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Stack Bundles: Portrait of an Artist

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“The stars almost in line, my turn soon come/ I’m hot now, but I’ll be burnin’ when June come” - Stack Bundles, “Bundles Hot Now (Remix)” On June 11, 2007, Hip-Hop lost another one.Far Rockaway, Queens’ Stack Bundles, was shot to death in an apparent set-up after returning home from a long, celebratory evening at Manhattan’s club Stereo.  Gunfire struck him once in his head and again in the neck as he tried to enter his home. With Stack, the dreams of thousands also died. Just as he appeared to be reaching for stardom, the 24-year-old rapper, born Rayquon Elliott, was brought down in the same neighborhood that he represented so devotedly. Joe Budden, DJ Clue, Ransom, Max B, Stack’s own Riot Squad crew and others spill their thoughts and emotions about their friend’s life, career, and premature passing.  Growing up in Redfern projects, a teenage Rayquon made the transition from breakdancing to rapping and joined forces with childhood friend Bynoe to gain local notoriety through talent show appearances and mixtapes.  In 2001, Stack and Bynoe teamed up with a handful of other talented MCs from each hood in Far Rockaway to form the Starting 5.  The brainchild of Redfern’s Cau2G$, the object of “The S5” was for one group member to blow and kick in the door for all the rest like Nelly did for the St. Lunatics. After the Starting 5 lost a few members to incarceration and internal strife, Stack Bundles, Bynoe, and Cau2g$ teamed up with DJ Pudgee P to form the Riot Squad.  While all three rappers were extremely talented, Stacks had a prolific output and work ethic that impressed his partners. “This n***a, he was just so ahead of his time. It was amazing to watch this motherf**ker do this s**t,” recalls Bynoe.  “When he first started, his man used to write his rhymes down while he spit it because Stack never used paper, he was just ill with it. We all started with the same amount of songs and he started killing us all- working, working, working- he’s doing three joints a day.” Soon enough, Stack’s local grind paid off when his music caught the attention of Desert Storm’s DJ Clue, one of the biggest DJ’s in the rap game.  “Stack was a straight up star, he knew how to put his gear together, how to present himself, he had that swag on his records, the stuff he talked about was hot and legitimate, so all together he had the total package of becoming a star,” says Clue. The DJ eventually signed Stack after hearing one of his Riot Squad mixtapes, and his star started to truly shine.  Due to the Desert Storm affiliation, Stack was able to collaborate with artists such as New Jersey’s Ransom, formerly of the duo A-Team, who became one of his closest friends.  When asked what he admired in Bundles as a rapper, Ransom responds “He was relentless, I think that’s the word for him.  Kind of like me, he was just relentless, he ain’t stop.”  Not everyone was equally impressed by Stack Bundles’ ability from the jump off.   When Joe Budden was first introduced to Stack in the studio through Skane and DJ Clue, he felt inspired to mentor him in his craft.   “He was just like really, really, really wack to me when I first met him, but he had potential,” Budden says candidly.  “And being that we worked so closely together, I tried to just help him anyway that I could.  And he was such a fast learner, he just got better so quickly and started getting really good and really good and really good.”  After Stacks’ Desert Storm deal expired, DJ Clue continued to shop him around to labels, but none of the majors were interested. “Stack Bundles is one of the hottest underrated MCs that never had a real record deal,” Clue says.  Bundles’ frustration with the industry execs was evident in his lyrics: “It’s getting worse ’cause anxiety taking its toll, and n***as you call superstars almost gold/ As soon as we walk in the office, let the music talk for us/ N***as opinions torturous, they got nothing to offer us.” With a sense of entitlement that saturated his lyrics, Stacks’ hunger rivaled that of other up-and-coming rappers, and eventually caught the attention of Diplomats Capo and Warner A&R Executive Jim Jones.  After running into Bundles and working on a few mixtape songs, Jones invited him to become part of the new incarnation of the Dipset Byrd Gang, along with Mel Matrix and presently incarcerated member Max B.  Backed by a deal on Asylum Records, Byrd Gang was introduced on the Jim Jones edition of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series, The 7 Day Theory, and the Jim Jones Presents: M.O.B. (Members of Byrdgang) mixtape. Seemingly overnight, Byrdgang made a dramatic impact on the mixtape circuit with their complimentary swaggers, undeniable musical chemistry, and superstar personas.  