From a distance, it looked like an ordinary funeral caravana long line of limousines and cars trying to snake through city streets without breaking formation. But this particular cortege, making its way to D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery on the afternoon of May 31, trailed a loud bass line in its wake: On their way to pay final respects to Arnez “Ray” Gemini Henderson, the mourners were playing his debut album, Gemini’s Reign, on their stereos.
“I’ll never forget it,” says Brian Blunt, Henderson’s friend and producer. “A line of 50 cars driving to the cemetery, every single car playing the CD.”
Henderson, a local rapper who recorded under his middle name, was gunned down in the early morning hours of May 24, 2003just four days shy of his 25th birthday. It’s still unclear why, but at roughly 2 a.m. at an Exxon station on Martin Luther King Avenue SW, a man approached Henderson and, as reported by the Washington Post, shouted, “Where the money at?” and shot him numerous times.
The street violence that claimed his life was the kind he’d lamented in much of his music. Henderson’s sister, Shanova Banks, says her older brother often preached to his peers about the pitfalls of the streets, and he carried in his wallet, as faithfully as he carried his driver’s license, a poem he wrote: “21 Years of Mind,” a celebration of the simple fact that he had made it to his 21st birthday. Gemini’s Reign covers that territory and more: Banks calls its 13 tracks “a timeline” documenting Henderson’s experiences as a young black man in D.C.
The project was released by Boog Entertainment, a year-old concern of which Henderson was presidentwith friends Blunt, Ed Fisher, and Michael Powell as CEO, legal advisor, and A&R guy, respectively. The disc was originally slated for a fall release, but the three surviving Boog executives decided to push up its delivery date and have it ready for distribution at their partner’s funeral.
“We put it together in a week,” Blunt says. “We just did it. It had to be donenothing in the world could stop it.”
Two other crucial decisions were made in the wake of Henderson’s death: The men asked Banks to take her brother’s place as company president, and they decided to direct all of the profits from the sale of the album to Henderson’s two young daughtersNia, 6, and Tatyana, 3 months.
That second move has prompted even those who aren’t necessarily hiphop fansfrom suit-wearing attorneys to Banks’ Aunt Tubbyto support the project. “I sold one to a doctor,” says Blunt. “He said he didn’t really listen to rap, but he would listen to it once and give it to someone else because it was for a good cause.”
Boog has other projects in the works, but for now its top priority is marketing Gemini’s Reign. The album is on sale at Shooters Sports on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and the group is actively trying to increase its availability.
Henderson’s friends stress, however, that listeners should refrain from skipping from track to track if they want to get a real sense of the rapper’s life.
“You really have to listen,” says Powell, “People want to know, ‘Where’s the party track? Where’s the smoke track?’ But this tells a storyeverything is connected.”
“Listen to it from start to finish,” says Fisher. “And don’t hit Fast Forward.” Sarah Godfrey