Introduction to Street Legends Vol. 3 – The Supreme Team

Sep 24, 2012 - by Seth Ferranti - 0 Comments

Sept. 24 2012

An excerpt from Seth Ferranti’s upcoming book on street gangs, Street Legends Vol. 3

An excerpt from Seth Ferranti’s upcoming book on street gangs, Street Legends Vol. 3. The book chronicles the story of the Supreme Team from its inception to its fall to its rise again. This legendary crew was organized in the early 1980s in Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica, Queens, New York, by a group of teenagers who were members of a quasi-religious sect known as the Five Percenters. Under the leadership of Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and Gerald “Prince” Miller, his nephew, as second in command, the gang concentrated its criminal efforts on wide spread drug distribution. 

The Supreme Team was instrumental in the birth of hip-hop and it ushered in the crack era in New York City with devastating brutality. Its influence on hip-hop has lasted 25 years and is still going strong. This book is their story, in their words and the words of others who were there. It’s brought to you straight out of the penitentiary by Gorilla Convict Publications.

by Seth Ferranti

Just like Hollywood catapulted the Italian Mafia into the mainstream with the Godfather movies, New Jack City documented the devastating crack epidemic and the drug crews that terrorized and held court in the city’s projects. Nino Brown was a fictional character, as was his crew, but you didn't have to look far to find their real life counterparts who dominated the headlines of New York City’s tabloid newspapers. Characters and cliques that seemed to evolve straight out of the pages of a Donald Goines novel rose to prominence, becoming larger than life figures and ghetto stars in their respective hoods.           

Street tales, real life crimes, newspaper headlines, Hollywood sensationalism, and rapper’s rhymes have perpetrated, promoted and created a legend of mythical proportions that has grown exponentially over the last 20 years, keeping the Supreme Team, the most infamous crew out of the Southside of Jamaica Queens, ringing bells from coast to coast. As one of the most notorious crews from a deadly era, the team towers above its contemporaries in stature, notoriety and infamy. But it’s not all convoluted hype. Infamy has its price.

Besides Hollywood paying court to the black gangster, many rappers who were shorties in the 1980s, otherwise known as the crack era, the time of the Supreme Team’s reign and dominance, have name checked the team’s exploits in verse. The chosen son Nas first broadcast them to the world on 1994s Memory Lane and Queens native 50 Cent shouted them out on 2000s Ghetto Qur’an, Ja Rule and others have also celebrated the Supreme Team in their songs creating an everlasting tribute in their rhymes. With black gangsters newfound relevance in our pop culture because rappers put them on pedestals and mythologized their crime exploits in verse, a new kind of anti-hero from the inner-city is taking its place in the pantheon of outlaw heroes next to figures like John Gotti, Pablo Escobar, Billy the Kid and John Dillinger in American folklore. With magazines like Don Diva, F.E.D.S., Street Elements, 4front and AS IS, Ethan Brown’s Queens Reigns Supreme and BET’s American Gangster series whetting the public’s appetite for the street legends long idolized by rappers, a movement is afoot.

The Street Legends series from Gorilla Convict Publications is part of this growing movement. Street Legends Vol. 1 featured Death Before Dishonor:  Six-Supreme, Wayne Perry, Anthony Jones, Aaron Jones, Pistol Pete and Boy George. Street Legends Vol. 2 brought readers more of that real gangsta flavor with stories on Original Gangsters Frank Matthews, Peanut King, Michael Fray, The Boobie Boys, Short North Posse and New World. And now in Volume 3 of Street Legends we bring readers The Supreme Team. Read their story and witness their rise from Baisley Projects on the Southside of Jamaica Queens. From street corner hustlers to drug barons living the fast life, their ruthless ways precipitated their downfall. But in Prince’s demise, Supreme rose from the ashes and became a player in the hip-hop culture he spawned.

His resurgent rise with Murder Inc. and his conflicts with 50 Cent are revisited as are all the hoopla and controversy surrounding their beef. This book chronicles the complete story of the Supreme Team from its inception to its fall to its rise again. This legendary crew was very instrumental in the birth of hip-hop and it ushered in the crack era in New York City with devastating brutality. Their influence on hip-hop has lasted25 years and is still going strong. This book is their story, in their words and the words of others who were there. It’s brought to you straight out of the penitentiary by Gorilla Convict Publications.

 

Chapter 1- Origin of the Team 

“Some fiends scream about Supreme Team/a Jamaica, Queens thing.” Nas, Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park) Illmatic 1994

“The Southside of Queens began making history with the birth of its street legends and urban gangsters in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Don Diva Magazine, Issue 23

“Queens wasn’t considered hard. The borough had tree lined streets. Mothers and fathers raised kids together. Kids went to school and life was simply middle class.”
As Is, Issue 2

 

Queens 

“Queens used to be a quiet little place,” Lance Fuertado, a Queens native and Seven Crowns alumni said. The working class neighborhoods of South Jamaica, St. Albans, and Hollis lie in the 103rd Precinct, which is a 4.8 square mile imperfect box encompassing Van Wyck Expressway to the west, Hillside Avenue to the north, Francis Lewis Boulevard to the east, and a jagged line that runs along 110th Avenue to the south. With the decline of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant after World War II, the Southside of Queens became a haven for upscale blacks trying to escape the collapse of housing stock and the rise in crime rates in the slums. St. Albans, in particular, gained a reputation as the suburban Sugar Hill. Such celebrities as Count Basie, Jackie Robinson, and Ella Fitzgerald moved in. Doctors, lawyers, and successful businessmen followed, along with civil servants and middle-management people. Home ownership was common, and a dozen bus lines made the district accessible allowing its commercial strips to thrive.

But after whites moved out in the early-60s, services began to deteriorate. At around the same time, a powerful Harlem drug dealer named Pops Freeman appeared on the scene, running numbers and heroin businesses. “The story I’ve heard is that he was sent out to Queens by Vito Genovese of the Genovese crime family,” the Queens detective said. “Pop had kept his mouth shut about the family when he’d been arrested a few years before and they rewarded him with the new territory.”

With Freeman’s arrival, the problems many tried to flee from in Harlem and other neighborhoods followed them to Queens. “When you drive around the area, you sometimes let your guard down because you see all these nice houses and quiet streets,” the Queens hustler said. “But after a while you realize some of the people are doing the same shit, taking drugs and killing people that they do in neighborhoods with abandoned tenements.” It was a classic case of the environment casting a seemingly innocent picture while the criminal element worked away on the fringes exploiting the pleasant, mild-mannered surroundings to their advantage, despite any perceived suburban illusions.

