Brandon resident Cyrus Webb has a knack for botching public events. In 2006, Webbpresident of Conversations Book Club and the Rankin County Arts Alliancepromised many Jackson metro residents an elegant event presenting Mississippi's Best Awards. Webb told attendeeswho paid $50 per ticketthat the event would include dinner, appearances from notable celebrities such as Morgan Freeman and a fashion event. What he delivered was an evening of disappointment with no celebrities, no food and paltry awards, which Webb printed himself on his personal computer.
Two years later, Webb is promoting a new project: "The Write Stuff: America's First Literary Reality Show."
Webb claims that the show will arrange for 14 candidates to compete for a one-book deal with Hollygrove Publishing, as well as 10 CD copies of the winner's book, "a detailed marketing plan written specifically for the winner by a (as yet unspecified) New York Times bestselling author," a Dell laptop, and a print and online marketing campaign complete with promotional materials provided by The Risque Cafe.
Webb also promises that the winner will be featured in a host of print and online publications including Conversations Magazine, Crunk Magazine, Hype Magazine and Poetic Monthly.
Webb and talent agent Glenn Toby claim on the reality show's Web site that the program will air "primarily on select CW networks (as well as some MY Networks and ABC affiliates [sic]) throughout the country, reaching over 20 million households weekly!"
CW's corporate headquarters in Burbank, Calif., however, claim no connection with the show, with CW spokesman Paul McGuire saying CW "has nothing at all to do with this contest."
Webb told the Jackson Free Press that the show is a "paid program" that will not be on all CW networks.
"It's kind of like an infomercial," Webb said. "When I was on WAPT-16, I would buy a block of time, and you have 28 minutes and 30 seconds. That's basically how it works, only instead of selling a blender, it will actually be a show. The hours kind of vary by city. In some cities, it will air Sunday mornings. In Jackson, it's 6:30 to 7 a.m. on Saturday."
Webb emphasized that "it's not a show that's going to be on every channel at CW, just on the markets listed on the site."
But the markets listed on the Web site are shrinking even as Webb touts them. Last week, the site listed CW's Jackson affiliate CW 34 WRBJ as a market, although CW 34 Program Manager Keith Smith said the broadcasting company had never agreed to air it.
"Apparently what happened was Webb was trying to negotiate buying some time from us, but it never happened. We're not going to be running his show," Smith said. "I talked to our corporate person who handles that, and she said there were some problems with what they were trying to do, so we're not running that."
Smith would not elaborate on the problems.
The Web site removed CW 34 last week, but still lists CW 69 in Atlanta among the many markets. CW 69 Vice President Tom Canedo claims the show is not scheduled.
"We were only aware of the show because the network brought it to our attention, and I made sure we didn't have it scheduled. If it were to come to our attention, we probably wouldn't air it because we believe it's produced without our approval," Canedo said. "In fact, we've actually contacted the network in an attempt to take the CW association off its flyers and what-not."
When the JFP showed Canedo the "Write Stuff" Web site still listing CW 69 on Feb. 19, he said, "(Webb) needs to get that off of there."
Webb countered claims of his shrinking market with arguments that the show will also be featured on YouTube.
Former JFP Managing Editor Brian Johnson addressed Webb's ability to mismanage events in 2006, pointing out that "nearly two months after the Mississippi's Best Awards turned into a debacle, with promised entertainment and food undelivered, event organizer Cyrus Webb has yet to repay debts related to the event and has offered shifting accounts of finances."
Marilyn Moering, the executive director of the non-profit Building Bridges Inc., said the news hadn't changed in more than two years. Moering was on the Mississippi Best Awards planning committee and had loaned Webb $3,800 hours before the event in hopes that Webb would finally rent the facility housing it. (Webb had failed to rent the TelCom Center until the last hour).
Webb had assured Moeringwho had not been planning to finance the rentalthat he would soon repay her.
"I've had to pray a lot," Moering told the JFP. "Some of the things he did were done on purpose. Everything didn't hit the fan until we got there that night."
Webb confirmed that he had not paid Moering her money: "I definitely want to pay her back, but at the time I don't have the money, and I'm not bringing in a lot of money from these other projects," he said, and denied that the Mississippi Best event was a scam.
"People perceive that I make everything about me, but it's not about me. I'm not sitting on all this money," he said. "It was something that financially was trouble."
Webb promised a dinner that Saturday. He had already canceled a fashion event the day beforewithout telling either the planning committee or the publicand he kept his poker face intact and unreadable as late as Friday afternoon.
On Saturday, Webb still hadn't booked a dining room or hired caterers, eradicating any chance of food at the event, even though he had published menus promising smoked salmon and apricot pork loin, among other dishes. The awards themselves were paltry, with Webb printing out certificates on his personal computer with frames bought from Office Depot.
Promised entertainers such as Freeman, Mysterious from the TV show "Making the Band," Terrence J and Rosci, who host BET's hit show "106 & Park," and a contributor to OutKast's single "Morris Brown," never made it because Webb had neglected to book them.
