"Manhattan keeps on making it, Brooklyn keeps on taking it, Bronx keeps creating it, and Queens keeps on faking it " - KRS-One, "The Bridge is Over."
You can make up your own mind about KRS' statement. While directed at MC Shan's Juice Crew, it implicated the entire borough. Back then, Hip-Hop was a little more "real" than it is now. America had yet to zero in on the nascent culture as a mainstream art form and the actual records were its main form of communication, via late-night and weekend mix shows rather than TV and the Internet.
Hip-Hop, and Queens in particular, was experiencing a golden age in the music from 1986-1989. The Q-Boro housed superstar rappers like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Young M.C. (yes, Young M.C.), Kool G. Rap and future stars like Nas, Mobb Deep, Ja Rule and Irv Gotti. That same period was a time of chaos in the streets of Queens, where drug lords like Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, Pappy Mason and Lorenzo "Fat Cat" Nichols earned millions of dollars by controlling the borough's illegal drug trade through extreme terror, sheer brutality and limitless violence.
Many young black men and women survived the concrete jungles of the 1980's and early 1990's, but even when you reject that lifestyle, it's nearly impossible to escape. Queens was very notable,particularly because of the brazen murder of rookie officer Edward Byrne, an NYPD officer who was shot to death by associates of Pappy Mason.
Byrne's murder set in motion a chain of events, which eventually led to the passage of The National Crime Bill in 1989.
So imagine this: You made it through and have left those days behind you, but one day, your life changes after being accused of murder. And not just any murder, one of the most grizzly, unsolved murders in the history of the music business. Only it's not a screenplay, it's a true story. A story of reaching a dream against all odds. The story of Curtis Scoon.
AllHipHop.com: The thing people remember you for the most at the moment surrounds your implication in the murder of Jam Master Jay. What are your thoughts on the case and where it's at now?
Scoon: I don't think I am a suspect, but I was never really considered a suspect. I was once labeled a person of interest wanted for questioning. When presented with the opportunity to question me, the NYPD declined. A lot of people read into that and labeled me a suspect. I was never to my knowledge "officially" labeled a suspect, although behind the scenes that may have been the case.
AllHipHop.com: Well the police never implicated you but your name was all over the media. You have a memorable last name and from my vantage point, for a long time you and Tinard Washington [serving 17 years for robbery and admitted to being present during JMJ's murder] were the only names floated. That's not good company to be in.
Scoon: Here's the thing, It's correct that my name was perhaps the preeminent name when Jay first died. Most people in the entertainment business will recall there were all sorts of rumors and scandals at the time of Jay's death. I remember Ed Lover accusing Murder Inc. of complicity in Jay's death and there were a lot of other things going on. And I don't believe for a minute that Murder Inc. had anything to do with it. But I want to clarify: Everybody in Queens got blamed for Jam Master Jay's death. His death set in motion a lot of things that effected a lot of people. My name was in the media, but Supreme was picked up because of rumors associated with Jay's death, The Inc. was subsequently raided, and The Inc. has essentially been decimated, because of rumors and people talking recklessly about Jay's death.
"Everybody in Queens got blamed for Jam Master Jay's death... The Inc. was subsequently raided, and The Inc. has essentially been decimated, because of rumors and people talking recklessly about Jay's death."
Tah-Tah (Editors note: Tyran "Tah-Tah" Moore, a Queens street figure who has a child with rapper Sandy "Pepa" Denton of Salt-N-Pepa) was targeted by the police and he's been in prison for the last five years because of pressure about the Jam Master Jay death. Although my name was in the papers, Queens, at least South East Queens where I come from, caught a lot of heat behind Jay's death. There's a misconception that the police didn't do anything. That's easy to say for the people who didn't feel the pressure and the heat for that.
AllHipHop.com: Jay's death is going to be featured on an upcoming episode of America's Most Wanted. Like Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, Jay's murder has become an unsolved legend. Do you think the upcoming episode of America's Most Wanted will help solve Jay's case at some point?
Scoon: Well first I want to say that my heart goes out to Jay's mother and his children. I hope the show gives them some sort of closure. Unlike Tupac and Biggie, Jay's murder is a very solvable murder. He was murdered in a studio, one block from the 103rd precinct, in the company of people he loved and trusted. To me, the investigation should have always started at the crime scene. Not in rumors of drug deals gone bad 10 years earlier, or scandals of infidelities and things of that nature.
There was a definite concerted attempt to shift focus from where it needed to be. Hopefully America's Most Wanted will play a role in putting this thing back on the right track. If you Google my name, it's just a bunch of stuff about being accused of murder and that's not a good thing. It follows me for the rest of my life. I am not a rapper or a celebrity, but my life counts too. I need closure myself.
AllHipHop.com: Well then why did you decline to be featured on America's Most Wanted?
Scoon: I spoke with a producer from America's Most Wanted and I didn't see a need to be on their program. I respect their show, but for me to be on their program does nothing for me. I am trying to distance myself from the death of Jay.
AllHipHop.com: Well how did you even get this reputation and how are you recovering from the incident?
