In Search of Tim Dog, the Rapper Turned Con Artist Who Probably Faked His Own Death
Update: Tim Dog is dead.
On February 14, 2013, the legendary rapper Tim Dog died from a seizure caused by complications of his diabetes. Famous for having released “Fuck Compton,” the song that is widely credited with helping jump-start the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop beef that dominated hip-hop for much of the 1990s, Tim Dog—born Timothy Blair—was 46 years old. The Source originally reported the story, which quickly spread around the net: a tribute was planned at a Harlem church on 128th Street; a PayPal account for donations to his daughter was set up. Pretty standard stuff for the death of a man who was, in his own way, an icon. But with every day that passes, it seems that Tim Dog might be significantly less dead than we had all assumed.
Last week, a Mississippi woman named Esther Pilgrim accused Tim Dog of faking his own death in order to get out of paying her $20,000. Suddenly, it came to light that the original Source obituary breaking the news of his death no longer existed. On its own, all of this adds up to very little and calling foul seems outlandish—at least until you consider the manner in which Tim Dog came to owe Pilgrim such a sum.
Turns out Timothy Blair had found an unlikely second career as a confidence man, meeting women on various websites and using his past as a famous rapper to convince them to lend him money for various hip-hop business ventures, from greatest-hits collections that never materialized to false tours to other specious business ventures. Then, he’d run off with their money. This scam worked great—who in their right mind would believe that a famous rapper swindled you out of your cash?—until he got caught. NBC Dateline ran a special on Blair and Pilgrim, whom he’d met on an online dating site under the username “perfectone69.” When Pilgrim and I spoke on the phone yesterday, she refused to divulge which site she'd met him on, but she did say it was owned by Match.com. I can only assume it’s the sort of site on which someone with the username “perfectone69” could expect to have some sort of success.
“He set me up on a fictitious business deal to invest in a 5-CD box set,” Pilgrim said to me. “I had a son who was starting college and I was concerned about having enough money to pay for it.” There was no box set, and Blair eventually plead guilty to grand larceny and was sentenced to five years' unsupervised probation, during which he was ordered to pay Pilgrim a total of $20,000 at a rate of at least $100 per month. When the news of Blair’s death hit, the payments ceased. However, Pilgrim is alleging that Blair is alive and that he faked his death in order to get out of paying her the money.
“In the eyes of the law, until he is proven dead, they have to treat him as if he is alive. And he is in contempt of court because he has not been making his monthly payments.” Pilgrim sent a friend to Atlanta—where there is still an active PO box in Blair’s name—to search for a death certificate. They found nothing. I called the Fulton County Medical Examiner's office in Atlanta, Georgia, to see if a man with the name of Timothy Blair or one of his known aliases had passed through their office on or around February 14, 2013. Mark Guilbeau with the investigations department looked those dates up for me. "I don't see anybody with those names in here," he said to me. "But let me check one more place." After a minute or two, he returned to the phone. "We didn't have anybody by that name that would be close to that age or description." I then placed a call to the Dekalb County coroner's office, also in Atlanta, where I was directed to a voicemail line. My call was not returned. If Atlanta was Tim Dog's last known residence and no proof he passed through the coroner's office exists, then there's still a substantial chance he's alive. And until something proving that Timothy Blair is definitively deceased is produced, Mississippi prosecutor Steve Jubera has been forced to issue a warrant for Blair’s arrest. I left repeated voicemails to Jubera’s personal line, but they were also not returned.
“It’s not really about the money,” Pilgrim stressed when asked why she asked for further proof of Blair’s death. “This affected me long term—financially, emotionally, physically, everything.” Esther works with foster children, and runs a website called "Journey to Justice" in which she offers a quick synopsis of her struggle with Blair. On it, she describes Blair as a “worldwide predator” and reports stories about fellow victims of Blair’s cons.
Turns out Pilgrim is part of an international network/support system of women who have had their lives ruined because they met Tim Dog on the internet. They keep in touch, share stories, and refer to each other as “sisters.” One such woman is Danielle Selhorst, who Pilgrim put me in touch with via email and eventually agreed to speak on the phone. Selhorst lives in Holland and was a victim of Blair’s schemes. She agreed to Dropbox me more than an hour and a half of phone conversations between her and a man she alleges is Blair. She met Blair on MySpace in 2006, after he messaged her telling her he liked a picture of her and her daughter. “I didn’t know who he was,” she said. “After a while, he started calling me, and then I found out. It took him four years to gain my trust, and around that time I lost my job.”
