There are moments when you realize how fleeting life is. When you understand how quickly a moment of bliss can become a memory of misery. She smiled under the dim lights of the Siren Studio gallery seemingly imbued with sonic energy from the booming bass lines of the Hip Hop music being filtered through the room. For a split second she was in paradise and maybe that's why she began to cry.
She was surrounded by images of a person, who she worked with closely; that had entered that place of paradise permanently a few weeks ago. In her moment of bliss she found herself in that place next to him. She fell into my arms and I helped her wipe her tears away. I raised my head and took in the scene, people celebrating a life that was lived and was no longer present; except in the images hung in the gallery, the conversations of his associates and co-workers, and in the hearts of his closest friends and family.
His name was Christopher Natalio and he was known to most as "Lewds". At the age of 36 he was the Head Marketing Director of one of the biggest streetwear labels in the industry, Crooks & Castles. It was a company his childhood friends, Robert Panillo and Dennis Calvero started a decade ago and became one of the most well known brands in the Hip Hop community. Rappers, entertainers, professional athletes, all have worn and given props to the Crooks brand. At the center of these relationships was Lewds. The point man, the glue that seemed to hold it all together, and suddenly he was gone.
It was a devastating blow that was met with more questions than answers. People from all walks of life who had crossed paths with Lewd at one point or another couldn't believe it. Here was a man only 36 years young suddenly passing in the midst of the company he helped establish on the verge of greatness. Here was a man who had a son who was set to attend college in the fall. Here was a man who had a family both by blood and by brotherhood who couldn't understand why.
Crooks shut it's doors for the weeks leading up to Lewds' funeral with good reason as those closest to him tried to cope with his transition from this life to the next. It was at his viewing that I began to really understand why Lewds was so beloved. I overheard stories about his childhood and heard shared memories of his teenage years and the things, like the birth of his son; that forced him to mature into the man I met only a few months ago.
Lewds ability to connect with people was legendary and it was something that anyone who crossed paths with him will mention. I remember visiting the Crooks retail store on Sunset Blvd for the first time and there was Lewds smoking a cigarette and yelling at someone on the phone. Whoever it was he wasn't happy with them but as soon as his eyes made contact with mines his face softened and he smiled and offered a "What's up". Then he proceeded to continue to chew out whoever it was he was talking to. That was Lewds to me and listening to other people talk about him in the subsequent weeks after his passing that's who he was to everyone. He always made you feel important, like you mattered and it wasn't fake.
It's why Lewds was so beloved by rap stars like Drake, The Game, ASAP Rocky, Bun B, Big Boi and a host of others. Celebrities are used to people treating them disingenuously but Lewds couldn't do that and that honesty gained him respect with everyone who interacted with him. Lewds was a great man and that's not a trait that people can manufacture.
I didn't spend a lot of time with Lewds but in the moments I was blessed enough to talk with him both on the record and off I was always appreciative of his kind words and his attitude towards life. I can recall sitting under the night sky at the Coachella Music Festival in April with Lewds and a few friends waiting for the next performance. In the chaos of the concert atmosphere here was Lewds staring at the stars in the sky as if nothing that going on around mattered.
I never got a chance to thank him for that moment of escape because at the time I was dealing with a loss of my own. For that moment I was in paradise and life made a little more sense and maybe that's what life offers us as a reminder of what life is truly meant to be. We get glimpses of paradise everyday but we're so busy fighting against life that we ignore them. Maybe that's why Lewds had a better understanding of those moments. He was always able to make the transition a little bit easier than most. He could smile at you while his arguing on the phone or manage to give you a nod in the club despite the chaotic nature of the scene.
The last time I saw Lewds he still managed to say "What's up" in his raspy voice before I left the Crooks store. I would learn later that he wasn't feeling well on that particular day and within 24 hours he would be gone. I didn't set out to write another obituary type piece because I've done that already this year. When I set down to write this piece I actually wanted to focus on the celebration of his life. However, to come full circle so quickly and go from mourning his life to celebrating his legacy carries emotional significance that I could not ignore.
It was the reason I now found myself at The Siren Studios in Hollywood, Ca celebrating his life. His brothers at Crooks decided to create an installation of some of his most iconic pictures captured in his 36 years. It was beautiful and inspirational and here we were listening to Mobb Deep singing, "Ain't no such things as halfway crooks". And I saw how engaged everyone in the gallery was in the moment. This was a collective smile that Lewds had passed on to all of us and suddenly we were all in paradise.
I scanned the room and I saw the Crooks family smiling and laughing for the first time in weeks I felt a sense of closure. Not in a way that suggested that they have somehow moved on but most of them have come to some sort of closure to the question of why. Life isn't lived backwards no matter how much we try and regain what is lost there is so much more to be gained. Yes, the Crooks family lost a brother but they have gained a new bond that will only strengthen their resolve.
The gallery was a testament to Lewds impact in the past and on the future of his family. The night was a reminder of how much he meant to his world and the worlds he was able to inhabit because of his heart and honesty. The images that were captured highlighted his best qualities. The night concluded as we watched fireworks explode in clear July night as a tribute to a lost soldier. Where there were once tears there was now joy and a clear path to a brighter day. Rest In Peace Christopher "Lewds" Natalio
If you would like to donate to the Christopher Natalio foundation please click here