In the fall of 2020, an interviewer asked Dayvon Bennett about the ongoing violence in his hometown of Chicago. “Somebody killed someone, everybody got family — now everybody that was close with them is trying to kill that person,” said the rapper, better known to fans by his stage name of King Von. “Niggas don’t know no other way to resolve it. They don’t know how to come to table and talk. It’s the last man standing. Either you’re going to be in jail, you’re going to die, or you’re getting lucky around this bitch.”
By the time that interview was released by Million Dollaz Worth of Game in November of that year, King Von was dead at age 26 after being shot in Atlanta. The tragic incident cut short one of rap’s most promising careers a week after the release of his full-length debut, Welcome to O’Block. Starting just a couple of years earlier, King Von had used his charisma and a jarring sense of realism to become a figure that fans had to pay attention to.
Now, with the release of his first posthumous album, What It Means to be King, Von’s inner circle is trying to make sure Von’s story isn’t forgotten. “It really is a continuation of his original vision, mixed with a dedication and celebration of life,” says Chopsquad DJ, a producer and musician who has worked with artists like Juice WRLD, Swae Lee, Lil Durk, and more, as well as being Von’s most prominent producer and a close friend. “It’s also a splash of why he did what he did and lived the way he did.”
The album is full of the anecdotal bars that made Von a star, along with some of his most vulnerable moments on record. “I grew up with all my niggas, in them buildings/Low-income roaches on ceilings, man y’all don’t get it,” Von raps on “Where I’m From,” the new album’s intro, pouring out his emotions from a short life that was already filled with stories. On “Family Dedication Outro,” he is optimistic and unguarded in his lyrics: “Ain’t trying to over-gangbang, none of that shit,” Von raps. “What I am saying and what I am rapping is me, I would be lying if I was doing some other shit.”
Another highlight, the 21 Savage-assisted single “Don’t Play That,” first surfaced online as a snippet in October 2020. “I was afraid to play him that beat at first because I was like, ‘This is a little different,'” says Mark Buol, an A&R executive at Von’s label, EMPIRE. “Then I see him a week later, and he’s smiling and was like, ‘I did that shit.’ Von was definitely the type of person who would challenge himself, and he enjoyed it. I feel like that’s why he grew so much. He wasn’t afraid to try different things.”
Elsewhere on the new album, “My Fault,” featuring A Boogie wit da Hoodie, shows Von leaning towards melody, singing on the hook, “I know you tired of niggas, girl that’s not my fault,” his tone matching the tempo — something Von was becoming more accustomed to doing as his career progressed. At the same time, tracks like “War” and “Too Real” show Von’s brand of drill at its finest, carving out his own voice in a subgenre made notorious by the same neighborhood he grew up in.
For Von, that neighborhood was defined as O’Block, the local name for a particular block on Chicago’s South Side — or, as his hit “Crazy Story” had fans all over screaming in the spring of 2020, “From 64th and 65th, we not from 63rd.”
“Crazy Story” was Von’s third official single ever, recorded back in 2018 when he first signed to Lil Durk’s OTF (Only the Family) label after being released from prison in 2017 with all charges dropped in an attempted murder case. Von had only been rapping for a little over a year. The video has since racked up more than 61 million YouTube views.
“In his visuals and listening to his music, it makes you feel like even if you didn’t know the people or the characters that that he was speaking on in the songs, you felt like you knew those people,” says DJ Bandz, DJ for both Lil Durk and King Von.
While Von’s success may have seemed like it was overnight, he acquired a work ethic during his time of incarceration that started with waking up every morning, working out, and writing raps. One was “Crazy Story,” which Chopsquad DJ says began as more of a poem and was restructured into song form. “It’s kind of like after you spend half your life behind a wall and you get a way right in front of you, you kind of a fool not to take the opportunity in front of you to change your life,” says Bandz. “He had a great teacher, which would be Durk of course. I feel like the energy of Durk musically kind of rubs off on everybody if you are around him long enough. Durk set the full example of how to record and what happens when you work hard.”
Durk — who had a truly outstanding year in 2021, generating enough Hot 100 hits to compete with Taylor Swift — was instrumental in Von’s success as an artist. “He got a story. He from O’Block. That should speak for itself,” Lil Durk said of his signee in a Breakfast Club interview in 2018. “He’s just real. That’s my brother, my twin. When he got out he just tried rapping and his first song went super crazy.”
Durk and Von had an ingrained chemistry that stemmed from growing up in the same neighborhood. The pair has over seven collaborations together, including the standout track “Still Trappin,” from Durk’s 2020 album The Voice. The Voice’s cover art is in memory of Von, with a photo of the two and the words “Long live Grandson” at the top left. On What It Means to be King, you can hear them reunited on “Evil Twins,” trading ferocious bars back and forth.
“I think at the root of their chemistry is a very genuine friendship and connection,” Buol says. “Durk was there from the jump and made sure Von started rapping. Every Durk and Von song that’s out there, even the unreleased ones, go crazy!”
Von’s posthumous album honors his personality in full — including the ruthless spirit that shaped the public eye’s conception of him, but not stopping there. “It’s a lot of things you may have missed if you made a perception of Von just of his music,” said DJ Bandz. “You might see Von and think he is unapproachable. He was actually the opposite of that. Despite what he was in the streets or despite the picture people may have painted of him, he was a real good person, will take the shirt off his back and give it to you.”
Von’s most publicized gesture of giving back was a video that shows him going back to O’Block and giving $100,000 out to family and friends. “He was like an M&M hard shell with a soft inside,” says Chopsquad. “It was apparent if you got to know him and be close with him that his outside persona was a self-defense mechanism that he used to keep people from getting too close to him. His real morals was foundationally based on family loyalty. He was real big on loyalty.”
Von’s mother, Natasha Chambers, agrees. “The biggest misconception of Dayvon is that he was this monstrous person,” she says. “When in reality he was a sweet, kind-hearted person that loved hard and would give a stranger the shirt off his back.”