Queens Reigns Supreme: Part 2, Chapter 7

Meanwhile, in Hollis, another

storied street guy—Curtis Scoon—was seeking to trade his hustling

past for a hip-hop future. Though he’d helped friend Freddie “Nickels”

Moore recuperate from the Quad shooting at Moore’s 201st Street home in

Hollis, Scoon still figured the music business to be safer than the streets.

Indeed, by 1996 Scoon left

the streets behind entirely, a decision that infuriated Hollis hustlers, especially

because he had moved back to the neighborhood. Through an introduction made

by Irv Lorenzo, Scoon pitched Roc-A-Fella Records about promoting Jay-Z’s

single “Dead Presidents II.”

Scoon was excited

about working with Jay-Z, as he’d taken the rapper’s boasts on songs

like “Dead Presidents II” about moving “crazy weight”

literally. But Scoon soon found that Jay-Z shared a background similar to Tupac

Shakur’s: He’d made his name not on the streets but as a hype man

for Jaz-O. Scoon went ahead with his “Dead Presidents II” promotion

anyway but discovered that radio programmers preferred to play the single’s

B-side, a duet with rapper Foxy Brown called “Ain’t No N***a.”

It was a disheartening moment for Scoon, but he wasn’t giving up on hip-hop

just yet.

Thanks to a chance meeting

with Jam Master Jay on 203rd Street and Hollis Avenue, when Scoon loaned the

RUN-DMC DJ $2,500 in exchange for an introduction to some of his music business

connections, Scoon had a meeting with Def Jam’s Lyor Cohen.

Scoon and Freddie “Nickels”

Moore had put together a tribute album for southeast Queens hip-hop legend and

Tupac Shakur associate Randy “Stretch” Walker, who had been killed

near his Queens Village home on November 30, 1995—one year to the day

after the Quad shooting—and the pair were hoping that Def Jam would distribute

the project.

When Scoon arrived at Def

Jam’s Varick Street offices in September 1996 carrying commitment letters

from the likes of Puffy Combs and Digital Underground frontman (and Shakur’s

former mentor) Shock G, he found that Cohen was much more interested in waxing

philosophical about hip-hop’s East-West rivalry than distributing the

tribute album. “Lyor was talking a lot of bulls**t about the tragedy of

Tupac’s death and how hip-hop violence was escalating,” Scoon says.

“He wasn’t telling me anything I wanted to hear.”

It was obvious to Scoon

that Jay’s stature in the music business had been greatly diminished with

the fall of RUN-DMC. “Nobody gave a f**k about Jay,” Scoon says.

“And when I realized that, I asked for the money back.” A few months

after the meeting with Cohen, Scoon confronted Jay in a park beside PS 192 in

Hollis, pulling him aside from a group of people he was talking to and asking

for his money. Scoon says that Jay confessed that he didn’t have the money

but would pay him as soon as he did.

Two months later, Scoon

says, the $2,500 was paid back in full.

Jay’s connection to

Cohen may not have resulted in a deal for Scoon’s “Stretch”

Walker tribute album, but the former Hollis hustler was being eagerly courted

by Irv Lorenzo. Irv made his move one night in early 1997 when Scoon was partying

at the cavernous Manhattan nightclub Tunnel. “He compared me to Suge Knight,”

Scoon remembers. “He told me that he’d sought out a relationship

with Suge and really admired what Suge was doing.” Scoon was mystified

by Irv’s admiration for Knight; by then the Death Row empire was crumbling.

After “gangsta rap”

hearings in Congress and relentless criticism from anti–gangsta rap crusader

C. Delores Tucker, Time-Warner sold its interest in Interscope back to the company

in 1995; Death Row’s biggest star, Shakur, signed to the label only after

Knight bailed him out of prison after the rape charge, had been murdered and

the East Coast was eclipsing the West thanks to the rise of Jay-Z and Biggie.

