Just months before signing to Interscope Records, now-embattled rapper DaBaby (born Jonathan Kirk) shot and killed a man named Jaylin Craig at a Charlotte-area Walmart in November 2018. Kirk claimed he was acting in self-defense, and proceeded to reference the shooting in many of his songs. New security footage obtained by Rolling Stone, however, casts a different light on the incident, appearing to show Kirk initiated the fight that led to the shooting.
In the footage, Kirk enters the frame while sucker-punching Craig’s friend Henry Douglas. After the initial attack, Craig appears to reach for a gun in his waistband, but it’s unclear whether or not he put it back based on a subsequent angle of the altercation. The remaining footage shows Kirk pulling out his own gun before shooting and killing Craig.
For his part, Douglas told Rolling Stone that he and Craig were trying to figure out if Kirk was indeed local rapper DaBaby. “That’s what eventually started it; when he took it the wrong way,” he remembered. “We were trying to see who you are, and he took it as somebody is looking at him with a problem.”
Douglas added that he agreed to go outside since someone with Kirk seemed intent on starting a fight. He also claims that he never saw Craig draw a weapon.
However, a Walmart customer told police that he saw Craig with a weapon in his waistband, and according to the death investigation report, a Walmart employee also said he saw Craig with a gun. The report concluded prosecutors couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kirk didn’t act in self-defense.
DaBaby posted an Instagram video days after the shooting, saying “if them gunshots ain’t go off, n****, my fucking daughter could have got hit, son could have got hit [and] me,” adding, “two n****s walk down on you and your whole motherfucking family, threaten y’all, whip out [a gun] on y’all, let me see what y’all going to do.”
The case ultimately depended on North Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law, which greatly helps people claiming self-defense. According to criminal law experts who spoke to Rolling Stone, the defense hinges in part on who the initial aggressor is. If someone initiates the conflict, they have to show there was a serious threat of imminent death or physical injury.
“It’s not clear-cut, and it is not a ‘These people rolled up on me and tried to roll me, and I had to defend myself,'” said legal analyst Emily Baker. “That’s not what this video shows. This video shows a fight that got way out of hand very fast, and that resulted in somebody dying.”
Former North Carolina district court judge Todd Owens added that even with witness testimony that Craig had a gun during the altercation, Kirk’s self-defense claim would be “100 percent contingent” on the belief that his life or the lives of others were in danger.”
Since first viewing security video around the time of the shooting, Craig’s parents have maintained their belief that Kirk started the fight. “The rapper instigated it and started it and attacking my son’s friend — the first punch,” Jaylin’s father Curtis Craig told Fox 46. His mother LaWanda Horsley added, “Everyone ran with it because the rapper said it was a robbery. There was never a robbery.”
The video was never shown in court and a key witness, a Walmart employee, never showed up to testify. Rolling Stone reports Horsley found the clip in the police file for her son’s case, which she received in April 2021.
Although Kirk wasn’t prosecuted for Craig’s death, he was eventually charged and found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon in Jue 2019. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation with a suspended jail sentence.
Since then, Kirk has been involved in numerous violent altercations, most recently a bowling alley brawl and another shooting incident at his home in North Carolina earlier this month. Last year, he lashed out at gay people in a hateful speech at Rolling Loud Miami before issuing an apology to GLAAD and HIV/AIDS non-profits. However, he appeared to ghost those organizations after the early discussions.
Watch the video and read the Rolling Stone report here.