Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Shyne, The Last Bad Boy
It had to be around 9:30 am. I was in the office extra early that morning, like around 8:30. I usually got in a little after 10, but I had some contract work I needed to squeeze out. The phones usually started ringing at 10 am and after 11 the rest of my day would be held hostage by back to back meetings that I had lined up, going 'til around 7pm. Focused in the early morning quiet, I was interrupted by my office phone ringing, the 1st call of the day clocking in at around 9:45. I picked it up and was introduced for the first time to Manny.
On the other end, Manny was fast talking, laid back, not frantic, but talking fast about this artist that I needed to hear. How he heard my name ring around from other Brooklyn cats that came through his barber shop which was located on Flatbush Avenue and Maple Street. How Don Pooh (who was Inga Marchand p/k/a Foxy Brown's Manager) had told him about some of the clients I repped and how some other heads present co-signed. How Clark Kent, also a patron to the shop, insisted that he call me in order to get their legal business proper and right. Fast talking about this kid named Shyne, who Manny wanted to manage, and how he was that next dude from Brooklyn to stand up and rep the borough thorough and how he wanted me to draft some papers on him a.s.a.p. Trying to get back to work, I told Manny I'd take a meeting with him later and what my fees would be for my efforts. Manny kept talking, wouldn't let me off phone. Said he had Shyne with him, up early and ready to take care of business, asked me if I wanted to hear him spit over the phone. Like I wanted to hear some dude rap over the phone at 9:45 in the morning when I was hard pressed to finish papers for a client that had paid me in full 3 weeks back. Manny was too good though, kept talking until Shyne did get on the phone and spit. Fire. I tell people this as I say it here, at the time, to me, Shyne sounded more like a younger version of the young Jay-Z then he did B.I.G., maybe it was because he'd heard how I had worked with Jay and Damon, or how his voice was coming out through the phone. But, the kid was dope. I squeezed Manny and Shyne in for a meeting that very same day.
When they came through, Manny was all movement and words. He was a regular Brooklyn dude who knew some key people in the industry but needed an insider's co-sign to fully get in the door. Shyne was going to be the artist that would enable him to move from being barber shop owner to respected exec in the game. Most engaging and charismatic, Manny spoke like he was destined to make money. Spoke like he knew about having had money too. Later on, I'd hear rumor's about how respected Manny really was in the streets, how he stayed knowing the right people from all walks of life and how tight his money game really was. Shyne, the rapper born Jamal Barrow was more laid back. Looking like the 20 year old kid that he was, he spoke on how he was born in Belize, how his estranged father was a politician, the Prime Minister there, and how he and his mom had moved to Brooklyn in his mid teens because in Belize, they were shunned and not welcome in sharing in the wealth that his father had access to. He also spoke about how in just a few years, he had developed a knack for hanging out with the wrong people. Had done some grimy shit that resulted in making his every day in Brooklyn a dangerous one. How he had picked up rapping and really discovered he had a passion and a skill for it. How Big died and he was more than ready to put BK on his back. He spoke that confident braggadocio talk that rappers talk, but he came off as being decent kid who had seen some rough times and was more than ready to make a change with his life and for the better. By this time, I had my law partner and our assistants in the office. I asked Shyne to rap some more and he did. At that point we all agreed that dude was talented and that there was a deal out there to be made.
Since Manny wanted me as his lawyer, I called Matt Middleton to let him know I was referring Shyne to him as a client. Matt was working as a D.A. in the NY District Attorney's office. A graduate of Howard Law School, Matt was good friends with a lot of people I knew and worked with in the industry. It was common knowledge that Matt would make that switch from DA to entertainment attorney soon. He was already moonlighting with a handful of his own clients and I felt Shyne would be a great add to his practice. We negotiated a management contract between Manny and Shyne. Manny paid me on time and in cash, which I had no problem with. I did have a problem having to meet him at his shop at night, in the basement, with dudes there helping to close shop as he counted through crisp paper bills. Manny was no doubt cool and on the up and up, but I still wasn't 100% comfortable with having to pick up cash in the basement of a barber shop on Flatbush Avenue and Maple street at 10pm at night from someone that I had recently met. I'd seen those scenes before in more than a couple of mob movies and wasn't even trying to remotely end up getting whacked.
