With the national spotlight recently put on heroin kingpin Frank Lucas through motion picture and television shows now dedicated to chronicling the lives of some of the most notorious gangsters, the streets now have an audience. You can thank Troy Reed for that.
As the founder and owner of Street Stars, Troy Reed revolutionized the urban documentary genre with his films documenting the lives of legendary street figures whose stories never made it past the hood. Back when VHS was still popping, his first title Game Over would cover the infamous rise and tragic fall of 80s Harlem hustlers AZ, Rich Porter and Alpo. Game Over was so powerful, Dame Dash decided to take the story to the big screen with Paid In Full.
His next release The Larry Davis Story, was an in depth account of Davis dealings with the law and his infamous shootout with police that lead to a seventeen day manhunt; this was long before B.E.T. even knew what an American Gangster was.
Since then, Reed would go on to cover the lives of Nicky Barnes associate Guy Fisher, DC cocaine king Rayful Edmonds, and others. Now with ten plus years in the game and a distribution deal with Warner Brothers, Troy is more than a guy with a camera. He is a brand unto himself.
AllHipHop.com: How did Street Stars come about?
Troy Reed: Street Stars is an urban documentary DVD series that I started fifteen years ago. I documented the street; people who I called back then street stars. They werent famous in Hollywood but were famous in the urban communities across the country. It made me get a camera and start videotaping these guys and start highlighting their stories. It turned into a phenomenon where now you have movies and shows on these guys. To me these guys who I was focusing on where the closest thing to reality.
AllHipHop.com: Did you have a film background or did you grab a camera and run with the concept?
Troy Reed: When I first started doing these documentaries, I originally had a magazine. But Don Diva and F.E.D.S. came out with the idea so it was kind of like cool; let me take a different route. So thats when I ended up picking up a camera. They had just put out these smaller cameras instead of using these big broadcast cameras that the television networks used.
At the time Azie [Faison] wanted to get his story done and go in depth. He had did it in a magazine but it wasnt as impactful. I came up with the idea of putting it together where people could visually see it because people never saw him. So when we started doing it we started gathering old video tapes and news footage of when he got shot. Without even us knowing it lead us into the documentary film business.
AllHipHop.com: Your first title Game Over which covered the infamous AZ, Rich Porter and Alpo story is considered a classic. How did it come about?
Troy Reed: AZ wrote the script for the Paid In Full movie; it was originally called Trapped. At that time I just came up with the idea for Street Stars. Everyone I wanted to get for the first tape was in jail. So my boy put me in contact with AZ. Thats how we connected. AZ was impressed with it and was like here. He just gave me a handful of pictures. So we just stayed in contact. We both were on the spiritual tip and we really connected.
He wasnt comfortable at first with getting on that camera. But we connected on a spiritual tip and he got more comfortable. I started interviewing him and he would come through every day because he had something new he wanted to talk about.
One of the most touching times where AZ gave it all to me and I never put it in the Game Over. He had called me and said You know how I knew Po killed Rich? When he didnt say lets go get the guns and find the n****s who did this to Rich. The information on Game Over was so raw and powerful when it came out, it was like having pure coke on the street and I was the only one with it.
AllHipHop.com: Your next effort was The Larry Davis Story. Larry has a very interesting story to say the least. Was it surreal to sit with him?
Troy Reed: I didnt chase that story. AG from Showbiz and AG put me on to him. After I started to do my history on him then I was like wow. I remember when the Larry Davis situation on TV then it was gone. Larry was a unique character because he had this boldness about him; like he could do whatever he wanted to do. There was a fearlessness about him.
AllHipHop.com: Your Scarface For Life film went a little left compared to your trademark story style.
Troy Reed: Like you said it was a change from my traditional style. A former correction officer Lorenzo Steele presented me with these pictures of guys that got cut in Rikers Island and we decided we were going to do something. I started filming dudes from my area that were in jail and putting that work in and thats why that came out like that.
The kid Lorenzo had a story about him going to Africa and Rikers Island was like slavery and I totally understood what he meant because I went to Africa for eight weeks. Thats why there was a message in there. I didnt want it to be all stab cut stab cut.
AllHipHop.com: The Karlton Hines Story took me by surprise; he didnt really have an infamous story like your other subjects.
Troy Reed: Yeah Karlton was a star, but his run was short. He was a star, not necessarily in the streets but in ball. He was already a star to the people that knew him in the Bronx and some people in Harlem. This guy Carey Moore, the guy I did the film with, he had already done his homework on him and I just came in and translated into a film. It was such a compelling story that I dont even watch the documentaries like that but thats a documentary I can pop in and be like dam because Karlton Hines had a hell of a story.
AllHipHop.com: The Alpo Story in my opinion was your best work.
Troy Reed: My man PJ and Ollie connected me to Po and from there I got an opportunity to go see the kid. Putting that together was interesting because I spent so much time going to see dudes in the penitentiary then now you going to see a dude who is in a [witness protection] program.
One thing I will say I respect about the kid Po, the first thing he said in our conversation was Yo dont be afraid to ask me whatever you want to know, Im going to tell you. I had people tell me Why was I doing a story on that rat n***a man, but when I do a story I dont have an opinion or take sides. Im a filmmaker.
AllHipHop.com: Was it surreal to sit right in front of the most notorious hustlers from our age?
Troy Reed: What people dont know he was so regular; its like you on the block talking to your man. When he came to the room there was no gangster image. He didnt come out with a mean mug. He came out smiling and laughing. Another thing he spoke so highly of other people.
We got to talking about AZ and even Rich and he spoke as a fan of theirs. Yo Rich showed me to stop wearing all the bulky jewelry and wear the fly pinky rings and the small diamond chains. Rich was the first one who took me to the diamond district. He spoke about AZ like AZ bought me my first car and showed me how to feed people, he gave me my shot. He spent half of the conversation talking about other people.
AllHipHop.com: All your efforts seem to pay off as you landed a distribution deal with Warner Brothers.
Troy Reed: The deal with Warner was deserved; when I say deserving I mean I put so much work in and struggled for so long. You got to remember I created a whole Urban DVD market. I created an entire brand. At the time these DVD manufacturers were only dealing with Hollywood film companies.
When I went to get them pressed they told me we only do a minimum of twenty five thousand copies and I told them cool Im going to need twenty five thousand. They never saw that. I walked in the door and opened up a new line of business for manufacturers to press stuff for a small guy from the street.
Then there was the marketing, to take all your money and wrap your car and sit there for seven years and drive state to state and sell stuff hand to hand. It was like I just got to get to this destination and when I get to this destination I dont care if I make money out of it or I dont. I just have to show these people what Im doing.
The first actual DVD we did got bootlegged. When I first did Game Over there wasnt an independent film market. It was only Menace To Society and Boyz N Da Hood. The only DVDs out there at the time were And 1 tapes.
AllHipHop.com: What can we expect in the future from Street Stars?
Troy Reed: Its not my title but I did the interview for The Son Of Preacher DVD thats coming out. Also I got The Alpo Story 2, the one on one interview dropping next year. But the DVD outlet is dead now. There are no more mom and pop stores. So Im kind of waiting for the change to take place; Im kind of looking for to see whats next thing.
I cant really do what other people are doing because there is no creativity. Im spoiled to the fact of coming up with something new and innovative and I like that feel better. I really just want to take my time and be patient. Im just patiently waiting to catch the next thing right around the corner that nobody has seen so Ill be the first innovator to make it happen.
"Scarface For Life"
"The Alpo Story"
"The Rayful Edmonds Story Part 2"