Scoon: I live my life by this. A blessing and a curse are one and the same, the difference being in the application. So no matter what life sends my way, I am going to find a silver lining and make it work to my advantage. My knees aren't going to bend or buckle. My reputation goes back over two decades. I have to admit my role in that.
It has a lot to do with the company I have kept in the past. I have been associated and affiliated with people who maybe aren't that good. But that was then and this is now. Even around the time that Jay was murdered, I had been distancing myself from those types of people and that lifestyle in particular. It's like the old adage goes: If you lay down with dogs, you come up with fleas. As a young man, I just didn't pay attention to who I kept in my circle.
AllHipHop.com: It's interesting you say the company that you keep. Because six years later, most of the theories now center around the people he kept in his circle. Whether or not they were complicit, I don't know. I do know Jay's close associate Tinard has admitted to having played a role in Jay's murder . Now he could be lying, but he's known for putting in work on the street.
Scoon: The last thing I want to do is make an accusation. But I will say this. His entire circleI won't mention anyone by namethey are all pretty much cut from the same cloth. They were not the kind of people that I would consort with. They weren't killers or anything like that. Whatever they are, you can put "petty" in front of it. Jay was a different kind of guy. These are people he knew his entire life, and maybe he didn't know how to cut the strings.
Whether they hurt him physically or not, they were all living off that man, every last one of them. If you were from Hollis and you wanted to gain access to the music business, Jay was the one you would approach. He got people jobs, he got people record deals. He was the benevolent one out of the group. I know why people hung around him, they were waiting for him to do something for them.
AllHipHop.com: And someone repaid him by killing him. That's crazy. What have you been involved in since Jam Master Jay's death?
Scoon: Well first, I had written two screenplays before this. In 2002, I was approached by Fat Cat's family after my first screenplay was optioned, but nothing ever happened of it. Then I was sidetracked by the Jam Master Jay implication. But in a strange twist, the attention from Jay's death expedited the process. My story was featured in Playboy and that led to the book Queens Reigns Supreme.
I worked very closely with author Ethan Brown. And now I am producing on television. I was a consultant on the Fat Cat Nichols episode season one of American Gangster, I actually co-produced the Supreme episode of American Gangster in season two and this season I'm the lead producer on The Shower Posse episode that's going to be featured in the upcoming episode of American Gangster.
AllHipHop.com: So twenty years later, with Fat Cat in particular, he's almost 50 years old and has spent most of his life in prison and will never, ever be a free man. No normal person would aspire to go on that path. But rappers seem infatuated with the gangster lifestyle. You said you were trying to shed that image, but aren't those American Gangster's helping to perpetuate this?
Scoon: Well the difference between what I do and what rappers do is this. In rap, the bad guys always run off with saddle bags of money, cases of champagne and beautiful women. That's not the reality, that's entertainment. I show the tragedy of what that lifestyle is. When you watch American Gangster on BET, you don't see a lot of lavish lifestyle or French Riviera trips. You see a lot of struggle. A lot of wasted talent, a lot of misery. Hip-Hop has redefined the term "gangster." Now gangster means "cool." Your rims are "gangster," your watch is "gangster." I always knew "gangster" to mean being able to impose your will, through the use or threat of violence. Gangsterism is violence at the core. And no matter what, it always ends up the same.
AllHipHop.com: Death or jail.
Scoon: That's right. I show it for what it is, and it's ugly and it's violent. And no one was as violent as The Shower Posse (Ed's Note: Shower Posse hailed from Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston, Jamaica and along with the Spangler Posse, controlled Jamaica's drug trade before expanding into the United States.)
AllHipHop.com: Right, you said you were featuring The Shower Posse on the next season of American Gangster. Just saying that name makes people worry. Is their rep how and why you selected them the focus of the episode?
Scoon: Man they were the most gangster outfit in the true sense of the word. Being a gangster isn't about popping bottles and driving Bentley's. It's about using violence to impose your will. The Shower Posse was a group out of Jamaica, West Indies, who through political connections, rose to power. They were headed by Jim Brown in Jamaica and Vivian Blake in America.
They've been accused of over 1400 murders, while making millions of dollars shipping narcotics into the country and sending money and guns out. It's important so people can see the raw brutality of it. Maybe if people see what means to be a gangster, maybe kids won't aspire to be one.
AllHipHop.com: Now that you have these credits what's next?
Scoon: I've received many serious inquires about the Fat Cat script. It's titled 10-13 which is NYPD code for "officer down." When I first started writing the script, I wrote it with Ice Cube in mind to play Fat Cat, because he looks like Cat. But when I discussed that with Cat, he told me immediately, that his preference was for 50 Cent to play him. And his reasoning for this is because 50 Cent is from South Jamaica, just like Cat. Cat also knew 50's mother Sabrina. And more importantly, he remembers 50 as a little boy.
That role would be much more closer to who 50 Cent really is, much more than anyone suspects. From his standpoint, 50 has the proper pedigree to play the part. From my standpoint, 50 would bring a continuity to the story that no one else could do. I am currently in talks with a number of parties and I fully expect this movie to get green lighted soon. People who have a problem with me are going to have to get over it. I am here to stay. I am not going away and I am getting stronger every minute.
American Gangster's Shower Posse special airs November 13.