When Talib Beattie, aka Dakota Black, was a sophomore at Audenried High, a gang of about 15 teens from Tasker Homes jumped him on his way home from school one afternoon.
Black, now 23, made it home to the 1900 block of Manton Street alive but not unscathed.
Angry and scared, the aspiring rapper brought a .380 revolver to school for protection. Black’s decision cost him, because he was kicked out of Audenried, 33rd and Tasker streets.
There are those who make mistakes and learn their lessons, and those who keep making them on the road to self-destruction.
File Black in the first category.
Today, he is half of a local hip-hop group, Da Hyytaz (pronounced "Da Heataz"), poised for the big time.
Darby resident Frank Howard, aka SOV (sounds like "Bob") — short for So Outrageously Vicious — completes the lineup.
The two MCs hooked up at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, where Black found himself after his Audenried escapade. The pair bonded personally and professionally.
A chance meeting with Jive Records’ former senior director of rap, Jessiah "Milk" Styles, in October 2002 led Da Hyytaz to sign with Styles’ upstart label, Milk Entertainment Inc., based in Fort Lee, N.J. Monster Behavior is the first single from the band’s forthcoming EP, Reign of Fire, due in stores May 17.
The video for the song was shot in Point Breeze, Fairmount Park and West Philly in October.
The friends named themselves Da Hyytaz because while sharing living quarters in 2002, SOV’s house burned down.
"Brothers definitely know what roaming the streets is like. I was floating — my cousin’s house, my grandpa’s house," recalls SOV, 22.
The duo chose the unique spelling — Da Hyytaz — to distance themselves from any slang connotations for the word "heater."
"We didn’t want to represent guns or violence in any way," Black says. "Life isn’t about guns and drugs."
While their music does not condone or glorify street violence, it does contain plenty of references to it. After all, both musicians have firsthand knowledge of the streets and have lost friends to gun violence.
"You make choices for yourself. You can go this way or you can go this way," Black says, pointing in opposite directions.
"I mean, where I come from, I know both ways, but I choose to go the right way because I have so much on my plate right now for me to risk losing," he adds. When he’s not rhyming, Black holds down a 9-to-5 job as a bank teller with a PNC branch in Center City. He cites his mother as his inspiration to succeed.
"I grew up in a single-parent home, just me and two sisters, and she struggled to take care of all of us," he says. "If my mom did it, I can do it."
SOV says he walks the straight path because he also feels he has too much at stake.
"I got firsthand knowledge on the streets, but I go the right way, too, you know what I’m sayin’? I also got a daughter," SOV says of his 1-year-old, Asaiya. "I got too much to risk to just let it go away."
Da Hyytaz say they want to send a message that it’s OK to come from the streets, but that you don’t have to stay there.
The title track from an early Da Hyytaz release, Cold Blooded, talks about social ills in the ‘hood.
"Little girls don’t know how to behave, in the coldest city dey gotta baby in the 10th grade/Young n—– be actin’ a fool, puttin’ gats in dey backpacks and flash ’em in school/ Society think it’s gonna get better/NO, in elementary schools dey got metal detectaz … To da residents on da block, gun shots is normal/4 n—– on every other corner is formal, das what dey used to seein.’"
Profanity prevails in the band’s earlier songs, but the pair has cleaned up its act on Reign of Fire to become more radio-friendly, says Black. The duo also admits to maturing as men and artists.
The profanity on their earlier work represented raw emotion and nothing more, they say.
"We could be bugging out on paper, but I’m not going to go out there and grab a gun and shoot somebody," SOV says.
That’s why the musicians say they can’t relate to famous South Philly rapper Beanie Sigel, who was convicted of illegal gun possession last year and still faces trial for attempted murder.
Raw and edgy as they are, Da Hyytaz’s lyrics don’t advocate violence or disrespect women.
And not all the songs carry a hardcore message. The band knows how to have fun and be silly, as evidenced by MC Liverwurst, the opening track on the 2003 disc Operation: Fully Loaded.
Every band that performs live lays claim to an erratic fan or two, and Da Hyytaz is no exception. The cut features a fan, also an aspiring rapper, called MC Liverwurst yukking it up on stage at one of Da Hyytaz’s shows before SOV asks him what he’s doing and regains control of his mic.
"We can be silly, we can be serious," SOV says.
Much of the band’s music evokes the early, fun days of hip-hop. The duo says it likes to record songs people can dance to.
"Not jiggy, but to bring it back to the old days when you have fun in your music," explains SOV. "Not saying in the music you’re gonna kill someone."
Black describes Da Hyytaz as a young Run DMC without the DJ. He and SOV write their own lyrics and back each other up on stage.
Between recording sessions for their new album, the band has performed in Philadelphia and across the country, gaining a strong independent following.
With Reign of Fire, the friends hope to burst through to the big time.
Black and SOV say they want to be able to make enough money from their music to live comfortably. And while neither would pass up a Bentley, fame and riches are not their ultimate goals.
"I have a daughter to take care of," says SOV. "As long as she’s straight, I’m straight."
"You just want to make a better way of life for yourself and your family so they don’t have to struggle like you did," adds Black. "Music is an outlet for us to make that happen."
For more information on Da Hyytaz, go to www.milkentertainment.com .