His eyes turned a pretty shade of brown when light hit them. Especially the light of the sun or of a camera’s flash. On his high cheeks, like his father’s, were dozens of freckles, like his mother’s. Between the freckles, were two barely noticeable places where his deep honey brown complexion lightened. I loved those patches.
DeShaun Holton was handsome. He was cute with big crooked teeth that even he made fun of. He was thin and wiry. He was smart. He could engage you in fascinating conversation, if he felt like talking. He almost always did. He was funny. Ridiculously funny. It was said that he would step on a sandwich and then eat it. On the DVD that accompanies his only solo album, Searching for Jerry Garcia, he drinks beer out of an ashtray. Cigarette butts and all, he spits one out of his mouth, as European fans laugh. I saw him put his whole face in his 28th birthday cake. He would do almost anything to make someone laugh.
He was charming. He was interested in the lives of people. Not just people he knew and loved, but everyday people. He was well-read. He had a deep spirituality, he was not religious, but had converted to Islam in his youth. He was a father, and a husband. He loved his children, and the children of his friends. He was a godfather, and had given several children their names. He was filled with deep ideas about life and death. He was a devoted community activist, and even named his company after Joe Louis’ “Iron Fist”. His passion for Detroit is unsurpassed. He has been called “Detroit’s Best Friend,” it is an accurate description.
He was an incredible freestyle rapper. I was at a club where he walked from tabletop to tabletop and freestyled for over 45 minutes straight. Rhyming and Transitioning. As the DJ switched the beat, he switched his flow. He found a way to rhyme the word “orange” he would use “aren’t” stretched out in its pronunciation. He thought about things like that. Where there was a will, there was a way for Proof.
He has been called “The Mayor of Detroit Hip-Hop,” that is also accurate. He was the law-giver, the peace maker, he was an employer, a provider, he inspired people to success, and cared about the well-being of his constituency. By his own hands he cultivated a community of artists, writers, clothing designers, graphic artists, business owners, and more. He was the single most important figure of Detroit’s Hip-Hop movement and the development of a Hip-Hop music and culture scene. That action provided jobs, and sold millions of records and has had an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He was a Master Teacher, he was a Sefu, he was a wise sage, who with his clever words could say just one line to comfort, and educate.
He was not a perfect man. He made mistakes, as we all do. However, a glimpse at his rap sheet, does not give one an idea of who he was as a person. He was a fighter at times, however he preferred peace. If there was a problem, he was called in to solve it, and his word was law. When he said a disagreement was over, it was done. He was not a gun-slinging thug. However, he lived by the credo “It’s better to have one and not need it, than need one and not have it.” It’s an oldie but goodie.
The tattoos on his body each symbolized something precious and significant to his life. Like the FC he got for the group, Funky Cowboy that he was in with J. Dilla. He liked the smell of incense, and he liked women. He cut his long dreads and opted for a baldhead. He didn’t smoke marijuana, but clove cigarettes favored by clever celebrities and people from India. He did corny 80s dances, and had his own two-step. He was kind and very affectionate. He liked to kiss. He always greeted women with a kiss on their cheek, and very often the men in his life as well. He always kissed my daughter on her forehead with her face in his hands. He very often said, “I love you,” to everyone. He wanted you to know that he loved you, and he meant it. He showed it.
And on April 19th, we lay him down for eternity. We kissed his cold cheek and later, kissed his cold casket. At his internment, Reverend Wendell Anthony, who officiated the service and is the head of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, told us that this was as far as we could travel with our brother. Thirty-two white doves were released amid flashes from camera phones and slight sobs. We looked at each other, dazed and confused. This was it? We had walked with him so long, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and sometimes side by side, and now we had to leave him here alone?
It is still hard to believe, daily. Detroit lost J. Dilla on February 10 th, and we were heartbroken. The next day, Proof was on the radio talking about his friend who he was once in a duo group with. And just two months later, Funky Cowboy were reunited in death. They are missed. Every day. Every show. Every event. Every gathering of two or more, and in every heart of their friends.
As I prepared to finish this essay, I passed the cemetery where Proof lies entombed. I made a U-Turn, and decided to go see him for the first time. There was another funeral ending. Another family walking away from someone that they loved. I watched them leave with reverence. I approached the Rosa Parks Freedom Chapel, and a woman stopped me. “Excuse me? Are you here to see Mrs. Parks?” I told her who I was there to see. She nods gravely, “Yes. He gets a lot of visitors. You know, I don’t believe everything I hear on the news.” I smile weakly. She unlocks the door. “He must have been a good man, because he was well loved.” I step inside, the chapel is small. His name is the first one I encounter. Other than Mother Parks and her family, there are only five other people resting here, he is the fifth. Seeing his name for the first time shocks me. Tears erupt. I put my hand to my mouth. I touch his name, and the marble block behind which he lies cold in a golden coffin. The marble and the gold lettering are cold too.
There are teddy bears, and flowers. Her words echo in my head, “He gets a lot of visitors he was well loved.” Yes. That’s true. She has stepped away to give my privacy. I talk to him, and kiss his name. I sit in front of him. I pray. I tell him I love him and miss him, and can almost hear him telling me he loves me too. I hug the marble and let memories flash in my mind. Momentarily, my head is on his shoulder and his arms are around me. I smell Issey cologne, and a Djarum. I open my eyes. He is not there. I kiss the marble again. I ask the lady, Sharon, where Mrs. Parks is. “Right here,” she says. The Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement, her tomb says. Her proximity to my beloved is astounding. I am struck with gratitude. The sight of her name prompts tears as well. I get close enough and say “Thank You. Thank you for everything.” I kiss my hand and lay it on her name.
Walking out, I again bid my brother Goodbye. I promise I will visit again. I tell him I love him. Sharon touches my hand and assures me that he was in a better place. “He must have been a good man, because he was well-loved.” I agree, thank her, and walk away in the rain.
Biba Adams, a Detroit writer and activist. A long standing and high-ranking member of the Detroit Hip-Hop community, Ms. Adams is chairperson of the newly founded, Detroit Urban Entertainment Trust ( D.U.E.T), a non-profit organization. Ms. Adams also serves on the board of Band Camp Entertainment, and various other business and service organizations. Ms. Adams is a public speaker, student and mother. She is currently completing a Bachelor’s Degree in History with a minor in Sociology, as well as a certificate in Detroit Studies. Big Proof Forever: A Photo Journal. A book about his professional and personal life, is currently in development.