da Sneak attack

A Bay Area rapper living in Sacramento started carrying a gun after he was shot twice. Now Keak da Sneak faces prison in a wheelchair.

Rapper Keak da Sneak—real name Charles Kente Williams—has been confined to a wheelchair since his August 2017 shooting in Richmond. He’s headed to prison in April.

Rapper Keak da Sneak—real name Charles Kente Williams—has been confined to a wheelchair since his August 2017 shooting in Richmond. He’s headed to prison in April.

Photo by Joel Galvan

Bay Area rapper Keak da Sneak remembers somebody trying to open the driver-side door of his car at a Richmond gas station one night almost two years ago. What he saw next is burned into his memory: Bright flashes from the barrel of a gun, one after another.

“They seemed like they were never going to stop,” he told SN&R in a recent phone interview.

Keak put his car in gear and attempted to drive away, but couldn’t move his legs. A bystander pulled him out of the slowly moving vehicle; someone else called an ambulance. Struggling to breathe and losing consciousness on the pavement, he prayed that God would save his life.

Keak—his real name is Charles Kente Williams—survived August 21, 2017, despite being shot eight times and falling into a three-day coma.

But he still fears for his life today: In the midst of a grueling recovery from several life-saving surgeries, he’s set to begin a 16-month sentence in state prison next month for a gun charge he picked up about two years ago in Amador County. Having been to prison before, he expects inadequate medical care once he’s incarcerated.

“I don’t want anybody to get it misconstrued and think I don’t want to do the time and face up to my mistake,” he said. “I mean, I did get caught with a gun. But right now, I’m not in the greatest health to be in some filthy cell, you know what I mean?”

Speaking from his home near Sacramento, Williams used a raised voice to be audible over the wound vacuum removing bacteria from infected bed sores on his backside. One is the “size of a tangerine,” he said grimly. He can’t feel anything below his knees and is bound to a wheelchair.

Though he has a strong support system of friends and family, including his wife, Dee Bowens, his new reality is a difficult one.

“I have days where I wake up crying, man,” he said. “I can’t walk, you know what I mean? I’m used to doing things on my own. I’m trying to get better to where I need less assistance, but it’s been a real humbling experience.”

Keak da Sneak is generally credited with coining the term “hyphy” on record and helped introduce the Bay Area hip-hop movement to national audiences by featuring on E-40’s 2006 single, “Tell Me When To Go.” He is a celebrity in Oakland—and that puts a mark on his back. His first brush with death came in January 2017, when a stranger trying to rob him and a friend after a nightclub show in Tracy led to a struggle and Williams getting shot in the buttocks.

No longer able to afford a security detail like he had at the height of his popularity, he says he bought a handgun to protect himself. A couple of months later, the gun was in his car when he stopped at a gas station driving home from a casino in Amador County. That’s when he saw a sheriff’s deputy at a stoplight.

“I feel somebody eyeballing me, so I look up and he’s watching me from the intersection while I’m pumping my gas,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, this is racial profiling at an all-time high. He’s looking at me like he knows I’m a super-criminal.’ I went into the gas station, came back out, and he’s parked by my car. While I’m walking up, he asks me if I’m on probation or parole.”

Williams was on probation from a previous firearms conviction, giving the officer authority to search his car. The officer found a gun, which the Amador County district attorney later alleged had been stolen. Williams was charged with four felonies and one misdemeanor, court records show. All but one of the charges were eventually dropped: felony possession of a firearm while on probation.

He requested ankle-monitored house arrest as part of his plea bargain—Bowens started a Change.org petition in hopes of swaying the court—but was denied. He was granted a 60-day extension in late January, pushing the beginning of his sentence to April 11.

Over the past few months, Williams has turned to the media to protest what he believes is a lack of compassion from the court and a lackluster investigation by the Richmond Police Department into his seemingly targeted shooting. He sees his own case as but a symptom of the society-wide sickness that also led to the February 9 killing of 20-year-old rapper Willie McCoy, who was reportedly startled awake while sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell in Vallejo and shot 25 times by officers.

“It seems like it always happens like that,” Williams said. “The cops are always taking us out and then getting off like they didn’t do anything, like they were in the right.”

Meanwhile, Williams’ lengthy court battle has drained much of his financial resources. Despite the physical difficulty of leaving the house, he’s performed semi-regularly since his seven-month hospital stay in order to pay his attorneys and medical fees, and help support Bowens once he’s locked up. But aside from the occasional show, he’s not getting out much.

“I’m in a wheelchair and stay in the house all day,” he said. “I’m already on house arrest.”