Proof of Life

A Death in the Wu-Tang Clan

Bowens remembers that Banks had planned to hand-deliver the record to the famed deejay Red Alert at Alert's birthday celebration in the Bronx. He speculates that after leaving Alert's party, Banks may have returned to Harlem to continue distributing the single. Banks, according to Bowens, had not been acting like someone who would sabotage a lifelong dream. "Bankie was going to Atlanta and then to L.A. to finish his album," adds the ashen-faced musician whose Phat Farm goose-down coat Banks was wearing when he was shot. "He was reading a script for a new movie." If Banks gambled, he never bet carelessly on his life. "Bankie was dealt a hand he had to play out and he played it the best way he could," Bowens asserts. "Yes, Bankie was a rolling stone, but he gave us enough proof that he loved life."

Bowens recalls that the Wu-Tang's Power met Banks four years ago and turned his life around. Power helped him grow up. "I could see from my Caller ID that Bankie had his own phone," Bowens says. In 1997, Power enlisted Banks in what would become known as the "Wu-Revolution," making him an integral playa in the formation of the American Cream Team. Banks had vowed to help make the Team a powerhouse in the hip hop nation. "I could take you on an adventure through my rhymes, talking about money shit and street shit," the late rapper once boasted.

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

No matter how far Chip Banks had strayed, he always called Laura Andrews's apartment in Harlem's East-North Houses home. The last time she saw him was at her dinner table on Thanksgiving. Banks told the neighborhood do-gooder about the movie script he was reading, scowled at the chunks of ham on a guest's plate, and bragged about making it big with continued support from Bowens, Andrews's son.

Andrews recalls that the only time she detected that something was troubling Banks was when he expressed frustration about not being able to corral one of his younger relatives nicknamed Snapper. It is "little shorty misfits" like Snapper whom Banks had been reaching out to. "Bruce [which is how Andrews refers to the slain rapper] was angry with Snapper," she explains. "I hugged Bruce and told him, 'Yes, you can see that Snapper is hardheaded because you have come a long way.' He said, 'I know, Ma: I'm trying to tell these knuckleheads they don't have to be out there.' "

Someday, Snapper, too, might reminisce: "To get up out this 'hood was like a fantasy." Perhaps he'd see his whole life flash before him, including that Thanksgiving Day when Chip Banks was having, as he put it, "flashbacks of the times." Even Snapper might agree with the hip hop martyr: "Some made us laugh, some made us sad."

Reporter's note to "Bankie": R. Kelly put it best, "Your family called the morning of the tragic end/Damn, my condolences."

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