It started in a prison hospital room, a single expecting mother with two armed guards.
Brenda Ann Wright, an inmate at the Tennessee State Women’s Correctional Facility, was pregnant with triplets conceived during a sexual assault by her correctional officer, Officer Ken Yates.
After almost five hours, Anita gave birth to three healthy boys. The first baby delivered was Daryn and the second, Darius.
Damien was third, but there was complications. During Damien’s delivery, Brenda went into cardiac arrest.
The doctors worked hard for the last five minutes to save both the baby and the mother.
While they were able to save the third baby Damien, the boys’ mother passed away.
After months trying to find the best home for the boys, Child Protective Services let the boys dissolve into the foster care system.
They moved from home to home until they landed in their final home with the Parkers at 13 years old.
They continued down a troubled path for years until their first day of their senior year in high-school.
“We’ll light up, watch the door.” Daryn said to Darius.
This was a ritual the boys had almost perfected since they were freshmen.
Two smoke in the bathroom and one stands watch and coughs if he sees the school’s resource officer or a teacher.
Darius stood at the entrance to the bathroom and while distracted by a few cheerleaders walking down the hall, Mr. Tipton, a substitute teacher, walked up behind him.
“Cough and it’ll be way worse.” Mr. Tipton whispered to Darius.
“Let’s take a look at what kind of trouble you’re getting into.”, the teacher grinned and walked into the bathroom.
With a firm grip on Darius’ arm, he looked into the bathroom to find Daryn handing Damien a cigarette with a cloud of smoke hovering in the bathroom like foggy spring morning.
“Don’t put that out!”
“Damn”, Daryn mumbled under his breath.
Mr Tipton walked up and grabbed the lit cigarette from Damien and took a long hit off of the cigarette. “What class are you boys supposed to be in?”, he said as he leaned around the boy and flicked the cigarette into the toilet.
“Mrs. Payne’s home room”, the boys said almost perfectly synced.
“Don’t pass go, don’t stop by the vending machines, go straight back to class and I’ll be in there to talk to Mrs. Payne in a little bit.”
The boys looked back and forth into each others eyes as if to say “We’re screwed.”
About ten minutes had passed after the boys got back to the classroom, then the door opened.
It was Mr. Tipton. The boys’ hearts dropped.
“Kid’s, I need to tell you something. Some of you may have heard that I am pregnant and will not be your teacher this semester. I will be here for a few weeks then I’ll be leaving and Mr. Tipton will be taking over.” Mrs. Payne explained.
Over the next few weeks as “Punishment” Mr. Tipton had the boys come into class fifteen minutes early to talk and do “extra credit”, which was to write “I know what I did and I won’t do it again.” 100 times each morning.
While getting to know the boys during their sessions, Mr Tipton realized their passion for music.
It’s not that it was a complicated discovery, the boys almost always had hip hop playing on their phones.
Sometimes it was something new but most of the time it was one of five artists: Tupac, Jay-Z, Biggie, Eminem & Nas.
Their reaction when Mr. Tipton started singing along to “Hit Em Up” by Tupac, was absolutely priceless!
“You claim to be a player but I fucked your wife… what’cha know about Pac?” He asked the boys as they were trying to keep their jaws from hitting the floor.
“Really?” Daryn asked
“You know Tupac?” Damien added.
“You may think I’m old but I know hip hop”
“Really old, Tip!” Darius added.
The three spent the next few mornings discussing the greats with their now favorite teacher.
A few months had passed and the mentorship continued. It also included Mr Tipton having the boys rewriting Beowulf as a song and performing it in front of class for extra credit.
The last day before Christmas break Mr. Tipton asked the boys to stay after class.
“You can do more.” Mr. Tipton said to the boys.
“You all have a talent in writing. With your love for music, you should do something with that.”
The room went completely silent. Mr. Tipton just let it sink in.
“Let’s do it!” Darius said with a grin.
Daryn smiled like he just won the lottery and started shaking his head, “They aren’t ready for us.”
Damien just sat with a smile.
Over the Christmas break the boys discussed their new dream.
It was Christmas Eve and the boys were in their den, covered in Tupac, Biggie, 50 Cent and other posters, listening to the “Dr. Thomas” mixtape by Eric Thomas.
“So, we need names because Daryn, Damien and Darius sounds like some cheese ball shit” Darius said.
“I’m already on it.” Daryn said with a grin. “Pen… Poison Pen”
“Poison Pen, I like that!” Darius paused for a minute then added “Lil Yak!”
“WE ARE NOT DOING THAT MUMBLE SHIT!” Daryn turned and stared at Darius.
Damien quickly added “Bars Only Bro!” with a similar stare.
“No, I just like it.” Darius responded. “What about you Day?”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, ChronoKhan. But what about us? Are we a group? Do we start a label? What do we do?”
It was about that time that the next track on the mixtape started…
It was “Beast Mode”. A speech by Eric Thomas, that inspired the boys for the rest of their life.
“So the story says that every single day when a gazelle it realizes that in order for it to survive it must outrun the fastest lion, or the slowest gazelle.” E.T. continues “You don’t necessarily have to beat the lion, you just beat the other gazelles.”
“No, you missed it, I’m a high school drop out, I was homeless, I didn’t meat my father till I was thirty years old. But I wake up every morning at three o’clock. Why? Because you just have to get there before the genius gets there… They aren’t waking up until eight, so if you wake up at three? You don’t have to be smarter than them. You just gotta be quicker than them. You just gotta faster than them. You just got to get the spot, before they get to the spot!”
“So the lion knows that if it must survive, it must catch the slowest gazelle or the weakest gazelle… You have to get this concept of going all in. You have to get this ‘Beast Mode’. You got to embody ‘Beast Mode’. Everything about you has to say ‘I ain’t playing, if it’s to have, I’m Going To Get It!’.
“The story says, it doesn’t make a difference if you are a gazelle or a lion, when the sun comes up… YOU BETTER START RUNNING!”
The track took over the room. When it was over Damien paused the track and looked at his brothers, ”Lions Order. Fuck building a label or worrying about anything. Let’s just set the mic on fire and dominate!”
That night they went to work, writing their first track “On Fire” and Lions Order was born.