A couple of months passed. Manny prepping Shyne in putting a demo together. Shyne and Matt and Manny taking meetings during Matt's lunch breaks from his day job. One day I happened to run into my boy Darrell. Darrell was an A&R at Elektra Records, a label that was part of the Atlantic Warner umbrella. Elektra was run by the legendary music exec Sylvia Rhone. I stopped by Darrell's office to see what he needed, what Elektra was looking for, any songs, producers, or better yet new recording artists. What I needed was to get an artist a deal, take home anywhere between $25,000 to 75,000 based on the type and size of the deal. Darrell wasn't looking to buy big, but he shared that he needed someone to ghostwrite some songs for their artist, MC Lyte. Elektra felt she had one last record in her with them and they were on the hunt for new material. I instantly thought of Shyne, how he was always writing new shit. By this time, Matt had left his old job and he, I and a couple of other attorneys were office mates in our own office located on 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Grand Central Station. After the meeting, I went to Matt's office, told him I needed to take his client Shyne to a meeting with Elektra and about the MC Lyte thing too. I called Manny and let him know I was trying to get Shyne work as a writer, get his name out there one way or another. The following day, it was just me and Shyne waiting in the lobby at Elektra, waiting for Darrell to call us into his office.
Shyne was more than ready. He pulled out a notebook with some material he had written for Lyte the night before. Rhyming from his book and from a female's perspective, Shyne had been diligent about his craft, professional about this opportunity and he killed it dead. Darrell was stunned, speechless and stammering about how dope Shyne was, how he so desperately needed his boss Sylvia to meet, see and hear Shyne, and as soon as possible. Elektra didn't have a strong Hip Hop roster while a couple of blocks away labels like Island Def Jam/ Universal and Bad Boy/ Arista were dominating the genre with artists like DMX, Jay-Z, Ja-Rule and others. Puffy himself had become a household name. Sylvia so badly wanted to talk shit to Def Jam, Universal and Bad Boy. Let the big boys know that she was to be respected as a serious contender in the game.
The following day Matt, Shyne and Manny met with Rhone. She was blown away by Shyne and was more than excited to sign him. It was the end of the year though, and the industry was winding down for the holidays. She had the lawyers from Elektra working on the contracts. Shyne would be signed to Elektra as their top rapper. They had even dropped MC Lyte from their roster in anticipation of Shyne coming onboard. Matt was ready for a big check and I was ready to get a piece of it as my referral fee.
A funny thing happened during the holidays. A lot of the same top execs liked to vacation at the swank island of Saint Barth's. It so happened that during this go round, Sylvia was hanging out with Chris Lighty who was then a big at Def Jam and Sean Combs. Story is as the weekend progressed, every time Sylvia saw either Puff and/or Chris, she'd taunt them with "Ya'll niggas ain't got shit on my next artist Shyne. You watch whose gonna be that top rapper next year." Especially when she had that liquor in her. So certain was she that Shyne was going to be signed, sealed and delivered by year's start, she felt free to talk shit. It didn't help that Clark had already co-signed Shyne to Puff, and hearing Sylvia's boasts only magnified his interest in the young Brooklyn rapper. What she didn't expect was once they were back in the privacy of their private lodgings, both Chris and Puff were heavy in research mode, calling every and anyone in New York City to find out if they knew anything else about this kid named Shyne that Sylvia wanted to sign and how soon they could set up a meeting with him. By the time she landed back in New York, Sylvia quickly and painfully realized that the decent deal she had placed on the table to lock Shyne down as an exclusive artist was now being flanked and dwarfed by both Def Jam and Bad Boy. Overnight Shyne and Manny were thrust smack dab in the eye of a biding war storm. Word spread like fire, Shyne was going to change the world. Execs from other lables tried to put a bid in. Shyne and Manny took all meetings. But it came down to Elektra, Def Jam and Bad Boy. Actually, once Def Jam and Bad Boy joined the party, Sylvia Rhone and Elektra became an after thought. There was no way in the world Elektra stood a chance once two of the biggest rap labels at the time put their offers in.
