The Life of a Hot Boy: An Inside Look at Fallen Rapper Bankroll Fresh’s Rise to Fame
Hip-hop celebrates those who use their talent to share their story with the world, transcend their environment and become successful, but the genre has also been witness to a number of dreams deferred. Some of the culture’s biggest icons have had their light snuffed out well before their time. Rappers like The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E were able to reach the pinnacle of celebrity and make history through their music before their untimely deaths, however, there are more than a few rap artists that had the potential to become superstars in their own right, but passed away prior to displaying their talent on a widespread level. Bankroll Fresh is one of them.
Bankroll, one of Atlanta's hottest rappers, appeared to be on the cusp of stardom, but became another one of hip-hop's fallen soldiers when he was murdered on March 4, 2016. At age 28, he was shot and killed outside of Street Execs Studios in his hometown, where he had recorded many of his most popular songs.
The news of Bankroll’s death would be a shock to the hip-hop community, particularly in Atlanta, where the rapper had become a hometown hero to fans and one of the hottest prospects in the city. Before his death, he had gained the respect of legends like Jeezy, T.I., and other elder rap statesmen.
While the city of Atlanta and fans of Bankroll Fresh continue to mourn the rapper and speak on his untapped potential, those close to him prefer to celebrate the man behind the music and the legacy he’s left behind, one of them being his mother, Terisa Price.
Terisa, 49, has a jovial nature and charm, which leaves no question as to where Bankroll Fresh inherited his engaging personality from. While speaking with XXL from her home in Atlanta, his mother remembers key moments in her son’s life and career, in addition to touching on her plans to keep his name alive. “[My son] was a good kid and he had a beautiful personality,” Terisa shares. “People loved him, loved being around him. And the people that he did come into contact with, they just took to him because he was that kind of person. He had the kind of personality where he's silly and gonna make you laugh. He was a very giving person.”
Bankroll Fresh, born Trentavious Zamon White, on Aug. 2, 1987, in Atlanta, was brought up in a two-parent household, but friction between his parents would end their relationship, leaving Terisa to be a single parent. Bankroll's biological father, who she chooses not to name, had a sporadic presence in his son's life. “He was there, but he wasn't,” Terisa says. “They had a relationship and then they didn't, you know?”
By the time Bankroll Fresh was 3 years old, his father and Terisa would call it quits and she would become romantically involved with Kenneth “K. Rich” Johnson, 43, who became Bankroll’s stepfather. K. Rich was a constant presence in his life. “I think he and his stepdad, they bonded more because we was all in the same household and he was very influential in his life and taught him a lot of the dos and don'ts and how to go through life doing the right things, basically," Terisa explains.
It was also around this period when Bankroll Fresh began his love affair with music, finding interest in the musical stylings his mother provided, which centered around R&B, but also included an ample amount of rap, the latter of which young Bankroll would take a keen interest in.
By age 8, Bankroll was finding inspiration in rappers like 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G., taking note of their style, slang and lyrical content, with his mother assisting in quenching his thirst for knowledge of the culture.
“I used to go with a lot of stuff that I liked, but I would sometimes listen to the rap music too,” Terisa recalls. "‘Cause when I had Bankroll, I was 19, 20 years old, so I'm still young trying to find myself and I was listening to the same music he's listening to. He had always loved rap music and he used come to me and ask me about certain artists. 'What you think about this? and 'What you think about that?,' 'Such and such is hard, ain't he mama?' And he was asking me certain things pertaining to the rap music or certain words, like if they were saying stuff, he'd ask about it. Materialistic stuff, like the belts they were wearing and the shoes they were talking about and things of that nature.”
