Revenge of the Mad Rappers

When hip hoppers use violence to silence their critics

Hip hop journalists, under fire by rappers for portraying them as arrogant, real-life hoods and scantily clad gangsta bitches, braced for a new volley of attacks in the wake of last week's brazen assault on Jesse Washington, editor-in-chief of the Manhattan-based hip hop magazine Blaze.

Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, a member of rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs's posse of producers known as "The Hit Men," was arrested and charged in the attack on Washington.

The incident comes on the heels of another allegedly violent confrontation between teenage rap sensation Foxy Brown and Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of Blaze's parent publication, Vibe, an r&b/hip hop magazine founded by Quincy Jones.

Sources say that Brown, upset over an article in the December/January issue of Vibe with a cover photo showing the gangsta coquette practically nude, confronted Smith and struck her. (Neither Smith nor Brown would comment.)

In January 1997, while on tour promoting her first solo album, Ill NaNa, with the Lost Boyz and Camp Lo, Brown was arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina, for allegedly spitting on two Holiday Inn employees and threatening to whack one with a fish bowl after she asked for an iron and they said they couldn't provide one.

Fearing that fallout from the attacks might escalate into all-out war between rappers and journalists, former Nation of Islam minister Conrad Muhammad—who now heads a group called A Movement for CHHANGE (Conscious Hip Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment)—says he reached out to Smith, Washington, and Angelettie and offered to mediate "this craziness." Muhammad, dubbed

"the hip hop minister" for his efforts to promote peace in the sometimes violent world of gangsta rap, added that all involved "are very interested in making this thing go away."

"I see the tension rising," says a respected hip hop reporter, who remembers two ghetto griots barging into the offices of a hip hop magazine, and one declaring that "niggaz would be leavin' in body bags" if their new single did not receive a favorable rating. "There is less reason now for people on both sides to restrain themselves," the writer adds. As an upstart in the industry, he points out, "Blaze acknowledges how ridiculous some rappers can get, but they do it in a way that pisses the rappers off. Face it, the hip hop community is ruled by ghetto laws; if some magazine or journalist comes out depicting a rapper as shit, that rapper is gonna test them."

In another development, music industry sources speculated that a simmering feud between Combs and Angelettie—producer of hits such as The Benjaminsand Money, Power, and Respect—may have had something to do with the alleged attack on Washington, a rumor that Washington eagerly shot down.

Almost eight months before Angelettie's arrest, he and Combs allegedly battled over the trademark to the name "The Madd Rapper," the popular underground jester who was featured in a manic interlude in the Notorious B.I.G.'s hit single "Kick in the Door." Industry insiders say Combs balked after Angelettie decided to release an album titled The Madd Rapper on his own label, Crazy Cat. Combs allegedly warned Angelettie that the name was the property of Bad Boy Entertainment, the cutting-edge company he heads. A friend, who describes Angelettie as having a "Christ-like humility," says he became as angry and frustrated as his alter ego.

"Deric was furious!" he says. "He told Puffy, ‘Man, I created the Madd Rapper.' But Puffy said, ‘You created it on my record label. I own it. You work for me.' Deric was like, ‘Fuck you! You don't own the right to my character!"'

In hip hop culture, as the late Notorious B.I.G. put it, "playas" like Combs and Angelettie can both "pull burners, make da muthafuckin' beef cook" and settle their disputes. Angelettie, however, was headed to court.

"It was getting ready to go into litigation," says another source, who is close to Combs and Angelettie. "It was a big falling out, adding to a lot of stress that was evident in Puffy's camp." (A spokeswoman for Combs said he had no comment.)

Ed Woods, Angelettie's entertainment lawyer, told the Voicethat Angelettie launched the Crazy Cat label at the end of the summer and will release the Madd Rapper album—one of the most anticipated in hip hop—in January. Woods declined to comment on Angelettie's alleged quarrel with Combs.

