Corey Fowler was driving when he heard the gunshots that killed his friend and bandmate Montae Talbert outside an Inglewood liquor store.
Members of Cali Swag District had just returned from a trip out of town and were set to meet up at a studio on the night of May 15.
“As I went past his car, shots were fired,” said Fowler, who goes by Smoove in the hip-hop group. After viewing the scene – Talbert slumped over a steering wheel with two gunshots to the head –Fowler sped off. “I almost crashed. I ran a red light,” he said. “I just panicked. And I was screaming and driving at the same time. I wasn’t even on the seat, I was pulling the steering wheel so hard.”
The man who taught the nation how to Dougie was dead. Twenty-two-year-old Talbert, who went by M-Bone, was the lead dancer and choreographer whose limber moves in the “Teach Me How To Dougie” video had been mimicked by everyone from Michelle Obama to Justin Bieber to model Kate Upton.
While the group had found YouTube and chart success with that single, first released in April 2010, they had struggled with the next step. No follow-up song caught fire like “Dougie” and their album was on hold through much of last year. They kept recording in hopes of avoiding one-hit-wonder status.
“It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. We want people to know that we are more than just the Dougie boys,” said Chante Glee, 22, who goes by Yung. “Some people don’t even know that our name is Cali Swag District. They just know the Dougie boys: ‘Those are the boys that do the Dougie.’“
That sudden stardom made them stand out in the poor, gang-ridden Inglewood neighborhood where they grew up. The three remaining members say they’ve stayed out of gangs and even been waved away from parties by gang members who don’t want them to ruin their success. And while Cahron Childs, who goes by JayAre, blames the killing on “hatred,” Fowler doesn’t think Talbert was targeted because of fame.
“It’s mind-boggling. What was the cause, what was the reason? And we really don’t know,” Fowler, 20, said in an interview. “It eats me up every day. When I wake up in the morning, I just want to know why.”
Inglewood police are still investigating the murder. Fowler said two of the group’s friends were in the car with Talbert, but there were few other witnesses.
Talbert didn’t rap or produce but acted as a sounding board in the studio when the group was trying out new beats and rhymes.
“He would let us know if it was something that people could dance to, because he was always dancing,” Fowler said. “And he would let us know if a song was kind of boring, he would just sit there and look at his phone most of the time.”
“And now if it’s a song that we think is cool, we be looking around like ‘Dang, we ain’t got nobody,’“ added Glee.
The group released a tribute titled “How To Do That” within weeks of Talbert’s death. It’s an upbeat song crafted for dancing, in which Childs, 22, raps to his dead friend.
The group’s debut album, The Kickback, is finally being released by Capitol Records on July 12. On the album cover, M-Bone is performing a handstand while Yung, Smoove and JayAre look on. They say they have no plans to move out of Inglewood and hope the album stands as a memorial to Talbert.
“I mean, it’s going to always feel different, because we started out with four – four of us in the studio, four of us would be here right now,” Glee said. “We’ve just got to keep our heads up, keep grinding. There’s nothing else we can do.”