Although Terisa and Bankroll would bond through their love of music, she also recalls being a strict disciplinarian, with education being a top priority in the Price-Johnson household. Laying down the law and setting a standard for achievement, Bankroll's mother had a low tolerance for delinquent behavior and high expectations for her son. "First and foremost, school was important," she asserts. "He knew he was gonna go to school and he was gonna graduate high school and I put it out there as a parent like, but if you're not going to college, you gotta tell me what you wanna do. A child of mine will not be hanging out on the corners with his friends not doing nothing, you gotta do something. So from that day on, he started getting into the music.”
His mother, who worked as bus driver for Marta, would do her best to provide a stable and nurturing environment for her son, but the allure of the streets would prove to be irresistible to Bankroll, who joined his neighborhood friends in their mischievous activities. Coming of age in Zone 3, a project-infested area on the West side of Atlanta, Bankroll would delve deep into his environment and begin to build a reputation in the street, but according to his mother, was more focused on a career in music than being a criminal.
“Anywhere we were or lived, I always I tried to give him the best," Terisa explains. "But he had friends that lived not that far where we was living and he would have me drop him over to their house and I'm thinking, Them little boys, they're gonna play and doing whatever. I'm not thinking if they're trying to do some slick stuff or nothing like that, but I would hear it later as he got into wrong, some of the things that he was doing, 'cause it was shocking to me, like, 'Boy, you did that?' Boys, they ain't gonna tell you everything they're doing, you're just gonna see what they want you to see. Long as I knew he came home and he didn't go and try to hurt nobody or break into people's house and doing all that craziness. Only thing that was on his mind basically was music and bringing everybody together. That's the kind of stuff I used to hear him talk about.”
Slight in size, Bankroll would shun athletics and other activities in favor of music, much to the disappointment of his biological father, who attempted to deter his son's dreams of a rap career. “I don't think his biological dad didn't want him into music," Terisa admits. "He was telling him one time that there's no money in the industry for that and rappers don't make no money and all that kind of stuff."
Despite his biological father's lack of support, Bankroll Fresh would find an early mentor in his stepfather, K. Rich, the CEO of Savoir Fair Entertainment, an Atlanta-based independent rap label he founded in 2000. K. Rich, who would also go on to partner with Gucci Mane to launch LaFlare Entertainment in 2005, was a street savvy entrepreneur who served as a mentor to Bankroll during his formative years and his progression as a rapper.
The pair's mutual love for hip-hop drew them close together, and would mark the genesis of his career as a recording artist, with Bankroll Fresh, then known as Yung Fresh, joining the label roster, which included Bankroll's cousin, Montana Da Mac, and other family members, in 2003. Bankroll's mother remembers the first time her son played his music in front of her, noting his trepidation due to a profanity-laced track he recorded. “I wanna say we was in his bedroom and he was so excited and he wanted me to hear it, but he really didn't want me to hear it 'cause he was cursing," Terisa says with a laugh. "He said, 'Nah, ma, after a certain part, I'ma have to stop because I'm not finished with it,' but I knew what was going on.”
Bankroll was serious about his rap career, but, according to Terisa, he was still a work in progress and less disciplined than his cousin, Montana Da Mac. As a result, Bankroll took a backseat and allowed his more seasoned relative to flourish, a testament to his selflessness and character.
"Bank said, 'Pop, I'm not ready to do it yet, give me a little more time, but Montana's ready, and he's always been that person,'" Terisa shares. "He's not gonna hold you back, if you got it, you got it and he felt like Montana had the talent. [He'd say], 'Let him go ahead first and then if I'm not ready afterwards, let my other cousin go ahead and then I'll come behind them.' He always has been the type where [he'd say], 'I wanna help.' He felt like, 'If there's someone that's better than me around me, let them go ahead and go before me. And if I'm not ready then, there's someone still in line around me, ok, we're gonna help them first, but I'm coming.' That's how he was.”
