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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The TRU Story of How Conversations Partnered with Platinum-selling Recording Artist /Bestselling author C-Murder

“The TRU Story of How Conversations Partnered with Platinum-selling Recording Artist /Bestselling author C-Murder”
by Herschel Dixon with Stanley Clark of For The People Productions

Part Two of For The People Productions' Three-Part Series Celebrating The Six Years of Success of Cyrus A. Webb's Conversations Brand. Missed part one of our three part interview with Cyrus A. Webb? Visit this link:

I got a call from Cyrus on the afternoon of Monday, June 1, 2009 telling me that he was on hold to talk with Martha Stewart on her radio show. That’s right: Martha Stewart. And as you can imagine he was excited. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had seen a tweet from Martha on Twitter inviting people to call into her show during her “Ask Martha” segment. That was all he needed.

That is the Cyrus Webb I have gotten to know over the past decade since we first met. He sees something that he wants, and he goes after it with no thought of what can’t be done. The word “No” doesn’t exist in his world, at least not when directed towards him. Obstacles just mean “Not right now.”

The month he was celebrating as the six year anniversary of his Conversations Brand is really a celebration of the growth Webb has experienced not only within himself and his audience, but the number of walls he has brought down because of just wanting to bring people together to promote the very best of themselves.

I have heard Cyrus joke with people that he has a split personality: the everyday Cyrus Webb and the more public alter ego C. A. Webb. I believe at some point that might just be true. From what I have seen, however, over the years it has been hard to tell when one ends and the other begins.

“I run my life just like one runs a political campaign,” he says. “My typical day begins between 4-5:30a.m. 7 days a week with a very deliberate routine. I get dressed, put on the water for my coffee and check email before updating my websites and going through my daily schedule.” That’s right: a schedule. Before going to bed each day he makes a list of things he knows he wants to get done when the next day begins. “The list may change some throughout the day,” he admits. “Some things are added or even moved to the following day, but there is an effort made to make each day count.”

Failure to best utilize the hours he is given can sometime lead to a side of Webb that is not as flattering as the calm persona he likes to show. He is a control freak. This is not something I have heard, but something I have seen firsthand over the time since we met. Cyrus Webb does not like for outside forces to sway him in any way. Time is precious, and he doesn’t like to waste any of what he is given. “I have a saying that I tweet everyday,” he says. “It’s very simple: ‘YESTERDAY is gone. TOMORROW is not promised. All you have is TODAY.’ That is not just true of me, but everyone.”

For Cyrus time is not just money, but a priceless resource that can’t be wasted. It seems that is the reason why he has done his best to make his brand, especially Conversations, something that is not limited to one group.

“One of the things that frustrates me the most is people assuming things about me and what I do based on what they think they know or what they see,” Webb says. During this conversation on the phone he paused as though trying to make sure he made his point the best way possible. “I am a young black male, but this doesn’t mean everything I do is based on my age or my race. My world is so much bigger than black and white. I don’t see this argument having to be made by those who are my white counterparts and friends. I don’t want to be put in a box.”

(Photo above courtesy of Jackson Advocate Newspaper)

As Webb continued to grow Conversations, it became clear that his vision was not going to be a one note. From the radio or television shows to the magazine and then to the book clubs, there was something for every group. What impressed me the most about the way the brand was constructed, was the fact that Cyrus had an invested interest in every aspect. He researches every guest, reads every book and personally writes them an electronic Thank You note afterwards. “It’s called Conversations,” he says, “so it stands to reason that I would have to be personally involved with every aspect of it. In order for all of these parts to work, I have to know what I’m talking about, especially if it is something that takes me out of my comfort level.”

This became clear in December 2006, just a couple of months after Conversations Book Club was formed and began operating. A friend of Webb’s told him about a book called Death Around The Corner by rapper Corey “C-Murder” Miller, Founder of TRU Records and TRU Publishing.

“I hadn’t heard of the book,” Webb says, “and I honestly knew very little about C-Murder at the time. I dismissed the idea of reading it, because I didn’t think there would be anything that would interest me or those I was serving through Conversations. “

Webb went on about his business and had forgotten about the book and its author until another friend asked him about it. “’You have to read this book,’ they said to me. Trusting them, I went to Wal-Mart, purchased the book and read it.”

The book changed his life. It told the story of a young boy named Daquan who because of internal and external forces became a part of a world that eventually destroyed him. Within the storyline was also a compelling story of relationships and the power of dreaming big. Though fiction, C-Murder had written his family into the book and allowed the main character to learn from the mistakes and decisions that they had made. There was even a supernatural aspect to the book which showed the range and skill of the author.

