Neighborhood Heavy
Neighborhood Heavy artists, from left to right, Alex Goodwin Jr., Rayuan “Ray Ski” Lee and John Winslow. Photo: Neighborhood Heavy

[Editor’s Note: Berkeleyside freelancer Delency Parham knew Alex Goodwin Jr. This story includes some of Parham’s own reflections, as a young Black man himself, on the loss.]

Berkeley-based music collective Neighborhood Heavy honored slain group member Alex “AyeGee” Goodwin Jr. on Friday with the release of a five-track mixtape titled, “#LongLiveAyeGee.”

The project features five previously unreleased songs from Goodwin, who was shot and killed earlier this month on the front porch of his South Berkeley home. Along with the rest of Neighborhood Heavy, the 22-year-old Berkeley native had been hoping one day to make music his full-time work.

Now, as friends and family mourn his death, members of Neighborhood Heavy say they are hopeful their friend and brother can live on through their music.

Goodwin was born and raised in South Berkeley. A product of all Berkeley schools, parks, and recreation centers, he epitomized what it meant to be from this city.

See the GoFundMe page.

His ability to be there when people needed him most is what allowed him to impact so many lives in such a brief period. Not only was he a son, he was an uncle, an older brother, a grandson and a companion to many. Like most young men, he had a passion for sports; some might even describe him as a Golden State “Warriors fanatic.”

His good friend and fellow Neighborhood Heavy member Rayuan “Ray Ski” Lee said Goodwin had a unique spirit.

“What I will miss most about AyeGee is the amount of humor and creativity he would bring around,” said Lee, who also manages the group. “He probably could have had a career as a comedian or something. He also loved to turn up and have a good time.… and that was something nobody will be able to recreate.”

Goodwin’s younger brother and fellow group member, Alonzo, 18, said his brother’s personality was just one of many things he will miss about him. He credits his older brother with often giving him a reason to smile, and said he appreciated the mentorship he so often received from him.

“He had a huge influence on me,” said Alonzo. “Like any other little brother would do, I picked up my habits from him.”

Neighborhood Heavy
Many of the Neighborhood Heavy artists (in no particular order) including Alex Goodwin Jr. and his brother Alonzo, Dana Beamon, Rayuan “Ray Ski” Lee, John Winslow, Kendall Page and Quis Taylor. Photo: Neighborhood Heavy

According to an interview with Goodwin published on YouTube in May by Via Endz, Goodwin wrote his first rap in sixth grade but started rhyming in earnest in eighth or ninth grade. He told Via Endz, after finding his voice as an artist, he realized he liked performing music across rap genres, both the songs that would get crowds going at parties, and the songs that “could actually tell a story” about what he had been through.

“I could really spit some shit,” he said. “I could do both.”

Goodwin said he liked to “make music for the people who are trying to better themselves in life,” and added that “everything I rap about is from my personal experience. When I rap it’s strictly what I been through, what I been around and what I see every day.”

He also expressed enthusiasm for the current era of rap, with the explosion of lyrical styles and experimentation happening all around him.

As a performer, he said he worked on a daily basis to improve, to switch up his sound and use different lyrical flows while also aiming to be consistent. (See the video at the bottom of this story.)

“Alex was a proud and popular figure in the Berkeley community” who had “a wildly known big smile,” according to the GoFundMe fundraiser page Lee created on behalf of the family. Goodwin had been home asleep with his niece and sister “when intruders tried to break in. Alex was a hero and to protect his family he went [outside] and was met with gunfire. He passed away early Friday morning on August 19th. Alex was quiet and humble, and always smiled when approached with love.”

Finding the right way to honor Goodwin was something Lee and the rest of Neighborhood Heavy battled with. They wanted to do something they knew Goodwin would be proud of, and would give others who didn’t know him a glimpse at who he truly was. The group decided to do what they all do best: Let the music speak.

The tracks were ones the collective felt most represented Goodwin as a rapper, and showed the “lyrical yet catchy style of Bay Area rap that he and his camp possess.” Neighborhood Heavy officially formed 4-5 months ago, but has been making music together since last year, Lee said. The collective had just performed a show together, at Venue Oakland opening on the Rich Forever Tour, two days before Goodwin died.

Like any other art form, rap is often used as a coping mechanism: a way for an artist to release and express emotions that may otherwise end up suppressed. In a tribute track titled “Aye Gee Berkeley,” Neighborhood Heavy artist “Gee” — Dana Beamon — addresses the flurry of difficult emotions he has grappled with since the death of his dear friend.

Using his lyrics, Gee describes the pressure of wanting to be strong for Goodwin’s mother, while at the same time having trouble dealing with the loss himself.

The short ballad gives listeners a glimpse into the reality of someone who has just lost a loved one: “And what we supposed to say to moms, cuz I know her heart aching, cuz mine’s doing the same, and [Aye]Gee…I can barely take it.”

After the death of their brother and friend, Neighborhood Heavy turned to the one thing that brought them all together, the music. With few positive outlets for young Black men — not just in Berkeley, but nationwide — members of Neighborhood Heavy said they needed a way to express what they were feeling.

“A lot of people hear we’re from Berkeley and they think it’s all good,” said Gee, that it’s an easy place to live and get by. “We dealing with issues over here too, and that’s what we try to show with our music. That’s what AyeGee did with his music. We all talk about our experiences.”

Over the years that’s what rap has served as: a means for Black youth to express themselves. As Black youth wait to be offered another peaceful and positive outlet to release negative emotions, they will settle for the rhymes and rhythms that have served as safe spaces and therapy sessions for decades.

Goodwin’s life ended abruptly Aug. 19. Music is one of the ways his friends and family hope to eulogize their loved one. As Berkeley continues to grieve over yet another young life lost as a result of senseless violence, let us try to establish new and innovative outlets for our youth in an effort to prevent such acts of violence in the future.

fundraiser has been set up to help Goodwin’s family with funeral expenses. The funeral took place Wednesday, Aug. 31. The interview with Goodwin, published on YouTube in May by Via Endz, follows. (It contains graphic language.) Friends and family have been posting memorial photographs on Instagram. 

YouTube video

Berkeley homicide victim ID’d as Alex Goodwin Jr., 22 (08.19.16)
Update: Man dead after shooting near San Pablo Park (08.19.16)
In loving memory of Terrence McCrary Jr., 1993-2016 (08.15.16)
2 BHS grads killed in separate Oakland shootings (08.14.16)
With ‘Young Lives Matter,’ dads hope to shape the future through lessons of the past (02.19.16)

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The Berkeley Police Department is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. The BPD Homicide Detail can be reached by phone at 510-981-5741.

Delency Parham is a graduate of the University of Idaho where he played football and majored in journalism. He graduated from Berkeley High in 2010, which is where he discovered his passion for writing....