Situated in north St. Louis County, Dellwood is a municipality that has about 18 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, many of them children and the elderly. That's in comparison to the state of Missouri's total poverty level of 13 percent, according to city data reported in 2017. It's a neighborhood that's been changed during the past two decades, and more recently during the unrest in Ferguson following the shooting death of Mike Brown.
It's also the neighborhood that rising rapper Rahli calls home.
While so many neighborhoods have become the backdrops to music videos for rap artists, many are home to extreme poverty and a lack of resources. But Rahli is dead set on changing that perception of his own hometown. Dellwood taught him hard lessons and inspired philanthropy. This past holiday season, he pulled off two charitable events around Thanksgiving and Christmas for his community.
Growing up in both St. Louis city and county, Rahli says it was the time spent in Dellwood — where he lived the longest — that helped shape him. He recalls learning life lessons from making choices in the street. He says his mother passed away on Lorna Lane, a street that's had a profound effect on his life: so much so, it's synonymous with knowing Rahli himself.
"I bumped my head in Dellwood," he says. "My ups and downs helped me become who I am. The only way you learn in the streets is from your mistakes. You don't learn from the ups."
He calls himself "Naybahood Rahli." It's a nickname that takes after the late Nipsey Hussle, the hip-hop artist, entrepreneur and all-around patriarch to his south LA community. Many of the values Hussle lived by inspire Rahli today. Hussle's ability to turn his street background and gang affiliation into successful business ventures and community interests before his death left a profound impact on people across the globe.
"You could tell Nipsey was a legend in his neighborhood, " Rahli says. "Watching Nip, you could tell he was about his neighborhood, buying buildings and letting everything else come. That's how I feel right now. I'm going to always stand on Dellwood."
Rahli has always had a heart for giving, he says. Whether it was seeing homeless people on the street and giving the change in his pocket or helping someone get a meal, that's always been the rapper's spirit. But in 2019, he took his giving a step further by packing lunches to give to anyone who needed it in St. Louis. He called it a "Care Package From Rahli," that included a sandwich, chips, fruit and water. The care packages were met with a warm reception, and Rahli plans to continue giving them away at least once per month.
After scoring a recording contract, Rahli says he moved away and wasn't able to spend the holidays in St. Louis. But since his return, he figured 2019 was the year to do something charitable to show his reverence for the neighborhood that has so much meaning to him. Rahli says he woke up with the idea to do something big for Dellwood and St. Louis as a whole.
"It doesn't matter if I move out of town; I'm going to do whatever I can for Dellwood," he says.
That meant Rahli would partner with Dellwood Market, family members and people from the community to pull off a turkey giveaway, and later a toy drive. Dellwood Market was one of the businesses that was looted during the Ferguson unrest, but the experience has not stopped the location from being a mainstay in the community. It also serves as the inspiration and story behind Rahli's aptly named project Dellwood Market.
The response from his neighborhood was overwhelming.
"It was heartwarming to know it's 100 families eating good right now," Rahli says. "I had family members who made their way there, so I know firsthand."
He plans to make both the turkey drive and toy drive annual events. It's another side of the rapper that Rahli wants people to see. He's no longer making a name for himself in ways that could lead him down the wrong path; Rahli's learned from his mistakes and wants to inspire others to look at his music, the life he leads and the way he takes on the responsibility of caring for his community.
"If your neighborhood helped you, good or bad, you should never turn your back," he says. "It's a major responsibility, but do something. You've got so many people that look up to you."