Last night, hip-hop lost another rapper to the streets. Lionel "Chinx" Pickens was shot and killed in Queens, New York. He was 31 years old.
Chinx was one of the many rappers who wanted to leave the tumultuous street life of Far Rockaway, Queens, and flourish as a superstar in hip-hop. While he ended up becoming a visible member of French Montana’s Coke Boys crew, Chinx’s early beginnings were with a group called Riot Squad. “That’s where I started out. Me, Bino, Cau2Gs, and Stack Bundles,” he once told me in an interview for XXL. Back in high school, he was rapping for fun with his friends—one of them being his childhood homie Stacks—and started taking it seriously when his mixtapes were getting positive responses from the neighborhood. Along with his boys, they formed Riot Squad and began building a buzz as a unit until Chinx was locked up for nearly five years at Mid-State Correctional Facility for robbery and drug charges.
When he was released in 2008, Bundles was gone. He was gunned down a year before, and Chinx learned about losing his friend while he was still locked up. Instead of being discouraged, it motivated him to make it in hip-hop. Hitting up the block again, Chinx built his buzz through a series of Riot Squad releases—Hurry Up and Die Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3—before associating himself with another rapper on the rise: French Montana. “When I got incarcerated, Jim Jones wanted to work with Stack. So, they formed a crew called the Byrd Gang, which was Stack Bundles, Max B, and Jim Jones,” he said in the same XXL interview of transitioning from Riot Squad to Coke Boys. “So when I came home, Stack passed away and Max B was still home fighting his murder case and shit. Max B sought after me. One of his homies saw me in the club when I went to see Max. Stack knew Max and Max knew French. That’s how I met French, at Max B’s house. Max B is serving 75 years now, but me and French just continued to keep working. That’s how we formed the Coke Boys and just kept banging.”
Chinx was often added as a guest appearance on Montana’s mixtapes, differentiating himself from Flip, Cheeze, Charlie Rock, and the rest with his honest rhymes about the harsh situations he’d seen coming up. When Chinx signed to Coke Boys in 2011, he started to build his own foundation outside of Montana’s shadow with his Harry Fraud-produced Flight 2011 (a tape he stated was a proper introduction to his catalog) and his now respected mixtape series, Cocaine Riot. “Street Superhero” is still my theme music.
His slow road to fame kicked into high gear when Montana took him on Drake’s Club Paradise Tour in 2012. During this time, fans saw him come into his own when he was prominently featured on Coke Boys 3. After that tape dropped, he followed up with his biggest single to date, “I’m a Coke Boy,” which was the de facto Coke Boys anthem, off Cocaine Riot 2. The success of the street record spawned a major remix with Diddy, Rick Ross, and his mentor, Montana. Sequential releases in 2013 and 2014—Cocaine Riot 3 and Coke Boys 4—saw Chinx as the seasoned veteran in Coke Boys as new members came along.
I met Chinx back in 2013 during my time at XXL. He was promoting a new marketable image, where he was literally wiping away the “Drugz” part of his name and just going by his mononym, Chinx. He was gearing up to release his I’ll Take It From Here EP, which contained his regional smash “Feelings.” After our initial interview, I heard his EP at a private listening session held at Bellucci Napoli in Midtown Manhattan, where I witnessed first-hand a different side of him gaining acceptance in the mainstream. Coke Boys (minus French, who was out of town at the time) came through to show their support. It was cool and sleek, but he still carried a tough persona that catered to his day-one fans.
To me, Chinx was a genuine person who knew the perfect balance of professionalism and friendship. We kept in touch over the next couple of years, texting each other to talk about things we were working on and just to say what’s up. I always want to co-sign artists I really believe in, and Chinx was one of them, a talented, humble guy who would hit you up just to say thanks. “Yo E thank u for comin out brother. I appreciate that look wit u there,” he texted to me after his Cocaine Riot 4 listening.
My most recent encounter with him was at Up & Down last April. Ja Rule was billed to make an appearance. A lot of dope people were there. Randomly, I ran into Chinx and his manager, Biggs, and we exchanged contacts because he got a new number. If you really knew Chinx, he was all about calling his boys “fools.” When we greeted each other with that, I knew we reached a level where it was friends first and business second. Just like the many others who paid homage to Chinx after hearing of his death today, I will forever remember his contributions to the game.
Rest in peace, fool. Gone but not forgotten.
Eric Diep is a writer living in New York. Follow him @E_Diep.