Funny how I find myself repeating this over and over again and at the risk of sounding like a fan, a Stan even, but fact of the matter was that no star shined brighter than Puff's at the time. No doubt his glow was hot when Christopher Wallace was alive, but once he got himself together over the tragic murder of his friend and marquee artist, Puff's heat intensified by the multiples. The Combs' name became hotter than the Bad Boy label, hotter than hip hop itself. Hollywood, pop culture media, and non-related business legends like Donald Trump wanted to be affiliated with Puff in order to further lend credibility to their own existence. I remember having a convo with Puff's trusty attorney Kenny Meiselas as he himself was bugging out at the meteoric rise of his hottest client. "Puff right now is hotter than the Beatles!" he claimed. Of course Kenny's remark was off, but during them days, not by much. Chris Lighty, Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles put their A game to task, shit Def Jam had indeed proven itself time and time again to be the Harvard University of rap, but Puff always had that way of getting in, in a way that no other label, no other music exec could ever match. A couple of meetings, some hang out time and it was a done deal. Shyne enlisted himself as a Bad Boy member for life. Puff did have to come out of pocket though, Manny was a true street dude and no way was he going to let Shyne sign a deal just on the strength of another man's hype. Matt Middleton received a great paycheck behind that deal, and in turn, he blessed me. I still thought it was funny how, as a new music entertainment attorney in the game, Middleton had to be one of the luckiest guys I knew, walking into that Shyne deal and then picking up Def Jam's soon to be mega star, Earl Simmons p/k/a "DMX".
Shyne took in all of this new found attention that he received. I can only imagine what went through his mind, his mother's only son, virtually abandoned by his high office holding father, left to raise himself on the mean streets of Brooklyn, a wholly different country from where he was born, where he grew up, finally to be accepted by the top players of the surreal world of the music industry. Puff ate up the fact that he was victorious in his bidding war victory up as well. Shyne became a valued member of his entourage. On Grammy night 1998, I was at a post celebration party when Puff, Shyne and the rest of the crew made their grand entrance. Shyne was dipped out in the illest gear, rocking jewels that sparkled so bright they damn near lit the place up. It so happened that his attire was completely identical to Puff's. Being that I had a good relationship with him, I pulled him to the side, intent on giving him some honest advice, "Yo Shyne, no matter what you do, stay focused on your game man. No offense to either Puff or you, but don't get so caught up in dude's movements, in his lane. I've seen too many people crash and burn because they followed Puff's map as opposed to their own." Not looking offended, but definitely affected by my comment, Shyne backed up, looked and said "I hear you man, but understand, I'm a grown man, I'm my own man." During this short courtship period, Puff wasn't just the owner of the label as well as the top creative guy who had full and complete creative control over Shyne's music and image. He had also become Shyne's mentor, replacing perhaps the void left by Shyne's father. And for that, Shyne was indeed Bad Boy for life. Money, fame, power, Bad Boy was his new set and nothing was going to come between him and his new family, nothing. In return, as his voice changed slightly, and as was captured on new recordings, his voice being compared to the deceased crowned prince of the label, Shyne was treated like the prodigal son who had returned home.
