By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It was almost a quarter past eight on the evening of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday when a police siren from an unmarked black car with a flashing red light clamped to the roof on the driver's side buzzed a 1999 Chevy Tahoe cruising along Dean Street in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
Such stops by undercover cops are routine in "the Ville," a mostly poor black community that has been a flashpoint in Mayor Rudy Giuliani's vaunted war on crime. Such stops by warring drug dons who pose as fake undercover cops to rob rivals, or by "MC Jackers" who specialize in ripping off rappers, often erupt in gunfire.
That evening two weeks ago, rapper Russell Jones, 29, known as Big Baby Jesus, or less benignly as Ol' Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan, felt he had reasons to be paranoid after two white men with guns drawn and wearing bulletproof vests approached his moss-colored jeep.
According to Frederick Cuffie, Dirty's 37-year-old cousin, who is also known as Sixty-Second Assassin from the rap group Sons of Man, Dirty feared the men might be "legit Five-Os" harassing him, or hit men sent by the same gangstas who shot him during an invasion of his Brownsville apartment last summer, or the vindictive "player hater" who shot him in the stomach four years ago after an "ill" argument over rap music.
"He's been telling friends that somebody is trying to kill him," Sixty insisted in his first interview since that night. After gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur died from wounds inflicted during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996, Dirty changed his name to Osirus and began warning friends and relatives that he was next on an FBI hit list of un-American raptivists. "He's been telling me that the CIA and the FBI wants to get him for some reason," Sixty adds. The New York Postreported last week that Wu-Tang Clan is the target of a federal gunrunning probe. The newspaper quotes sources as saying that at least two members of the chart-topping rap group are involved in a gun ring linking the small town of Steubenville, Ohio, to Staten Island. The probe was sparked by two killings involving friends of the rappers. Both of the guns used were traced to Steubenville, where one of the band members, Robert Diggs, has family. Federal authorities refused to confirm the report. (A lawyer for Wu-Tang denies its members are involved in gun trafficking.)
Sixty also was concerned about his own criminal background and history with the NYPD. Three years ago, he says he was wrongfully accused of shooting at cops after a performance at a nightclub in Bedford Stuyvesant. He plea-bargained to assault. Last year he was caught driving without a license. "Lately, I have been getting a lot of charges from police who are picking me up for no reason," Sixty complains.
Now two white men, who appeared to be cops, were tailing Sixty and his infamous cousin. Sixty had two bags of marijuana on him and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest on unspecified charges. "I was scared they was gon' get me for that." Sixty's and Dirty's fears, as well as aggressive community policing, may have contributed to the explosive events that unfolded on January 15 like the gut-crunching madness in a Master P. gangsta flick.
A Criminal Court complaint against Dirty identifies Street Crimes Unit Police Officer Christopher Roche as one of the cops who sidled up to the sports-utility vehicle. Sixty says one officer "had his gun pointed dead at my head" while another menaced Dirty.
"I'll never forget that white-boy face," Sixty says. "He has white hair and he looks like a cracker. He look prejudice. He looks like a redneck. He look like he was hungry to shoot somebody."
"Get outta the car!" he says the cop demanded.
But Dirty rolled down his window, opened the door, and shouted, "Yo, man, it's me, man. It's me! It's Ol' Dirty!"
"If you don't get out of the car, we're gonna blow your damn head off!" one of the cops allegedly shouted. Dirty, Sixty recalls, felt that the cop "was gonna hit him with the gun" and he wanted to drive off.
"Dirty, don't do it!" Sixty pleaded. "They gon' really think we up to something!"
"He comin'!" an antsy Dirty yelled. "I'm getting ready to go! I'm goin', man!" Dirty slammed the door and rolled up his window.
"Wait! Wait!," the cop shouted. "Where are you going? Stop!" Dirty sped off. Sixty says he was trying to persuade Dirty to pull over when the cops opened fire on them.
"Man, put your feet on the pedal and push down!" he urged Dirty. "Go! I believe you now, nigga!"
"Now you believe me, nigga?" Dirty said irately. "I told you they is tryin' to kill me!"
