The fun-loving Chris Kelly that the world knew from 90s rap duo Kriss Kross was only one side of the rapper's multi-dimensional personality, Kelly's best friend Lisa Pope tells Us Weekly in an exclusive interview. In fact, she says, the thing that always stood out to her most about Kelly -- who died on Wednesday May 1 at age 34 -- was not his fame or his charisma, but his generosity.
"He was an unbelievably generous person and he would give until he gave out. Until he had no more," the stylist told Us. "And he wouldn't come around unless he had something to give. His motto was 'I'm not coming to your house empty-handed.'"
But, Pope admitted, Kelly's tendency to surround himself with the wrong crowd meant that he got involved with some risky behavior that may have ultimately led to his death. Even Kelly's grandmother, whom he spoke with "at least every day," had a feeling that the rapper was going down a dangerous path.
"In my conversation with his grandmother, she said that his mother said that she knew that Chris would die young," Pope shared. "Chris was determined to have a certain group of people around him and they probably weren't the best friends. …Even though they were good people, I guess fundamentally, they may not have been the best crowd. And I think she was concerned for a while that something may happen to Chris. She just had no idea it would be now."
The rapper passed away on Wednesday, May 1 at the age of 34 after being found unresponsive in his Atlanta-area home. Though the autopsy was completed one day later, the cause of death is still pending toxicology results. According to a police report, Kelly had been using a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin, known as a "speedball," the night before his death.
According to Pope, Kelly's drug use had been a problem for quite some time, and it had become a part of his identity as the "life of the party." (Pope claims to Us that she witnessed Kelly abuse alcohol, marijuana and cocaine — but was shocked by reports that her friend had used heroin before his death.)
"I knew firsthand of him and some drug usage," she told Us. "And I was one of the friends who was absolutely intolerant of that. And so Chris was always battling with me like, 'You're always bugging me.' And I'm like, 'No, Chris. I'm not going to candy coat it and make nice of it. I'm going to protect you and be your friend. I'm going to be your friend if it kills me.'"
She added that she had even tried to get Kelly to commit to VH1's Celebrity Rehab at one point, but the rapper refused to go on the reality show, though he did confess to her in a recent heart-to-heart that he wanted to have a "regular life" -- something his 90s fame simply didn't afford him.
"I think that was a life he was attached to, and the fame that came with that kind of robbed him of the simplicity of being able to live a regular life and just be married and have kids," Pope said. "There's always that element."
"He was one of those people who didn't care if you recognized who he was," she continued. "I have people in my salon who have met him and had no idea who he was. …He wasn't that guy. I think that what he wanted was to be acknowledged for his talents. …He wasn't the person who needed a fly, flashy car. Chris drove a Jeep. He had a booming system in it because he likes music, but he wasn't that guy. He wasn't that guy that was chasing fame and wanted the red carpet. That wasn't him at all."
Just two months before his death, Kelly and fellow Kriss Kross member Chris Smith had reunited for a live performance at the So-So Def 20th Anniversary All-Star Concert, something that he was "excited" to do, veteran music publicist and longtime friend Shanti Das told Us.
The duo was even in talks to perform on a So-So Def 20th Anniversary tour. Now, however, the music community is instead mourning their loss.
"I feel like I'm in a Twilight Zone," Pope said. "I'm waiting on him to call and say something or pull up to my house with his music bumping loud. All my neighbors would be like, 'There's your friend Chris.'"