Dontae Hawkins was just 2 years old when his life was forever changed.
As the little boy was being carried by a babysitter to a birthday party at a McDonald’s near the Stapleton Projects in Staten Island, New York, the boy was struck by a stray bullet in the back.
Hawkins, the eldest son of Wu-Tang Clan founding member Lamont “U-God” Hawkins, was nearly paralyzed in the harrowing incident and spent four months in the hospital learning how to walk and use his hand again.
To simply survive after such an ordeal would be commendable. But now, 26 years later, Dontae is thriving. Following in his father’s footsteps while carving a place of his own in the rap industry, the newly minted father is rapping about his life, all while doing it with his Wu-Tang family.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
Dontae was born in 1992 to 20-year-old Tonya Muldrow. Muldrow and her boyfriend, Lamont Hawkins, had only been going out for a few months when she learned she was pregnant. Not long after Lamont was arrested.
Lamont was convicted on firearm and drug possession charges in 1992. It was a trying time for Muldrow, but having Dontae gave her a new outlook on life. The little boy was her world.
“I was excited after getting used to the idea of becoming a mother at such a young age. Dontae changed my life really,” she told InsideEdition.com. “I had my own issues, a little depression. He gave me a new purpose, and he was my everything.”
Dontae's earliest memories living on Staten Island are marked by moments of violence, but at the time, the little boy's thoughts veered toward the positive.
“Well, the earlier years, being in the neighborhood that I was in, it was a little rough, it was a little scary. I remember thinking that fireworks were going on outside, but it was really gunshots,” Dontae said.
Lamont was paroled in January 1993. After his release from prison, “U-God” linked up with his friends in Wu-Tang Clan to contribute a few verses to their landmark debut, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” The record was released in the fall of 1993 and suddenly, everything changed for him and his friends.
Wu-Tang Clan became an underground sensation and the first hip-hop group from Staten Island that captured the countries attention. What's more, they did it without radio airplay or music videos on MTV. Months after the album’s release, the group hit the road for their first national tour. Suddenly, the new father was forced to part ways with his young family yet again.
And so on March 13, 1994, Lamont was 3,000 miles away in San Francisco preparing to hit the stage with the collective when he got word of the unthinkable: little Dontae was shot on his way to a birthday party.
The shooting occurred as Dontae's babysitter and he were walking to a McDonald's where the party was taking place. “By the time we got where we were supposed to be, there was an altercation and some men with guns were shooting at each other and one of them fired in my direction,” Dontae said. “I was an innocent bystander and I got hit with a nine millimeter shell through my back, through my torso, out my hand.”
Nearby police responded to the scene and saw the boy lying in blood. Knowing how long it would take an ambulance to get the scene, the cops opted to take the child in a squad car and bring him to a hospital.
“I lost a lot of blood and, but ... luckily the [police] had the quick reaction to scoop me up off the ground and take me to the hospital. And if they had not done that I might not be here today,” Hawkins said.
Soon after the shooting, Tonya got a frantic call from the babysitter.
“She was screaming and she said, ‘You have to come to Stapleton now!’" she recalled. “So I said, 'what happened? What happened?' She said ‘they were shooting’ and I just slammed the phone on her because I didn't want her to say anything else.”
Tonya and her mother scrambled to the hospital. While Dontae underwent surgery, Tonya prayed in the chapel. There, she felt a presence that calmed her.
“That was the first time that I knew God was real because of the feeling that came over me. It wasn't a voice ... it was just like a feeling of peace,” she claimed.
Soon after, she learned her baby had survived surgery.
Dontae had been shot in the back. The bullet went through his torso and exited through his left hand. It tore through his spleen, a kidney which had to be removed, and went through his spinal fluid which caused paralysis. He also suffered nerve damage where the bullet struck him.
His father rushed home to be by his son’s side and wrote in his 2018 memoir, “Raw: My Journey into the Wu-Tang,” that the incident scarred him.
“When I first saw Dontae in that ER, they had my baby boy cut wide open, operating on him. I was just f***ed up mentally,” he wrote.
His son spent four months in the hospital. “I think death was not something that I, as a 2-year-old, comprehended. At least not from that specific incident,” Dontae said.
The child underwent countless hours of physical therapy after leaving the hospital. Tonya often was Dontae's sole rock to lean on, as U-God was on the road providing for the family.
