murder of edenton, n.c., musician, spring 2000

The second suspect mentioned in this story, still at large when the piece ran in The Virginian-Pilot, was later captured. He was convicted in May 2001 of second-degree-murder; public records show he was released from prison in March 2012.

Story originally published June 13, 2000 | (c) The Virginian-Pilot, 2000

 

1 arrested, another sought in hip-hop musician’s death

EDENTON — Keiwanee Powell was playing his keyboard on his family’s West Carteret Street porch the afternoon of May 28. A group of men approached the house. An argument started. There was a single gunshot.

And Powell, 28, with a hole in his chest, lay in the street, dying.

Tristan “T.T.” Spencer, 24, arrested that same day, has been charged with first-degree murder. Edenton police have exhausted several leads on the whereabouts of a second suspect, Kendrick “Kenny” Gaylord, 20.

Powell was the leader of reggae-flavored rap group the Original Gully Mon Billionaires, which includes his brothers Umoja “Mojo,” 26, and Bashiri, 19, plus cousin Kenny “K-Ski” Skinner, 21, and family friend Anton “Killah” Fleming, 21.

Spencer and Gaylord are connected with another local hip-hop group, the seven-member Cakalaki Crime Family, sometimes known as the Carolina Crime Family.

Though the nationally publicized murders of Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. and, most recently, Lost Boyz member Freaky Tah have fueled the hip-hop world’s reputation for violence, Powell’s friends and associated insist he was focused on just the opposite.

Powell, born King Keiwanee Uhuru Powell, and known in the band as “King Keiwanee,” was all about peace and unity, they say. He wanted to help others.

“He was the one who wanted to make a difference in the community,” said Edenton Police Chief Greg Bonnner, who knew Powell personally. “He changed the direction some of the younger folks were headed.”

Powell has been widely praised for his passion and enthusiasm, which filled even his spare time. He taught local youngsters to play the drums at a spring Chowan Arts Council after-school program. He led a Saturday-night reggae show at Elizabeth City State University radio station WRVS (89.9 FM).

“This guy has touched different continents, and then to die in Edenton,” said Omari Salisbury, who first met Powell when the two were attending ECSU. Salisbury now works for Philadelphia-area media company HoopsTV.com and designed OGMB’s west site (www.real2web.com/ogmb). He has a video of Powell in the African country of Senegal. The Edenton rapper is standing at the Door of No Return, the point of departure for slaves being shipped to the New World.

As a musician and recording studio technician, Powell was widely regarded as the real deal.

“He was a pure musician,” said the band’s manager, Tino.

And he had a presence.

“Keiwanee could be dirt poor, but he was still larger than life,” Salisbury said. “He was born into music.”

Powell’s father was Jamaican guitarist and recording artist Teddy Powell, who worked with reggae vocalists like J.C. Lodge and Beres Hammond.

“He taught Peter Tosh how to play guitar,” Umoja Powell said, sitting near a red, black and green flag — reggae’s colors — hanging prominently on his front porch.

Powell’s mother, now called Empress Basema Omalara Powell, was Barbara Basemore when she was growing up in that same house, one of two neighboring West Carteret Street properties her family owns. After graduating from D.F. Walker, then a high school, she moved to New York City, where she met Teddy Powell.

The couple relocated to Jamaica, where they had nine children. When the marriage ended, Powell’s mother brought the children back to Edenton.

“We’re not outsiders,” Umoja Powell said, a faint Caribbean lilt to his voice.

Powell’s four youngest siblings now live with his mother in West Africa.

OGMB’s name refers to the Kingston, Jamaica, slums, known as “the gully,” where the Powell family lived for a time.

“We want to show people you can (make) it in a positive way, through music, Umoja Powell said. “Gully Mon Billionaires – from the ghetto to the mansion, from the gutter to the castle.”

Powell had already made his mark on hip-hop before OGMB. He and Umoja worked with the Lost Boyz on the title track to the New York City group’s best-selling 1997 album, “Love, Peace and Nappiness.”

OGMB, which gets regular radio play in Norfolk, put Elizabeth City on the hip-hop map, Salisbury said.

Bonner said he wasn’t even aware that the Cakalaki Crime Family existed until about a week ago. It looked to him less like an organized group than a bunch of buddies rapping whenever the opportunity presented itself, trying to gain a little local notoriety.

Hip-hop music is full of boasting and verbal “disses,” where one performer knocks the skills of another. The exchanges, which often go on for several rounds, are just part of the game.

OGMB played its part. Self-released album “Warriors 2000” is peppered with braggadocio. OGMB’s boasts were general, directed at the world beyond northeastern North Carolina.

At a series of talent shows held in the area, the most recent one at Steppin’ Out club in Edenton on May 18, members of CCF were putting down OGMG, Salisbury said.

Edenton police have a video of the performance, but Bonner said he couldn’t make out much but profanity.

On May 27, the day before Powell’s slaying, members of MGMB were at Steppin’ Out after another talent show, which they hadn’t participated in, members of the group said.

Members of OGMB said they were on stage at the invitation of DJ Danny B., whom they’d worked with at several regional shows. CCF members were in the audience.

The details aren’t clear, but there was an altercation and club security shut everything down.

The next day, a group of people showed up at the Powells’ house.

What happened next happened fast. Powell was shot. He died at Chowan Hospital. Spencer was later arrested.

“From what I’ve concluded, there was nothing that should have prompted what happened,” Bonner said.

The murder weapon, believed to be a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol found on the scene, had been fired once, Bonner said. A second round had jammed before reaching the chamber.

The remaining members of OGMB say that even at the end, Powell was talking about unity and working together. He offered to take CCF to the studio with his group. Several CCF and OGMB members even shook hands on it.

Spencer, whose probably cause hearing is scheduled for today, is being held without bond in the Chowan County jail. Gaylord’s name has been entered into the National Crime Information Center’s computer database.

Powell’s funeral was held June 1 in Windsor, at the Bazemore Temple Church of God in Christ, the church his grandmother founded. His mother, who was en route to the United States to visit family the day Powell was killed, learning of his death in a German airport, may take his ashes home with her to Africa.

“It doesn’t seem real, for somebody who had that much passion and who cared that much for his music” to be gone, Salisbury said.

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