Devyne Stephens, Hurricane Dave, Mali Hunter, others honored at 3rd annual Hip Hop Pro Awards

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ATLANTA —  The geniuses behind the geniuses.
The ATL Live on the Park’s 3rd annual “Hip Hop Pro Awards” could have easily been entitled that because the soiree featured men and women who contributions to music have been vast. But they have often gone underappreciated by casual music fans over the years because they quietly manipulate the scene back in the cut so that the A-list entertainers
are able to marvel their fans.
The event at the Park Tavern on Monday evening was as powerful as it was poignant because it quickly metamorphosed from just an awards program to a revival to a succession of spellbinding testimonials of triumph over tragedy and success over setbacks.IMG_2311
It was an overdue exaltation of the geniuses behind the geniuses, what I like to refer to as the “Rod Tempertons of the world,” who finally got the shine and the onstage spotlight they deserved (if you don’t know Rod Temperton, simply Google him and Michael Jackson and all your questions will be answered).

Devyne Stephens, center, awarded the Hip Hop Pro Pioneer Award from Marlon Nichols and Shanti Das.

Devyne Stephens, center, awarded the Hip Hop Pro Pioneer Award from Marlon Nichols and Shanti Das.

The awards program was about a little boy, Devyne Stephens, who became the embodiment of his name, because it seems like it “Divine inspiration” for him to use his legs as the instruments to dance his way out of “of the ghetto” of College Park, Ga. – “my legs took me around the world,” he said — where the teen high school boy soon made the right connections in the burgeoning hip hop seen teeming in the ATL. Within that blizzard social scene Devyne met TLC and Dallas Austin, and soon he was choreographing dance moves for T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye (RIP), and eventually then he wound up traveling with the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna and Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga and Akon and R. Kelly many other globetrotting superstars.
But it is the fact that he “is the most loyal person I’ve ever known,” Shanti Das testified, is why he engenders love from those within his sphere of operation. Das recounted how turned down left thick stacks in New York to start anew in the ATL, and DeVyne was the first person to come to her, to ask her what she needed and helped her get her first check in the Deep South. “That means more to me than you will ever know,” she added.

Aiyisha T. Obafemi, left.

Aiyisha T. Obafemi, left.

This awards program was about the genius behind the Ludacris-Chaka Zulu power duo in the form of Aiyisha T. Obafemi. Bestowed the Hip Hop Pro Legend Award, she commands immediate respect from this writer because she is the daughter of Sixties’ Freedom Fighter parents, both of whom joined Huey P. Newton’s revolutionary group, the Black Panther Party. Obafemi harnessed and cultivated her parents’ fierce determination into an illustrious career at Disturbing Tha Peace (DTP) that helped catapult Ludacris’ career into the multiplatinum stratosphere. Yet, Obafemi never lost her humanity in the oft-cutthroat music biz because Shanti Das called her “one of the sweetest souls” she has ever met who would just call her and imbue Das’ spirit with love and energy when Das most needed it.

Keinon Johnson was bestowed the Hip Hop Pro Trendsetter Award.

Keinon Johnson was bestowed the Hip Hop Pro Trendsetter Award.

The awards was also about Keinon Johnson, the successor of a family radio dynasty who invented the now ubiquitous sweatshirts “Never Sold Dope.” “There are a lot of followers in this game. But this is a man who had a vision and ran with it,” Das said, “And I’m so proud of you. You have artist and production and you created additional revenue streams, which is what you have to do these days.”

Keinon Johnson's wife recording her husband's acceptance speech.

Keinon Johnson’s wife recording her husband’s acceptance speech.

In countering the insidious stereotypes of black men, Johnson created a world in real life that he first formulated in his mind’s eye: “I like to drive nice cars. I always had the baddest women … shout-out to my wife … and I stay getting money. But most of all, I’m from the hood and I never sold dope. So where’s my story?” he asked rhetorically to thunderous applause. But, most of all, Johnson wants kids to see him drive up in his wondrous whip, with his beautiful wife and nice watch, and for the kids to know he never sold dope. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Mali Hunter, center, was given the Hip Hop Pro Legend Award.

Mali Hunter, center, was given the Hip Hop Pro Legend Award.

The night was also about someone who admitted that can never wear that “Never Sold Dope” sweatshirt (for obvious reasons), Ms. Malissa “Mali” Hunter, the multifaceted music maven who bedazzles contemporaries and friends alike with her studio skills as much as her culinary creations as much as her management of the world-famous Treesound Studios in suburban Atlanta. But she wows even her friends because she used the tumult of her Chicago childhood as a metaphorical trampoline to catapult herself to becoming a music executive and host her own cooking TV show and producing her own music.

Jenny Drake, center.

Jenny Drake, center.

The awards was devoted to people like Clark Atlanta University grad Jenny Drake, who was given the Hip Hop Pro Legend Award for her work at multiple studios such as Universal and Motown publishing and at ASCAP. “But most of all, you are just a good person and I love your spirit,” said Shanti Das, to which Drake said: “I just want to thank Shanti and Marlon and to be recognized alongside some amazing people. This is so awesome,” she said, getting emotional as she thank DJ Drama and others who gave her the start in the biz.

Jenny Drake, holding the award as if it were a band of bills because she was so humbled by the honor.

Jenny Drake, holding the award as if it were a band of bills because she was so humbled by the honor.

“I just stepped out on faith and I worked really hard and I’m just so thankful. And I feel so honored to be working alongside such creative and talented artists every day,” Drake added.
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The awards program was for the likes of Hurricane Dave of Radio One who got the Hip Hop Pro Trailblazer Award. Born Dave Glenn Smith, Hurricane Dave is more like a funnel cloud of relentless energy and creativity as he is currently the Operations Manager/Program Director for three Radio One Atlanta stations. Hot 1079 WHTA-FM, Majic 1075/975 WAMJ & Praise 102.5/102.5. Over the last three years Dave and his team have assembled the best ratings in the 17 year history of hip-hop station Hot 1079. Dave is also a revenue conscious Operations Manager and Program Director. Currently the Atlanta brands are billing over $30 million annually, another record set by working together with sales. Dave has Programmed or served as Operations Manager for at least 9 number one radio stations in various formats from Hip Hop to Classic Rock from Texas to Ohio to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and now Atlanta.

The Hip Hop Pro Awards is the brainchild of entertainment executives Shanti Das and Marlon Nichols, co-creators of the monthly ATL Live on the Park, which returned to close out the dizzying weekend that included the BET Hip Hop Awards and A3C Conference with a special October edition of Season 6. 2015 Hip Hop Pro Awards. This is the list of the honorees.
  • Devyne Stephens, Hip Hop Pro Pioneer Award
  • Hurricane Dave of Radio One, Hip Hop Pro Trailblazer Award
  • Malissa ‘Mali’ Hunter, Hip Hop Pro Legend Award
  • Keinon Johnson, Hip Hop Pro Trendsetter Award
  • Aiyisha T. Obafemi, Hip Hop Pro Legend Award
  • Jenny Drake, Hip Hop Pro Legend Award

DJ Nabs will curate the DJ Battle between Karan “KP” Prather and DJ Kemit. Performances by Audio Push and Mykell Vaughn.
Take a look at the photographic highlights of the 3rd annual Hip Hop Pro Awards at the Park Tavern at Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta:

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