The subway ride from Manhattan to the 179th Street station in South Jamaica, Queens, was so long that when passengers came up the stairs and into the street, they felt as if they had jet lag. One Hundred Seventy Ninth Street was the last stop on the F line, a neighborhood so outer borough it might as well have been in another state. By heading south, across Jamaica Avenue and passing through a desolate area of abandoned buildings and trash strewn lots dubbed Bricktown by the locals, visitors arrived in one of hip-hop’s fertile precincts – 134th Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. This area also doubled as ground zero for crack.  A few blocks away was Woodhullin Hollis, a middle-class oasis among the crack chaos, where Run DMC originated. Looming over everything was Baisley Park Houses, one of the city’s toughest housing projects, which spawned the notorious Supreme Team.

Queens has always been a fascinating place because it was the true immigrant borough of New York City. There were very strong immigrant areas like Jackson Heights, but at the same time, there were strong middle-class black neigh­borhoods like Hollis. Then at the opposite end of the scale were some very deep pockets of poverty like South Jamaica. Within the deep pockets of poverty were some extremely nasty neighborhoods that have been perpetually nasty. These were areas that were troubled for so long that they never really turned it around the way other neighbor­hoods in New York City did. The whole borough wasn't doomed to a never-ending cycle of violence, but there were definitely certain areas that were very troublesome and remained high crime areas, then and now. Some parts of Queens were very rough and seemed to stay that way. The juxtaposition of the middle-class areas with private homes and tree-lined streets and the grim city housing projects provided the perfect backdrop for an emerging drug trade. With affluence on one hand and poverty on the other, it wasn’t hard to foresee the consequences.

Back in the day, Queens was known as the desert, and dudes from Queens didn’t have any type of reputation in the city. “They used to have a saying in New York,” Bing, an original Supreme Team member says: “Manhattan make it, Queens fake it and Brooklyn take it.” In the other boroughs it was imperative for hustlers to stay NYC ghetto sharp and on top of their game. The city bred a culture of respect in which god was a gun.

In the criminal underworld, dudes from Queens didn't have a very high standing. “Most men from Queens didn’t have a base. They didn’t have that type of name like niggas in Brooklyn or the Bronx,” God B, another original Supreme Team member said. “It was only in the late-70s, 80s that niggas in Queens weren't ashamed to be from Queens.” The borough was in the midst of a transformation. The climate in New York was changing, and Queens would be at the center of it.

At Rikers Island in the early-’80s dudes from the city were coming through shook and scared to death. They had heard the wild ass stories. They knew who was running shit up in the island, and the wrong answer could get a dude fucked up. If someone asked a new guy where he was from, he wouldn’t say Queens because Queens just wasn’t considered hard. The borough had a Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood kind of feel. Mothers and fathers raised their children together in a Sesame Street environment. Kids went to school, and life was considered semi middle-class. Queens wasn’t exactly on that thug-type status, especially at Rikers. Brooklyn had that thug-shit on lock back then. They had the yard, controlled the phones and mess halls, and ran the b-ball court. In Rikers the dudes from the BK held it down. There were the few and far between cats who could and would hold it down for their borough, but, for the most part, it was all Brooklyn. That was the hierarchy. But things were about to change.

 

Drugs in Queens 

Drugs had been in Queens since Pops Freeman moved his heroin operation into the area from Harlem in the 1960s. When Pops Freeman faded from the scene, a litany of other dealers sprung up to supply the developing market in the bubbling area that was earning a name for its culture and style. Around 1981 and 1982 South Road was the drug spot. Not too far away was Jamaica Avenue, where the retail district was situated with the bus terminal, meat markets, and other stores. Mel’s Diner was right there, and the numbers runners used to call in their bets at the Long Island railroad station. The bus routes crisscrossed the area while the dealers held sway on 150th Street between South Road and 107th Avenue.

On those blocks the O.G. Danny sold dope and coke. He was getting money just like the other O.G.’s Hymee and Cornbread. Everybody knew them, and everybody bought drugs from them. The ghetto was different back then before the Supreme Team and organized dealing hit the scene. This was before the violence of the crack era and before hip-hop went global. The whole Queens culture was still where it originated, in Queens, incubating, taking shape as the world force it would become. In the midst of it all were the future Supreme Team members. They were just shorties hanging out, doing what kids do, but they would play an important role in the evolution of Queens.

As Pops Freeman reached his 70s, a series of younger, more ruthless drug dealers emerged, including Ronald “Bumps” Bassett and later Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols. Bassett, 36 at the time, was chosen to take over Freeman's wholesale heroin distribution around 1979 and soon achieved success comparable to that of Harlem kingpin Nicky Barnes. “Nicky was more flamboyant,” the Queens hustler said, “but Ronnie was up there. Ronnie was big.” Bassett had more than 100 employees running his numbers and drug rackets in at least nine outlets around Queens. He took his business to at least eight other cities around the country, forging outlets in Baltimore, Detroit, and Philadelphia that later dealers would utilize. During a nine-week period, federal agents traced $1.2 million worth of uncut heroin with a street value of more than $15 million back to Bumps’ operation. One of the people Bassett supplied with drugs was Fat Cat, a Seven Crowns member.

Seven Crowns

According to legend, Seven Crowns started out in 1970 as a street gang of rabble rousers whose members pelted houses and threatened to burn them down. Its members grew to include the future movers and shakers of Queens, including Anthony “Pretty Tony” Feurtado, Fat Cat and James “Wall” Corley. “Seven Crowns was way early-’70s,” Bing says. “I was in Seven Crowns. It was all on the Southside but different areas. It was all one gang.” While the origin of the name, Seven Crowns, was unclear, two people who were arrested wore gold rings with diamonds in the shape of a seven encrusted over a crown. Each gang member was viewed as a jewel in the crown.

“In the early-’70s Queens had a lot of gangs,” Lance said. “We were fools. We went off the chain. At one point we were 1,500 members strong. That was way back in the early-70s. We were just friends. This is how everything came together. It was one love. We unified like ‘77-‘78. Our role models were guys on the street from the hood who sold drugs. Our childhood was like normal kids. We were wild, but we didn’t carry any guns, we believed in a beat down.”

Queens in the ’70s, as in most areas where black folks settled, was filled with young people with radical leanings and no outlet. After the dismantling of black militant groups like the Black Panthers, street gangs emerged, inspired by the militancy but without the political bent. “Everybody wanted to be in a gang then,” Bing says. “It wasn’t wild.  It was comfortable. We had little gang fights but no major killings, little brawls, shit like that, regular shit, no gunplay.”

