By Nadege Green and Julie K. Brown, The Miami Herald –
MIAMI — Robert Labranche was arrested 27 times, spent much of his early life in and out of jail and was so poor that he said he used to eat garbage while growing up in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
But by the time he was in his mid-20s, Labranche had reinvented himself as a South Florida rapper named “Bizzle.” He was an entrepreneur known for paying it forward by helping to get kids in his community off the street.
He owned a car wash, an entertainment company and a window-tinting business and at one time ran a seafood restaurant. He was a father of two small children, whose last message about them would prove prophetic.
Labranche, 37, was shot multiple times Monday night outside his Miami car wash with his children in his SUV parked just steps away. They were not injured and did not see their father killed, police said.
Labranche, whose music is popular in Miami-area strip clubs, created his own record label, Chowtime Entertainment, in 2000. Two of his songs, “Lip-Biting Animal,” and “Naked Hustle,” were considered strip-club anthems. He used social media to promote the songs and organized massive parties aboard yachts and at clubs, featuring DJs and exotic dancers.
“He cleaned up his life in his mid-twenties. After having kids, he wanted to do legitimate business ventures,” said Alex Pierre-Louis, his former business manager.
Labranche was a respected businessman who employed young men at his Magic City Car Wash in Liberty City, friends and family said.
“He did a lot for people in the community. He’d rather you make money washing cars than hustling on the streets,” said Daniel Jean-Charles, a friend.
On Tuesday, a steady stream of friends and family gathered at the car wash to remember the man known for his catchy club hits, but also for his generosity and sense of humor.
“For me, he was a loving big brother, always there for me when I needed him,” said Joe Smith, a childhood friend. “This here is senseless.”
Friends said they believed that the killer may have been an employee with whom Labranche had had a dispute, but there was no motive or suspect as of Tuesday.
LaBranche’s younger brother was too grief-stricken to speak with reporters.
On his Myspace page, Labranche wrote about his troubled childhood, noting that he spent a good deal of it in jail. But he eventually turned to music, finding comfort in artists such as Gloria Estefan and 2Live Crew, whom he said aided his path to recovery.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bizzle had been arrested 27 times on charges ranging from cocaine possession to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. But his last arrest was in 2008, and since then, he had come to appreciate being a father and helping others, his friends said.
Five hours before he was killed, he posted on his Instagram, “Never tell your problems to anyone. 20 percent don’t care and the other 80 percent are glad you have them.”
According to Miami police, officers on patrol heard shots about 8 p.m. and began canvassing the area. They found Labranche’s body on the ground in the corner of the car wash.
Labranche’s two children, both younger than 10, were inside an SUV he apparently had been driving at the time.
“Fortunately they didn’t see the incident,” Miami police spokesman William Moreno said. “They were on the other side of the building.”
Initially, Labranche was mistaken by several television stations for another rapper, also named Bizzle. That Bizzle, also known as Lavyss, lives in Los Angeles and specializes in Christian rap music.
“Man, Praying for Bizzle AKA Chowtime’s family,” the other Bizzle wrote on his Facebook page after hearing about the killing. “I know a lot of you are happy it’s not me, but it’s still REAL for his fam. They don’t get to find out that it’s not true. His children were with him at the time and now their lives are changed forever. Keep them lifted up in prayer!”
At the time he was killed, Labranche was splitting time between Miami and Alabama, where he planned to open a nightclub. He also organized bus trips for people to come to South Beach for Urban Beach Week, an annual hip-hop festival held on Memorial Day weekend.
Despite his fast-paced career and club lifestyle, Labranche took time to be a father. In his last Instagram message about his children, posted two days before his death, he said he was grateful for the mother of his children, whom he described as hardworking.
“I know if anything was to happen to me, my kids straight,” he wrote.