Bizzle, a South Florida rapper who turned to music after a life of poverty and crime, was gunned down at his Liberty City car wash with his two children just steps away from the bloodshed.
Robert Labranche, 37, was shot multiple times Monday night in what family and friends speculated involved an argument with an acquaintance. Labranche, whose music was popular in Miami-area strip clubs, was known as "Bizzle" and "Chowtime." He operated several businesses in Miami and in Alabama, where he ran a window-tinting company and had planned to open a nightclub, friends said.
At the time he was killed, he was visiting his family in Liberty City, where he grew up and spent much of his young life in and out of jail before channeling his energy into the hip-hop market and creating his own record label, Chowtime Entertainment. Two of his songs, Lip-biting Animal, and Naked Hustle, were considered strip-club anthems.
"He didn't grow up with a lot of money. If he saw a little kid buying food at Wendy's he paid for the food. He was always looking out for people, " said Alex Pierre-Louis, his former music manager.
Bizzle was a well-liked businessman who employed young men to work at his car wash on Northwest 54th Street and Seventh Avenue. On Tuesday morning, family and friends gathered at the car wash, some of them weeping.
Bizzle's younger brother was too grief-stricken to speak with reporters.
"My brother just died," he said.
On his Myspace page, Bizzle wrote about being in and out of trouble most of his life. From juvenile detention centers to correctional facilities, he grew up in rehabilitated systems until age 21. But he eventually turned to music, finding comfort in artists like Gloria Estefan and 2Live Crew, whom he said aided his path to recovery.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bizzle had been arrested 27 times, on charges including cocaine possession and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
"Miami was a very tough place during those times, especially as a child. I knew what it felt like to eat out of the trash," Bizzle wrote.
According to Miami police, officers on patrol in the area of the Magic City Car Wash at 770 NW 54th St. heard gunshots about 8 p.m. and began canvassing the area. They found Labranche's body on the ground in the corner of the car wash.
Labranche's two children, both younger than 10, were inside an SUV he was apparently driving at the time. The children were not hurt, said Miami police spokesman Willie Moreno.
"Fortunately they didn't see the incident," Moreno said. "They were on the other side of the building."
Initially, Labranche was mistaken by several television stations as another rapper, also named Bizzle. That Bizzle, also known as Lavyss, lives in Los Angeles and specializes in Christian rap music.
"Man, Praying for Bizzle AKA Chowtime's family,'' the rapper wrote on his Facebook page after hearing about the killing. "I know a lot of you are happy it's not me, but it's still REAL for his fam. They don't get to find out that it's not true. His children were with him at the time and now their lives are changed forever. Keep them lifted up in prayer!"
"This is someone who was definitely loved in the community," Moreno said of Labranche.
Two relatives were briefly detained and removed from the crime scene, Moreno said, to protect evidence.
Bizzle started his label in 2000 and managed several local artists. He also ran a restaurant before reinvesting in his own music in 2006. He performed at a pep rally at Miami Beach High and also in local clubs.
No arrests had been made early Tuesday and police gave no immediate motive for the shooting.
Detectives said they are looking for a man in his 20s, wearing all black, who ran from the scene after the shooting.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Miami Police Department's Homicide Unit at 305-603-6350 or Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477.
Miami Herald staff writer Diana Moskovitz contributed to this report.
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