As the Tahoe skidded and swerved along Atlantic Avenue, Sixty began to reflect on Dirty's troubles with cops. NYPD officers have arrested Jones seven times since 1987, and he's been arrested four times in less than a year around the country. Last November, he was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill his girlfriend. He's also been accused of trying to steal sneakers from a shop in Virginia and threatening people in a West Hollywood, California, bar. Maybe Dirty's allegation of an FBI and CIA murder plot isn't real after all.
"I'm saying, 'What the hell Dirty did?' " Sixty says. "I'm still not wholly convinced. Now I'm thinking that he did something somewhere else. Maybe they was looking for him. Why would cops shoot at us?"
He demanded that Dirty fess up. "What the fuck you done get me into, man?"
"I told you these cops are tryin' to kill me, man!" Dirty insisted. "They're trying to kill me!"
But for now, as the Tahoe drove down on the wrong side of the street, mounting sidewalks in an attempt to dodge the pursuing cops, Sixty was giving his cousin the benefit of the doubt. "The boy was tremblin' so hard the shit jumped over to me an' cause me to start tremblin'," Sixty recalls. We ain't know where we was going or nuthin'. He's just ridin', tryin' to get away."
The chase ended at 1341 East New York Avenue, outside a boarding home for women owned by the rappers' aunt, Cheryl Dixon. Initial news accounts of the incident toed the police line: Dirty fired on the cops after they stopped him for driving his Tahoe with no headlights on; the cops fired back, hitting the vehicle with as many as five rounds.
Police charged Dirty with first-degree attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon. But they found no weapon, and Dirty denies shooting at the cops. Freed on $150,000 bail last week, he faces up to life in prison. "If Dirty hadn't pulled off I woulda got shot in my head," says Sixty, who has not been charged. "They figured we had a gun or somethin'. But it wasn't no gun. It was nothing but a cellular phone."
Ol' Dirty Bastard's paranoia showed earlier that evening, when he arrived at Brooklyn Sounds United Kingdom, a recording studio in the basement of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza founded by Papa Wu and community activist Sonny Carson to tap into the raw talent of young blacks who want to rap out their frustration.
According to Sixty-Second Assassin, Dirty was anxious to find the right beat for a single on his new album. Although he would settle for the background music from an old Biz Markie hit, Dirty seemed to have a lot more on his mind.
"He's walkin' around like he's paranoid but everybody knows that Dirty's been paranoid," says Sixty. "It's been going on for four years now. We kept saying, 'What's wrong with Dirty? Why is he acting like this?' He'd say things like, 'All of us gotta watch out because we into this music. These crackers don't like us, man.' "
At the studio, Sixty finally confronted Dirty about his nervous pacing and banter with the other rappers. "Dirty, what's wrong? Talk to me, man." Dirty, he recalls, laughed, walked toward the door, then turned around and beckoned, "Yo, Sixty! Come upstairs with me." Sixty realized that Dirty wanted company because he feared driving alone. "Everytime I see him he got one of our cousins in the car with him." But that evening, Dirty was alone. Sixty recalls telling his cousin he was expected at his aunt's home on Dean Street and urged the rapper to go with him.
Before departing, Sixty told Dirty, "Do not drive crazy" and warned him not to believe that someone was coming after them if they seem to be tailgaiting. him. They turned on Brooklyn Avenue, then Sixty directed him to make a left on Atlantic Avenue and head straight for Saratoga Avenue. But Dirty missed the turn. He thought somebody was following them.
"Dirty, I thought I told you to make a left, man," Sixty snapped.
"I've got it man, don't worry about it," Dirty shot back. Shortly after Dirty assured him he was in control, they heard the police siren. "Now I think they was following us for a while because Dirty kept acting paranoid."
Shortly after the cops allegedly threatened to blow Dirty's head off, the cousins fled the scene and wound up at their aunt's home. As Sixty raced inside the building, Dirty pleaded, "Man, please don't go nowhere. Please!"
"Man, come in here with me!" Sixty said.
Suddenly, another unmarked car pulled up. Dirty jumped back in his Tahoe and attempted to drive off. The cops rammed the jeep and it spun around.
"I ran into the place, acting like I didn't do nothing and told my aunt Cheryl to go out there and make sure Dirty's all right 'cause the police got him," Sixty remembers.
A cop put a gun to Dixon's head. "Get back or we're gonna shoot your ass!" the cop allegedly barked.
"Stay right here, sugar!" Dirty told his aunt. "You ain't got to go nowhere!"
