Johnny Hooks, The Game and Nu Jerzey Devil in front of the Black Wall Street East offices (Photo: BWS)
Johnny Hooks, The Game and Nu Jerzey Devil in front of the Black Wall Street East offices (Photo: BWS)

I am John Abbey or Johnny Hooks as they refer to me in the music business. By profession I am a nationwide general contractor and developer. About two years ago I introduced myself to the music industry through my new company, Top of the World. Of course I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I was completely misled. Initially I signed a rapper, Heat. Despite dedicating a great deal of time and money to promoting his career, we parted ways when I discovered we did not share the same vision. In my opinion, hip-hop was not given the attention it deserved in the industry. My ultimate goal was to unite races of people through the hip-hop culture.

My partner and I purchased and operated a recording studio in Atlantic City in the same neighborhood that Heat and NJD (Nu Jersey Devil), a producer, and co-owner grew up in. My intention was to earn money through the studio and record sales. Reinvest a portion of it in their neighborhood. It was important to me that people witnessed a change and cared enough to actively become involved in that change. NJD then familiarized me with The Black Wall Street name. I was immediately drawn to it and was directed to their website by my marketing director. Not only was I excited and moved … I was motivated into action. I recognized the potential to revitalize the many distressed downtown areas. You could see a dollar turned at The Original Black Wall Street 110 times before it left. Now a dollar moves out of your neighborhood every three seconds. That is why there is no money for growth.

NJD put me in contact with The Game. I was extremely impressed with him … his presence was a dominant force that commanded respect. He was very articulate and successful in communicating his viewpoints. To me, The Game was an ideal representative for our cause. I was convinced that we could truly make a major impact by combining the efforts of our companies. The Game granted us permission to proceed with the revitalization of BWS.

With the assistance of my partner, Joseph Stewart a.k.a. Joey Shirts, NJD and myself developed a plan, which encompassed five major cities across the USA. We started locally by sponsoring a Thanksgiving charity in which we donated and personally delivered 500 turkeys in Pleasantville, NJ. We then hosted a Christmas party for underprivileged children in the same area. For that event, we purchased hundreds of gifts, which the children received at a party that featured food, music and Santa. We enlisted the help of people from the neighborhood during these events. They donated their time and energy into making both events very successful and rewarding experiences. We offered recording time in exchange for internships at the studio. We also began purchasing property in the Pleasantville area to demonstrate we were serious about the project.

NJD proposed the concept of another company, Livelihood Entertainment. We consequently hired our first artist, a rapper named Riz, and several producers including Mugsy Brown, J Doe, Golden Child of Surround Sound, The Gold Barz and Speedy. An R&B artist, J Malz, was also signed. With the exception of Gold Barz, who is from the Bronx like me, every other artist and producer originates from the same area. Unlike the mainstream industry, our company benefits the artists… not the label. We ensure that our artists and producers earn more money than the norm and retain most of their publishing proceeds. Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction. We were following our dreams and they were becoming our reality, that is until we were blind sighted.

I was arrested and accused of things I am innocent of (see “The Game’s NJ Business Partner Charged With Money-Laundering”); basically I was guilty by association. I had put myself in a neighborhood that I guess was considered run by gangs and drugs. That to me was the whole point, if that were to be true. Within a seven-hour period, the state police managed to dismantle my entire life. They confiscated anything they could get their hands on including property, vehicles and of all my personal and business bank accounts and records. Then they locked me up in a maximum-security prison for six days. It turns out that the same people we had asked to assist with our charity events and intern/rap at the studio were alleged members of The Bloods. My association with these gang members resulted in the belief that I was their leader. Ironically, I was accused of the exact things I was trying to eradicate.

It’s not unusual to present an image in this business. You go into it well aware that you never know whom you are dealing with. Perception is not always reality. We once had a guy tattoo BWS across his arm, so he could tell everyone he was signed to our label. He wasn’t, and tattooing the logo on his body didn’t make it so, but he was able to convince people that he was.

Basically, I am still being held hostage by our justice system. None of my assets have been returned and unimaginable actions have followed since the time of my arrest. My family, my businesses, everything that I had worked so hard to build had all been compromised as a result. However, because of the person I truly am… and because those who surround me know the person I truly am, I have not been defeated. The continued support fuels me with the need and desire to overcome these obstacles.

Everyone I was close to had a very difficult time understanding why I became involved in this hip-hop industry to begin with. I already had successful businesses and they warned that my association with that industry could jeopardize everything else in my life. They couldn’t understand why I would make so many sacrifices for people who, on the surface, didn’t seem to do anything to help them. Despite that, I moved forward, I needed to have a purpose in life and the hip-hop industry was my vehicle for making a much-needed change in this world. I believe everyone is entitled to an opportunity that could potentially change their lives for the better, and I was in a position, which allowed me to open the door to those opportunities for many people. I naively operated under the belief that if I didn’t do anything wrong then I had nothing to worry about. That theory obviously fell apart.

I am released from prison feeling humiliated. I now have to deal with the onslaught of “I told you so.” Even if they didn’t say it, you knew they were thinking it. I was about to give up on my dream when I watched “Save The Last Dance 2.” A guy in the movie was talking about hip-hop, its origins and where it is now. He said, “It’s not about the cars and the bling, it’s about three simple words… I AM HERE.” That was my turning point; every emotion in my body was awaken. I decided to put aside what happened to me and move forward. I started calling people at midnight to discuss my ideas. It just made complete sense to me, why is it socially acceptable for every genre of music to discuss their experiences except hip-hop? The media has labeled hip-hop a bad influence. How is it possible that the obvious had escaped us? Rappers are simply telling their own life stories. The media exploits these things as opposed to helping correct them. Drama sells. Let’s face it… people love to make money and if they can do it off of there own or someone else’s pain, so be it.

So my idea is to take “I AM HERE” to another level. Riz even created a song, “I Am Here,” which details this movement. Draw on your life experiences to create music, but put a positive spin on it.

Not everyone will subscribe to this style, but at least you are providing them with a choice, they can either continue to let music perpetuate the negative or they can empower the musicians who glorify the positive. Equally important is returning to your roots. As your career progresses, don’t forget where you came from. Return to your neighborhood, be a role model. If your success has basically been built up on the sharing of your experiences there, then it is only right that you give back to that community. They are entitled to it. I believe we all need to have a sense of responsibility and acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. I am confident the “I AM HERE” virus will become contagious and everyone will benefit from it.

If everyone reading this can start to make this change, we can control the fires set by the media and labels. If we kill their flame and start our own, then they will have no choice but to talk about what we want them to talk. We can have the power, the media does no have to dictate to us.

Just imagine all the doors that could open for the children and young adults of today. “If you believe, The Universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

Let’s write a story that never ends.

With all my heart,
Johnny Hooks