A lesson before dying

The recent funeral services for slain rap artist Deshaun "Proof" Holton had the feel of a hero's farewell. That is until Proof's family arrived.

As soon as Proof's mother Sherallene entered the 2,000-seat Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, she eyed the gold casket that contained her son's body and released a loud cry of hurt that echoed through the chamber, and through all of our hearts. She had to be helped to his pall and, from there, to the pews reserved for family members.

The sanctuary then quickly filled to capacity with people who'd lined up early in the morning to pay their respects. Hundreds were turned away. One-time Proof foes, such as rapper Champtown, showed. Larger hip-hop luminaries — Eminem and D12, 50 Cent and G-Unit, Obie Trice, Dr. Dre, Xzibit, Ras Kass, Naughty By Nature — arrived in somber force, as did execs from industry juggernaut Interscope Records. But very little stargazing took place. It was too painful.

Proof was shot to death during an argument early Tuesday, April 11, at C.C.C., an 8 Mile after-hours club. In the fracas, Proof first shot 35-year-old Keith Bender Jr., who died a week later at a Detroit hospital.

As funerals go — and there seem to be many lately — things flowed accordingly until Shady Records recording artist Obie Trice spoke his piece. He got up and pleaded for black men to put an end to the violence.

"I'm hard," he said, mocking the tough exterior of many inner-city young men, himself included. "We know you hard. We know you from the hood. If you from Detroit, you from the hood. Detroit is the hood. C'mon, I love y'all, dawg!" Considering that a bullet remains lodged in Trice's head from a New Year's Eve attempt on his life by an unidentified gunman, the words resonated hard, and drew cheers from the congregation.

Other words were tainted with self-interest. Nedra Ruffin, who says she's a daughter of late Temptations great David Ruffin, offered a reflection. She announced that she knew neither Proof nor his family, but feels their pain. She then turned her attention to a visibly worn and bloated Eminem and encouraged him to be strong. Then, unbelievably, she asked the audience to look out for her son Ruff's upcoming rap record. Those who cheered Obie's words gasped at hers. She used Proof's death and memorial as an opportunity to pimp her son's album. Jesus.

Eminem was asked to the podium by a man offering a reflection. He wanted to present Proof's best friend with a framed photo of the two artists. Em was visibly despondent, and many wondered what he might say. He pulled himself together enough to share an anecdote about Proof giving him a new pair of sneakers, telling him, "I'm tired of you wearing those dirty-ass shoes." He said that, without Proof's support, virtually none of the success connected to Slim Shady would exist. "You can give him that," Em said with head down.

"We needed this brother!" Rev. Wendell Anthony said during his eulogy, which followed. He reminded everyone that lying before them was a man whose life was cut short by a senseless, tragic act. He reminded everyone that Proof's life had deeper meaning, that he's a son, a father and a husband. "Across town," he said, "the family of Keith Bender Jr. is experiencing the same pain, and they deserve the same prayers that are being offered for Proof.

"God is no respecter of one person!" he continued. "Let this brother's death start something good in you! Don't die before you have finished living."

Anthony read from "Parable of the Weeds," taken from the Book of Matthew, and addressed the story to the local and national artists in attendance. In the story, a man plants a field of wheat only to have an enemy plant choking weeds while he sleeps. Anthony then decried the messages in rap songs that too often influence young and impressionable minds.

"You have free feet," he said, "but slave minds." This to a contingent of celebs who, collectively, account for more than 100 million records sold. The Interscope execs turned beet-red. Clearly, on this day, the message resonated. As for tomorrow ...

Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]