Initially biding his time and honing his craft, over the course of the next decade, Bankroll would eventually step in the forefront and begin to make an impression as a prospect on the local rap scene, wowing his Atlanta community with energetic performers and displaying his undeniable presence. First making his name as part of the Get Rich Clique, which included the likes of Montana Da Mac, Black Boi, Hustle Man and Street Money Boochie, by 2007, Bankroll Fresh would eventually begin gaining traction outside of the crew, and building relationships with ATL heavyweights such as Gucci Mane, whom Bankroll would first appear alongside on the track "Faces" in 2009.
Even Terisa, who had been one of her son's earliest supporters, was taken aback by the mounting buzz and fanfare surrounding his rap career. “When he was going to perform in some of them little places, I didn't even know he was performing," Terisa recalls, "until one day, this girl told me, 'I seen your son, we was at such and such club, I didn't know he was a rapper. When I saw him, I was way in the back of the club, but he brought tears to my eyes because he had the crowd so into him.' She was like 'Yo son, he got it.'"
However, while those around the budding talent would take note of his presence and potential as a star, Bankroll himself would have to be goaded into really asserting himself and seeing himself in the light others around him did. “There was a lot of his friends and family telling him, 'Boy, you got it,'" Terisa states. "And everybody don't. It can be on you and not in you, but it gotta be in you, and we was telling him, 'It's in you, you have it,' and he really started listening and he caught on and, lord have mercy, I didn't know it was that many people out there. I knew he was good and I knew he had it, but we didn't know that it had got to that extent. It was huge in Atlanta, for real.”
After taking heed of his family and friends' words of encouragement, Bankroll Fresh became serious about pursuing a career in rap, releasing Street Motivation, the rapper's debut mixtape, in 2012, which would put heads in Atlanta, and beyond, on notice that he was an artist to look out for.
His appearance on producer Metro Boomin's 2013 compilation mixtape, 19 & Boomin', would capitalize on the buzz from his 2012 release, Street Motivation, as would Bankroll's follow-up mixtapes, Life of a Hot Boy and Money to Die 4, both released his 2014. Aside from his endeavors as an artist, the rapper also decided to boss up, co-founding his own label, Street Money Worldwide, with his stepfather K. Rich, and cousin Nature, on March 13, 2014.
A year later, Bankroll Fresh's ascension as an artist would hit new heights. Unleashing three landmark releases-- Life of a Hot Boy 2: Real Trapper, a self-titled mixtape and a collaborative project with Zaytoven titled Rock Solid in 2015 -- Bankroll's name and profile began to spread beyond the borders of his hometown, with artists ranging from Marilyn Manson and Erykah Badu to Drake and Earl Sweatshirt singing the former reluctant star's praises.
Since he proved himself as one of Atlanta's more popular rappers, Bankroll seemed primed for a breakout year in 2016, but his untimely death on March 4 of that year, being gunned down in a senseless act of violence in the very neighborhood he came of age in, would prevent him from living out his dreams.
Although it's still unclear exactly what took place on that fateful night, reports that more than 50 shell casings were found at the scene of the crime were enough evidence to show that the rapper's death was no accident and the result of a personal vendetta. According to Lt. Charles Hampton with the Atlanta Police Department, officers arrived at Street Exec Studios at approximately 11p.m., where they found a large crowd running away from the crime scene.
Responding officers were then notified that one person, who was later confirmed to be Bankroll Fresh, had been shot and taken to a local hospital. Affiliates of the rapper and Street Money Worldwide, including DJ Pretty Boy Tank, Bankroll's musical partner and confidant, were also present during the time of the shooting. Although the investigation is still ongoing, a video that was released by Atlanta police on Feb. 23 shows Bankroll holding an assault rifle prior to his death, leading authorities to believe he fired the shot. However, police have yet to come to a conclusion, at least in the public space, as to the sequence of events that occurred on that tragic night.
Bankroll's mother vividly remembers receiving the news that her only child had been murdered. “I was home and we was in bed and I know a lot of times around 10-11 at night; we don't get calls," Terisa remembers. "And we got a call, they called my phone and I didn't answer because my phone wasn't near me, and then they called Ken, he answered 'cause he felt the vibration and they was saying, 'Pop, Bank just got shot,' but everybody was saying that he was grazed. And he told me and I was shocked 'cause I never known my son to be in any trouble or feuding with nobody because he never had that in him just to wanna hurt somebody."
