The fireplace that drives Flau’jae Johnson

FLAU’JAE JOHNSON was decided.

Her late father’s birthday was approaching and so was the get together that her mom, Kia, threw yearly to honor him. It felt like everybody in Savannah, Georgia, and its surrounding cities would present up and present out in December to honor Jason Johnson, greatest referred to as “Camoflauge” to those that adopted his rap profession. Performances lasted via the wee hours of the morning. Flau’jae, who was 8, needed in, too.

She approached Kia confidently, took a deep breath and acknowledged her case: “Mom, I want to go there. I want to rap. I want to perform at this party.”

Kia checked out her daughter and laughed. This was a celebration for grown-ups. It could be at a membership. So, she delivered the dangerous information: “Girl, you’re not performing at this party. You’re a kid.”

Flau’jae would not take no for a solution. She recruited her uncle, Dominique, who would do something for his niece — and collectively the 2 begged Kia, who finally gave in. She agreed to assist sneak Flau’jae inside, and Dominique helped her write songs

On the evening of the get together in 2011, Flau’jae remodeled into one of many flyest children in Savannah. She picked her personal outfit: camo pants, a crimson puffer vest with the Georgia Bulldogs emblem and an identical hat that gave approach to a protracted curly ponytail within the again. Her black shirt learn “Georgia Swag.” She accomplished the look with a black fingerless glove on her proper hand and stunner shades.

Kia snuck Flau’jae in via a again door and had her wait in a dressing room. Hours rolled by as Flau’jae waited. It was round 10 p.m., well past her bedtime, so she dozed off, till feeling a faucet on her shoulder.

It was showtime.

As soon as Flau’jae hit the stage, she got here alive. She took command of the room together with her high-pitched voice, performing a handful of songs, together with one devoted to her father.

Relaxation in peace to Camoflauge
This proper right here for Camoflauge
Relaxation in peace to Camoflauge
Only for him, I am goin’ onerous
Only for him, I am goin’ onerous
Only for him, I am goin’ onerous

Flau’jae bounced from one nook of the stage to the opposite. She had the group wave their arms within the air and sway backward and forward. The room belonged to Flau’jae. As her father predicted, his child lady was particular.

That efficiency was only a preview of what would come. Now, Flau’jae’s performing in entrance of sellout crowds in music and basketball, she is aware of that evening in 2011 was destiny. She’s signed a distribution take care of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, and he or she’s main the No. 3-ranked LSU Tigers (28-2) into March Insanity as top-of-the-line freshmen within the nation.

Her mission? To complete the journey her father began earlier than he was fatally shot in Could 2003 — practically six months earlier than she was born. Music is her connection to her father’s previous and a path to her personal future.

“I feel like his legacy was cut short,” she says. “It was taken from him. That’s why I sometimes feel like it’s my duty to finish what he started.”

FLAU’JAE’S ALARM WAKES her at 5 a.m. day-after-day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are her busiest, so getting an early begin is a precedence. Her mornings are peaceable occasions of reflection, the place she grabs her pen and writes in her journal. Then, she prays.

Subsequent, she hits the gymnasium for her first exercise; 1,000 photographs on the taking pictures machine. Quickly, she’s on her approach to the locker room to bathe and alter with greater than sufficient time to spare earlier than her firstclass of the day at 8 a.m.

At 1:30 p.m., she has back-to-back practices and weight coaching. To maintain up together with her lessons, Flau’jae heads to the examine corridor. If she has time, she’ll go to one of many college’s music studios earlier than heading again to the dorm for relaxation.

It is likely one of the greatest causes Flau’jae selected LSU. The Tigers’ head coach, Kim Mulkey, embraced Flau’jae’s rap profession, totally supporting each of her passions. The teaching workers took Flau’jae to the studio, and that was it, she was offered. However throughout hoops season, Mulkey says, basketball has to return first.

“Most college students. They practice. They eat. They study and go to bed. Flau’jae’s just getting started when practice on the court is over,” Mulkey says. “If you ever go into her dorm room, you’re just going to be witnessing what she does. She starts creating … and she’s very good at it.”

“I always watch her on the floor to see if she gets fatigued sooner than maybe I think she should because I know what she’s doing when she leaves here. She is in her dorm room thinking of the next thing she wants to produce.”