Michael Mitchell, who everyone called Mr. Black or just plain Black formed the Queens division of the Seven Crowns, a gang originally from the Bronx. His neighbors, Fat Cat and Pretty Tony, joined immediately. “We lived on the same block and we went to the same schools. We knew each other since childhood,” Lance said. “We were trendsetters; we would go out and steal mini-bikes and stuff.”

Seven Crowns broke down into certain divisions and teams. There was the Seven Crowns, Big Crowns, Lil’ Crowns, and Homicide Crowns. When Fat Cat and Lance first joined the Lil’ Crowns, Fat Cat was quickly made war counselor. His primary duty was to represent the Crowns in any dispute requiring a one-on-one confrontation. “Cat was big and strong for his age,” Black said. “Smart kid too, and on top of that he was good with his hands. We were the ones who gave him the name Fat Cat because of his size.” In the Southside of Jamaica, Fat Cat became feared because of his fighting skills. In the ghetto tough guys were admired and respected. Violence was the currency of the streets.

“I first met Fat Cat when we went into the Forties Houses to break up the Seven Crowns. They didn’t call him Fat Cat then. They called him Fat Boy. Any problem in the gang meant a call to Nichols to crush it,” the Queens detective said. “There were only 12 of us in the whole task force, so you got to know the street players pretty well. The Crowns had their drugs, but it was mostly smoke and heroin. No cocaine to speak of. Certainly no crack. Only the white kids were fucking around with angel dust, the same with pills. The Crowns wouldn't screw around with pills. Fat Cat was just a kid, but he was a big kid. He had a mouth on him too. Still, he had some magnetism. You could see that. If we wanted guys to move, we’d go to Fat Cat. Once the Cat moved, they’d follow.”

When Fat Cat was paroled in 1980 from Spofford, the juvenile facility where he met the young Howard “Pappy” Mason, he walked into a fertile and growing drug market on the Southside. Pretty Tony was doing his thing, so he put Fat Cat on. Fat Cat didn’t just get on though, he locked it down. His ascension to the top of the Queens drug hierarchy was essentially unobstructed. By the time the Supreme Team started hustling, the landscape was changing. They would come to dominate what Pretty Tony and Fat Cat started. They would get deep in the streets and lock the area down just like Fat Cat.

The Cat moved around South Jamaica virtually untouched. He had the occasional riff with dudes from Forty Projects, but for the most part he was just about fun and money. Sixty or so thousand was an average week, and that was just off dope. Fat Cat was doing his thing. He had 20 dudes working for him, and his organization was growing. Pappy Mason held the crew down as enforcer. While everybody played their position, Cat was the shot caller. Together they moved as one, making money and partying.  Everyone was styling in Queens.

The names that started ringing bells in the streets of South Jamaica formed an alliance. They were all coming out of the borough that was once the place to raise a family, not duck for cover. With the coming of the young drug lords, all that would change. Forty Projects started rumbling while Baisley Projects was vibrating. The Southside was bubbling with drug crews and money. The natural order would persevere, but in the chaos of the streets anything could happen. Coke was moving, but crack was on the way, and the numbers would rise. These were the wonder years.

Fat Cat Returns

Rivalries had existed between the loosely organized hustlers of Hollis and South Jamaica, but the balance of power had never tipped in any one direction until 1981 when ex-con and former Seven Crowns’ member Fat Cat set up shop on 150th Street near 107th Avenue. The block was ideal for drug dealing as it forked off from Sutphin Boulevard, making it easier to conduct deals with a sense of privacy, and Fat Cat’s heroin and cocaine business took off almost immediately. The 150th Street and 107th Avenue site was also just 10 blocks away from the Corley family’s Forty Projects base. Hustlers from every part of the Southside were shocked by Fat Cat’s boldness. It didn’t help that Cat wasn’t a local since he was raised in the Ozone Park section of Queens, nor that his background was in armed robbery, not drugs. Still Fat Cat did what Fat Cat wanted. Word of the bustling drug trade on 150th Street made it a magnet for both up and coming entrepreneurs like the Supreme Team and seasoned tough guys like Fat Cat. “Cat was down there, other crews,” Bing says. “It was where niggas hustled at. It was the turf of Seven Crowns.” They called it the block, 150th Street and Sutphin Boulevard.

The Southside of Queens began making history in the late 1970s and 1980s as their street legends and urban gangsters gained a measure of fame. Ronnie Bumps, Cornbread, Hymee, Danny, Pretty Tony, Wall Corley, and Fat Cat were the pioneers. They played a big role in the way things were. “The Southside mentality. That stigma of the Southside just imposes its will on the people who live there,” Lance said. That mentality was shaped by the gangsters in power, but it was taken public by hip-hop. Rap culture blew Queens up, and the force behind hip-hop was the hustlers on the block. The music brought pride and enjoyment to the youth, but the gangsters gave them that “get money” mentality. As dudes on the street tried to one up each other, their swagger became more outrageous, and the flashy materialism of bling-bling would come to dominate.

About 62 percent of the population in Queens was black while 18.5 percent was Hispanic. The median income was about $35,000. With stable homes, the kids had time to explore hip-hop, and the freedom to try getting money. Hip-hop and hustling became the two biggest past times in the borough. The youth of Queens became enamored with hip-hop and the dope game. It was the best of both worlds. This contrast mirrored their environment. “The neighborhood is like a residential neighborhood but these projects are right there,” a Supreme Team member says. “The elevated train, Long Island Railroad, a train track, went right by the projects.”

 

Baisley Park House 

The Baisley Park Houses at Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and 116th Avenue was one of the largest public housing developments in Queens County.  Thousands of hardworking families lived in and around the development. “If drugs weren’t in the community Jamaica Queens could have been a beautiful place to live,” Tuck, a Supreme Team member says. “Not everyone from my hood sold drugs. Drugs weren’t the only opportunity to get money. Drugs were easy and fast money.” And the youth of Queens was susceptible to the trappings of the life.

“Hollis was about heroin dealing and numbers running,” the Queens hustler said, “while South Jamaica was into organized cocaine dealing.” Traditionally, the area was home to many blue-collar families. Infected by the age of materialism, the individual was born. A lavish lifestyle emerged, impacted by gang culture and rap music.