Despite initially being told that their son's injuries weren't serious, Terisa and K. Rich prepared for the worst. "Everyone was saying he was gonna be alright, but I was like, 'It don't matter, we gotta get up, we gotta go see about him.' And we both jumped up, got down to the hospital and it was so many people outside and I was shocked," she says. "And they was waiting for us to come, and once we got their and out the car, we was looking at everybody like, 'What's wrong?' It was like everyone was staring at us. And once we got in, the nurses and the doctors and all that came running toward us, so I knew something wasn't right."
Terisa continues to give her account of the ordeal in stark detail and in a stoic nature emblematic of the strength of a mother that's endured love lost. "They ended up pulling us in one of the little rooms and they was trying to explain the situation and Ken was like, 'Look, enough. What's going on? Is my son ok? That's all we wanna know. They say he was grazed.' And [the doctor] was like, 'No, he didn't get grazed, he got shot in the abdomen.' And they told us that he didn't make it and when they told us that, lord have mercy."
After Bankroll Fresh was driven to Hughes Spalding Children's Hospital by a friend after being shot between 10:45 p.m. and 11 p.m., the rapper would be pronounced dead by midnight, news which would leave the rapper's family, friends and fans grief-stricken. Survived by his two children -- his son, Trentavious Zamon White Jr., 5; and daughter, Maddison Redding, also 5 -- Bankroll's death was not only a loss for the rap community, but also for his family.
When asked of her reaction to her son's death, Terisa describes it as the worst moment of her life. "That's the worst feeling. It's like someone took a knife and was carving it through my heart and all through my stomach and then I literally passed out," she affirms. "I couldn't breath. I was crawling around the floor, it was unreal. But I was waiting on someone else to come in and say, 'The information that such and such just gave, that was misinformed information,' you know? It was a mess. I wouldn't wish that on anybody, no matter what the circumstances may be.”
While the people surrounding Bankroll Fresh at Street Execs Studios on that fateful night would be the last to speak with the rapper, his mom vividly recalls her last conversation and interaction with her son, which occurred just hours prior to his death.
“It was earlier that day and he brought my grandson over to the house and he told me that he had a show that night and he asked me could I keep him for that day and night and that he would be back that next morning because he wanted to take him shopping because springtime was coming. So he said, 'Mom, springtime coming, you know how we do and we gotta go get Zamon some clothes and stuff and after that we'll go again.
"And I was like 'Ok, I'll see you in the morning.' So I told him that I'd see him later on and he was like 'love you mom,' and I said 'love you too,' and I thought to myself, is he feeling kind of sad or something? It's like he was tired, but he be out on the road and doing all that music stuff and I know it's draining, especially if you don't get enough rest, so I thought maybe he's just tired.
She also shares memories of the last time she, and Bankroll's immediate family, saw the rapper alive. "I think he had just came from a show that night or the night or two before, so he told me he'd see me that next day, but that night, I'm gonna say between 9-10, we FaceTimed him, me and his son and my two daughters," Terisa confirms. "And I said your son wanna say goodnight and he love you, and he said 'put my son on the phone,' and they was talking, and then I said 'Ok, we was just calling to tell you to be safe and enjoy your show and we love you.' And he said, 'Well, I love y'all too, I'll see y'all tomorrow, I'm coming early, so by the time I get back and come and get him, we going to the mall. And I was like 'Ok, we'll see you.' And I'm gonna say about 10:30 or something, I'm not sure of the time, but it was right after we got off the phone, that's when we got a call 30-45 minutes later, and that's when we got the news about what had happened.”
