For all the street bluster
that marked the Supreme Team’s reign in southeast Queens—the souped-up
Mercedes armed with gun turrets and an oil slick, the matching jackets emblazoned
with the crew’s logo, the packaging locations crowded with dozens of baggers
who were forced to work in the nude so as not to walk off with any drugs—Kenneth
“Supreme” McGriff left the streets with barely a whimper in 1987.
Mike McGuinness of Queens
Narcotics simply rolled up on ’Preme at the corner of Foch Boulevard and
Gabreaux Street in South Jamaica and arrested him. ’Preme didn’t
put up much of a fight in court either: He admitted to being the “organizer,
supervisor, and manager” of the Supreme Team, and in 1989 he was given
a relatively light twelve-year sentence on a continuing criminal enterprise
moment in the spotlight since his conviction came when he showed up at the 1993
trial of nephew Gerald “Prince” Miller on narcotics, murder, and
racketeering charges sporting black wraparound sunglasses and flanked by a pair
of imposing bodyguards.
So when ’Preme returned
home to southeast Queens in 1995 after serving eight years of a twelve-year
sentence, he set out to connect to those who did not directly experience his
heyday and therefore mythologized him as a kind of omnipotent hustler—the
wannabe Gs of hip-hop.
Thanks to wild stories about
the crack era passed down from older siblings as well as an adolescence spent
consuming tabloid headlines about the Supreme Team and the Nichols organization,
young rappers and hip-hop executives like the Lorenzo brothers were enthralled
by ’Preme. The ascendance of ex-street guys like Suge Knight and Shakur’s
partnering with real hustlers like Rosemond and Agnant also played a big part
in the lionization of the likes of ’Preme.
The reality of ’Preme’s
post–Supreme Team life was much more mundane than his hip-hop fans imagined;
he passed his time in prison by immersing himself in the books of Donald Goines,
the exhustler from Detroit who managed to crank out sixteen books with titles
like Daddy Cool, Street Players, and Inner City Hoodlum before he was murdered
works from the Goines canon were Black Gangster, which told the story of a young
hustler named Prince who rose from the streets of Detroit in the early seventies
to become a crime kingpin, and Crime Partners, about a pair of stick-up kids
named Billy and Jackie who turn to a savvy hustler named Kenyatta to elevate
their status on the streets.
’Preme dreamed of
turning Goines’s novels—which were so popular in the federal prison
system that illiterate inmates were buying the books and learning to read as
they went along—into big-screen gangster epics like The Godfather. Since
hip-hop in the post-Chronic era mimicked the ghetto realist qualities of Goines’s
novels, ’Preme believed that there could be a substantial mainstream audience
for a Goines movie, especially if platinum-selling rappers could be convinced
to contribute to the soundtracks.
’Preme was stuck in
a halfway house in Queens dreaming about making it in Hollywood, but he was
not disheartened by his fall from grace: There were hustles to be had, and perhaps
this time they might even be legitimate. While ’Preme dreamed of bringing
the Detroit of Donald Goines’s imagination to the big screen, Irv Lorenzo
was trying to capture crack-era southeast Queens.
Though he was in his teens
during his neighborhood’s hustling heyday and was therefore far too young
to have known ’Preme or Fat Cat, Irv and the acts he managed were deeply
nostalgic for the era. On Cash Money Click’s “Get Tha Fortune,”
Ja Rule boasted that he was “representin’ Hollis Ave. and 205th,”
while Irv insisted on featuring southeast Queens’ eighties hustling landmarks
in Mic Geronimo’s videos. “For Mic Geronimo’s ‘Shit’s
Real,’ we rode through the 40 Projects, Baisley, and Hollis Avenue,”
Irv explains. “We were representin’ all of Jamaica.”
Irv devised a similar video
treatment for Cash Money Click’s single “Get Tha Fortune,”
except this time he decided to focus the action on a single section of southeast
Queens: ’Preme’s old territory on Guy Brewer Boulevard.
During the shooting of “Get
Tha Fortune,” Irv was shocked when a friend on the set of the video told
him that none other than ’Preme himself was standing outside a nearby
out on the block and then BJ, who is a good friend of ours, says, ‘’Preme
is here, he wants to meet you,’ ” remembers Chris Lorenzo. Irv,
a backstreet boy who longed for the street cred of a hustler like ’Preme
(or even his own brother), readily agreed to an introduction with the South
Jamaica hustling icon.
His initial impression of
’Preme, however, was not quite what he’d imagined. “My first
response to seeing ’Preme was shock,” Irv explains. “This
was the notorious ’Preme? This guy was like five-foot-two, this little
guy, this little green-eyed motherfucker. So my first response was, ‘Wow,
this is the guy that everybody’s talkin’ about?’ ”
Though their mutual friend
BJ made the introduction, the more street-savvy Chris Lorenzo was surprised
that his brother had agreed to meet with ’Preme in the first place. To
southeast Queens natives the Lorenzos’ Hollis home is considered Northside
while ’Preme’s South Jamaica territory is the rival Southside.
Though these areas are so
close geographically that they’re almost indistinguishable, each has its
own specific hustling history (Northside is known for freelancers, Southside
for organized crews) and street guys from opposite sides of the neighborhood
would often test each others’ mettle.
When Chris Lorenzo was an
adolescent, he would take a bus home from school that stopped at a Jamaica terminal;
as soon as he stepped off the bus he would be set upon by angry Southside hustlers.
Chris was ambushed so often that he wore a backpack to school so he could have
his hands free to fight them.
Coming from this background,
Irv’s embrace of ’Preme on the set of “Get Tha Fortune”
was a street faux pas akin to a Blood cozying up to a Crip. “I get a call
from my brother and he’s like, ‘Yo, I just met Supreme,’ ”
Chris remembers, “and I’m like, ‘Supreme Supreme?’ And
he says, ‘Yeah, Supreme.’ And I’m like, ‘Nigga, you
good? You OK?’ Hollis and Southside don’t get along. I’m about
ready to go and see if we got a fight. But he was like, ‘No, it’s
all good, we finishing the video.’ ”
Irv had made a major miscalculation
by befriending ’Preme on Guy Brewer Boulevard that day, though he clearly
didn’t see it that way at the time. To Irv, it was the rare opportunity
to meet a southeast Queens street legend. To ’Preme, the encounter offered
something much more concrete: a sympathetic (and well-connected) ear for his
“He seen me shooting
the video, and he said, ‘Hey, I got this movie idea,’ ” Irv
remembers. “He had a dream about doing movies. He wanted to do something
with Donald Goines because when he was locked up Goines was his favorite novelist.
He felt that Goines movies was gonna be big with the urban world.”
Irv wanted to help ’Preme
out but he admitted that he could be of little help as he was just beginning
to make headway into the music business. Irv says that he told ’Preme
that he didn’t shoot music videos but that he had a close friend—well-known
music video director Hype Williams—whom he would happy to introduce him
The chance meeting with
Irv was a small, yet important step in the former Supreme Team CEO’s quest
to bring Goines to the big screen; he’d made his first real connection
in the music business and, with hip-hop straining for street cred, more like
Irv were sure to follow.