West Phoenix rapper José “Low Key” Hernandez was in the process of making positive changes in his life.
He was less than a year home from a six-month jail sentence for assault, but instead of boasting about it on records, he decided to completely change his ways. But unfortunately his redemption was cut short by a tragic accident.
Around 2 a.m. December 26, Hernandez was in a vehicle that was struck by a red light runner, and he and friends Jonathan Green and Jose "Chico" Martinez were killed. The three men were all 25 years old, according to friend Bodie Chavez, and were on their way home from a Christmas gathering at Hernandez's mother’s home. The four men had spent much of the day in the streets of Phoenix passing out care packages of essential items like toilet paper and toothbrushes to the city's homeless population. Media reports say that the accident occurred at the intersection of 59th Avenue and Indian School Road. Phoenix police say they are waiting to charge the driver of the light-running vehicle as they await results of blood tests.
“He was like a little brother to me,” says Chavez about Hernandez. Chavez brought up two things not a single other person spoken to about Low Key failed to mention — the young MC’s personal motto — “hustle hard and stay humble” — and his current charitable project under the name Helping Others Prosper Everyday (HOPE).
It was the hope he gained through performing his music that Hernandez felt he lost while incarcerated that lead the once “young, free … and wild” hip-hop artist to reform his ways and start building his community, according to friend and collaborator Pyro AZMB, who will be performing on a benefit show for the families of the three men at Seven’s Lounge on New Year's Day.
Pyro says he knew Hernandez for the better part of a decade and that he noticed the positive changes in both Low Key’s personal actions and musical message.
“He kind of matured, his content got a little deeper. He was always for real in his music, but it just seems like everything he was releasing when he got out was reflecting on what he was thinking about while he was locked up, and it was just deep,” Pyro says. “I could tell he dug into himself and figured out a good way to go,his content did evolve, I could tell.”
The music came secondary to Hernandez, however, because, according to his friends Pyro, Chavez, and JustUs Samuel of Respect the Underground, the young man’s number one goal was always to use his message to uplift his community.
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“He was authentic, he was genuine and that’s what set him apart. He didn’t boast of things he didn’t have he just kept it real with music that came from his heart, he was a real dude,” says JustUs.
Pyro says “he didn’t care how many likes and views you get, it’s what you do for your people and how you give back and that’s really important.”
While the lineup for the show is not fully set some names being talked about are Young Ridah, Johnny Phoenix, Young Spider, and Louise Poison, according to Chavez. Donations can also be made through a Gofundme campaign. All proceeds will split up among the families of the three men. Jonathan Green is survived by a wife and four daughters one of whom is terminally ill, according to Chavez.
Correction, 1-4-2016: This article originally misreported the ages of the three victims. Also, Hernandez did not do time in prison but was rather in Tent City on work release, according to his grandmother.