Hip-Hop Fridays: Murder of Rap Promoter Puts Spotlight On Violence In Industry by Stan Donaldson and Nathanierl Hoffman
The recent slaying of a rap promoter on a tidy Pittsburg street put the spotlight on a burgeoning music culture that is simultaneously hyped and held back by violence.
Shani Holloway, a 31-year-old mother of two, was planning to promote CDs by the Pittsburg rapper Kanyva through her new business, All in 1 Entertainment Inc.
But during a conversation in a car on Peppermill Circle with 18-year-old Juston Potts, aka Kanyva, on the evening of June 6, police say Holloway was critical of the young rapper's work. Potts shot her, police say.
Potts is now jailed, facing murder charges, and Holloway's family is left with a box of photos and a stack of oversized business cards advertising her music promotions and artist management services.
Rap embodied hopes and dreams for success for Holloway and Potts as it does for many young rappers in Pittsburg and other cities across the county. But while many rappers see their work as a way to get away from the streets, they also say that depicting negative images from the streets is what helps sells their music.
Pittsburg rappers, whose jewel cases line the shelves of the independent Underdog Records off Loveridge Road in Pittsburg, shook their heads when they heard about Holloway's killing.
"That boy has been coming in here since he was 8 years old," owner Ron Hood said of Potts. "I saw him as the future and if anyone ever blew up (made it big) from Pittsburg, I would tell you it was going to be him."
Potts, using his rap name Kanyva, had won two consecutive "battle rap" competitions at the store and had been featured in several national music publications, including Murder Dog Magazine and Hood's own Xplosive Magazine.
"It is just messed up what happened and I pray for both him and Shani's families," Hood said.
Hood said his 10-year-old shop relies heavily on sales of independent artists. About 35 percent of Underdog's revenue comes from Bay Area rappers.
"That's our bread and butter," Hood said. "The Bay Area has the strongest independent scene in the state."
Clark Parker, a disc jockey who hosts "Mr. C's Showcase" on community-based radio station KPOO in San Francisco, said Pittsburg has some nationally known artists, such as A-Wax and the pioneering group, the Mob Figaz, but other aspiring rappers from the area are still below the radar.
"You can hold a discussion about hip hop and Pittsburg won't come up into the conversation," Parker said.
"They have to pay more dues," Parker said, like performing at shows, passing out demo tapes and advertisements, and getting record spins on the radio.
"Anybody can rap, that's easy," Parker said, "but being a good businessman is much harder."
That's where Holloway thought she had found her niche.
Rap is only one element of the hip hop culture, along with break-dancing, dee jaying and graffiti art.
Kanyva was one of Holloway's first clients in her new business venture, called All in 1 Entertainment Inc., that she set up with her fiance, Justin Tensley.
Holloway's business cards advertise a long list of services including marketing, music publishing and artist management.
"She was going around and getting all of her licenses," said her sister, Jamie Holloway.
Shani Holloway took classes in computers, business and recording arts at Los Medanos Community College, and had enlisted family members as business associates or accountants.
"She wanted to keep it family-oriented," Jamie Holloway recalled.
Concord music manager Prashant Kumar said it takes more than just rhymes to make it. It takes business savvy and a marketing plan.
Kumar, who manages Fed-X, Jacka and Husalah of the Pittsburg-based Mob Figaz, said local groups need to look beyond the Bay Area to get more exposure.
"It is not like the East Coast where most artists sign to a major (label)," said Kumar, who said he holds a degree in business administration from the University of Southern California.
Kumar said his role as a manager for independent artists is to tap heavily into the fan base that Mob Figaz already has in Colorado, Utah and several Midwestern states. In 1999 the group's debut album, C- Bo's Mob Figaz, sold more than 44,000 copies, according to Nielsen Sound Scan.
Lee Granata also wants to be a big part in the emergence of Pittsburg rap.
Granata, whose nickname is Haf-Time, is an independent producer who owns his own label, Luxury Living Entertainment in Pittsburg. He released his first album, "Future Weight Volume 1 The Beginning," last year. The album features songs he produced and recorded with Pittsburg area rap artists including Potts, who is featured on a song entitled, "Can't Compete."