“As soon as I finished it the first time,” Webb says, “I knew three things: 1) I would be reading it again, 2) I would be scheduling it for a discussion through Conversations Book Club and 3) I wanted to interview the author.” Webb found out quickly that the first two things would be a great deal easier than the third.

“What I knew about C-Murder was that he rapped, that’s about it,” Webb admits. After reading the book, however, he discovered more that had been written about the author as well as about some of the legal woes he had experienced. This didn’t change the way Cyrus felt about the project at all. “I know firsthand that not everything written or said about you or that you are accused of is the whole story.” After searching the internet, Webb found C-Murder’s Myspace page and wrote him. To his surprise within 24 hours, he had a reply.

Death Around The Corner was published by Kensington Publishing, one of the country's leading publishers. It kicked off the Street Lit imprint Vibe Books, and tens of thousands had been sold directly from C-Murder's personal Myspace page.

Going into 2007 C-Murder and Webb communicated regularly. “I found out that he was on house arrest and not able to travel, however, he was open to doing an interview with me,” Webb relates. Through Conversations Book Club book lovers and interested parties came to meetings at the Medgar Evers Library and later the Richard Wright Library, Waldenbooks Metrocenter and Barnes & Noble Bookstore to listen to discussions with authors (either via telephone or in-person) as well as ask their own questions. All events were free to the public, and Webb promoted each event to groups he thought would be interested in that week’s particular guest author.

When C-Murder was scheduled for an interview/discussion via telephone to discuss his book, Webb promoted it on Myspace to those in the Hip Hop community and to recording artists that he knew. He also made flyers. The day of the discussion, over 80% of those in attendance were in the music business, and even the state of Mississippi’s largest daily newspaper, the Clarion Ledger, was there. Webb’s sense of success was overwhelming.

“What other reading group is able to bring these groups together and attract the press,” Webb says with an obvious smile in his voice. Those in attendance had heard about the discussion, went out and bought the book and actually had questions. “I knew then that I had to get C-Murder to Mississippi for a visit. What he did by writing this book was going to have far-reaching effects for not only the urban community, but unite groups that otherwise would not be together.”

It was in talking about C-Murder and his plan to host the author that the more aggressive side of Cyrus Webb appears. Remember, he was talking about hosting an author who was on house arrest awaiting to be re-tried for murder and was seen by some as not the best of influences. But this is not what Cyrus saw when he looked at Corey “C-Murder” Miller and the book he had written. He saw someone that young people in urban communities would listen to about the life they were living and who could encourage them to do something that those like Webb might not be able to do: He could let them know it was okay to read.


As 2007 went on, Conversations Book Club picked up steam and garnered attention from the press as well as respected authors across the country. Through this channel Webb was also able to conduct interviews with authors that were personal favorites of his, including Andrew Neiderman (author of The Devil’s Advocate/ghostwriter for the V. C. Andrews franchise), John Saul (author of Comes The Blind Fury), Stuart Woods, Evie Rhodes and countless others. With each event more attention was brought to various genres and authors, and it became clear that Conversations Book Club was going to be a force that could not be denied.

It was the clout of his growing brand that made Cyrus believe if anyone could host C-Murder in events it would be his organization. “I try not to think of my business or Conversations as just me,” admits Webb, “but I understand that for some I AM Conversations because of being the face of the brand.” When it came to Operation: C-Murder, it was that fact which would bring the mission to fulfillment.

“I talked with C-Murder about his coming to Mississippi, and he was excited about the idea,” Cyrus says. Since the book had been released in late 2006, he had only been able to do one event, and that was in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. “A book needs publicity to survive, however, the one thing Cee wasn’t able to do is actively promote his project. He had the name recognition, and that helps a lot, but people needed to hear the story.”

Cyrus also knew that his discussing the book would add a different dimension. “No one would expect me to be with C-Murder, let along endorsing his book.” But endorse the book is exactly what Cyrus Webb did: on his website, at events—wherever he could. During the summer of 2007, Conversations Book Club was named “Outstanding Program” by the Jackson-Hinds Library System in Mississippi. Webb decided to use the results of his brand and his own name recognition to move forward with his plan to bring C-Murder to Mississippi. “I contacted Cee’s lawyer, telling him what I wanted to do. He said it was a long shot, but told me to write the judge with my request as well as what my plans were for the trip.”