Although nearly a year has passed since Bankroll Fresh's murder, charges in relation to the case have yet to be announced and the investigation is still ongoing, despite Atlanta rapper and Bankroll's childhood friend No Plug taking credit for the shooting during an interview with DJ Vlad in July 2016. According to Plug, he and Bankroll initially got into a scuffle inside the studio then separated. No Plug says things got deadly when he attempted to retrieve two cellphones he lost during the dust-up, only to be confronted by Bankroll and his crew.
“He came out playing with the [gun],” No Plug explained. “He fired a shot and shit happened. We pulled off, he end up dead. That’s simple as shit was. Like he pulled the gun, shot the motherfucker, couple shots got fired back, he got hit, I leave. Next thing you know, folks calling me saying, ‘Fresh dead.’ I called my lawyer S. Joseph, Gucci Mane’s lawyer. Gave him $10,000, go down to the homicide. Tell Ms. Benton everything, and shit, everything was great. End of story.”
Atlanta homicide detective Major Adam Lee said investigators are looking into the validity of that claim. “We’re trying to decipher if that person who is claiming self-defense truly was defending themselves,” he told Channel 2. Atlanta authorities have since passed the investigation on to the District Attorney’s office. “We are considering additional evidence we discovered in this case,” the D.A.’s office said in a statement. “Because of this information, we have not been able to make a decision by the original deadline. Once we reach a decision, we will notify the families and then the public.”
Terisa, for her part, feels that Bankroll's loyalty to certain people who didn't have his best interest, particularly No Plug, played a part in her son's death. "Sometimes you gotta sit back and evaluate a few thing about people and life itself and say who's for me or who's not for me or ask God to show me or give me signs or whatever," she explains. "If these certain people aren't meant to be in my life, remove them. But he was the kind of person that wasn't judgmental. He felt like, 'Well, I don't see that in them, but people talking about this certain person and I also have love for 'em, I don't see it. So when people was talking the other way about that certain person, he didn't see it, he tried to find the good and that's what he did, he tried to find the good in everybody. 'Well, they probably be like that with you, but they didn't do this certain thing to me and it don't give me a reason to dislike 'em or keep 'em from around me.' He had to find out about certain people on his own, he never went by if such and such said this.”
One year after his death, Terisa still mourns the loss of her son, however, as many other rap moms that have had to bury their children before their time, she is adamant about celebrating Bankroll as a person and keeping his spirit alive, refusing to allow his death to be in vain. “He had a very upbeat spirit when it came to his music thing and talking about making it happen for his us, his family, his friends, he just wanted everybody to make it, wanted everybody to do good."
Reminiscing on his love for motorcycles, dirt bikes and four wheelers, Terisa describes her son as a daredevil with a charismatic nature that was magnetic and attracted anyone fortunate enough to cross paths with him. “Just being silly," Terisa says of Bankroll's personality. "If I was over at my mom house, he'd run up behind me and hug me and surprise me and I wouldn't knew who it was and it would be him, acting silly, jumping around, just full of life. He was full of life. Anybody that came into contact with him and got to know him, loved him. He was just that kind of person. And I'm not just saying that because he was my son, I'm just being real.”
Being real is a trait that Terisa made sure to instill in Bankroll Fresh at a young age, which is no surprise to anyone who was privy to the tight-knit relationship he had with his mother. “We had a close relationship, we always have, even if he was wrong," she admits. "You know how a mother and son's bond would be cause majority of the boys is gonna love their mothers. They gonna have that bond where no matter what, they can go, 'Mama, let me tell you about this,' 'Mama, let me tell you about that.' He would come and tell me all kinds of crazy stuff and we would just laugh and some of the stuff was so funny, I used to be like, Damn, am I talking to my friend that live down the street or am I just talking to my son? It was the bond he had and he just loved his mother and he knows I had the unconditional love for him, so it was unreal.”
At the time of his passing, some of rap's biggest names from across the country paid homage to the fallen rapper via social media, including Lil Wayne, Fabolous, Meek Mill and others. However, Bankroll's mother says that few rappers have reached out to her or the family personally after her son's death.