"Pittsburg has a lot of undercover talent in the area and it is time we start to get our shine (respect)," said Granata, 23.
A Pittsburg High graduate, Granata said he has invested more than $20,000 in studio equipment including recording and drum beat machines and speakers. To keep the studio going, he works part- time at Cragen Auto Parts.
"In order to make money you have to spend it," Granata said. "It is more to this than good beats and a rap, it takes money too.
"Right now my job is fa sho' money. This music thing is not for sure."
Granata said because the music genre has slowly gained acceptance in the corporate world and has become marketable, more young people look at music as a way to make it.
"When I was younger I wanted to be a football or basketball player because that is what I saw, right?" Granata said. "Well now, rap is what the young kids see and that is what they want to become."
A much-repeated notion among underground rappers - that the music has become another street hustle that churns out hopeless rhymes with the hopes of overnight success - is reflected on Pittsburg streets.
Everyone can't play sports, said Pittsburg rapper James Eddy, 24, and some look to hip hop as a way out of the street life.
"I didn't hustle, but in my neighborhood if you weren't playing sports, or didn't have a ride to go to college, that is what people did," said Eddy, who goes by the rap name Bill Stack.
Eddy, who just released a self-financed CD called $tack Bill$, described his music as positive with a party vibe, but said other artists want to talk about what happens in the streets.
"I am trying to get radio play so I can get paid. My music is thug but you can still dance to it," he said. "But from violence, sex, drugs to dirty cops, it all happens here."
"A lot of these cats come from the streets and look to music as a way of coming up," he said. "Instead of doing crime they do time in the lab (studio)."
Shani Holloway was trying to get away from the streets of Pittsburg. She grew up there but moved with Tensley and her two sons to Hercules a few months ago.
"She said Pittsburg was ghetto and she wanted to get out of the ghetto," said her aunt, Rose Marie Morales.
Shani Holloway aimed to shelter her two sons, 15 and 11, from the violence she had already seen.
Her father was stabbed to death in Pittsburg in 1983. Her mother, Jeanette Looney, said she has been both the victim of street assaults and a prison inmate.
Looney said she is not a fan of hip hop and feared for her daughter's safety.
"We know that Tupac and all these rappers are always getting killed," Looney said, referring to Tupac Shakur, a major rapper who was gunned down in 1996.
Pittsburg rapper Mario Delgado, 24, who calls himself Mars, revels in the publicity that violence and even gore can bring.
"We don't promote controversy," Delgado said, smoking in front of his uncle's comfortable house near Buchanan Park. "Controversy promotes us."
Delgado was ordered to take anger management classes after beating up a girl at the Antioch Library in 2001. He stabbed a home intruder in the heart earlier this year. The intruder survived and Delgado did not face charges, a county prosecutor said.
Delgado espouses a rap spin-off called horrorcore - a mix of gangster rap and horror movie themes. He is calling his latest album "Some Girls Deserve to Die," and is advertising it with a picture of him dragging an apparently dead woman down an alleyway.
Delgado laughs off the sick imagery and compares it to professional wrestling - more bark than bite.
"You gotta do what you can to get your music out there," Delgado said.
Robert D. Mixon III, who goes by the name Rob Lo, is a Pittsburg rap producer who says he has worked with Ice T, Too Short, Yukmouth and the Mob Figaz. The business world is a cold one, he said, and sometimes a notorious event can help sell records.
"Kanyva was some of the untapped talent," he said. If what police say Potts did is true, than it would be a tremendous blow to the young rap scene, he said.
"For him to throw everything away so fast is a shame," Mixon said.
Pott's father, Carl Potts, said his son had been writing songs since he was 7 and loved his music. He wrote a song about his mother when she died in 1997.
"His temperament is very mellow," his sister, Kema Potts, said.
Juston Potts, held at County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond, declined a request for an interview.
Tito Alston, aka Husalah of the Mob Figaz, said Pittsburg can be a rough town and its homegrown hip hop reflects that.
"Pittsburg music is heavily related to the street activity," Alston said. "While I don't agree with everyone trying to rap, I can't hate (talk bad) because people are tired of selling crack."
Note: This article first appeared in The Contra Costa Times
© 2004, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Friday, July 2, 2004