By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
The underground hip-hop community was stunned and saddened by the sudden death of Cornelius "Katt" Davis, one-half of the popular local rap duo Bits N Pieces. By now, everyone knows the strange and upsetting facts of the case: Katt, who was 24 years old, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer on Friday, September 13. According to reports, he had no driver's license but borrowed his brother (and fellow MC) Jia Davis' car, then got into three separate accidents in the Central West End. After the last accident, the car caught fire, and Katt struggled with bystanders who tried to pull him from the burning vehicle. Shortly thereafter, he tried to force his way into a passing car, whereupon the police officer saw him and intervened. The two fought -- the detective was badly beaten and later hospitalized for blunt-trauma injuries -- but the struggle eventually culminated in the officer's shooting Katt once in the stomach. The injury proved fatal. His mother, Tammy Davis, told KTVI (Channel 2) news reporters that he'd "just snapped"; Jia told the Post-Dispatch that Katt's behavior had changed in the days leading up to the fatal altercation and said that he considered the death a suicide.
On the surface, the facts may seem clear enough, but the story will never make sense to those who knew Katt and his music. Although the mainstream news media didn't bother to emphasize the distinction, Katt was a conscious rapper, not a thug. Check out the two Bits N Pieces CDs, Hip-Hop (2000) and Poverty's Cry (2002), both available through www.f5records.com, and you'll find thoughtful, provocative rhymes about social injustice, family solidarity and the struggle to stay positive in a harsh, violent world. Gangsta rap it's definitely not.
Though his death remains a mystery, his musical legacy will live on -- not only in aluminum and vinyl but in the collective memory of the local underground hip-hop scene.
Local DJ April Park (a.k.a. Agile 1), who wrote about Bits N Pieces for the RFT [October 18, 2000], was both a friend and a fan. "On a small scale, I have always been the most solid believer in Katt and Jia's music because of the sheer sincerity and honesty and energy behind it," she tells Radar Station by e-mail. "Tragically, it seems like most people today don't see the value in reality and love, and maybe it was that he just couldn't bear that anymore. I'm not going to pretend that I understand the pain he was going through or the pain that his family is going through now, but I can say this as one of the countless who were profoundly and unspeakably impacted by Katt's soul."
Bits N Pieces' producer, Rob Fulstone (a.k.a. DJ Crucial), says, "I can't express the loss of Katt. I listen to his songs and think of all the good times to keep his spirit alive. He made everyone he met feel special."
Lyfestile, of local rap crew Altered St8s of Consciousness, had grown close to Katt after meeting him three years ago at an open mic. "When I first met him," he recalls, "we were battling, just going back and forth, and every time I thought I had a heads-up on him, he just kept going and going. I was thinking, 'Man, this dude will not shut the hell up!' After that point, we definitely became friends. For years, we did a lot of shows together. Katt always gave it his all. He definitely taught us some things about showmanship, and he was really confident onstage. Bits N Pieces were heads and shoulders above most cats as far as live shows, and a lot of that was Katt, his whole energy. But offstage he was calm, real nice. He didn't come off as cocky or anything like that. He was always really supportive of everyone else."
It only makes sense to let Katt have the last word -- he never seemed to be at a loss for them, spitting them with machine-gun speed and surgical precision -- so, instead of the customary "Rest in Peace," we'll close with some lyrics from "Philosophy," one of the best tracks on Poverty's Cry:
I seen life and I opened my eyes/24 years later, and I'm broken inside/... Who the fuck am I?/ They tell me I'm supposed to trust the sky/Was given a name, injected all this shit in my brain/I'm still remaining to go through a roller-coaster of change/Friends evaporate, school don't mean shit after you graduate/Family members die at a rapid rate/Leaving you agitated, saturated in thoughts/Aggravated, all is lost, in one way or another/We all flawed, thinking we better/But I've been thinking we better get better/...This is a letter to all living/Giving my all written, regardless of color, gender, position and life religion.