"Although you didn't hear about it, Deric got really pissed because he has a lot riding on that album," an industry insider claims. Angelettie allegedly became more enraged after he discovered that Blaze was about to publish a photograph of the Madd Rapper. Outside of hip hop circles, the musician's identity has been secret, and no pictures have ever been published.

Around 4:30 p.m. on November 16, Angelettie and three other men allegedly barged into the magazine's Lexington Avenue office and confronted Jesse Washington. They reportedly started arguing, and Washington told police the men grabbed him and beat him with a chair and their fists before running off. Washington, who suffered facial fractures and cuts on his head, identified Angelettie as one of his assailants. Three days later, Angelettie and Anthony Hubbard, both 30, surrendered at the 17th Precinct station house in Manhattan, and were charged with second-degree assault. "They deny all these allegations," says Ian Niles, an attorney who represented Angelettie and Hubbard at their arraignment. "We're gonna fight this case vigorously."

The allegation came as a shock to Angelettie's friends in the industry, who all agreed that he is a musician who selflessly dedicates himself to helping others. They argued that he must have been provoked. Angelettie, says one confidant, understood the distinctions between identity and invisibility in hip hop culture: a rapper with too many faces has no identity at all.

"A lot of people knew he was the Madd Rapper," says the friend. "It was no secret in the industry and among the hip hop kids. What was Jesse Washington exposing that wasn't already known? If by Jesse revealing that D-Dot was the Madd Rapper, and that breached his anonymity and fucked with his record deal, I could see a nigga whippin' somebody's ass over."

Famed r&b musician James Mtume, who presented a prestigious music industry award to Angelettie earlier this year, says he cannot authenticate the accusation that Washington's imminent unmasking set the wunderkind producer off. "I don't buy it was just that," adds Mtume. "Deric is very humble. It's like you heard I went and beat up somebody because he said I was too old to be singing. Then you find out that he tried to rape my daughter. And then you say, ‘Oh, that's why.' This kid wouldn't beat up somebody for a bullshit reason like blowing his identity."

The alleged attacks on Washington and Smith will once more put hip hop on trial. Again, the spotlight will be on the real-life violence of many high-profile rappers and producers. Two recent incidents made headlines:

On November 5, Wu-Tang Clan member Russell Tyrone Jones was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill his former girlfriend. It was the 29-year-old rapper's second arrest in recent months. On September 17, Jones was arrested in West Hollywood for allegedly threatening to kill security guards at a blues club when they asked him to leave because he was "drunk, disorderly, and annoying other patrons." When they escorted him out, police said, Jones threatened to return and shoot them.

On August 30, hip hop star Noreaga fled a suburban Harrisburg hotel after being charged with assaulting a teenager in a parking lot following a disastrous concert. Noreaga, whose songs include "Stick You" and "War Report," had been booed off the stage after one song during which he allegedly shouted obscenities at the angry crowd. He rushed to the parking lot, where fans followed him to his car. After someone threw a bike at the vehicle, police said, Noreaga and his bodyguard jumped out and beat 16-year-old Clinton Burns.

Virtually ignored in the uproar over violence between rappers and their fans are the bellicose encounters between rappers and hip hop journalists. The alleged attack by Deric Angelettie was the second time Jesse Washington said he had been accosted by an angry rapper.

In August, Washington accused Wyclef Jean of the Fugees of pointing a gun at him after Jean learned that Blaze planned to publish an unfavorable review of an album he had produced. Washington did not file charges in the incident, which allegedly occurred as the magazine was debuting. Jean told an MTV interviewer the report was a publicity stunt and insists the incident never happened.

In their disenchantment with hip hop journalists, whom they accuse of trying to tarnish their image, some rappers invoke the saying that "there are two kinds of people in the world today, the playaz [and] the playa hataz." When a hip hop journalist has been labeled a "playa hata," his detractors retaliate with lightning gangsta resolve in response to unfavorable reviews or verbal beatdowns.