Worst of all, Knight’s

thuggish behavior frightened off music industry executives from dealing with

former hustlers. “He messed it up for guys like me,” says Jimmy

“Henchmen” Rosemond. “He made people feel like you can’t

let guys who have this kind of background into the business anymore.”

Irv, however, still saw Suge as an iconic hip-hop persona and believed that

Scoon had the potential to be the same.

Irv’s obsession

with his own street cred was particularly strange at a time when his career

was vaulting him beyond hustler acquaintances like ’Preme. The work he’d

put in with Cash Money Click and on Jay-Z’s instant classic Reasonable

Doubt caught the attention of Lyor Cohen, who hired him as an A&R executive

at Def Jam. “It was a unique time because Lyor had nothing,” Irv

says. “They were gonna fire Lyor and take Def Jam from him. So basically

the guy just ran with me.”

Def Jam had slumped

in the post-Chronic era, signing third-tier talent like a female MC

named Boss (whose 1992 debut Born Gangstaz was a rote take on the West Coast

sound) and Los Angeles–based one-hit wonders like Domino. “We were

pretty cold,” Russell Simmons admits. “We didn’t have no hit

records.” Simmons, however, rejects the notion that the label’s

dry spell was caused by the West Coast’s dominance of the hip-hop scene

in the early nineties. “Trends are bulls**t,” Simmons says. “We

just didn’t make good records. We weren’t very focused.”

Whatever the reason, the

label’s lack of focus began affecting the bottom line: Where once Def

Jam was making massive hit records with modest budgets now it was a multimillion-dollar

money pit with major label backing. In 1994, Sony decided that it had had enough:

The company sold half its stake in Def Jam to PolyGram for $33 million.

Cohen believed that Irv

Lorenzo could reverse Def Jam’s flagging fortunes, but Irv says that most

of his colleagues were not convinced by his signings. DMX was Lorenzo’s

most controversial new Def Jam artist: His dark, paranoid lyrics and growling

voice were starkly at odds with hip-hop’s optimistic mid-nineties moment

epitomized by Puffy’s smiling, pop-friendly stable of rappers.

“The people who worked

there used to clown with me and say, ‘Who’s gonna buy his record?

Dogs?” Irv remembers. “ ‘What the f**k is this bulls**t? He’s

barking. No one wants to hear that s**t.’ But I thought they were clowns

up there. I was like, ‘Y’all don’t know what’s going

on the streets.’ ” Fortunately for Irv and for Def Jam itself Cohen

ignored the chorus of Lorenzo critics at the label, many of whom called him

“Snotty Gotti.” “Lyor gave me carte blanche,” Lorenzo

explains. “He let me do what I wanted to do.”

While Irv Lorenzo was solidifying

his status at Def Jam, Curtis Jackson was just beginning to make his presence

felt in the southeast Queens hip-hop scene. Jackson was born on July 6, 1976,

in South Jamaica, to an absent father he never knew and a teenage, drug-addicted

mother, Sabrina. Most of Jackson’s family was immersed in the drug trade—as

an adolescent, he was sent on drug runs to pick up cocaine for partying relatives—but

his mother was a hardcore hustler who worked for an organization in Fat Cat’s

territory on Sutphin Boulevard and 150th Street.

“Sabrina was slinging

rocks out on our block for a dealer named Hilda,” remembers former Nichols

organization lieutenant Joseph “Bobo” Rogers. “It was a small

operation, full of crackheads, but it didn’t bother us any.”

Sabrina may not have rankled

Fat Cat’s crew but out on the block she exposed herself to the very worst

the streets had to offer. Unsurprisingly, after years of hustling on one of

southeast Queens’ most dangerous blocks without protection from a major

player like Fat Cat, Sabrina was murdered. Someone—the assailant has still

not been caught—poisoned Sabrina and then left the gas on in her home,

killing her.Click

to purchase Queens Reigns Supreme : Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip

Hop Hustler.