After examine corridor, Flau’jae is again in her dorm. It is a quiet, small nook of the room that turns into her sanctuary. The guidelines she lives by are scribbled on a whiteboard. “Be intentional.” “Go hard.” Objectives for her firms are written on the opposite half of the board; Yr 1 = $1.5 million. Yr 2 = $5.7 million. Yr 3 = $10 million.

Flau’jae sits in her laptop chair behind a brown picket desk. There are colourful sticky notes on the wall in neon shades of orange, pink, yellow and inexperienced. The messages are a mixture of short-term targets and motivational quotes. “Start YouTube series.” “Start Big 4 brand.” “How you do anything is how you do EVERYTHING.” “Add EXTRA to the ordinary.”

She reaches for her mic and plugs it into her laptop computer. The setup is straightforward. It is not skilled, she stresses, but it surely’s excellent for releasing her speedy ideas and recording them within the second. “It just clears my head from everything that’s going on for the week,” Flau’jae says. “I get to just restart and make songs that I get to listen to for the rest of the week. They take me through the week and I go back and I make some more.”

FLAU’JAE LOOKED round and noticed children with their fathers. They had been in all places. Grocery buying, on the park, at sporting occasions. She felt a well-recognized pang in her coronary heart — the conclusion that she did not have her father and by no means would.

Kia was the whole lot to Flau’jae, however she longed to be near the person she by no means had the prospect to satisfy. So, she pieced him collectively the perfect she might by finding out outdated images to memorize his face and elegance. She learn his lyrics to be taught his innermost ideas and listened to his songs to know his coronary heart.

Almost day-after-day, Flau’jae is reminded of how a lot they’re alike. Household and buddies inform her she seems similar to him and her music sounds similar to his. She even shares elements of his character. “They’re both silly, the life of the party. Two genuine souls,” Kia says.

In 2003, Camoflauge was getting ready to signing his first main deal when he was shot and killed exterior his recording studio. He was a beloved artist in Savannah and left behind a formidable catalog as an impartial artist. He is Flau’jae’s greatest inspiration, and he or she’s made it her mission to hold on his legacy.

“When I hear his voice and songs I get chills,” she says. “That’s how I know I’m on the right track and I’m destined to be carrying on the torch.”

Flau’jae’s supply is exclusive; she does not curse, and he or she guides you thru her life’s highs and lows. There are pleas for an finish to gun violence, and the lyrics really feel genuine. The lyrics are as heavy as they’re therapeutic. Her fashion mirrors her father’s with a contemporary twist.

In 2017, Flau’jae was not Georgia’s best-kept secret. At 12 years outdated, she appeared on Lifetime’s “The Rap Game,” which follows 5 younger artists who showcase their skills in entrance of hip-hop legends. She did not win the competition, however she impressed hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri and well-known rappers like Rick Ross, Fabolous and Da Brat, giving the general public a glimpse of what she’s able to.

The following yr, she took the stage in entrance of a panel of movie star judges on “America’s Got Talent.” She launched herself and defined the that means behind “I Can’t Lose,” a tune about proving haters flawed and rising above obstacles in life.

I gotta make it, look what I finished been via
That is actual life, I can’t faux to
By no means let ’em inform you what you may’t do
‘Trigger I finished made it this far
I am unable to lose

Her eyes had been stuffed with tears by the tip of her efficiency, and he or she was met with a standing ovation from the judges and viewers.

Simon Cowell, the present’s harshest decide, softened after Flau’jae’s efficiency. “I’m not an expert but I think you, the lyrics, the tracks, everything feels real. I don’t say that a lot of the time. I really like you,” he mentioned with a smile.

Chris Hardwick, the comic and visitor decide, slammed his hand down on a buzzer that sends contestants on a path to the present’s finale. Flau’jae was shocked and celebrated by leaping across the stage.

“Simon told me something he should have never told me … He called me a superstar,” Flau’jae mentioned on the time. “I think I walked around my house a month straight after that. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m a superstar.'”

HER MIND WAS made up; Flau’jae needed to play basketball. However there have been no youth groups for women her age in Savannah, so Kia discovered a coach at an area membership who let her daughter play with the boys.

Flau’jae did not know all the principles of the sport, however she needed to decorate the half. She slipped on her headband — she by no means left residence with out it — arm sleeves, a blue jersey, and a contemporary pair of blue Jordan 11s to match.

It was 2008, and her first organized recreation was on the Frank Callen Boys & Ladies Membership. When she received the ball, she felt a rush of pleasure and gentle panic. She did not know which approach to run: “Mom, I don’t know which way to go! Which way do I go?”

