WASHINGTON - "Nobody could get him to stay off the streets," the father of a slain teen rapper tells FOX 5.
The family of 16-year-old Justin Johnson, who was killed in Southeast D.C. last week, opened up to FOX 5 about how they lost a bright student and a talented rapper to gun violence.
Many in the area knew the teenager as 23 Rackz, an up-and-coming Maryland-bred rapper who released an album titled Rookie of the Year in 2021.
Johnson’s manager told FOX 5 that Johnson signed with a label named MGE in 2020. The 16-year-old’s death drew condolences from Wale and several others within the local music scene.
Johnson's father, Michael, told FOX 5 that he is still in shock. "It takes a lot to get a kid out of that setting," he said.
Michael told FOX 5 that he did not know that much about his son's rap career. He said his son grew up differently as a child and that he was an "A" student at J.O. Wilson Elementary and Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast D.C. where he also used to box.
The older Johnson also said his son received tuition offers to attend private school — he was that bright.
However, as his son got a little older Mr. Johnson said the teen began to act out and started running away to be with friends in Southeast D.C.
"I’d go to work, and he’d be gone when I come home. So we had a relationship of me trying to get him off the streets and him thinking, once he got money off his hands, he was gone," Michael Johnson said. "And as far as guns on the street, he had been arrested one time for a gun, but D.C. won’t hold those kids. I begged the judges, P.O., keep him. Just keep him. But the next day, he was home. It’s so easy for these kids to get guns, it really is."
The older Johnson said he tried to get his son counseling, but it took too long to get a diagnosis.
Johnson's sisters spoke to FOX 5 on Tuesday wanting to make it clear to the public that their brother had a family, and he was loved. They also tried to help guide their youngest sibling.
"He did not deserve this," they told FOX 5.
"It’s hard to see on social media that you know, he’s really gone and I see a lot of comments on social media saying like, ‘Oh well he was in the streets at 16 and he didn’t go to school, and this and that.’ He was an honor roll student. They skipped him a grade. Like he was street smart and book smart. He was well before his time," said Jamesa Hall, an older sister.
Hall also told FOX 5, "A lot of people have different perceptions of him, but at the end of the day, with us at home, he was just a regular 16-year-old. "It was never 23 Rackz in the house."
The local rapper's sisters tell FOX 5 that many of Johnson’s friends are also mourning.
"I heard a rap, one of his raps for the first time the other day," Mr. Johnson said. "I didn’t even want to listen to it because I wanted him to go to school. He said, ‘I got one foot in and one foot out,’ in one of these raps, and, "… I don’t know what to do.’ 'Cause they were saying, Justin come with us, his managers and them, ‘Come with us, you’ve got to put that behind you.’ But he said no, no. I’m better off right here."
The teen’s manager told FOX 5 he was also trying to get 23 Rackz away from D.C. so they could work on the teen’s rap career in Georgia. However, we’re told Johnson was not able to leave the area, wearing an ankle bracelet.
According to the family, Johnson posted his whereabouts by 23rd and Savannah Terrace on Instagram last Thursday morning. The family said he was gunned down not long after.
FOX 5 reached out to D.C. Public Schools, Youth Services, and D.C. Police. And we are waiting to hear back.
Police have not offered a motive.
A candlelight vigil is planned for this Friday at 6:30 p.m. by the scene of the shooting at Savannah Terrace and 23th St. in Southeast.
Funeral arrangements are still being planned.