“We had better living,” Bing says, “B-ball tournaments, cookouts; it was a nice place to live for a hood.  I love where I grew up at. We had big front yards and back yards for parties and all that.” Queens was a community, and in that community hip-hop exploded. There were hip-hop parties everywhere. In the beginning the music wasn’t violent. It was about talking shit and getting people together; it was about music and having fun. It was about black people celebrating something that was their own, something that they had created and could hold claim to.

Run DMC repped with the Adidas, fat chains and leather suits, setting a standard in the rap game that others watched and emulated .But Run DMC was just copying the guys on the streets, the hustlers up on 150th Street. They took the music and gave it a street vibe. Rap music was always street music, but before Run DMC, rappers looked more like disco holdovers. The groups from the Bronx resembled the Village People. They were still into that ‘70s style. Run DMC, by popularizing the b-boy style, moved hip-hop forward. They dressed like cats on the block with Kangols, black Lee jeans, fly eyeglasses like Cazales and shell toe Adidas. Run DMC weren’t gangsters by any means, still they looked like street thugs. They represented that Queens style and attitude, showing what street culture was all about.

Queens was a Mecca for drug lords and hip-hop, but first came the gangs. Seven Crowns was the dominant gang, but others played a factor in Queens while one in particular would prove instrumental in the Supreme Team’s formation. “Everybody was in a gang before they started selling drugs,” Bing says, “Seven Crowns, Savage Skulls, Savage Nomads, Ghetto Boys, and Five Percenters.” Two of these groups would merge to form the nucleus of the Supreme Team. The Seven Crowns with Fat Cat and Pretty Tony would lead the way, but most of the Supreme Team started out as Five Percenters. They would embrace the ideology that started on New York’s streets and make it their own, creating a unique hybrid of hip-hop and hustling.

 

Five Percenters 

Five Percenters were an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, which started on Harlem streets in 1964 under the leadership of Clarence 13X Smith, a Korean War veteran and former member of the NOI’s elite Fruit of Islam security force. Smith, aka Pudding, was expelled from the NOI’s Harlem mosque Number 7 in 1963 by Malcolm X, reputedly because he refused to forgo his fondness for dice games. The Five Percent Nation considered itself a religious and cultural movement directed toward young blacks, aiming to teach them the correct ways of Islamic life. Its name derived from the members’ belief that 10 percent of humanity (the devils) controlled and exploited 85 percent of the poor and uninformed who hadn’t received knowledge. The remaining 5 percent were those “civilized people, also known as Muslims and Muslims’ sons,” whose task was to educate fellow blacks in their true religion.

The fiery teachings came slamming off the radio and boom boxes in the 1960s. It was hip-hop before hip-hop. The messages were delivered in a staccato street rap that mesmerized New York City youth. “The black man is god,” Clarence 13X told his people with a rhetoric that was something they had never heard before. His followers called him Father Allah and rejected the belief that NOI founder Wallace Fard was God. They were the 5 percent; they were the righteous, and they enacted a cultural movement for their people.

There was no easier way to offend Five Percenters than to call them a gang. But the Five Percenters were labeled a gang from the jump, viewed originally as an outgrowth of the Blood Brothers and other old fashioned fighting gangs. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Five Percenters were like the Bloods and Crips are now. “They were a religious thing that got labeled as a gang," Bing says. “They were very big in the city and Queens.” The group espoused a black supremacist ideology and held the belief that 5 percent of all men were enlightened and became gods.  Five Percenters countered the senseless violence of gang life with a message of unity and respect. But since many adherents were from prison, there was a crossover.

“When a Five Percenter goes among the 85 percent, one of two things happens. Either the 85 percent start acting like the Five Percenter or the Five Percenter starts acting like the 85 percent,” the Queens Five Percenter said. Some Five Percenters, empowered by the black man’s divinity, used the knowledge to uplift themselves and their communities, while others abused the notion of Godhood to justify criminal behavior.

Joe Clark, who was immortalized by Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me remarked, “I am at war with the Five Percenters. It fills me with sadness and chagrin that this band of hoodlums and thugs could capture the minds of hundreds of teenagers.” The principal couldn’t cope with them at his school.

By taking names such as King, Justice, Knowledge, and Divine, the Gods were empowering themselves in an environment that was hostile to them. The movement was classified at the time by authorities as a cult, a fad, and a jailhouse religion. They didn’t think it would last. It was linked with gang fights and killings but was also praised for turning delinquents into serious law-abiding students. In Queens, God B and his brother First Born Prince were two of the first Gods who influenced Supreme and the rest of the youth that would become the Supreme Team. “We were the Five Percent. We weren’t known to deal in drugs, it was kind of a religious taboo,” God B said. But the prisons were a stronghold for the group, a recruiting ground for the Five Percenters, and when prisoners were released, they brought their prior vocations with them.

About getting into the drug game, T, a friend of Supreme’s relates, “What probably influenced him getting into the life was becoming a Five Percenter. With most of them coming out of prison, it had to influence his decisions.” The prison system provided valuable new recruits who weren’t afraid to stand up. The Five Percenters knew that prison was an important conduit for their message. With social outcasts, misfits, and disaffected youth rising to their banner, there was no reason to discount former felons and ex-convicts, as they fit right in. When Supreme discovered the teachings of the Five Percenters, he began envisioning himself differently.

“Supreme got his name in 1971 from his affiliation with the Five Percent Nation,” Lance said. Supreme got a name and a way of life. He didn’t smoke, drink, or eat red meat in accordance with Five Percenter beliefs. He held to the other tenets of the faith in his own fashion, manipulating them to suit his circumstances.

Supreme aka Preme

“The brother Supreme grew up partly in the ’60s and ’70s when guys in the life had a semblance of principles,” explains T. “He tries to stay true to his word as a man. Even as a kid he was sharp enough to put things into place.” Preme had a stellar reputation as one of South Jamaica’s best and brightest. He was a talented student, an avid football player, and a welcome presence in his Queens neighborhood. Preme developed into a very intellectual and culturally aware young man. He came from a two parent home where both parents were employed as transit workers. He went to PS 140, the public junior high in Rochdale Village, and discovered the Five Percent Nation at an early age. “I don’t think he graduated from high school,” the Queens hustler said, “but he definitely graduated from the streets.” By the end of high school in the late-‘70s, while his friends were preparing for college, Preme was immersing himself in the streets.

“His pops was ex-military, a marine or something, a very strict disciplinarian,” the Supreme Team member says. “He lived right across the street from the Baisley Projects in a house. Preme grew up on Foch Boulevard and the Guy R. Brewer intersection in South Jamaica, Queens.” Preme had a couple of sisters and brothers, all older. One of his sisters was Prince’s mom. Preme and Prince were around the same age and were raised like brothers. “Preme is only two years older than Prince,” an original Supreme Team member says. “They grew up together.”