An event that Webb initially claimed to have generated $6,080 from 175 tickets in November became, in December, a 109-ticket event generating $3,805with $5,534 in expenses. (Webb claimed $2,000 of the original $6,080 as income on receipts to the planning committee.)
"I'm trying to find him and get my hands on him actually, but he doesn't make himself available," said hip-hop artist and developer Brad "Kamikaze" Franklin, speaking on the event that also featured him. "You can't catch him. You can't find him. He's some type of slippery little worm. He owes several people money and continues to invest under the auspices of poetry or hip-hop events. The Rankin County Arts Alliance is the vehicle for him to do his thing these days, but nothing he's ever done was legit."
Rankin County validates Webb in more than one way. The Rankin-Ledger, an enterprise owned by statewide newspaper The Clarion-Ledger, continues to feature Webb as a guest columnist, publishing columns as late as Jan. 17, despite the fact that The Clarion-Ledger wrote on the Mississippi's Best fiasco in 2006.
It was not the only financially troubled event in which Webb participated.
Webb also organized a 2005 talent contest featuring local rap artist Lil' Shane, who supposedly won $2,000. Webb promised Shane that he would get his winnings in about a week, along with a meeting with Jackson Mayor Frank Melton. All Lil' Shane got, however, was another computer printout from Webb's overworked home printer of an award certificate in a cheap frame.
"It cost us about $30 to register in the contest," said Lil' Shane's father Jeff Roberts. "There were maybe 90 kids involved, and my son was the top winner. Cyrus had little books that he gave us to go out and get sponsors to buy. And we went out and sold $600 worth of sponsorships. The sponsors were supposed to get one of those books, and they never got that. Then he sold tickets for $7. He was supposed to feed everybody, all those kids, but there wasn't any food. There wasn't anything. There was even this doctor who stood up and gave $400$100 for each winner. Cyrus didn't give us any of that."
Webb's version claims the doctorwhom neither Roberts nor Webb could namedonated $200, and that the donor had intended to donate the money "toward the contest."
"He did not specify it to go to the winners. It was supposed to go toward the project," Webb said. "Look, the Lil' Shane project, that hurt me, too, because there was no money made, and a lot of that, honestly, came from poor planning. It was not a fraudulent thing. As far as the $600 in sponsor money, that's not true. I can understand why he's upset with the way it turned out, but the money they made was not anywhere near what they're saying it was."
Webb said local stations would charge $600 a month, about $150 per week, to air "The Write Stuff," prior to Smith shutting down the Jackson show. Webb admitted, however, that "there's no way I could afford that on my own," and has enlisted outside help to pay for it.
"The executive producer helping with Jackson is out of Atlanta. His name is Glenn Toby. He's helping offset the cost, and is helping with the production," Webb said.
The appearance of Toby presents a new facet to the issue, according to Wendy Day, founder of Rap Coalition, a non-profit created to protect artists from exploitation in the music industry.
Day says she helped pull Kamikaze and his former partner, Jackson rapper David Banner, out of "a predatory contract" with Toby almost 10 years ago.
"I remember that contract," Day said. "(Toby) took 50 percent of their income as a production company, another 20 percent as a manager, and 100 percent of the publishing, which is the actual ownership of the music, so every time the music was used in a soundtrack or something he got paid, not them. Now you see why I remember this so well, even though it was 10 years ago."
There are four ways to get out of a rotten contract: appeal to the contractor's sense of righteousness by showing them the shadiness of the deal and hope they feel guilty enough to surrender the contract; find a breach in the contract and take it to courtthough most music artists can't afford that option; wait for the contract to expire in about seven years (about twice the career lifespan of most rappers); or buy yourself out of the contract. Toby apparently wasn't open to the first option, according to Day.
"I recall we paid him $20,000. He was probably afraid I was going to make more trouble than it was worth."
Kamikaze claims he and Banner lost thousands of dollars under Toby's guidance, and Day has little regard for the man: "I've never heard anything good about him," she said. "My personal experience with him regarding (Kamikaze and Banner) is that he's somebody extremely shady and unconscionable who I wouldn't do business with."
Day also says Toby is not a major figure in the entertainment industry: "His name just doesn't come up very much. He's sort of a non-entity," she said. "And when his name has come up it's always been negativebut here's what weird to me: When his name comes up it always keeps coming up out of Jackson, Miss. Why does he always keep going to the same spot to rape people?"
Toby could not be reached for comment.
Katy, Texas, contestant Geremy Howard, who is confirmed for Season 1 of "Write Stuff" initially said the show's promoters had instructed contestants to refer all media calls to Webb, but then called back after Webb granted him permission to talk.
Howard offered scant details about the show or what it required of him.
"We know it starts in June. We don't know anything beyond that. They haven't given us much. I saw a newspaper article. They asked me to write about myself, and I read it in front of a panel of judges, and they made a decision based upon my essay and my personality," he said. "I have no idea what I'm getting into, but I'm excited."
Cyrus owes me money too and like Kamikaze said, you can't find him. I hope Cyrus can get himself together because you can't continue to do these things and expect not to get caught.