Camoflauge still a Savannah rap icon 20 years after his murder

Updated May 23, 2023 at 3:07 p.m.

In 2002, Jason Akeil Johnson said he knew he was always destined for fame.

"Everyone knew it was going to happen. I just wanted to be like all the boys I saw on the corner,” he said. “The gold teeth and the fancy cars."

Twenty years ago last week, the hip-hop artist from Savannah’s Hitch Village was gunned down outside of his West 37th Street recording studio, Pure Pain Records. The shooting took place at roughly 4:30 p.m. on Monday, May 19, 2003 while the 21-year-old walked the sidewalk with his toddler son, Yadon Moultrie. Later that evening, Camoflauge was pronounced dead at Memorial Health University Medical Center. His son was unharmed.

Savannah’s most beloved rapper was well on his way to stardom and fame, just as he predicted. But that was the day it all ended. Twenty years later, his murder is still unsolved.

His debut came in 1999 with the Crime Affiliates collaboration, Crime Pays. Camoflauge's first solo album, I Represent, was released in 2000 and it climbed to as high as No. 58 on Billboard’s Hip-Hop chart. The album put him, Pure Pain Records and the City of Savannah squarely on the rap map. Universal signed him for his follow-up album, Strictly 4 Da Streets: Sex, Drugs and Violence, Vol. 1. But the major label dropped the rapper after his arrest in Savannah on drug charges that were eventually dropped.

In 2002, his final album, Keepin It Real was released and the single “Cut Friends” is still one of the most popular southern rap tracks of the era. Other popular Camoflauge tracks include “Hot Grits,” “Layin’ My Stunt Down,” “Murder Was The Case” and “Down By The Water.” Almost all of his songs included Savannah references, often dealing with themes like poverty, crime and yes, drugs.

It was his unwavering loyalty to Savannah and the people in the city’s hoods that made him a hero to many.

“I could come out on the street and see him rapping. He felt so relaxed. He didn’t even have bodyguards around him,” Jeanne Bryan told local reporter Anne Hart after the murder.

Hart sent me a text this week when I asked her for her memories of covering the events.

“I remember the overwhelming sadness displayed by the people who lived and worked in the neighborhood where the shooting happened, where Camoflauge’s studio was,” she said. “The fact that this local musical star was shot and killed in the very town that helped form him was jarring to say the least.”

“I also remember his packed, barely any standing-room funeral where his life and musical talents were celebrated. That was a mournful day for Savannah.”

His legacy had long been cemented in Savannah, but over the last few months, Camoflauge has been revived in a sense, his music now expanding well beyond Savannah thanks in large part to a daughter he never got to meet.

When Camoflauge was killed, Kia Jones was pregnant with his daughter. That afternoon in May of 2003, the girl’s life was altered before it ever began.

Flau’Jae Johnson (born Flau’Jae Jones) just won a NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship as a key part of the backcourt for the LSU Tigers. Just a freshman, Flau’Jae averaged 11.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. She is also a hip-hop artist with talent aplenty. She has a distribution deal with Roc Nation, the label of hip-hop icon Jay-Z. As a child, she appeared on TV several times, doing well in popular competition shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Lifetime’s The Rap Game.

Flau’Jae and Kia moved to Atlanta when the girl was eight because she was determined to pick up where her dad left off. She went to pursue hip-hop in the rap capital of the world. Turns out, she was pretty good at both basketball and rapping. Doing more than her dad could have ever dreamed of.

“When I hear his voice in his songs, I get chills,” she told ESPN’s Maya Jones in April of 2023. “I think about my dad everyday just about. He’s the reason I picked up the mic. Sometimes I think, ‘Dang, I wish he could see what I’m doing. I know he’s proud of me, but I wish he could see it all.”

As far as the status of his unsolved murder case, Camoflauge’s killer has yet to be identified, for now. When reached by email on May 19, 2023, Savannah Police Cold Case Unit Commander Lt. Zachary Burdette said that his team was in the process of “pulling the (Camoflauge) case file … to review it and see what all is there.”

Published May 23, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Travis Jaudon

Travis Jaudon is a reporter for Connect Savannah. He is a Savannah native and has been writing in Savannah since 2016. Reach him with feedback or story tips at 912-721-4358
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