In the working class environment of South Jamaica, Preme lived in a stable household. “His whole family is square,” T says. “All his brothers are professional people in their own lives. His brothers and sisters were way older than him. Brothers like 10 years older.” Preme was always a bright kid and his embrace of Five Percenter ideology at the age of 10 made him different than most. Even though he wasn’t the tallest dude growing up at five-foot-five and slightly built, he was a natural born leader.

Preme and his crew were known as the Peace Gods. They were always down on Linden Boulevard.  Dudes in the hood called them the Peace Gods because that was how they greeted people, “Peace God.” The exiled Dumar Complete was believed to have given the knowledge of self to Supreme, who in turn gave it to his crew. They embraced Five Percenter ideology less as a religion and more as a rebellious pose. With their unique way of thinking and religious ideals they made themselves out to be more than just drug dealers. On the block they stuck out. With Supreme leading the way, they followed. “Preme’s greatest leadership quality was his ability to lead men,” the original member says.

He took to heart the Five Percenters tenet that said blacks were supreme beings. With his quiet demeanor and pale green eyes, he seemed far from a typical thug. His power was never physical; rather it came from street wits, charisma, and the implication of danger. “He gets along with everyone,” a convict who was in prison with Preme says. “All different nationalities and geographical locations embrace him.”

It was really about respect with Supreme. “If he don’t really know you, he don't fuck with you,” Bing says. “He’s very careful about what he says.” Preme was guarded when he had to be and outspoken when necessary. He always seemed to know the right way to act or the correct thing to say, and he had perfect timing when it came to violence. He made his moves when it would have the biggest impact. Call him calculating, calm, collected, and precise; Supreme was all these things. He mastered the ability to affect other people at a young age. In 1979 Preme was 20 years old.

“I came home in ’79,” First Born Prince said. “I started hanging on 150th Street with the Crowns. They said go get some of your friends to help you out. To help you do what you’re doing.” First Born Prince was never officially a member of what would become known as the Supreme Team, but he played a role in their formation. “He was around more in our Five Percenter days when we were active with that,” the original member says. But First Born Prince introduced them to hustling.  Going to the block with First Born Prince indoctrinated the Five Percenters into the life.

“It really started with the Five Percenters. Preme and them were Godbodies. That’s like 1980,” Bing says. “They wasn’t really selling drugs at that time. It was a religious thing.” With Preme embracing the move­ment, he used his influence to get other youngsters like his nephew Prince involved.

“Although God B and his brother First Born Prince recruited and organized us within the Five Percenter Nation, Preme created an under­ground economy for us to thrive and flourish off,” Prince said.  As street dudes came home from prison, they showed Preme the principles of the drug game, and Preme combined their knowledge with his Five Percenter ideology.

He went back to his Peace Gods crew and told God B, “We have an opportunity to make some money. They getting money. We ain’t  getting nothing. Can you support me?”

God B agreed, “He wanted me to tell all the Gods it was all right for him to go down on the block and get us started.” He was Supreme’s right hand man and personal bodyguard. He was instrumental in orchestrating the deal with the Seven Crowns gang which allowed Supreme to get paid on the block and organize the Supreme Team.

“The deal with God B was simply this,” the original member says. “He was a man’s man, a gangster’s gangster, and he did not take shit from anyone including Preme. God B and Supreme were the most respected. We all grew up together.”

 

The Supreme Team 

Supreme took over the oldest gang in Queens, the Five Percenters, dubbed himself Supreme in Five Percenter tradition and called his crew the Supreme Team. The grandiose sounding name was typical Five Percenter hyperbole and in another nod to Five Percenter ideology the first members of the crew even called themselves the original seed.“Supreme was the originator of the team. He brought it into existence,” Tuck comments.

“He started that like 1983. A bunch of dudes that were Five Percenters started getting into the drug game on 150th Street xxxand Sutphin Boulevard. Baisely was a hangout then,” Bing says. Supreme’s crew was emulating the established hustlers that were already up on the block at 150th Street. With Supreme’s connection to the Seven Crowns through God B and First Born Prince, he made inroads on the hustling strip with his own crew.

“I was a little guy,” Lightskin Knowledge, a Supreme Team member said. “I wanted to emulate the dudes on the block.” Preme’s much feared crew, the Peace Gods, transformed into the Supreme Team. They adopted the crime habits of Queens’ outlaws and villains and Supreme became the main character of this saga

“It wasn’t no official shit," Bing says. “It was a loose affiliation of friends and businessmen trying to come up. It took us a while to get on the map to get respect in the city.” But there was a no more deserving character than Supreme who could negotiate his way through the tribal gang lords.

Preme and his group of hustling Five Percenters started their own small operation down on the block where selling drugs was more of a movement than a business or game.  But Preme’s clique was conflicted about embracing both the Five Percenter ideology and the Queens underworld mentality. “A lot of the brothers and sisters didn’t like the idea that we hustled, because it was contrary to the lessons,” remembered Lightskin Knowledge. But the drug money in the early 1980s proved irresistible, and the crew began growing into its grandiose moniker.

The ideology Preme and his crew embraced influenced a lot of New York’s inner-city youth. They were mostly black and came from all five boroughs, but the Supreme Team was unique in what they were and what they became. Still they were similar in other ways. That was reflected in hip-hop, where many artists who came of age in the 1980s, used Five Percenter imagery or lyrics in their music. They gave knowledge, and dropped jewels and science in ciphers. They used Alphabets and Mathematics as secret codes to pass messages or inspire loyalty and rebellion.

“Being a Five Percenter was nothing more than a license to be brutal," LL Cool J said. The rap icon who flirted with Five Percenter ideals as a teenager conceded that his experience didn’t reflect the true nature of the teachings. “At its core there is a strict religious doctrine, but we weren’t following that. We were just using the Five Percent label as a shield to do our dirty work, fighting and eventually robbing.” In the case of the Supreme Team, selling drugs was its business.

Preme and company loved the nation, but they were out there hustling. They combined the two ideologies creating a unique hybrid. Their influence on the other hustlers and on hip-hop in Queens was undeniable. As a culture and way of life, the Godbodies emerged and presented themselves to youngsters at the same time hip-hop was in its infancy. “When the gangs I hung out with in the early-‘70s gave way to ‘80s hip-hop culture, it was the street language, style, and consciousness of the Five Percent Nation that served as a bridge,” Russell Simmons said. Youngsters took the Supreme Team’s Five Percenter ideology to heart which showed in the music of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, the Wu Tang Clan, and others. The idea of being a Five Percenter rand hustling was very tightly entwined. The Supreme Team brought this juxtaposition into fashion. As Preme got acclimated on the block, he fell right in with the Seven Crowns alumni.

