Bloody chronicle of the ’80s-era cocaine hustlers of southeast Queens and their influence on the rap music industry.
New York magazine music editor Brown recounts the triumphs and travails of Queens, New York, drug hustlers Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and Thomas “Tony Montana” Mickens, among others, and the appropriation of their mystique and violent approach to doing business by the hip-hop artists who came of age in their shadow. Brown does a thorough job delineating the savage milieu of the crack-devastated communities and their code of pitiless, often pointless violence, drawing on copious wiretaps and courtroom transcripts, search-warrant affidavits and interviews with those involved to shed new light on the murders of Tupac Shakur and RUN-DMC’s Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, as well as the shooting of superstar rapper 50 Cent, who emerges from the narrative as a singularly effective maneuverer and survivor. From the numbing iterations of brutal murders and assaults (southeast Queens would send Sam Peckinpah running to his mommy) arise a few compelling voices: Entrepreneur Russell Simmons speaks eloquently on the insanity and tragic waste of the lifestyle, while embattled Murder Inc. record exec Irving “Irv Gotti” Lorenzo’s self-serving monologues have the piquant volubility of a Tarantino monologue. The book may have benefited from a larger historical perspective—there is no mention of the mafia’s analogous involvement in the music industry of the ’50s and ’60s, which seems an odd omission—and the endless intramural beefs and reprisals, recounted in Brown’s dry, journalistic style, become a bit claustrophobic.
Imperfectly executed secret history of the hustlers and blood feuds that continue to inform gangster rap.