music had an edge to it that others didn’t have. It would pave the way for an artist like T-Bone, who credits D-Boy for making him who he is. Unfortunately, T-Bone never got to meet Danny.
Despite the first D-Boy record dropping, CHH was still in its infancy. Frontline was taking a risk signing him so there wasn’t much money to go around.
“Some of the wives from the P.I.D. guys said they’d all be in the studio and Danny would be sweeping, mopping the floor, and doing the dishes and admiring someone’s Jordan’s,” she said. “He was cleaning the studio for extra money while making his second record and wearing hole-filled Converse sneakers. Something wasn’t right, the studio was taking extra money or something.”
It made no difference to him because that’s the kind of servant attitude he had anyway. His serving spread outside of the physical chores and into the personal lives of others as well.
Genie said today’s social media has caused a lot of division between people moving toward the same goals. People go back and forth arguing. Back when Danny was alive, he’d deaden division and arguments by going face to face with people. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to see him not engage with anyone who wanted to talk.
“Whatever city Danny was in you’d find him at an IHOP with the biggest table you could put together at whatever hour of the night talking to anyone before or after that wanted to meet,” Lopez exclaimed. “If they could find a basketball court, they’d play. If they could all fit in his car, they’d all be piled in his car. He was totally relationship based.”
Something that would have caused great pain to Danny today would have been the whole Christian rapper versus rapper who is Christian debate.
“The part about it that would break his heart is how people are having these conversations. Danny was a sit-down and eat food with you and have these tough discussions. The way some of this stuff is debated, is decided, discussed, in this public forum is brutal. I was trying to make up my mind on that discussion as well,” Genie shared.
She used Lecrae as an example as someone who is constantly argued over.
“One thing I learned, when I met Lecrae, and you really sit down with him and see his heart, sometimes we don’t have to slap people in the face with, ‘I’m a believer’. Sometimes people’s lives will speak louder than any words I can speak,” she said. “Danny would still be slapping Jesus and God over everything. Would he love Lecrae and be friends with him – definitely. Would he tell him if you don’t do it this way, stop rapping? He would not.”
The story of how and where she met Lecrae is pretty remarkable. She was with her children at the time, and with prompting from her mother Cookie, outright asked Lecrae if he knew Danny D-Boy Rodriguez.
“So I asked Lecrae and he said, ‘Are you kidding me? I remember where I was standing when someone handed me his CD. I know who it was and where I was. When I first heard it my eyes lit up’.”
She continued, “My kids were there and they never met Danny so to have Lecrae tell them, ‘Do you know who you are? Do you know who your uncle is? Don’t worry about me’. Then he did a bow down gesture with his hands and said, ‘You guys are Christian hip-hop royalty’.”
“I came back humbled from that experience. I had thoughts in my mind. We all speak before we think. From the comfort of my living room, it’s really easy. That’s the problem with the tools we have now for communication.”
In the Rodriguez family’s hearts, they feel Danny would be or would have at some point achieved the same success as Lecrae. Genie speculated that he would have started a label like Cross Movement and oversaw the growth and ministry development of every artist on that label.
“If you wanted a secular equivalent, look at Eminem right now. Imagine him in it for ministry, involvement with other artists, but popping up whenever he wants to or needs to and every single time he’s still relevant,” Genie said. “Like Eminem can still blow people away. That’s where Danny would be. Both music and ministry ran through his blood simultaneously. It would still be that way for him. He was never for rap being about any sort of entertainment at all. It had to have a purpose.”
The crazy part about it all was Danny could have found success and maybe fame and fortune if he’d just abandon the name of God in his lyrics. He was actually given the opportunity several times.
“Here’s an example of his legacy. He was entertained by secular labels and believe it or not, there were coaches who were also trying to recruit him to play college basketball. Danny could dunk a ball backward,” she said. “Everything is football down here (Texas), up north it was basketball. He got tired of playing in the suburbs of Texas and would go to the hardest neighborhoods in Dallas to play. He could have gone to college for basketball easily and secular labels were after him too.”
Lopez then shared a story of Danny’s friend, roommate, and occasional DJ being in the studio with him when the thought of signing to a secular label came up. As D-Boy, he began to get slightly turned off with the business of Christian rap. It wasn’t flowing well, and it was “choppy and spotty” in the way they dealt with rappers. He was frustrated by the politics of it.
“‘Forget it, man, I just want to be in the studio’. So here are these people with money asking him to do what he does and they’ll just record him. Danny gets behind the mic at a regular studio and basically, they tell him, ‘Don’t rap about God. Just rap’. And he looked at my friend, stared at the mic and said, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t care. I don’t have money for my rent. I’m eating beans that I heat over the fireplace. I’m just not going to do it’.”
That friend of Danny’s is now Genie’s husband Joe. He was one of the ones saying, “C’mon, I’ll DJ, you rap.”
Danny would go on to work on his second studio album. Genie said while the first CD was very polished and airbrushed – “He took the gloves off for the second one.”
He wanted to record late at night when he was raspy and he wanted the cover shot in a particular part of Dallas and didn’t shave. He shed that nice image for the livelihood he knew better, rough around the edges. The music and lyrics got sharper, and sonically, there was more sampling used.
Album two was called The Lyrical Strength of One Street Poet and released in 1990. It had moderate success but didn’t receive as much radio play as the first record due to its more raw content.
Then on October 6th, 1990 this once shining beacon for Christ was gunned down outside of his apartment at 3:55 a.m. To this day, the assailant and motive are unknown, but it was believed to have occurred to stop Danny from steering the street kids away from drugs.
All Genie knows about the incident is that Danny set out to drop some kids off that were hanging at his apartment. He also had to return a movie to Blockbuster but forgot his wallet. He drove his car around to the main kiosk to ring his roommate and was then approached by a white male.
The following is a report from Cross Rhythms in 1990:
After the shooting, Rodriguez apparently attempted to drive himself to get medical aid but his car hit a curb and became airborne, crashing through bushes to strike a streetlight, eventually landing right-side up back on the road. Although the singer suffered severe injuries in the wreck, Dallas police homicide detective Steve L’Huillier maintained that it was the bullet that claimed Rodriguez’s life.
“He was still wearing a seatbelt and the air-bag apparently worked properly,” L’Huillier said. “It’s very likely that he would have survived the accident alone. “Despite medical efforts, D-Boy died an hour after the shooting at Baylor Medical Centre in Dallas.”
His second album was up for a Dove Award 1991. DC Talk took home the award for Nu Thang. They won it and dedicated it to Danny. “They said it should be his.”
In 1993, Peace to the Poet was released through Frontline. It was a posthumous album that contained B-Sides and unreleased tracks of D-Boy.
Corey Red and Precise’s “Martyrz Anthem” was released in 2004 to pay tribute.
D-Boy was also honored with the Legacy Lifetime Award at the 2015 Legacy Conference. Genie went up and spoke on behalf of the family.
Where Danny’s story ends, Genie’s picks up. In part two of this article, we’ll discuss Genie’s transition to M.C. GeGee, sexism in the church, dealing with grief over the years, and returning to her art. Read about that here!