The 1991 attack on Fox TV personality Dee Barnes remains one of the most brutal examples of a rapper's disdain for his critics. Dr. Dre, formerly of the rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), pleaded no contest to beating the host of the Pump It Up rap show at a Hollywood party. He was fined $2500 and placed on two years' probation. Dre also was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service and produce an antiviolence public service announcement for television.

"There is a natural tension between the hip hop artists, producers, label owners, and fair journalism," says Bill Stephney, the CEO of Step Sun Music Inc., a rap and r&b company.

The rise in tension prompted Detroit News reporter Darrell Dawsey to speak out in 1993. "For years, I've heard stories about hip-hop artists bullying the young black critics who cover rap music," Dawsey wrote. "Writers critical of certain albums have been denied interviews, removed from mailing lists, and threatened with physical harm. A hip-hop columnist in New York reports that Ice-T has threatened him for raising questions about Ice-T after he dropped the controversial song 'Cop Killer' from his metal group's album."

Dawsey himself was the alleged victim of a rap attack. "Shoot, some unknown ‘hard-core' clown even called and threatened me after I overlooked him while doing a piece on Detroit hip-hop," he wrote. "I laughed for hours. After all, what smarter way is there to get a writer to mention you than by cussing out his voicemail? (Mr. Hardcore is dead now, from what I hear.)"

Some rappers and producers contend that, partly because hip hop journalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, writers feel they have free rein to make or break an artist. "It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see," rappers Mase and Puffy lament on "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." The more prominent the rapper or producer the more vicious the attacks.

Combs has been under constant surveillance by hip hop journalists since the outbreak of the so-called East Coast–West Coast rapper rivalry, which some say led to the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Prior to Shakur's death, there had been a simmering feud between Biggie and Combs and Shakur and Death Row records boss Marion "Suge" Knight. Shakur accused Biggie of involvement in a 1994 robbery in which Shakur was shot several times and lost $40,000 in jewelry. Two years later, Shakur died from wounds suffered in a driveby shooting in Las Vegas. Biggie was killed in a driveby in Los Angeles in March 1997. No arrests have been made in either case, and police say they have received little cooperation from witnesses.

Tight lips in the industry prompted hip hop photojournalist Ernie Paniccioli to write and circulate this conspiracy theory involving some of the leading characters:

"Suge insults Puffy/Tupac gets shot & robbed/blames Puffy & Big/Tupac disses Bad Boy Crew on wax/Tupac gets killed/Dre leaves Death Row Records/Suge goes back to jail for nine years on a parole beef/Snoop goes to NY/Meets with Puff & crew/Makes them believe it's cool to go to Cali/Snoop & Puffy hold a press conference to publicly state that there is no more East West beef. (Some people still believe in the Easter Bunny.)/Bad Boy Crew goes to L.A. for The Soul Train Awards...Big is killed."

Bill Stephney blames the attacks on a generation of tempestuous young hip hoppers. "In the early '80s, hip hop actually had its own inbred criticism," he explains. "We came up in the time of The Village Voice being the center of hip hop journalism. That died somewhere in the '90s. When John Leland wrote that he actually liked Flava Flav over Chuck D of Public Enemy, Chuck said bring the noise. He didn't go looking for John Leland. Later on, of course, Greg Tate wrote something about Chuck, and Chuck referred to him as a ‘porch nigga.' Still, the artists from the generation of the battles sort of built up emotional calluses against criticism. The new generation has none of that."

Perhaps Dawsey put it best in his 1993 response to attacks on hip hop journalists. "Hip-hop's gotta face it," he wrote. "The young blacks who shaped its core are growing up, have grown up. As we get older, we're going to scrutinize our subculture, its beauty and strengths as well as its contradictions. We have an obligation to bring to hip-hop culture an intelligent critique....If a rapper falls off or comes out fake, then the black community to whom his music claims to speak ought to be able to say he's fallen off without worrying about having pistols pulled on them."

Research: W. Michelle Beckles
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