Awards show hopes to bolster Pittsburgh hip-hop scene

By Sierra Starks

Fifth Annual Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards

Sunday (voting ends Saturday)

Red Carpet at 6 p.m…. Fifth Annual Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards

Sunday (voting ends Saturday)

Red Carpet at 6 p.m. Sunday, Awards Show at 7 p.m.

August Wilson Center for African American Culture

980 Liberty Ave.

It was in Atlanta, at the first BET Hip-Hop Awards in 2006, that Dwayne Muhammad got the idea to host a hip-hop awards show in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

With the Steel City show, Muhammad, the national concert promoter for 360 Entertainment, wanted both to recognize local artists and local businesses and bridge the gap between local hip-hop pioneers and those aspiring to a career in the industry.

Four awards shows later, Muhammad said he has seen not only a progressive bridging of the gap between veteran and rookie artists, but also a collaboration of efforts on a local and national level. The fifth annual Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards will kick off at the August Wilson Center with a red carpet ceremony at 6 p.m. Sunday, followed by the commencement of the awards show at 7 p.m.

Prior to the first PHHA, a lot of artists weren’t collaborating with other artists, Muhammad said. Whether it was a lack of interest in joint projects or just a fear of the unknown, he thinks the inaugural PHHA helped to change that mindset.

“I wanted everybody to come together and recognize who’s doing what and feed off of each other,” Muhammad said.

Since putting on the first PHHA, Muhammad has expanded his efforts to Harrisburg, Pa., Philadelphia, Orlando, Fla., and Tampa Bay, Fla.

The encouragement to do so came from hip-hop pioneer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Grandmaster Melle Mel, who served as co-host of the first awards show.

“It was at the first PHHA that Melle Mel told me that this was a big step for hip-hop. He told me I should take it all over the country,” Muhammad said.

With the PHHA in its fifth year, Muhammad also has the cities of Miami, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., on board to host their own hip-hop awards shows.

A few PHHA nominees and winners have come to be well-known in their respective categories, including Wiz Khalifa — who at the first PHHA won “Best Male Artist” and “Lyricist of the Year” — and Mac Miller, who won “Best 21 and Under Artist” and “Video of the Year” at last year’s PHHA and was recently named XXL Magazine’s 2011 Freshman.

One local producer, Mysterious, is trying to make the most out of his two “Producer of the Year” awards.

Mysterious, 28, said that he’s been producing for about 15 years, and since winning a PHHA, he has seen a rise in recognition. Before the PHHA, Mysterious characterized his career as “just grinding and trying to make it.” He was constantly attempting to get more people to listen to his beats and sell them to other producers, artists and whoever else could help him gain repute.

“Since I won my first award, there has definitely been more volume as far as people interested in listening to and buying my beats and collaborating with me,” Mysterious said.

Accordingly, Mysterious said he valued the PHHA’s networking opportunities over the competitive aspects.

“For me, the networking is maybe the top reason to go,” Mysterious said. “Seeing who wins comes second to the networking and promotion opportunities.”

He added that the awards show also gets the fans involved, because 50 percent of the votes for each category’s winner come from the public.

Muhammad said the other half of the votes comes from the PHHA committee consisting of eight to 10 people from around the city. This includes, but is not limited to, music artists, business owners and DJs.

“We meet with each other and then decide who did the most that year in each category,” Muhammad said. This year, there are more than 35 categories to choose from, encompassing art and businesses, ranging anywhere from “Best New Artist” and “Best Male/Female Artist” to “Barbershop of the Year” and “Facebook User of the Year.”

As CEO of 360 Entertainment, one category Muhammad can relate to is “Concert/Party Promoter of the Year,” which the newly formed entertainment group LH Entertainment LLC has set its sights on.

Marcus Willacy, a Pitt sophomore and vice president of operations and street promotions for LH Entertainment, said the group hopes to someday make it to the “Concert/Party Promoter of the Year” nominee list.

“It is a goal to be nominated for promotion team of the year because it shows that the aims of this company have been executed,” Willacy said. “[A nomination] would let us know that the city appreciates the services we provide and are excited for us to transcend and create new ones.”

Willacy admires the PHHA for acknowledging what goes on behind the scenes of the hip-hop scene in Pittsburgh.

“Everyone knows Pittsburgh for some of their up-and-coming rappers,” he said.

But Willacy admits that sometimes other important aspects of the culture seem left out, such as hip-hop clothing store Shop.412 in Pittsburgh’s South Side, which Willacy frequents. PHHA does have a “Hip-Hop Clothing Store of the Year” category.

As Mysterious hopes to win his third PHHA and LH Entertainment hopes to one day get nominated, a significant change in venue is being made for this year’s hip-hop awards show.

“This is the first year that we’ll be hosting the event in the August Wilson Center,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad knows firsthand how far a little networking can go, and therefore urges those trying to make it in the business to follow suit.

“I’ve been blessed in the [promoting] business,” he said, having been a partner in the “Kings of Comedy” tour and having a shoe manufacturing effort in Ghana, Africa, on his resumé.

“It makes me feel good to see where I can lend a helping hand to a lot of these artists and business owners,” Muhammad said. For him, the PHHA is key in this effort.