The only non-Harlemite in the group, Stack contributed a forceful delivery on many a standout verse.Max B recalls the talent of Stack. “The kid was versatile; he possessed a number of flows. He could do hooks, he was quick to work, he was like a perfectionist, he a lyricist, he could talk that s**t.”Stack’s association with The Diplomats’ Capo helped him garner widespread recognition beyond New York City, and Riot Squad was recognizable thanks to the rapper’s yelling “Squad Up!” on numerous songs. The good times truly began to unfurl.Bynoe remembers one of Stack’s revelatory moments during the Street Dreams tour with Young Jeezy, Lil’ Wayne, Cash Money’s Baby, Fat Joe and Rich Boy. “When we used to do ‘Weatherman’ and [throw large amounts of money into the crowd] every night.  Jim would bring us out and we would start popping bottles on stage and start ‘raining,’ and Stack would just jump on the speaker and start doing his hook. We came from the bottom, and to see 15,000 people go crazy over a n***a, we had dreamed of this s**t. There was a kid in Minnesota who had an ‘I Love Stack’ poster up, and that really touched him.”Stack Bundles’ fans admired his rap skills and persona, but everyone who knew Stack on a personal basis was charmed by his abundant charisma.  “Stack’s character is what set him apart, he was a movie,” Budden says making a reference to one of Stack’s My Life Is Like A Movie mixtape.  “From the car he was driving, a black BMW with a red bottom, to the way he dressed, I mean this n***a man… he was a trip.  I would definitely say that his character is what set him apart from everybody else- from me, from Fab, from any other rapper that was trying to do the same thing as him.  To know him is to love him. I mean to hear him you loved him, but to actually meet him was a totally different understanding from that.” For his longtime friend Cau2g$, “The craziest memory is Stack coming to pick you up early in the morning to go the studio, and he’d have on some nice shades and a glow around him that make you be like ‘Who do you think you are?’ I just really loved seeing that.” Questions loom in the days after the June 11 murder. Stack Bundles knew he was a star, but will he ever receive the recognition he seemed to deserve? “He won’t,” Joe Buddens states with a somber tone.  “Very sad, very unfortunate, but no, he won’t.  It’s the same case as Big L – a very talented MC, very capable, very worthy, just unable to get the recognition that he had the potential to get.”  Echoing Buddens’ opinion, Max B says “It’s just a shame a lot of big MCs don’t be recognizing the real nice dudes. It’s the real nice dudes that’s not in the position, that still in the hood, that ain’t got the money. God got a plan for everybody, we all got our time to shine, it’s just unfortunate my boy had to shine this way.”While there isn’t a confirmation, insiders say that the anticipated Stack Bundles album will be released posthumously, as the rapper recorded plenty of material before he was killed. “I rap now dog, I’m trying to put my past away” – Stack Bundles, “Get Your Mind Right”Should Stack Bundles – a ghetto star – have left the hood after achieving his level of rap renown? “I can’t say that, I can’t say it was a mistake,” Joe Budden answers after a long pause.  N***as tried to kill me; I wasn’t living in the hood.”Joe analyzes further. “We all come from the hood, we all love the hood, but for those of us who see the bigger picture and have dreams and aspirations, you have to know when to do it and when not to do it.  He wasn’t old enough to be able to separate the two.” In a recent interview with VIBE, Jim Jones said he had “penthouses and everything for Stack,” but “Far Rockaway was his own little world.”Also, many die-hard Riot Squad fans ponder whether the crew can survive the loss of their most recognizable face?DJ Pudgee P, the group’s spin-doctor, recognizes how difficult the task will be without Stack. “I’m gonna do what I can to keep the group together, and whatever happens, happens.” “The first day I got the call and I walked to his building, it dawned on me that after we buried our brother, we have a legacy,” Cau2g$ says optimistically.   We’re going to make sure that the Riot Squad is going to go harder now.  That’s why I feel that Stack was a sacrifice, because it brought more people to us.  They took away Far Rockaway’s future, you’ll never get another Stack Bundles, but you will always have the Riot Squad.”Will the hate, murder and infighting ever cease?Although many people from “Far Rock” appreciated Bundles, growing fame caused some to loathe him, seemingly from in the shadows. “A lot of people loved the guy, but a lot of people just hated him because they didn’t know him,” Bynoe says.  “People hate what they can’t understand. He was the type of n***a, the only rap n***a that will drive his car to the wildest hoods, get out of the f**kin’ car, sit on the God damn corner, and listen to the whole hood rap.  He’d be like f**k it, man, they love me.”Ransom, who was there at Stack’s brief ascension, offers a depressing, but well-placed question none can answer.   “[We’re] all in the streets, well not all of us, but [Stack wasn’t] rich, so who’s next?  Like wow, n***as literally taking this s**t overboard,” he says, flustered and confounded. “That’s my question.  Who’s next?”

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