“Supreme met Tony and Cat before me," God B said. “Preme, Cat, and Pretty Tony would be at the Pink Shade. The library on Jamaica Avenue was the hangout. Before that the Seven Crowns beefed with the Five Percenters in Queens in the early-’70s.” Fat Cat had beef with Allah Supreme God dating back to 1972. Allah Supreme God had convinced his brother Supreme Master Allah to quit the Seven Crowns. One night the Seven Crowns, led by Mr. Black, attempted to rob a pizza shop and got chased out by the owner. Allah Supreme God witnessed the fiasco and offered to help. “Give me the gun," he told Mr. Black, “and I’ll rob the store.” Mr. Black handed over his gun, and Allah Supreme God managed to slip away with a free pistol. The humiliated Crowns threatened revenge, so Allah Supreme God drummed up support. The Five Percenters ran up on the Crowns and challenged them, but the beef was squashed.

With Supreme, one of the most influential Five Percenters, hanging out with Fat Cat and Pretty Tony, a union was formed between the Seven Crowns and Five Percenters. “That was the beginning of the Seven Crowns and Gods relationship. We decided we don’t fight among ourselves,” Bing says. “We never beefed with each other like that. No heavy shit. We came together against outsiders.”

The outsiders were numerous, with gangs like the Savage Skulls, Ghetto Boys, Savage Nomads, Latin Soul Brothers, and Sex Boys all fighting for territory in Queens. “The gangs were very territorial,” the Queens detective said. “The Seven Crowns weren’t allowed up on Hillside and Parsons. The Latin Soul Brothers weren’t allowed to go down past South Road. Shit like that. The blacks weren’t allowed to go over 102nd Avenue where the Sex Boys were. The Sex Boys were white guys. The big thing back then was wearing colors. Nobody really had guns yet. The fighting was mostly hand-to-hand stuff. Occasion­ally you’d see a knife or homemade zip gun.” It was Gangs of New York-type action, a far cry from the New Jack City gunplay it would become.

“The Five Percenters and the Seven Crowns were the two most prominent movements in Queens that changed Queens,” God B commented. “Originally we started out as kids. We went from robberies to selling drugs to stealing cars to everything.” The neighborhood cliques honed their skills growing up on the streets of South Jamaica. Eventually they all got heavy in the drug game but the first one to test the waters was Pretty Tony, a Spanish cat getting money, with a good head on his shoulders who knew how to move. “The birth of Queens was under Pretty Tony,” God B said. “Pretty Tony supersedes Bump. Everybody thinks it all started with Cat and Bump. Ask anybody from the neighborhood; Pretty Tony was the dude and Cat. Preme and all the rest were bonded by the Crowns like brothers.” They became the three amigos.

Because Fat Cat could whip most dudes, he stayed in trouble. He was the fighter of the group. Pretty Tony was more behind the scenes. “Pretty Tony avoided the limelight,” the Queens insider says. “Tony was not with putting himself out there like all the rest of the fools. He was very discreet and did not take unnecessary chances by overexposing himself and business. He did not attend any major nor minor social events. He allowed Lance and Todd, his brothers, to do any partying for the Fuertado faction. Overall Tony was one hell of a dude. Very good dude.” Preme was the third amigo of the group, and he combined both Pretty Tony’s cunning and Cats’s ferocity.  He was breaking bread with them but in infamy he would eventually surpass them both.

The Seven Crowns/Five Percenter connection played a major part in the formation of the Supreme Team. With Preme embracing both groups, it was only a matter of time before he did his own thing, combining the best elements of both movements. With his Five Percenter foundation and indoctrination into the game under Fat Cat and Pretty Tony, Preme put his own twist on the game and brought into being the Supreme Team, the hustling Peace Gods with that hip-hop swagger. Cats and Pretty Tony’s influence was apparent, but Preme stood on his own platform, juxtaposing what he picked up from them with his own ideology. The end product of Supreme’s conclusions and ideas were his own. Everything around him impacted him in some way, but he digested it all and formulated his own plan based on all the knowledge he had taken in.

“I been knowing Preme since ’79 when I was supposed to be in high school,” Bing says. “I knew him from playing in the different b-ball tournaments. I met him on the block on 150th Street. I was supposed to be in high school, but I was hustling.” Supreme was like a magnet to other inner-city youth. He attracted them with his words, style, and presence.

“My uncle is an exceptional and natural-born leader,” Prince said. “Ever since I can remember Preme exemplified the qualities of a true gangsta with a capital G, a general who could muster his troops within minutes and be on the battlefield himself.” Preme was a battle-tested soldier and thinker who could outfox any opponents or rivals. Supreme carefully studied the work of the older, more experienced Southside Queens hustlers, and in his apprenticeship he offered to take on some of the most dangerous and risky tasks for his bosses, such as guarding drugs and cash at Southside stash houses. Preme was no street fighter himself, but he could turn to his crew, the much feared Supreme Team, when trouble arose. They were more than willing and ready to handle or deal with any situation or problem that occurred.

He paid his dues by working as a stash house guard for Ronnie Bumps and helping with Pretty Tony and Cat’s operations. But his greatest asset was his diplomacy. “Preme is a dude who will rationalize, talk it out. He’s very diplomatic and humble when necessary,” Tuck says. “I remember Supreme as someone who always was spoken highly of. I don’t know if it was out of fear or respect. But usually when people spoke that name, they were speaking of something greater than themselves.” Preme was a throwback gangster, but then again he was so much more.

 

Preme: A Boss Without Being Bossy 

“Preme was a better boss than most because he did not have to be bossy,” the Queens insider says. “Dudes for some reason wanted Preme to boss them, even when they were down with other crews.” Preme wasn’t a loose cannon-type of dude, but he had the “go and get it” mentality that success embodied. He combined ruthlessness with unchecked diplomacy, forcefulness with mercy and generosity, and cunning with street smarts and intelligence.

