Get your shit peeled/ Check the murder rate, the shit's real. Eddi Projex, "Straight from Oakland"
MUSIC/FILM I first met Pretty Black, a member of Yukmouth's Regime crew, in 2005 at the Mekanix' studio in Oakland. He arrived with Husalah of the Mob Figaz to record. Goofing off, Hus urged me to get on the song, so I recorded an intro in mangled French, dubbing the pair "les hommes mobs." Black loved the pronunciation (moeb) and thus began one of my least likely rap-world friendships.
For even by rap standards, Black was a live wire. The 25-year-old always had a pistol on him, was always ready to fight, and, with his Range Rover and Lamborghini, clearly made his money off the street, though I didn't inquire how. He was an angry young man, not someone to piss off. Yet according to Husalah, he had another side.
"Outside the circle, he seemed like the coldest dude on earth," Hus says. "But inside, you knew he was real compassionate. He provided for his niggas. And if you needed something, he was very resourceful."
"Plus," he adds, "if someone tried to fuck with you, he already knocked 'em out before you could even react."
Born in Chicago, Black was christened Ayoola Matthew Odumuyiwa by his Nigerian immigrant parents. When he first came to the Bay, he was known as Verstyle, but soon adopted the more in your face Pretty Black, a pun on the pimp sense of "pretty" (a "gorgeous" man) and his very dark skin. Like albino Jamaican rapper Yellowman, Black transformed a perceived negative his color placing him on the lowest rung of our country's caste system into a defiant positive.
In 2008, on my birthday, May 25 (not, as sometimes reported, on May 30), Black was shot to death at an apartment complex where his relatives lived, a planned assassination. In other words, not random violence or robbery. Except for the killers, no one knows why. I was shocked because, while I could imagine someone wanting to kill him, I'd never known a murder victim. It's like a candle flame being blown out: one second, fully here; the next, gone. I recalled, too, the last time I'd seen him, at a show featuring the Jacka. As we were catching up, he said, apropos of nothing, "Remember when we met and recorded that song? That was cool. Le moeb!" While ordinary at the time, this circling back to the night we met took on a retrospective uncanniness, as did one of his last songs, also recorded with the Mekanix, on which Black, playing both parts of a phone call, tells himself, "Don't go outside, nigga. They're trying to kill you."
BACK TO BLACK
I've been thinking about Black lately, in large part due to Land of the Homicide: The Murders in Oakland, CA (HookerBoyFilmz/HBO), a documentary DVD by Oakland filmmaker Dame Hooker. Brought into the game by veteran director Kevin Epps and multimedia journalist JR, Hooker has manned the cameras since 2001, releasing his first DVD, an overview of the local rap scene called The Bay Got Game (HookerBoy), in 2006. He's also notched artist-oriented flicks like Mistah FAB's Prince of the Bay (HookerBoy/InYoFace, 2007), among numerous other projects. Camera on shoulder, he's a ubiquitous presence at any significant function, constantly accumulating footage of anything from a performance to a sideshow to an ass-whupping in high definition.
"I had a camera, but I was just shooting around the hood," Hooker recalls. "I didn't know how to edit or anything. But FAB, Stalin, Shady Nate I watched those dudes grow up. I started going to all their shows and they wanted the footage, so I learned how to edit just by watching TV or watching somebody else.