If this story sucks, it’s most likely because I didn’t let my editor give it an “anti-wack” review first. It’s not because I didn’t meet a deadline or was too lazy or too busy to submit it for critique. It’s because he’s gone.
On the morning of December 31, 2009, I received a phone call with the tragic news that my friend and writing mentor, Richie “s/ave” Douglas, had died in his sleep the night before – a result of the epilepsy he battled all his life. He was only 36 years old.
As I gathered the details from Tee, his rock-solid wife, my heart sank because it all seemed so familiar. Just two months earlier, the gospel rap community also lost Juan “Enock” James – the 35 year old former Cross Movement member who moved to Houston from Philly as a result of his friendship with s/ave. It definitely felt like the proverbial punch to the gut.
The last story s/ave edited for me (just a week or so before) was my Enock memorial. Now I knew I had to write another one, that it wouldn’t be nearly as good without his input, and that it would be twice as difficult to author because it was about him.
s/ave was the original Christian hip hop journalist. He was writing about the genre before I even considered publishing a piece.
As an early consumer of the music, his “Real Criticisms” column in Heaven’s Hip Hop Magazine guided my otherwise blind purchases and proved that coverage of faith-based rap records did not require a rubber-stamp approach.
The “Unsigned Hype” issue of that same periodical is what spurred my introduction to Houston’s Christian hip hop scene. Because of s/ave’s research and writing, I had the snail mail addresses of guys like C.I.A. and Blackseed. I wrote them letters about my interest in their work and several responded. Nuwine even called to introduce himself and invited me to my first gospel rap concert at a church near the Astrodome where his buddy Lil Raskull would also be performing.
In my senior year of college, Rich mailed me a copy of the inaugural issue of the ONEMIND newsletter he started in his one-bedroom apartment in northwest Houston. I didn’t know how he got my address or knew me, but I was deeply interested.
I contacted him about writing for OM and we arranged to meet face to face at an upcoming Cross Movement show. That was the night I learned he was Caucasian. This came as quite a surprise. After all, what self-respecting white man would have the gall to call himself “s/ave?” (In actuality, he gained the nickname as an MC when he co-opted a lyric about being a “slave to the rhythm.”)
s/ave’s memorial service brought out a slew of “heads” from Houston’s old school Christian rap scene. Bad Luck and Optix reminisced about the Bonafide Zealots (aka Bon-zee aka Bon-Z) crew and all their different lineups and spellings. We even listened to their “Throw You a Curve” cut from 1999 that reminded me of grimy, early Labklik recordings.
Ras told us how Rich gave him the hook for his “One Fo’ the Sick” song from Controverse All-Star, his debut Christian rap album. He said it was the first time he ever accepted lyrics written by someone besides himself.
Grapetree Records’ Knolly Williams shared the tale of a 21 year old “s/ave” sending him unsolicited album reviews for Heaven’s Hip Hop Magazine. He was just three years older than Rich but loved his passion and eventually hired him to be the editorial voice of his side publication.
Interspersed with the hip hop stories were memories from family and friends in the deaf and education communities he grew to love in his later years.
Dusty Douglas told us how much he admired his older brother, how s/ave always stood up for the underspoken minority, and how “Christianity fit him like a glove.” Others remembered Mr. Richie’s kindness toward the special needs kids at the elementary school where he worked or talked about their friend by making the two-finger, forehead-to-crown sign they crafted to symbolize his shaved head.
I mentioned Knolly Williams recognizing s/ave’s passion. It was something I picked up on too and noted in a recommendation letter Rich asked me to write when he was in between jobs.
Whether it was self-taught web design, how to properly write his pen name (“All lower case letters with the ‘l’ as a forward slash mark,”) animation, healthy eating, or simple living - when s/avey had an idea he chased after it full bore.
And that may be what I miss and want to emulate about him most.
Click here to read more about s/ave's founding of DaSouth.com