“He’s very intellectual and culturally conscious. Not bias or racial,” T says, painting the picture of a gentleman gangster who upheld the virtues of honor, integrity and loyalty. “He’s not flamboyant t and he’s highly intelligent. Ain’t nothing slow about him.” Preme used this intelligence to build his team around him, a team that was loyal and brutal, and a team that would follow his orders without hesitation. “I remember him saying that he didn't want to be the boss. That he was chosen only because he was best qualified at the time.” T says. “Supreme is respected because whatever he’s gonna do he’s gonna do it 150 percent. The most brutal individual on the planet will work with you if he respects you.” And Supreme attracted some vicious dudes as part of his crew.

Following Pretty Tony, Ronnie Bumps, and Fat Cat’s lead, Supreme rallied his crew and installed in them the codes he had learned and lived by. He also saw people’s potential and encouraged them to live up to it. “Preme was a master of the build up,” the original member says. “That’s what he was capable of doing. Building dudes up to a certain level or aura and having them live up to it.” Preme taught his crew respect, loyalty, and honor. He treated them as individuals and with appreciation.

The Supreme Team reflected Supreme in all facets. “We respected people, we wanted people to respect us too, even if it meant going to war,” Bing says. “But the neighborhood loved us. We took care of the neighborhood.” Supreme became a ghetto strongman that roamed the streets and became revered locally as a Robin Hood figure. His command of the criminal group was absolute as he played out a role in a gangster movie.

What became known as the Supreme Team was a crew organized in the early 1980s in the vicinity of the Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica, Queens, New York, by a group of teenagers who were members of a quasi-religious sect known as the Five Percenters. Under the leadership of Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and Gerald “Prince” Miller, his nephew, as second in command, the gang concentrated its criminal efforts on wide spread drug distribution.  “Preme basically taught Prince everything he knows about the game,” the Queens insider says. The dynamic between Preme and Prince was one of big brother/little brother, with Preme being the older sibling. Even though Prince was Preme’s nephew, Preme was only two years older, so in effect they grew up as brothers with Supreme leading the way. Where Preme went Prince followed.

First they went into the Five Percenters and then into the streets together. Preme attracted a lot of dedicated followers, but Prince was his most steadfast and diehard supporter, always at his side and watching his back. With a master’s degree in the drug game acquired under the tutelage of Ronnie Bumps, Pretty Tony, and Fat Cat, Preme’s game point average (G.P.A.) was off the charts. Using this knowledge, Preme moved his crew off the block and into Baisley Projects. “Preme and them were from Baisley,” Bing says. So it was only logical that Baisley Projects would become their headquarters.

 

Cocaine

Cocaine had found a boom market in Queens. Colombian drug dealers were pouring into Jackson Heights, killing people by the dozens. When Ronnie Bumps, who was buying kilos directly from the Colombians, was arrested for drug trafficking in Baltimore, Fat Cat took over. Cat figured with so much profit to be made there was no sense dying in a drug war. Cat called a meeting with some of the other dealers in the area, namely the Corley Brothers, Claude Skinner, Supreme, Prince, Tommy Montana and Cornbread. After a night of partying in Fat Cat’s clubhouse, a grocery store called Big Macs at the corner of 106th and 150th Street, the area was split up. The Corley Brothers were given control of Forty Projects. The Supreme Team got Baisley Projects. Tommy Montana got Lauralton and Hollis. Prince and Skinner were made enforcers. Cornbread remained hidden, handling distribution. Everyone answered to Fat Cat. This was the Round Table, and Fat Cat was King Arthur at least he was for the time being. “It wasn’t like they sat down and divided it,” Bing says. “They had respect for different dudes’ areas, where they grew up. That was theirs.”

Scarface Romanticizes the Dope Game

At the same time that Preme was getting his crew situated at Baisley Projects, a movie came out that impacted him and all of the young drug dealers of the era. “In the early-’80s when Scarface came out, all the young cats wanted o be like that,” Lance said. Scarface was a movie about them and for them. The Supreme Team embraced the gun culture promoted by the movie. Firearms became a must have fashion accessory. A “shoot or be shot” mentality emerged. The guns gave them a feeling of having juice or power over their rivals.

“It made all of the youngsters dream. All the youngsters wanted to be drug dealers. It gave us a dream,” Antoine Clark from F.E.D.S. magazine said. “This was the bible. It was inspirational. Had people taking risks. Doing crazy shit. Glamorizing sex, guns and drugs.” And as big of an impact as it had on the drug world, its effect was equally important on hip-hop culture.

“They saw this come up. To the people in the hood it was a way to get on. Nino was working Scarface in New Jack City. It made niggas want to get money. It’s the classic hustler movie. They went crazy with Scarface,” Antoine said. “None of us thought we could be Scarface, but we could have that mentality of taking over wherever we went. He gave us that mentality.”

Scarface made selling drugs seem cool and lucrative. It romanticized the dope game while glamorizing it and led a whole generation of youth astray. In reality that movie corrupted the black community. It made dudes want to be hustlers and get money by any means necessary. Supreme was one of those who took the Scarface mentality to heart.

He dressed in expensive white suits with the crisp white shirt open just like Tony Montana. He embraced the swagger and adopted the fictional gangster’s style. He carried himself with the class of an older, more established hustler even when he wasn’t. His debonair appearance and demeanor was what made the Supreme Team willing to go to war for Preme. It was his presence, his class. Preme was the epitome of gangster cool. “He’s very charismatic, he can be the perfect gentleman, but he wants to win at all costs,” T says. “He is not an abrasive dude. He’s a good hearted individual.” Behind the ghetto glitz and kind heart was a seriousness about hustling that elevated Preme above his many peers on the streets.

The Hip-Hop Mafia

“Back then the game was the game. Everybody stood by the rules. Soldiers were soldiers,” Bing says. This was the era from which Preme and the team emerged. It was a time when men were men, and the consequences of snitching were clear. In Queens snitching was forbidden. It was embedded in the youngster’s DNA. Omerta played a powerful role in shaping the lost generation in terms of how they saw the world. Nobody took liberties and keeping your mouth shut became a sign of a go hard gangster.

“Not all gangsters are outlaws and not all outlaws are gangsters,” Prince said. “Stand up people do not fold or run when faced with difficulty. We analyze and determine the best course of action, holding firm to the principle of never harm another to save yourself. We understand that every action we choose has consequences. Therefore, before we act, we first settle within our hearts and minds that we can handle the consequences, whether it be beneficial or detrimental to ourselves and the lives of those we risk our life and freedom for.” These were the ideals Preme embedded in the team, and this was an era when a man had to be verified by someone who was qualified in order to be certified.