“My mom, I wouldn't say she had to do it alone, but my father was around when he could be, but they were also beginning the tour because they had just dropped the album. Medical bills are expensive, so it's like you got to do what you got to do,” Dontae said. “But we had a lot of love and support from family and the community and strangers and people that saw the story in the news at the time and just wanted to be supportive. So we were really appreciative of that.”
Dontae spent time in wheelchairs, leg braces and walkers. Though physically recovered, the shooting's impact on his life is still felt to this day. He walks with a slight limp and on rainy and cold days, he feels body aches through his body and deals with inflammation.
“It feels like a lightning storm and sometimes it gets to the point where for hours I'm on the floor and I'll start hallucinating because of the pain, and you just give out on reality and that still happens. As a child, you don't understand that. As a grown man, you just buckle down,” he said.
A Better Tomorrow
Dontae's shooting permanently altered the family, but they made it through.
“I think that the strength, the pure strength of my parents is immeasurable,” Dontae said.
Still, life living in the Park Hill projects, where the family lived, was not easy on Tonya in the years following her son's shooting.
“I became very paranoid," she said. "I was like a prisoner in my own home because of the PTSD. Whenever I heard gunshots, I would throw myself on the floor, I would grab Dontae and say, ‘get down’ because not only were people getting shot, innocent people getting shot in crossfires, a lot of people, bullets were coming in their window from people just randomly shooting. I was afraid of bullets coming in the window now."
She and U-God were on a mission to get out of the projects and into a better section of Staten Island. After a few years, they were able to do it. They moved to a cul-de-sac, where their children could play and grow up in a safer environment, but it came at a price.
“At the time, there was still a lot of prejudice," she said. "It still is to this day, but it's gotten a lot better."
While safety was one of the catalysis’s for moving out of the projects, danger seemed to have followed young Dontae. When he was 10, playing with his younger brother in front of the house, a car lost control and backed up near the boys. Dontae pushed his brother out of the way and was struck by the car.
His shoulder was broken in the incident, for which the borough named him “Staten Island’s Littlest Hero” for his act of bravery.
In 2014, U-God first spoke about his son’s shooting on the Wu-Tang Clan song, “A Better Tomorrow,” from the album of the same name. For many fans, it was the first time they heard about what occurred back home 20 years earlier.
“The strong must feed, someone die, someone bleed/One flew astray, and it caught my little seed,” he rapped.
Now a man in his own right, Dontae is focused on carving his own path, while honoring the legacy his father has left for him to live up to.
“To follow in my dad's footsteps would be impossible. I am trying to create my own footsteps, but while adjacent to his and using them as a guide,” Dontae said.
Dontae graduated from college and is following his passion for film making, all while making a name for himself as a rapper. It comes naturally for Dontae, who first picked up the microphone and began rapping when he was 13. While he would ask his father to let him get on a track, the apprehensive parent would tell his excited son he was not ready.
It took nearly a decade for Dontae to hone in on his craft and take on the moniker “iNTeLL.” In 2018 he formed a group with other children of his father's own group. Originally called 2nd Generation Wu and now known as GTFD, the group features Young Dirty Bastard, the son of the late-Old Dirty Bastard; PXWER, the son of Method Man; and Sun God, the son of Ghostface Killah.
The group has released a handful of singles, mixtapes, and hopes to have their new album out this year. Their original moniker -- 2nd Generation Wu -- had caused some controversy, but Dontae stands by the choice to initially go by that name.
“I'll say, tension [formed] around that name internally [and] externally,” he said. “I think it's a great name. I think it fits not only in the facts, like I am my father's firstborn son, I am the heir to whatever his legacy as an individual. But a piece of that is the Wu Tang clan, and they'd been screaming, Wu-Tang is for the children and Wu-Tang is forever. So let's honor these slogans.”
Like their sons' the people of Staten Island are proud to be associated with the Wu-Tang clan. Wu-Tang has become synonymous with Staten Island. The group has been honored with a mural and a street naming. The group's iconic “W” logo is featured on clothing around the world and is tattooed on many fans.
But for Tonya, what she's most proud of is much simpler: her son.
“We always felt like he was destined to be something great and that's why God saved him. You know, he, we considered him our miracle child and so everything he does, I feel was written already,” she said.
For Dontae, who is directing, producing, rapping and performing, this is just the beginning.
“I think the journey is the real prize,” he said. “The way I look at it is less of what happened to me and more of what I get to be, what I get to do.”