Hard at work and intent on making a classic album, Puff, Shyne and rest of the team went in. The instant change of lifestyle to Shyne was dizzying. It didn't help that Combs was currently involved in an uber high profile relationship with Jennifer Lopez, darling Hollywood star and credible mega pop start herself. Shit was like that Cinderella story for Shyne. And quick too. Still, the problems he had back in Brooklyn never went away, as a matter of fact, they intensified. Jealous by his rise, foes of Jamal Barrow made it loud and clear that there was no love for Bad Boy's newest star. Threats were made as to setting Shyne up, robbing him even. Then there was the fact that his mother still lived in the borough, unprotected from wolves looking for a come up against her son. True he did well with his deal with Bad Boy, but he hadn't yet reached the level where he could roam anywhere and freely with paid professional security by his side, moving with him at his whim and in tow. Plus, some beef started to brew between he and members of Big's crew Junior Mafia. Offended at the thought of Bad Boy's new rapper making a name for himself by "jacking" Big's style, it was now official that Shyne best not get caught out there alone and unprotected. As official as Manny's name was in the streets, Shyne more than knew what time it was. He'd already survived being shot in the chest, way before the music thing, and there was no way he was gonna allow himself to ever get caught out there like that again. Deal or no deal.
I heard about the shooting incident the morning after it took place. Actually, on my way to the office, I overheard two girls talking first hand about how "all of a sudden they started shootin' in Club New York and we bounced." It didn't resonate until I peeped the news on NY1. How Shyne, Puffy and Jennifer Lopez were involved in a shooting the night before. How they went to the club to celebrate the end of a very good year. How one of the fellow party goers, Matthew "Scar" Allen, peeped the Bad Boy crew in the house and stepped to them, allegedly throwing money in Comb's face all the while making threats and what not. How even though Puff was more than protected by his security, Shyne pulled out and fired shots in the club, some claiming that shots were fired back. How three people had been injured by the gun play, and then the car chase from the venue, with cops hot on Puff's tail, and a gun being thrown out of his car during said chase. At the end of it all, Shyne and Puffy were charged with numerous crimes. Shyne was fighting charges of attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first and second degrees, one count of reckless endangerment, criminal use of a firearm, and criminal possession of a weapon in the first and second degrees; Puff for felony gun possession, and one count of bribing a witness with a diamond ring he had received from Jennifer Lopez. The resulting trial was an all around cluster fuck, with both Shyne's and Puff's loyalty to each other being severely tested as ultimately one of them had to go down for what had taken place on that fateful frantic evening. In the end, Shyne, living up to being Bad Boy for life, kept by the code of no snitching as he assumed full responsibility for both being in possession of an illegal firearm and actually firing it within the crowded club. He insisted it was all in self defense. In the end, Puff was acquitted of all charges. Shyne was convicted on two counts of assault, including a first-degree count, for shooting one of the party goers in the face, reckless endangerment and gun possession. His sentence, ten years behind bars.
To date, Shyne has been incarcerated for eight years. He's up for parole on December 1st, 2009, although it's been reported that his new legal team is pushing for an early parole hearing allegedly scheduled this month. I got a call from him a couple of years ago, and we shared a very brief conversation in which he said how he was holding up, how he was staying positive despite his surroundings, how he wanted to thank me for being instrumental in helping his career from the start. I told him how, even though I couldn't, how I wished there was something I was able to do during that whole ordeal to help him from landing in his current situation. That shit was real. Not saying that dude shouldn't have been held accountable for his actions, not saying that at all. Looking back on the whole thing, it's just another unfortunate story of a good kid with the best of intentions, getting caught up in a fucked up situation solely based on his environment and his more than dire circumstance of having to prove himself, having to fight his way out of a perceived life or death scenario. I hope that Jamal Barrow is granted and early parole this month. In my opinion, he's been through more than enough. And all for being a loyal kid, intent on protecting someone who had become a mentor and almost like father figure to him. Being that Puff has since completely cleaned up his business' original image, look, sound and reputation, Shyne remains the label's last true Bad Boy. Shyne my dude, keep your head up.
There is a happy ending to this story. My man and Shyne's former manager Manny is currently doing incredibly great as the celebrated fast talking and very media savvy manager of top songstress Keisha Cole. Keep doing your thing my dude!