After rerouting, the sport belonged to Flau’jae. She beloved listening to the crowds’ oohs and aahs each time she made a basket. It was the identical rush she felt performing on the tribute get together for her father. Because the years glided by, she stored bettering her recreation however did not take the sport too significantly till her junior yr of highschool.

She was hyperfocused on making her music a career, however someday, her AAU coach approached and instructed her she was adequate to earn a scholarship.

Quick ahead to the summer time of 2022. It was her first open gymnasium at LSU and he or she was enjoying in opposition to Angel Reese, who was becoming a member of the Tigers from Maryland as the highest participant within the switch portal. Most freshmen can be intimidated matching up with one of the gifted scorers in faculty basketball, however Flau’jae is not most freshmen. She was a McDonald’s All-American, prepared for the problem. She traded buckets and trash discuss with Reese and so they shortly developed a bond that blossomed into the common season. They nicknamed one another “Salt and Pepper” and had been off to the races.

The Tigers had been one of the thrilling groups within the nation and remained on the No. 2 spot within the AP ballot for a lot of the season. Because the group’s place to begin guard, Flau’jae grew into a pacesetter, averaging 11.8 factors, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists. The 5-foot-10 guard additionally improved tremendously on the defensive finish. Reese grew to become one of the dominant scorers within the nation, averaging 23.4 factors and 15.5 rebounds a recreation.

Reese says Flau’jae was hungry to win, to place within the work and keen to hearken to recommendation from veteran gamers. “You don’t really see freshmen come in and want it that bad,” she says. “I really love that about her.

“She’s loving. She’s humorous. She’s at all times loud. She has nice power on a regular basis. She’s only a nice good friend. Somebody that you simply at all times need to be round.”

Flau’jae’s drive translated on the court this season, and she was named SEC Freshman of the Year.

“I’ve solely had three freshmen to ever really begin for me and play the variety of minutes that Flau’jae is enjoying,” Mulkey says. “To get freshman of the yr within the SEC speaks volumes. She has no concept actually as we speak how good she will likely be.”

AHEAD OF MARCH MADNESS, the Tigers focused on regaining their defensive identity. They blew a 17-point lead and lost in the SEC championship to Tennessee 69-67. The Big Dance is here, and the No. 3 Tigers faced No. 14 Hawai’i in the first round.

All season, Flau’jae worked to become a better defender, passer and rebounder and showed that off in front of an electrifying crowd. The game tipped off and Hawai’i got off to an early 3-0 lead. Hawai’i’s Kelsie Imai threw an errant pass. Flau’jae intercepted the ball, took off, racing past the defenders for an easy layup. The crowd erupted. The play was one of many defensive stops by Flau’jae that helped set the tone for the Tigers. From there, the game belonged to LSU. The Tigers led Hawai’i 32-22 at the end of the first half.

In the third quarter, LSU started having fun. Reese threw an alley-oop to Flau’jae for an easy lay-in. Late in the fourth, Flau’jae returned the favor with an assist to Reese, who ended the game with 34 points and 15 rebounds. Flau’jae collected 10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block.

“I challenged [Flau’jae] all week,” Mulkey says. “You’re going to have to protect older gamers to maintain advancing. I am unable to rush time, I am unable to make you skilled, however you simply gotta have it.

“She performed tonight.”

For now, Flau’jae is concentrated on serving to her group advance in March Insanity — subsequent up is No. 6 Michigan. After the event, she plans to launch her subsequent EP, “Best of Both Worlds,” in April.

Flau’jae needs to be limitless and takes pleasure in balancing her passions. She’s constructing a model and showcasing all the edges that make her who she is. A basketball participant. An artist. A businesswoman. Profitable.

“When it’s all said and done, I want to be a mogul and a CEO in a Fortune 500 company,” she says. “I’m really going to do it big… I really want to take it to places where nobody could see. I have the vision and I’m not going to stop.”

Flau’jae has the complete assist of her household, buddies and teammates in no matter path she chooses. Kia will likely be by her facet, Camoflauge in her coronary heart and in her hustle. She thinks about her father day-after-day, typically visiting his gravesite in Savannah. His reminiscence motivates her to hold on his legacy.

“I know he’s proud of me, but I just wish he could see what I’m doing.”

Max Brodsky contributed reporting.