Inside the diner of southwest Atlanta's Southern Friends Carwash, Kawan "KP" Prather takes a stab at his eggs. He chews diligently before being interrupted by an auntie-like waitress who demands to know why he hasn't eaten any of his hash browns. As the waitress sashays toward the kitchen, he grins and gazes out of the diner's large window, his eyes landing on his shiny new black Mercedes being hand-washed by the busy staff.
That juxtaposition embodies the man KP has become. Just as he can anonymously chill in a down-home diner while having his luxury car cleaned outside, his ability to keep his ear to the street has distinguished Prather as an Atlanta music industry veteran — even if he thinks such labels are "weird."
"The music business in Atlanta is only, what, 15 or 16 years old?" says Prather, who serves as the Senior Vice President of A&R at Def Jam and the founder of his own Ghet-O-Vision Entertainment imprint. "So we're still teenagers."
He was a teenager when he formed Parental Advisory alongside rappers Mello and Reese. They became the first Dungeon Family group to get signed to a label (LaFace Records). KP, who served as the group's DJ — a trade he picked up when he was in the seventh grade — calls PA the guinea pig group for what Dungeon Family would create in the mid-'90s with the success of OutKast and Goodie Mob. Even as DF members started splintering off into individual directions, Prather was just beginning to show off his penchant for discovering and honing new talent.
In the years since, the former LaFace Records A&R launched the career of a young T.I., signed John Legend to Sony Music and oversaw projects for the likes of Usher, TLC, Pink and OutKast. He's one of the few Atlanta execs who witnessed and survived the changing landscape within Atlanta's urban music business following the departure of LaFace Records and founder L.A. Reid in 2000.
"Based on L.A. and [his ex-wife] Pebbles and the design of how they put everybody together, you would get the best of all the worlds," says Prather, who was mentored by Reid. "If you think about [TLC's] CrazySexyCool — which was produced by L.A., Babyface, Organized [Noize], Jermaine [Dupri] and Dallas Austin — they were competing."
But that business model of friendly competition left with Reid, according to Prather.
"I might be the last person to talk to Dallas, Jermaine and other camps," he says. "But at the same time, that doesn't mean that they talk to me like they talked to L.A."
Inevitable changes aside, KP is focused on maintaining the qualities that have made him a reluctant vet of the business.
"If I don't like it, I don't spend time on it; that frees up a lot of my day," says KP, who spent much of 2010 focused on his artist Yelawolf, who saw his first major label release, Trunk Muzik: 0-60 (Interscope), last November after years spent grinding in Atlanta's underground hip-hop scene. "I don't in any way think that it begins or stops with me. I just know that I can fight for something if I love it."
As Prather rises from his booth inside the diner, the friendly waitress waves goodbye. Though she probably has no idea who he is or how he's impacted popular music, Prather knows his legacy is secure.
"I just want to be recognized and known for doing classic shit so that my son can take this name and have it mean something," he says. "My name is my son's name, so the shit can't be wack when he gets grown."
Looks like I will get a chance to listen in March:
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