There were rules in the dope game and prospective dealers or wanna be gangsters had to prove their mettle to the hierarchy of already established hustlers in their hood. They were tested before they were allowed to put a foot in the door. Not just anybody was allowed to be a player in the game. Dudes like Preme had to pay their dues, as did all the members of the Supreme Team. “Niggas was always hustling before they was selling drugs,” Bing says. “They were robbing banks, burglarizing, shooting dice, robbing, sticking dudes up, gambling. The team did banks and shit. That’s how they started in 1982. We always had our hustles before we started dealing drugs and we were gangbanging.” Down on the block the team learned the ropes of the game.

The O.G.’s taught them to follow a time honored tradition. Bing explains, “Death before dishonor. You get arrested, you closed your mouth and kept it shut and went to jail. That was installed in me as a kid by older guys who I came up under in the streets. The way I grew up and the people I looked up to showed me morals and principles. They told me that when you go out to hustle, you hold your own.” The streets were vicious and the most important lesson was to trust no man.

Tuck explains, “Trust no man was the most important lesson I ever learned. The only thing was I learned it too late. There are no rules to that life. No loyalty, no love just the street code, no snitching.” The criminal intention was to defeat the system. That was why the street code was so important. It held that the authorities were the pre-eminent enemies, above all else. A true gangster wouldn’t rat out his worst enemy, even on his deathbed.

“When we was coming up there was a code of conduct,” Supreme said. By following this code of conduct the team gained power and respect. “We followed the old school street code. No rape, stealing from each other. No shit like that,” Bing said. “We respected people, people respected us or else.” Because in the streets that was how dudes got their props, by instantaneous violence. That was how hustlers acquired that gangster pedigree. When it jumped off, the drama got thick with the quickness. It could get hectic in a New York minute. Still, there was another angle to it, the way the Mafia did things.

True professional criminals who chose to traffic on the dark side of American society didn’t seek public acclaim. “A heavy handed gangsta lives in the shadow of death,” the Queens hustler said. Being the man behind the man implied an inner confidence that allowed others to assert themselves in the arena of public aggrandizement, while knowing all along that the real power resided offstage in the hands of the marionette. That was how organized crime worked. That was the model the Supreme Team followed, but they put their twist on it. They weren’t the Italian Mob. They were young and black; they were the hip-hop Mafia, and kings of the inner-city.

The flashy hustlers set the standard and became role models for the neighborhood, flaunting their alluring lifestyle, which was well beyond the reach of working class Queens. “Ronnie Bumps, the Corleys, Pretty Tony on Liberty Avenue, Tommy Mickens on Rockaway, these were the niggas we looked up to. These were the niggas that set shit up for us,” Bing said. These were the youngsters who came together to form the Supreme Team, who grew up under these hood stars and learned the game from them. “That was our real life, how we came up,” Bing said. “You see it all in hip-hop, but back then that was the streets.” The youngsters got their style and swagger from these ghetto cele­brities and rocked it.

“The team was the flyest crew in Queens,” the original member says. They talked the talk and walked the walk, becoming lords of the ghetto in the process. The young drug dealers and hip-hop scene that would sweep the nation in the 1990s and popularize Queens’ culture owed a debt to these icons. Dripping in gold and carrying guns, with neat clothes and flashy cars they popularized thug culture.

“Dudes from Queens always stayed fly,” Bing says, “Queens was always fly niggas, getting-money niggas. We had to prove ourselves though.” The Supreme Team had a reputation to earn, a reputation to uphold. A legacy was born, and they embraced and adopted it. That reputation earned Queens a place in the power struggles of the streets and in the rap world. Queens became hip-hop, and the Supreme Team epitomized Queens. Not surprisingly, the moment Run DMC started making noise in hip-hop in the early-’80s was also when the real street thugs started making inroads into the business. Street life’s growing intersection with rap and the music world would impact both deeply. There were six degrees of separation between hip-hop stars and the criminals they emulated which would affect Supreme much later.

Queens became where it was at, and dudes from the borough started to stick their chests out. It was a drug game thing; it was a hip-hop thing; it was a Queens’s thing. It was a growing mentality and attitude that they developed, nurtured, and created. All the neighborhoods in Queens were now being heard together with one defiant voice. Respect was what that voice demanded, and dudes from all parts of the city knew that Queens’ hustlers were getting theirs. Queens went from faking it to running it. They were getting their respect in the streets, in the prisons and in hip-hop. “It was the niggas from Queens making all the noise,” Bing says. “We started all this gangster shit.”

With his team supporting his moves, Preme’s power on the streets of South Jamaica grew. The Southside was gradually coming under the sway of the team. “From’ 81-’85 everybody was home,” Bing says. “The team was in full effect and dominated the streets.” As they became more entrenched in the drug game, dudes got busted, cases would come and go, and they would lose members to the criminal justice system. But their first run was uninterrupted, and during this time they forged their legend in the hood.

At the same time, hip-hop was evolving and becoming a force in the inner-city. It was still New York street music, but hip-hop was growing and getting bigger. It was becoming a culture that would dominate the nation just as the Supreme Team dominated the Southside, the same hoods that the rappers grew up and congregated in. Run DMC would drive through the ghetto, back and forth, hanging out. They were everywhere, very present and accounted for on the streets. They looked and dressed like the guys from around the way, like the dudes playing basketball in the parks, the fly guys hanging around the clubs and projects. The hustlers in Queens embraced Run DMC long before they were stars when hip-hop was nothing.

Shakim Bio Chemical explains, “Rap game put in work, dope game put in work. I come from an era where hip-hop wasn’t on vinyl yet. The music was being played in the purest form in the parks which caused a reaction everywhere it vibed. Growing up, there weren’t too many heroes to look up to. My era produced the graffiti artist, the break dancers, DJ’s, the MC’s and shit like that. People claimed that these kids weren’t doing nothing but making a lot of fucking noise, now those kids and millions after them are what’s up. I used to go to high school spitting the vilest shit ever and crushing niggas in rap battles, but music didn't appear to be the future back then. I became a product of my environment, and I began to hustle.”

The culture of Queens clashed as the dope game and hip-hop strove for prominence. The drug dealers became street legends that were lionized in hip-hop’s lyrical lore and the chronicles of gangster infamy. By the mid-’80s hip-hop was pushing boundaries in the musical world, and major labels started signing rappers to deals. But the street vibe and influence of drug dealing organizations like the Supreme Team were at the forefront of the genre. The lasting impression they left, which forged the flashy arrogance of ’80s hip-hop, wasn’t a coincidence. Hip-hop and hustling were closely related as were the people who resided jointly in both worlds. The links between the growing hip-hop nation and the new-style, organized crime networks would prove resilient.

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