It was then that Blair approached her with a business venture. It was, improbably enough, to be a European tour of African American male strippers called the Chocolate Fantasy Tour. Strapped for cash, Selhorst fell for it. Venues were booked. Tickets were sold from a website, owned by a company in Selhorst’s name. Fliers were printed. One problem: “It didn’t exist,” Selhorst says. Unfortunately, she found this out much, much too late. “I worked with him for half a year,” Selhorst says. “Everything was in my name,” she stresses. While Blair claimed that this would decrease the complication of doing international business, it ultimately proved a ploy to keep his name out of any legal misdoings he might have been spearheading. “He was like a dictator,” she said, describing their relationship. She worked eighteen-hour days for Blair, who controlled her to the point of demanding access to her email account. According to tapes of their phone correspondence, they delayed the dates for the tour, and in November 2009 she found herself wiring him what little proceeds the tour had garnered, despite her increasing awareness that nary a stripper was headed to the Netherlands.
A flier for the aborted European leg of the Chocolate Fantasy Tour.
“Three months before the show, he said on the phone, ‘Did you really think there was a show?’ I was having second thoughts; I was asking him questions, I was printing out emails and recording conversations. He was feeling that I wasn’t trusting him anymore. That made him nervous. He said, ‘I could care what happens to you,’ and left me with all of the bills and all of the troubles. The cops were coming after me. People who had bought tickets to the shows were coming after me. He gave them my address, my everything.”
On December 4th, 2009, Timothy Blair left Danielle Selhorst the following voicemail:
"This is Tim. I really hope you don’t think that I’m stupid and I don’t know what you’re doing. Because I’m not stupid, and I know what you’re doing. And I want you to really take the time to really think about what you’re doing, because if you’re trying to hurt my company or me by doing what you’re doing, think about it. I’m not gonna go out like that. So I will hurt you before you hurt me."
This voicemail can be read in several ways, but context suggests that Selhorst’s misgivings had led to her contemplating going to the police, and Blair was growing worried about that. He needn’t have been, however, as when I asked if the police did anything to help her, Selhorst said, “No! Oh my God. They said, ‘That’s a bad situation, but he’s over in the States and we can’t do too much about it.’” The most Selhorst could do was file a complaint that she’d been swindled, which served as proof that she wasn’t knowingly defrauding the companies Blair had convinced her to take money from.
If Timothy Blair can walk away from having committed an extremely complex, audacious swindle that borders on identity theft, who’s to say he couldn’t fake his own death? In the age of the hyperaccelerated internet-news cycle, dying is almost the easiest thing a celebrity can do. Once one source reports an event, a domino effect occurs where everyone bases their report off of a single account. And in the case of Tim Dog, the source was problematic at best. It’s complicated by the fact that the source was also, well, The Source.
On February 14 of this year, a report filed by a Source staff writer named Sha Be Allah alleged that Tim Dog had died. Soon after, every major news source was reporting that Tim Dog was dead as well. However, Sha Be Allah’s piece contained very few details, like the location or the time of death, and it cited no primary source, like a coroner’s report or an official police statement. What’s more, the post has since been deleted, though you can view an archived version of it here. Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a Source staff member who claims to be in the office when Sha Be Allah filed the piece said to me, “After several weeks of things going on, he went back to the office and told us that the guy was hiding or something. I don’t know what happened—some financial or legal issues. From there, you know. They’re looking for him.” Hardly definitive proof of Tim Dog’s life or death, and when I asked him why that post in particular was deleted, the staffer said, “I couldn’t tell you that.”
After hours of trying to get hold of Sha Be Allah, we finally spoke on the phone late last night. Despite being the one to break the report, he stresses that he’s a neutral party in this whole whirlwind. “I don’t know that motherfucker,” he says. “Make sure you print that.”