Dixon, Sixty recalls, remained on the scene. Apparently buying into Dirty's paranoia, he became convinced that the cops wanted to get her out of the way so they could kill Dirty. "I guess the other cops put the hit out on him," Sixty charges. "They wanted to kill him right there."
While the cops ransacked the home looking for Sixty and a gun, Sixty hid in one of the women's rooms. "They in my aunt's room lookin' for a gun. They told my aunt that Dirty was just drivin' reckless but that I had the gun shooting at the police." Outside the cops were pressuring Dirty to tell them where Sixty was hiding. According to Sixty, Dirty eventually told them that he was on the third floor.
But Sixty got tired of running from room to room; the residents were terrified and Dirty was in trouble. He surrendered and was taken to the 77th Precinct station house.
At the precinct, the cops whisked Sixty-Second Assassin to an interrogation room. "Now I really think they gon' kill me," he says. "They put me in this dark room with nothing but one chair in it. I thought they was ready to beat me down."
Sixty says about five detectives later surrounded him. "This is what's going down," one of the cops said. "I don't want no bullshit from you. All I want you to do is tell the truth." But Sixty says he lied at first.
"I was so nervous, I was not trying to tell them I was in that car." Sixty swore he had arrived at his aunt's house by taxi.
"You're full of shit!" he claims the cop declared. "I'm about to break your fucking neck. If it's one thing I don't like is a person breaking my balls! You're breaking my fucking balls and I'm gonna beat your fucking head into this wall!"
Sixty put up a front: "You gotta let them crackers know that you ain't scared, that you will go down with them." The cops tried another approach. Dirty, one of them said, had ratted on him.
"Your boy Dirty told us so you might as well spit it out," the cops said. "Dirty already told me you shot at the police." The cops tried to play Sixty: Ol' Dirty Bastard had turned on him to save his own skin.
"Man, that's a goddamn lie!" Sixty snarled. "The police shot the whole damn van up! These cops was trying to kill us in that car!"
It was not what the cops wanted to hear. All but one left the room. "We're about to kick your ass!" he said. Sixty stalled. A beat down was not necessary, he told the detective. "I teach righteousness. I got no hatred against white people; they like brothers unto me, too." The player was trying to play the players: "Y'all ain't gotta do all this."
"Did Dirty have a gun?" the cop asked.
"Nah, man," the puzzled rapper retorted. "I thought y'all said I'm the one that shot."
The cop painted a scenario of Sixty going to prison if he didn't finger Dirty. "You gonna fuck around and get 25 years to life for lying!" the cop said.
"Look, man, it was your peoples," Sixty said. "They shot at us, man. Dirty never had a gun. I'm telling y'all the truth."
Sixty stuck to his story: The police had shot at them for no reason. He told the story over and over again to a phalanx of detectives and to an assistant district attorney, in writing and on tape. Dirty's paranoia began to rub off on Sixty when the cops offered him a drink of water.
"I start thinking, 'Maybe these niggaz tryin' to poison me.' I took three sips and didn't drink no more. They gave me coffee after that." He thought it was drugged, "but I was so damn thirsty, I just needed something to drink."
Despite all that he had written and said on the videotape about the incident, a fresh batch of detectives kept hammering him about the gun Dirty allegedly used to shoot at the officers. The story was the same: Dirty did not have a gun.
Sixty fell asleep. He woke up. He smoked. They badgered.
"Tell us the truth, Dirty had a gun, right?" a detective inquired.
"I thought y'all said I was the one whom had the gun? I done told you a thousand times, Dirty did not have no gun."
"Did he have a bulletproof vest on?" another cop asked.
"I'm not sure."
"Does Dirty get high?"
"He didn't do nothing with me."
Is there a secret squad of police officers, FBI, and even CIA agents who do nothing but stalk rappers, or is Ol' Dirty Bastard crazy? Ever since N.W.A. urged the Hiphop Nation to "fuck da poliz," allegations of harrassment have intensified. More and more rappers are being busted with guns they say they carry for their own protection. Do law-enforcement authorities really have a bullet for Big Baby Jesus? Who should we believe: a rapper who once posed for an album brandishing his welfare card and who has been called a deadbeat dad or white undercover cops who swoop down on suspects driving while black, and can't even find the smoking gun?