Urban Legends is an AllHipHop.com original written series based on miraculous individual turnarounds in the urban entertainment world. Our features take a look at influential members in the Hip-Hop music, movie and television communities and we examine how they were able to find a better path despite their rough upbringing in the streets of urban America.
Below in our premiere story, we speak with Jimmy Da Saint about how he was able to overcome a life of crime to become one of the best-selling Black book authors in our era creating the Black Scarface series and others. Having been incarcerated with the original Rick Ross during his federal prison stint, Jimmy developed an array of skills and published over 30 novels while he was incarcerated in prison. Read more and find out how Jimmy Da Saint put it all together from his own label that included members of State Property (Oschino and Sparks) to his highly successful booking and entertainment agency that he still runs today along with the Philly Hip-Hop Awards. A kid from West-Philly did that, and now he's a book writer and a successful entrepreneur.
Let us highlight those that have persevered and turned over a new leaf after dealing with personal struggles. People that were caught up in the worlds of drugs and violent crimes but found a better way. They chose to do things the right way and these individuals are being rewarded. Enjoy, hope you learn something.
AllHipHop: If you could talk to me about your upbringing, where you're from in Philly, how you were raised. Just kind of want to know a little bit about that.
Jimmy Da Saint: Well I was raised in West Philadelphia, and I grew up - I wouldn't say poor, see I didn't know I was poor because my mom made sure I had everything. So even though I grew up in the projects in West Philadelphia, I always had Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter and all that kind of stuff. My mom made sure that me and my brothers and sisters had that. When I was younger, I was really into sports heavy, I was a really good baseball player. I played baseball in high school, junior high school and all that kind of stuff, and then I don't know what happened. When I got out of high school I just wanted fast money, I was just influenced by neighborhood drug dealers and guys who were getting fast money. That influenced me and I eventually wound up getting in that same profession - selling drugs and just being the whole street thing.
AllHipHop: So when you were selling drugs, were you selling crack? Cocaine? Were you selling weed? What were you doing?
Jimmy Da Saint: Both. Crack and cocaine, and I sold a little weed here and there. I was really wasn't too big on the weed, but I had it from time to time - I could get it. I would get it to my workers that I would sell it-- I didn't actually sell it, myself. I was in a position I had other people selling it for me.
AllHipHop: Right. OK, go on.
Jimmy Da Saint: That was it. And I just got heavy into the whole drug thing and wound up, you know - while I was in the whole drug business, I was also in the music business. I was always involved with music because I used to be a rapper,
that happened to just be involved with drugs. So I'd be selling drugs to other drug dealers that sold drugs for me and I'd be in the studio talkin sh*t and having fun living the life.
I'd be in the studio the majority of the day because I had a studio I owned-- me and a friend of mine, they were making music and that's why I wound up starting a group called ICH, Inner City Hustlers. Two of the group members of ICH Oschino & Sparks, who I managed, I wound up getting them a deal-- a situation wi Rock-a-fella by Jay-Z. He wound up signing two of my artists that were in my group. I also managed a producer named Black Key at the time, and he wound up signing with Ruff Ryders. He wound up doing a DMX album that was the Great Depression.
AllHipHop: Yeah, I know that.
Jimmy Da Saint: Yeah, I've known Black Key and worked with E-Ness since he was 13 - he used to be Taz, like the Tasmanian Devil. When I went to prison and came home from prison, he was E-Ness, so that was something new. It's like when I knew Cassidy, he was Lil' B. I came home from prison, he's Cassidy.
AllHipHop: Yeah, that's crazy.
Jimmy Da Saint: Yeah, so I was involved heavily in the music back then, mostly because I wound up getting a record deal, but I continued to sell drugs and I wound up getting in bad. I was in my barbershop, and a FBI informant came in to buy a kilo of cocaine off me. I sold him a kilo of cocaine, and I wound up getting indited. A few days later, the FBI came and kicked my door in. The person I sold the cocaine to was an informant and I didn't know that he was working for the FBI.
AllHipHop: That's crazy. You pretty much answered my second question "ICH," so you covered that but can you elaborate a bit more on "ICH"
Jimmy Da Saint: Yeah ICH was pretty big and it's crazy because in '97 I was actually shot in an attempted kidnapping. I was in a wheelchair for a while, I was on a dialysis machine because my kidneys blew out, but I survived that and I wound up going right back into the whole drug thing again and I wound up getting indited and getting ten years in a federal prison.
But ICH was always a part of the mix. ICH was a very, very, very popular group in Philadelphia. When I came home from federal prison in 2010 I started ICH all over again, a new ICH with newer and younger members but I just stopped ICH, maybe, eight months ago. I just stopped it and started focusing on one or two artists and not the whole group thing, eight artists at a time.
So I made them popular all over again. I got XXL featured, if you go to Vibe.com or whatever, you'll see it pops up. 'Cause everybody was talking about them, we did a show with Wu-Tang and everybody-- DMX, JadaKiss and we were the opening acts for all of them. So when I came home it was easy for me to get five young, good city rappers, put them all together and I did the ICH all over again. People remember the original ICH because of Oschino and Sparks. They know Oschino and Sparks is from the group ICH and Jay-Z signed them and made a group called State Property and put those two members in State Property.