“No. Maybe they didn't have connections to reach out, a number or something like that," Terisa ponders, before adding, "but one of the few that did reach out and off he had bond with, that would be T.I. At the funeral, he sent a video given his condolences and sending his blessings and all that, but they didn't have the proper equipment, so we couldn't see it. Also Young Jeezy. And I think I will always respect him because he was so genuine. I know they was really cool because they would talk on the phone every now and again pertaining to the music industry or whatever, but they wasn't the best of friends, but they was really cool.”
She goes on to list Hot Boys member Turk, Spodee and Scotty ATL as other rappers that sent their regards to the family after hearing about Bankroll Fresh's death.
Although Bankroll Fresh had grown into a star himself at the time of his death, he remained very much of fan of other rappers, specifically three of his hometown's more successful trap stars. "He had a love for 2 Chainz, he really did," Terisa shares. "He used to talk about him a lot. And T.I., he loved T.I. I would say he was a fan of T.I. and Young Jeezy, he really was."
Bankroll Fresh may not be here physically, but that hasn't stopped the rapper's music from continuing to make an impact, with posthumous tracks like "All There," his collaboration with Jeezy from the latter's Trap or Die 3 album, which peaked at No. 50 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and "Truth Be Told," the first track unveiled from Bankroll's forthcoming posthumous debut album, which is slated to be released this spring.
“Well, the name is gonna be In Bank We Trust, and I think we're gonna do 12 songs and bonuses on the album and we was really trying to push it for the 4th," Terisa reveals. "But I'm not sure if we're gonna push it for the 24th of April, which is K. Rich's birthday. We're gonna have some features on there from different other artists that's out... but we're working on it now and we were just in the studio the other day and we've got a hot song that's gonna be a single.I named it 'A Hell of a Night.' I named 'Dirty Game' and I named 'Truth Be Told,' I named those songs. I think it's highly anticipated.”
In order to keep his name alive, Terisa will also continue her son's charitable efforts. She hopes that he won't only be remembered for his music, but also for his willingness to give back and be a fixture in his community. “Well, I know a lot of people have seen some of the footage out of him giving back to the community, and this year, within the [Bankroll Fresh] Foundation, I did the turkey drive [Banksgiven] and the toy drive he also did. Just knowing he was a kindhearted and loving person that wouldn't mind helping no one and just staying real with people and all of the other stuff, let it go ‘cause life is too short. Just staying real and keeping it real, that's all I can say.”
As for what's next for Street Money Worldwide and the Bankroll Fresh brand, Terisa says that she and K. Rich are hard at work connecting the dots. Despite her son not being present in the flesh, his name will not be dying or fading away anytime soon. “I started a foundation, Bankroll Fresh Foundation, and I have different looks that I've put together with friends or with K. Rich or people we know doing things within that realm. Also, we've got stuff that's brewing, trying to get a lot of stuff out there. I've been thinking about doing a children's clothing line starting with my grandson and granddaughter if I can get that chance.
"It's not about me, Ken, or nobody else, it's about these children. That's what we're trying to do, make it happen for them. Street Money Apparel, we're doing the hoodies and socks and just some things to put out within Street Money, so we've got a lot of stuff we're putting together, but we're not rushing and we not going nowhere. We here.”
A year may have passed since Bankroll Fresh's death, but the rapper's presence still looms large in Atlanta and his impact and influence as an artist remains undisputed, with legends, rookies, fans and critics alike touting him as one of the more promising exports out of his hometown in quite some time.
His distinctive voice continues to be broadcast across the airwaves and receives airplay in the streets, almost making it as if he never left the A, a testament to his impact in his community and beyond. If you put on any one of Bankroll Fresh's tracks, turn the volume up and get lost in the music, you'll come to the realization that he's forever here in spirit and remains the definition of a real trapper.
Rappers We Lost in 2016