From Langston Hughes to Nicky Barnes, from Damon Dash to the Diplomats, Harlem was once considered the epicenter of Black creative excellence and renaissance. Today, Harlem continues to evolve. Gentrification has brought more and more White families into the once all-Black enclave. The Harlem Children’s Zone has made the school system stronger positively impacting the future of its youngest residents.
The birthplace of Big L is also the home of the youthful A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks. As Hip-Hop artists continue to emerge from Uptown, so are authors. Writers from Harlem spin tales of the days of old. Recounting stories of growing up in the legendary shadow of Nicky Barnes, they tout that Harlem was and still is the home of the hustler.
In this special edition of Book Notes, AllHipHop.com highlights excerpts from two books by two Harlem-bred authors that tell two very different tales of one famed borough:
K’Wan Foye was born and raised in Harlem. The only child of a poet and a painter, Foye excelled in academics, but was easily distracted by the allure of the streets. His debut novel, Gangsta, is considered ground-breaking among urban lit enthusiasts and Foye, a “Godfather” in the street novel genre. Foye has a bibliography that reads like a rap star, he put on novels through Triple Crown Publishing, G-Unit Books, and is currently at home on the Cash Money Content imprint. An Essence best-selling author, Foye is nearing his 20th major book release with Animal, an intriguing story of love, lust, and murder.
Born in Harlem, Cavario H. also spent a large portion of his life in the Bronx, the heir apparent of a family business that included heroin dealing and murder for hire. From a young age, Cavario knew only the streets; they were so ingrained in his every thought and action, that he began hustling at the age of 11, and did so for over two decades. After finally resigning from street life, Cavario co-founded Don Diva magazine in 1999. Don Diva became a powerhouse in urban magazine sales by retelling the legendary stories of hustlers around the country, including The Chambers Brothers and BMF. In an amazing twist of fate, Cavario went from consorting with notorious criminals to telling their stories and helping them cement their place in history through his magazine and many TV appearances. In his autobiography, Raised by Wolves: Inside the Life & Mind of a Guerrilla Hustler, Cavario H. tells his own story - one so unbelievable it has to be true.
K’Wan, Animal, p. 121: Much had changed since last time he strolled the streets of Harlem. Where tenements and bodegas had once stood there were now high-rise buildings and fancy cafes. The changes to Harlem weren’t limited to the construction; the people had changed, too. The once-predominantly black neighborhoods were now occupied by different ethnic groups of people who had migrated uptown to get their pieces of what was now considered prime real estate. It was as if they were the natives and he was now the outsider.
Cavario, Raised by Wolves, p. 1: As a child, it seemed to me that Harlem was the center of the world. The dope diamond that had its points on Harlem’s west side at 116th Street and Manhattan Avenue, 116th Street and Lenox Avenue and 115th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues was known to be “prime real-estate” in the narcotics game. I grew up on 115th Street between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue and as a minor I mingled amongst addicts and dealers as millions were made and spent. This was the epicenter of the street life that popular culture emulates today.
K’Wan, Animal p. 112: With his father dead and his brother fighting his own demons, Shai became the boss by default and had to wear all the bullsh*t that came with a criminal enterprise. He just wanted to be a good man to his family and honor is father’s memory, but that was near impossible to do from the sidelines. Shai soon learned that the king had to not only speak, but be seen. The crown he had been cursed with proved heavier to wear than he ever imagined, and sometimes, he wondered how long he would be able to carry it.
Cavario, Raised by Wolves, p. 436 : It seems that in the first half of my life I’ve lost nearly every person that mattered to me due to the drug game or street life. Maybe they were drawn to the streets by the sense of power or the feeling of being in control of their own destinies that earning millions can bring on. Maybe the choices available to them were limited and mediocrity wasn’t an option in their minds, or maybe they just favored a quick run in the meadow over a long grind in the shadow.
On Street Life:
K’Wan, Animal p. 148: Animal stepped into his bathroom and flicked on the fluorescent light over the mirror. The reflection staring back at him was startling and frightening…Heavy bags hung under his eyes from sleepless nights, and the stress had stripped him of at least ten pounds. Between the drugs and the sleepless nights, Animal was putting a hell of a beating on his body, and it was starting to show in his appearance. Disgusted with the sight of himself, Animal put his fist through the bathroom mirror in an attempt to destroy the monster staring back at him.
Cavario, Raised by Wolves, p. 394: The boss was sitting on millions and millions of cash dollars and it was obvious to me that his only real reason for continued criminal enterprise was the game itself. He began to live for the thrill of manipulating men and their fates.
Animal and Raised by Wolves are both available online.
Connect with the authors on Twitter (@Cavario and @Kwan141).