AllHipHop: Yeah. So with these books and stuff like that, what was the spark that just, kind of made you pick up the pen one day and that kept you at it, you know what I mean? What drove you?
Jimmy Da Saint: You know, I just wanted to do something. I remember the first day I went to prison-- I actually started writing the first day I went to prison, day one. Like, it didn't take me a month, two months to get in there. I remember walking in the yard and I was like, "Damn, I got ten years," and I just wanted to write about it. It's just like I wanted to write and I remember they gave us some pens and pads to do something in our spare time-- I began to write and I started writing and writing and then I was like, alright, start focusing on my first a book I wrote, called 'Decisions,' but I never put it out.
The first book I ever wrote, I let a few people read it and they liked it, then I started continuing to write, write, write and next thing you know I had four or five novels written and I got them typed and everything and I sent it out to a friend of mine, Vicky Stringer, who owns the largest Black independent book company in the world. I sent it out to her because I was reading her book, and on the inside of her book, she said, "Write me."
I wrote her and told her I was a book author and she wrote me back and said, "Send me the book." I sent it to her, she sent me a number back and said, "Call me as soon as possible." I called her, she said, "You got you a two-book deal. This book is amazing. I love it and I sent it to my publisher and they want to publish your book."
And it happened just like that. I was like, "Really?" And they gave me advance money, and it was just a book deal-- just like a record deal, but it was a book deal. I was like, "Wow." I was just so inspired, I continued to keep writing and writing and writing and I wound up writing thirty novels while I was incarcerated. I ghost-wrote a few books for other people and I got seventeen novels out right now, and a few are best-sellers.
I was like, "OK, I think I found my niche." I got a story to tell, I got shot, I grew up in the projects, I'm from the streets of Philly, I was a real drug dealer, I got indited by the FBI and the DEA, you now what I'm saying? All my friends-- half of my friends been murdered, I was in the rap game. I was with Jay-Z, with Dame Das. This is my life-- this has been my life. Drugs and rap music has always been my life, so I could talk about this all day.
AllHipHop: That's crazy man. I guess what's amazing is that, you know, people don't usually equate author, or novelist with drug dealer, street-shooting rapper - most people in society don't associate the things at all. They wouldn't think that somebody who did that, could do what you did with these books. What do you say to those people and why do you think you were able to do that?
Jimmy Da Saint: It's my life its real. Rick Ross was one of my closest friends in prison. I walked up to him and I said, "You're known for being a drug dealer," and I said, "I can help change that." And he laughed and said, "Well what can you do?" I said to him, "I'll write a book. I'm a book author-- put best-selling book author next to your name, and we can get rid of that."
He liked that and he said, "Wow." And I did it. And I wound up writing a number one-selling book, Black Scarface. That's why it was co-written by Rick Ross. I wanted to do something. I wanted to show that I'm really one of y'all, like, really. Not a fake one of y'all, I'm really one of y'all. I'm from the streets. No father, single mother, projects, crack cocaine, weed cocaine, murders, prison, FBI, rap music-- I am that person all the way. I don't have to tell you about nobody else life, I can tell you about my life.
AllHipHop: What did you and Rick Ross talk about
Jimmy Da Saint: You know, Rick Ross told me something very important. I'll never forget it, he was like,, "Jim, you need to learn the art of networking." He said, "You so talented because you could write raps, you could write songs, you could write books."
I was the commissioner of the basketball league in jail, I gave all those little concerts and poetry shows in jail. I was influential in prison and he was like, "But because you are so talented, these talents are going to go to your head and stuff because everybody depends on you," He said, "You learn to be more humble and learn how to network more," he said, "You'll be a very powerful individual if you can do that."
He's the one who told me, "Just like this person over here might not be nobody, and just like this person over here is Jay-Z's assistant or whatever, whatever, whatever, don't break your neck for that assistant because everybody is the same and everybody is important." He used to tell me this all the time. And I took that, I came home with that mentality-- everyone counts. Everybody. Everyone, like this interview with you, or like an interview with Rock Lord Radio, underground radio with three viewers everyday, that's important to me also. If I can get my point across to those three individuals.
AllHipHop: Can you talk to me about your new movie with Rick Ross?
My new movie project is called FACE, based off my bestselling novel Black Scarface. It was co written by the real Rick Ross and Rick will be a producer on it. My partners on the project are Vance & Khan from Ruffhouse Records and William Alexander from Crevice Ent. in L.A. so I'm really looking forward to the possibilities on this one.
AllHipHop: Lastly, can you discuss your booking agency in Philly?
My company is called DaSaint Ent. I manage artists, write books, produce movies, music and concerts with the local Live Nation. I have a back to school show I did with Mone' Davis and several up and coming talents. I have the Philly Hip Hop awards and several other concerts I work on throughout the year. I'm staying busy!
For more information on Jimmy Da Saint, check out his Amazon website where he's sold hundreds of thousands of books. Thank you Jimmy for telling your story.