ATLANTA — [artist id="2815934"]Shawty Lo[/artist]'s hair and beard look like they were drawn on his skull.
"They tell me that," Lo said with a grin as he drove into his old neighborhood of Bowen Homes. "Man, you know I got a crazy barber. His name is Bobby. He's a fool with it. He charges $50 for a shape-up, $100 for a haircut. He doesn't even work out of a shop. He's got a pair of gold clippers, and this is what he do."
Lo gets his hair cut twice, maybe three times a week, depending on his schedule. "Basically, the projects I was born in, Bowen Homes, they tearing it down, I guess because there's been so many murders and assaults and so much stuff went on in the apartments," Lo said, driving at a snail's pace through the 'hood. "They decided they should tear it down.
"It's like a town of its own," he said about the low-income housing complex. "It's a baby Atlanta of its own [inside Bowen Homes]. A lot of people are gonna be lost. A lot of people didn't pay rent. Rent is probably $13 or $20. They're giving people vouchers to move out, but a lot of people are gonna be lost."
Back in the day, when Shawty was just a shorty, you would hear tales of a hustler blasting from cars as the local dope boys would post up. Biggie, Tupac, Jay-Z, Master P, UGK and 8Ball & MJG were all neighborhood favorites, and while the hip-hop music articulated what Lo would see the hustlers do outside his window, he developed dreams. He wanted to be just like them — the hustlers, not the rappers.
"I used to live right here, apartment 479," he said, pointing to a now-boarded-up apartment. The place where Lo used to live with his grandmother and sister mirrors most of the cribs in the housing complex: They are boarded up and the residents have moved out.
"I used to see the dope boys doing their thing," Shawty described. "I didn't idolize Michael Jordan or nothing like at. I used to see the dope boys talking to the girls in their Cadillacs."
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Despite the negative influences, Lo, who was known just as Carlos while growing up, still acted like a kid. One of his favorite activities was balancing himself on a steel barrier that still stands outside of his old house.
"I don't know if I can still do it," he said with a grin as he walked up to it. "It done got smaller. I got my Ballys on."
After getting help climbing on top of the barricade, he walked like he was walking a tightrope in the circus but quickly started to lose his balance and jumped off.
"I can't get it no more," he laughed. "It's shaking. I used to walk it all the way down when I was younger. ... I'm too old now."
When young Carlos was growing up, his mother was on drugs, his father wasn't around, and his grandmother had meager means to take care of him and his sister. As a teen, he began running wild around the Bowen Homes, sticking people up and eventually selling drugs. He was living life so fast, he didn't even know he had his first child until a year later.
"I wasn't in no delivery room," he said. "I didn't know about the first one until the next summer. I was a teenager. My grandmother was taking care of me. I was 16 going on 17. The girl would come out here; she used to stay with her auntie. She came back the next summer talking about, 'I got a baby.' I took the baby to my grandmother. My grandmother was like, 'Boy, get that baby outta here.' It was crazy."
Lo has nine kids now: seven girls and two boys. He said he was in the delivery room for the birth of the last two.
Lo almost missed the birth of his rap career. After 10 years of skullduggery in the street, he decided to slow down and concentrate on music in 2003, because the heat was on from the police. His life of crime caught up to him in 2005 — when his group D4L was blowing up with "Laffy Taffy," he was behind bars.
Now reformed, and with the successful debut LP Units in the City under his belt, he's ready to further his career with his second album, I Am Carlos, due in June. Lo said he's lucky to have a career and even more grateful to be alive. He got a reminder of his brush with death as he drove out of Bowen Homes to his D4L Studio, which is less than eight minutes away straight down the block.
"There was an explosion in my nursery school," he said, pointing to a school located in the complex. "The ceiling fell. I was in school that day. They told us to line up [to leave]. I was one of the kids that didn't line up. I ran outta there. Some of them kids died, some got out."