In March, when Pitchfork covered Milwaukee’s burgeoning street rap culture, the celebrity news site made a point of including Big Wan.
“Big Wan is the city’s best (expletive) talker,” Alphonse Pierre of Pitchfork stated, praising the rapper’s signature punchlines in particular. “Wan also has an eagle-eyed sense of manufacturing. He’s responsible for some of the city’s most enjoyable rap right now.”
Eight months later, Big Wan, one of the scene’s most promising artists, had his life and career cut short.
According to Milwaukee police, Big Wan — real name Dawan Turner — was shot and murdered Friday morning. He was 19 years old.
Turner was killed at 9:05 a.m. Friday when bullets were fired into a residence in the 3800 block of North 13th Street, according to Milwaukee police. According to family friend Hilda Alayeto, Turner was residing there with his mother and grandmother.
Turner, who was in an upstairs bedroom at the time of the shooting, was declared dead at the scene, according to a medical examiner’s report from Milwaukee County. Milwaukee police have deemed his death a murder. At the moment, there are no known suspects.
‘He’s always the child who wants to embrace you.’
“He wanted to make people laugh and smile,” said Alayeto, who has known Turner’s mother, Rosemary Gonzalez, for 30 years and even helped prepare his birth shower. “Dawan was a really likeable character. He is always the child that will embrace you and check to see if you are all right. He resembled a large teddy bear.”
Turner’s humor dazzled relatives and friends as a youngster as Gonzalez’s only son (who was also delightfully “spoiled” by his grandmother, Milagros Rosa), Alayeto added.
“He was basically a jokester who always had a rebuttal and a joke for everything you said,” Alayeto said. “He was deft with his feet. When you answer the phone, even if you only inquire as to your whereabouts, it becomes a punchline.”
Turner didn’t waste any time in bringing his sense of humor to the recording session. Alayeto stated he began creating hip-hop songs when he was 11 or 12 years old, originally under the tutelage of local rapper Wonderbread Rie, before joining a gang of hip-hop-loving buddies that included his future go-to producer, RichieWitDaHitz, and future manager Bagzz.
Turner’s inherent charm, ambition, and technical ability, according to Bagzz (actual name Will Norton), were reminiscent of rap great The Notorious B.I.G.
Turner, even as a teen, “was the sort of young man who could go into a mature men’s club and perform and rock the whole establishment,” Bagzz said. “Sometimes when you’re producing music, everything becomes a little tense, and he’d just walk in and relax folks up.”
Bagzz said, “He was just really humble.” “He just took up on everything and never expressed disagreement. He was attentive. He was only focused on making it.”
Big Wan’s breakthrough hit, “Fast Lane Lifestyle,” was released in November 2019. His low-key swagger and distinctive voice — engagingly droll, with a slurred word sometimes interfering with his crisp flow — lured listeners into his smart wordplay. The song’s music video, made by well-known Milwaukee music video maker TeeGlazedIt, has accumulated over 400,000 views on YouTube.
The song debuted on his first mixtape, “Dog Slayers,” which was followed by the 10-track “Dog Slayers 2” last year. “Dog Slayers 3” will be launched on Jan. 24, Bagzz said, on the anniversary of Turner’s 20th birthday.
In the last two years, Big Wan has produced other boasting one-off songs backed with popular TeeGlazedIt-directed videos, including “8ight Blocks” (434,000 YouTube views), “Eggshell” (268,000 views), and “Kill” (115,000 views).
When Pitchfork’s Pierre examined Milwaukee’s music scene for a March essay, Big Wan was one of five performers he singled out to demonstrate the city’s burgeoning hip-hop culture’s vitality, among more known Milwaukee rappers like Lakeyah, Chicken P, and Mari Boy Mula Mar.
“He noticed how people were reacting to his music, and then he began performing tiny openers at clubs before other artists,” said Alayeto, who assisted Turner for a period in fielding feature requests from other Midwest rappers. “He began to see Milwaukee’s affection for him, which drove him.”
“You constantly want for a different outcome,” Alayeto concluded. “He did not grow up in the finest of circumstances on Milwaukee’s east side. However, he was not a guy who displayed hatred or fury. ‘As a result,’ he reasoned, ‘I’m going to work extra hard to pull myself out of this.'”
Additional fatalities: Authorities say rapper Young Dolph, 36, was fatally shot at a Memphis bakery.
Convictions for drug trafficking became a feature of Big Wan’s songs.
Turner was one of two dozen persons accused in February 2020 by the United States Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee for claimed ties to the Buffum Meinecke Boys, a drug-trafficking group allegedly based in Milwaukee’s Harambee area.
Turner was charged with the sale, distribution, and distribution of a controlled drug. He pled guilty and was sentenced to time served plus three years of supervised release this past March.
In his songs, he did not shy away from the arrest. The music video for “Eggshell” was preceded by a part of a television news story with Big Wan rapping, “They locked me up, but I never tell,” and bragging, “I’m on top/They can’t stop me now.”
Turner’s ambition was to make it in the music business, and he was well on his way, Bagzz added, since he retained ownership of all of his tunes and reinvested revenues in the music.
“He was establishing the precedent for becoming the ruler of your own music,” Bagzz said.
Turner’s fans, colleagues, and other artists have paid respect to Big Wan on social media in the aftermath of his passing.
“Alright wan time to come out and tell everyone that u kidding,” tweeted Lil Trav, a young Milwaukee rapper who collaborated with Wan on many tracks, on Instagram. Trav made an appearance on Wan’s most recent tune, “Designer Drugs”; the song’s video was published on the day of Wan’s death.
“Anyone who came across you was fortunate to have you,” Trav wrote. “I cherish you.”
“Gone much too soon,” Grammy-nominated producer Bizness Boi, a Milwaukee native, posted on Big Wan’s Instagram page. “Restore your strength, young king.”
According to Alayeto, the attendance for Sunday’s balloon release in Turner’s honor was so huge that the family opted to hold the memorial ceremony in a larger location than originally planned. The specifics are awaited.
“The outpouring of sympathy… comforts (his mother),” Alayeto added. “It demonstrates to her that he was beloved by those who did not know him personally via his music. That, I believe, helped her significantly.”
Turner’s death remains under investigation.
Milwaukee Police are asking anybody with information to call them at (414) 935-7360. To remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at (414) 224-TIPS or submit a tip through the P3 Tips app.