After that, the only thing to do was wait. The wait, however, wasn’t long. C-Murder contacted Webb in late September 2007 telling him that the visit had been approved. “Though I had gone through all of that to try and make it happen, I was a little surprised that it actually did happen,” Cyrus said to me. At times I believe he feigns modesty so not to appear cocky or over-confident. With the C-Murder project, though, I do believe he was genuinely surprised at what his brand had accomplished.

Now that the trip was a go, Webb went about making the schedule for his special guest. “One thing I don’t think people know is that Conversations Book Club is truly like no other book club out there,” he tells me before going forward. “Conversations doesn’t charge any membership fees or require anything financial from its guests. I absorb all costs when they happen, and since it is a co-ed group of people from all over, there is no board or staff to take care of logistics. All of that goes through me.” And no matter how tiresome that sounds, I don’t think that Cyrus would have had it any other way.

On Thursday, October 10, 2007, C-Murder and Cyrus Webb met in person for the first time. The next couple of days, Webb guided the recording artist/author through over a dozen events and in the process over 200 books were sold, including at a special visit at Hinds Community College in Utica, MS. The weekend was like nothing Webb had experienced before. At each stop there was a media frenzy, including coverage by Fox News, the Associated Press, Times Picayune, Clarion Ledger, The Mississippi Link, Jackson Advocate, NBC affiliate WLBT Channel 3, ABC’s affiliate WAPT Channel 16 and others. Because he was under a gag order, Miller was unable to do interviews. Webb spoke on his behalf and on the behalf of the visit. He was also allowed to be the first person in five years to do a television interview with Miller which was taped for Conversations.

“The press coverage was incredible, but at the end of the day what stood out to me the most was how so many people gave Miller a second look and were willing to give his book a chance. I shared with them how the book had affected me after I had originally wrote it off, and people were willing to trust me.”

At the end of the visit there was some talk about what Miller was accused of and if it was appropriate for Webb to not only be associating himself with the embattled artist/author but bring him into schools as well. One thing that was discovered—something that Webb had not publicly discussed—was the letter he had written to the judge to ask for the visit. The Times Picayune broke that aspect of the story, and some in Mississippi thought that only added to the view of Webb’s thinking he could just present a reasonable argument, smile and do whatever he wanted. “That was a chance we all took,” Webb says, “but it was a chance that I was willing to take, and I don’t in any way regret it.”

That chance for the most part seemed to have paid off. The visit led to Webb forming the C. U. T. Society, with C.U.T. standing for Conversations Urban Teen Society with books geared at the Hip Hop generation. The first book it read and discussed? Death Around The Corner.

The relationship between Webb and Miller grew in 2008 when a chapter of Conversations Book Club was started in New Orleans, LA. In January 2008, Death Around The Corner was the first book the group discussed, and the meeting was covered by MTV News, Times Picayune, Get The Daily Online News and even The Chicago Tribune. At that first meeting there were over 40 who attended, all but five were young men.

The two then arranged a series of discussions called “Tru Conversations” online where they would take callers from across the country about Death Around The Corner and C-Murder’s message for the youth.

The last public event that the two did together was in May 2008 with Webb’s Hip Hop and Books project which allowed recording artists to come together and promote reading among their fans. Through Miller, Webb also gained a sense of street credibility that he has used in order to continue his project geared toward the urban community.

“I owe my success in that area to C-Murder and those who allowed me into their inner circles to help tell their story,” says Webb. If not for the backing of individuals like C-Murder it would have been nearly impossible for him to penetrate the urban community--especially the Hip Hop generation--with his mission of encouraging reading. A similar relationship was formed in 2008 with rapper/author Jacki-O who had Cyrus coordinate the tour for her debut novel Grown & Gangsta (published by C-Murder's TRU Publishing).

After Hip Hop and Books ended for the year, Webb used his newfound relationship with the urban community to host quarterly discussions based on issues in books they could relate too. He hosted panels featuring community leaders, those in the hip hop community and even ministers. They were free to the public and individuals of all ages and races attended. One of the last discussions was even covered by reporter Chris Joyner for USA Today.

By the end of the summer in 2008, Webb was ready to get back to what had begun Conversations in the first place: radio. But times had changed quickly. With the national attention he had garnered since taking off 2007 to focus on his book clubs, being on one radio station was not going to be enough. Webb also knew that what he had done to encourage reading and promote authors was preparing to be taken to the next level as well.

Little did he realize, though, that having a routine dinner at Cici’s Pizza in Brandon, MS in October 2008 would end up taking his life and his literary clout to a level far beyond his wildest dreams.

NOTE: On Monday, July 6, 2009 we will conclude our three-part series with what Cyrus A. Webb is doing now and where Conversations is headed in the future.


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