A new mural goes up on Lilac Street.

Stop! Ask. is a new Mission Loc@l feature that does exactly what it says. We stop when something looks particularly interesting and just ask what the heck is going on.

Mission Loc@l: I walked by and saw you painting. Who was Kwanz?

Bystander #1: We all grew up in the Western Addition. We flew under an international group called Bored Stiff: guys like F Dog, Equipto, P Wiley, TD Camp. Then the hip-hop scene was not as saturated as it is now. We traveled all over the world. We went to Denmark in ’95.

Images for reference, and a whole lot of spray paint.

He passed away in his sleep on December 29. Cardiac failure. He left behind a family of three children.

Bystander #2: Total of six. Three of his own. Three stepchildren.

ML: How did you decide who would paint the mural?

Bystander #1: Mel did the portrait. Joker did the background. It’s a collaboration.

ML: And why the Golden Gate Bridge?

Bystander #1: [Look of withering disdain] Because he lived in ‘Frisco, that’s why.

Ethan [aka Joker]: I was a friend of Kwanz. I was lucky enough to know Randolph, the curator of the Lilac Mural project.

Fairley Sr. and Danita in front of the mural.

This wall was a memorial for Iz the Wiz, who died in New York. I made sure that the people who painted his mural knew about this, and then I recruited this guy [gestures towards Mel].

Not that people don’t come in all the time and do murals, but it’s best to ask Randolph.

Rickey Lee Fairley Sr. [Wearing a T-shirt that says Rickey Lee Fairley Jr. 7/10/74-11/29/10] He was just a great kid. I raised him since he was 2-1/2. Through drugs. Through living in cars. Everything I’ve seen he’s seen. Everything I did, he was there.

I just am grateful for the time that I spent with him, so that I could teach him the right way and the wrong way. So that he could make that choice.

Danita: I’m a friend of the family. He was a fantastic young man. A loving, caring father. Be sure to put that in there. He went through a lot with his dad. But he didn’t hold grudges. He died a peaceful death. He didn’t go violent. He just laid down and got to sleep.

Rickey Lee Fairley, Sr: Sometimes he would stay out two or three days and every time I went looking for him, when I finally found him he would just be rappin’.

Danita: He was a big man, with a big heart. At his funeral people came from as far away as Dublin, Boston. People came that didn’t even speak English.

He was a master of words. Just search for “Kwanz” and “Cut the Check” on the Internet. You can see his videos.

We would tell him that he needed to get better grades and do better in school, because he might not have success as a rapper. But he would just say, “I’m never going to run out of words.”

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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  1. I found out he passed away by my Godmother Camille Williams a good while after he passed. My name is Michal Houseman and I was known then as Michael Jones. We all knew him as Little Rickey and his father as Big Rickey. As kids, we were all good friends played in Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, and pretty much all over. We all went to church around the corn of my Godmother’s place. We lost contact when they moved and we move shortly after. I had fond his father on Facebook but did not recognize him. As for my childhood friend Little Rickey, my old friend I wish I had found him sooner. I have always wondered what had happen and how you were. My hart goes out you and family. You are truly missed my old friend.