While Sha Be Allah might not have any information as to Tim Dog’s whereabouts, he can explain why he reported Blair’s death with such little context. “I got the information from a family member of Tim’s and a close friend simultaneously,” he said. “As a journalist, if you hear somebody died you just wanna make sure somebody else said it too and it’s not just something you heard. When ODB died I didn’t go looking for a death certificate.” When asked him to name his sources, he refused. As for why his post disappeared, he said, “We launched a new site probably a week or two after Tim’s death. The article’s not actually down, it was just cleared when we started the new site.” However, a search for “Tim Dog” on the Source’s website yields results from January 14, February 28, and March 22, none of which are the Tim Dog death report (view a screenshot here). Furthermore, a perusal of Sha Be Allah’s Source author page (he posts under the author name "pologod") yields no Tim Dog announcement either, despite other articles dated to February 14th that came from him (screenshot here). Why would this article in particular not carry over? Did it drop off the face of the Internet?
[Correction: In a post on his website, Byron Crawford pointed out that we erroneously linked to a screencap of Allah's author page that pointed to article from 2012. We deeply regret this error. Despite Crawford's assertion, we are not trying to insinuate that The Source helped covered anything up, or even has a horse in this race. We're just pointing out that the post is—for whatever reason—not on The Source's website. We linked to an archived version of the Tim Dog death announcement post above, but here it is again.]
The post’s author himself does admit that not quite everything adds up. “The funeral was canceled,” he says. “I had the prosecutor contact me. I’ve even spoken with the family member and the friend again being like, ‘What the fuck is this? What did y’all tell me?’ They’re like, ‘We don’t know what’s going on.’” Additionally, Sha asked that the public at large consider the implications of this hullaballoo if the allegations that Tim Dog is still alive are untrue. “If he faked his own death, wow. But if he didn’t, then this is real fucked up that people are actually going through this shit.”
The more you look into this bizarre, bizarre set of circumstances, the less things make sense. It appears that dates for a Chocolate Fantasy Tour featuring Blair himself did take place in Australia in March of 2010, though the article where I found that information claimed that Tim Dog and company “ripped off” his clients. However, the piece does not detail what that might mean. My only line on Blair’s family is an email address for his daughter Chanel Blair. My requests for contact were not returned. The Baptist church where his memorial service was scheduled to be held does indeed exist, though when Noisey paid a visit to its location this morning, it was locked up.
On the date of Tim Dog’s alleged death, HipHopDX interviewed Kool Keith, who worked with Tim Dog for over two decades, even recording two albums with him. “I still can’t believe,” he said. “I’m still thinking this is a stunt, ‘cause Tim was usually really good at stunts. But like you said, it’s real, and I understand his health conditions and stuff like that.”
One man who does think he's alive is J-Zone, a recording artist and writer who's something of a Tim Dog historian. "Usually when somebody dies there is a statement from the cousin, the brother the parents, the wife. It was the weirdest death I've ever seen. My pops is a Tim Dog fan. I called him up and he said, 'If he is still alive that is the most brilliant shit ever.' I don’t think he's dead." As for the plausibility that he was in financial trouble and had his family cover for him, he said, "He could have told his family, 'I don’t have the money to pay this shit. I’m going on the lam. Tell everybody I’m dead. People do it all the time. Stop paying taxes and just hold up somewhere in Oklahoma or some shit. Somebody called his phone and he answered." J-Zone brings up another point, that of Blair's diabetes. "My grandfather succumbed to that shit. Maybe a year or two up to his death he was really sick; on constant dialysis. Tim Dog was fit as a fiddle on that Dateline shit last summer. And eight months later, he was dead. I mean, it probably could happen."
Throughout this whole clusterfuck, one thing is certain: the issue of Tim Dog’s life or death needs to be resolved as soon as humanly possible in order for both his victims and family to have closure. Everyone involved in this story—including, at this point, me‚ is insane to a certain degree. As I trolled through the over an hour and a half of audio that Selhorst provided me with, I found one particular rant from Tim Blair that caught my ear:
"Most people don’t wanna be big. They wanna stay comfortable, they don’t wanna accept responsibility. They wanna stay under the radar. They go to work, they come home. They want it to stay that way. In America, everybody wants to be a big shot. Either I’m gonna be a big shot, or I’m wasting my time."
Whatever happens, it's certain that Tim Dog is as big of a shot now as he ever could have hoped.
On Monday, September 15, 2014, over a year after this story was originally published, NBC Dateline revealed they had obtained a death certificate from the Dekalb County (GA) Board of Health, stating that Tim Dog died in hospice care in Atlanta.
Drew Millard is an Assistant Editor at Noisey. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard
Have any leads on the status of Tim Dog? Email me - email@example.com