Proof of Life

A Death in the Wu-Tang Clan

I know you're smiling down on me
Saying everything's okay
And if I never leave this thug life
I'll see you again someday
I wish, I wish, I wish

Singer R. Kelly's homage to his fallen dawg in the hit song "I wish" mirrors the mourning for Chip "Bankie" Banks, a New Jack rapper who was gunned down in central Harlem shortly after Thanksgiving. Almost everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan-affiliated hip hop group American Cream Team has been moved by Kelly's gothic R&B in the aftermath of Banks's slaying. To them, "I Wish" portrays the depth of grief you feel when a beloved dawg—your homie, your best friend—winds up bullet-riddled, and dies over some silly-ass beef. But no one in the Clan and the Team, even as they stood sobbing around a platinum casket on December 1, could have envisioned a master playa like Banks ending up a victim of cold-blooded murder.

At the time of his death, Banks, a 30-year-old father of eight, was not, in R. Kelly's words, "dreaming of windows black-tinted like a hearse." He was on the verge of releasing "More, More, More," the first single from his debut album, Only in America. A fledgling actor, Banks, born Bruce Lamar Mayfield, starred alongside Wu-Tang Clan's Oli "Power" Grant in the 1999 movie Black and White. It was during filming that Al Pacino, who had no role in the flick about urban white teens trying to tap into black culture, befriended members of the self-described "clan of word warriors," becoming particularly close to Banks. "Pacino and Bankie hit it off," recalls the rapper's producer and childhood friend, Naheem "Pop" Bowens. "They talked often."

Chip "Bankie" Banks: Is there heaven for A G?
Chip "Bankie" Banks: Is there heaven for A G?

Banks, a "rhyme-slinging" visionary, was among the most promising unsung hype in hip hop until some ghost dog appeared out of nowhere and turned on the dark. Witnesses told cops that shortly before 7 a.m. on November 25, they saw a man, whom authorities would later identify as Alfred Dancy, pointing a gun at Banks as he left a building on Fifth Avenue near 128th Street in Harlem. Some claim that as the unarmed Banks dodged the gunman, they heard him plead, "Why can't we discuss this?" Dancy, 28, allegedly replied, "Fuck this!" and then shot Banks once in the left arm. Banks collapsed between two cars, and that is where, witnesses allege, Dancy finished off the bent and broken rapper with a bullet to the chest.

Within minutes, cops responding to shots fired swooped down on the corner of 129th Street and Fifth Avenue. There, several enraged witnesses pointed out Dancy to the officers, who found the suspect hiding under a vehicle. According to NYPD spokesman Ralph Smith and witnesses, Dancy resisted arrest and three officers sustained minor injuries during a scuffle. The officers were treated at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and released. Banks, meanwhile, was pronounced dead on arrival at Harlem Hospital, where his alleged killer also had been taken for treatment of injuries allegedly suffered during efforts to subdue him. Police say they recovered the murder weapon, a .45 semiautomatic. A grand jury has indicted Dancy on a charge of second-degree murder. He will be arraigned on December 14. John Geida, Dancy's court-appointed attorney, did not return calls for comment.

Rumors about the motive in the killing of Chip Banks began circulating in the neighborhood immediately: That the morning Banks was shot he had been hanging out at an illegal nightclub frequented by gamblers, " 'hos," and Uptown gangsta underworld types; that Banks, who once gambled heavily, owed money to some "fake-ass playa"; and that Banks, who'd dubbed himself the "money" of the American Cream Team, had gone into the after-hours joint to borrow $10 and got into an argument. A law-enforcement source says a preliminary investigation concluded that Banks was shot in a "dispute over money." As relatives and members of his hip hop family try to make sense of this outlandish killing, some believe Banks may have left behind an epitaph—wildly suggestive clues about how he lived, and never wanted to die—in a rap called "Flashbacks":

I grew up, no moms, no pops/I was mad at the world/Took it out on my block/While my homies play B'ball, I sat and I watched/Although I wasn't athletically inclined/I knew how to lift my .9/Make four nicks from a dime/Jovita's son, long life of crime/But that was way back when we use to watch Porgies, get horny/Friday, eat Whiting and Porgies/We were little shorty misfits/Way back when Chrissy from Three's Company had big tits/The ole timers pushed Caddies, rocked British/Mr. T had a Slick Rick Neck/He was the realest/Remember Mikey? He liked it/They said Shorty died from eatin' Pop Rocks and Pepsi/I Joe-Pesci any bully that tried to test me/A young shorty in the 'hood, I never let it stress me/I know the streets will be what the streets will be. . . .

Is Alfred Dancy someone Banks may have Joe-Pescied during his "long life of crime"? Bowens, the rapper's 31-year-old producer, paints a different scenario: It's one of redemption, the self-confessed ex-thug as born-again dawg. He says the Chip Banks he knew no longer indulged in what the late rapper Big L called "lifestylez ov da poor and dangerous." Although Banks was not, as R. Kelly would say, "iced up with a Bentley and a house," this was the American Cream he relished. He says that on November 24, Banks was upbeat about the planned release of "More, More, More" in December. "I am taking control of my career," he told Bowens as he embarked on hawking first-run copies of his record to deejays at popular nightclubs and underground bashment enclaves.

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