Confessions of a Gangsta Rapper

Murder, Robbery, Police Brutality, Hip Hop, and Other Tales From a Pioneer of the Crips Gang in New York

 It comes as no surprise that Matthew Bogdanos, the combative prosecuting attorney in the gun and bribery trial of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, is itching to bare the controversial backgrounds of Combs and his codefendants Jamal "Shyne" Barrow and Anthony "Wolf" Jones. Jury selection in the December 27, 1999, Club New York shooting case begins on January 17. Colleagues and adversaries who are familiar with Bogdanos's litigation style say he has witnesses, rap sheets, and corroborated anecdotes of misconduct that he intends to wave in jurors' faces. Bogdanos is seeking permission from the presiding judge to introduce lyrics to some of Combs's and Barrow's gangsta raps—lyrics he has hinted will give the panel insights into their violence-plagued careers. This week, the Voice, which has been investigating the careers of several gangsta rappers, delves into the tragic life of Larry "Biz" Pagett. If Pagett's story resembles anything Bogdanos has in his dossier on Combs, Barrow, and Jones, the accused celebrities may have a hard time convincing the jury not to convict them in the nightclub shooting in which three patrons were injured.

For three months last year, Larry Pagett agonized about going to prison. As the avowed Crips gang leader and aspiring rapper swaggered drunkenly one April morning into state supreme court in Brooklyn to seal a plea bargain deal for assault with a gun, he reminisced about the blustery winter night he bumped into his old dawg, Patrick Dorismond.

Pagett and Dorismond, the son of Haitian singer Andre Dorismond, became close friends in 1996 when Pagett, in his early teens, already was deeply entrenched in hardcore thug life. Pagett, now 20, was the head gangsta in G-Storm, a Flatbush-based set with strong ties to the Crips. But it was Dorismond, a burly figure nicknamed "Avalanche," who befriended Pagett after learning of Pagett's gang affiliation and his cultural roots in Belize. In the early 1980s, Dorismond was a member of the U.K. Crew, a forerunner to groups like Killa Gangsta Crips. "It was based on Crips," recalls Pagett. "It was a little set. But by the time I met Avalanche, he was already calmed down. He was into some music shit."

Dorismond was an underground hip hop deejay who coined the phrase "Haitian Hop" while playing at the Caribbean Dome in Brooklyn. "He had the whole party talking Haitian. He used to say, 'Everybody say, 'Sak pasé [What's up]?' He was like a comedian, man," says Pagett. "He used to be buggin'. We'd be chillin', we'd all be talkin', and he'd just make an outburst, say some Haitian shit that had everybody laughin'. This is the same nigga whose mother used to call him out from her window, 'Patrick!' while we hangin' an' shit."

Young wannabes like Pagett drew inspiration from movies and music videos about the Crips, Bloods, and other gangs in cities like Chicago.

As they talked that night last February, Dorismond told Pagett he no longer hung out in the streets. "I'm turnin' ma life around," he said in a sleepy ebonicized drawl. "I work now. I got ma own crib, and me and ma girl about to git married. I got ma li'l seed, ma li'l daughter." Dorismond was 26 and working as a security guard with the Times Square Business Improvement District. Pagett wanted Dorismond to know that he too was at the crossroads in his life and was trying to make it as a hip hop artist. Pagett bragged about his rap group Brooknam Dodger—made up of "Me, dat Biz Loc, ma man Omega, ma man Relapse, and ma man Flatbush"—which was shooting a music video for their first single, "Brooklyn," in which Pagett goes off "on some gangsta shit."

Then Pagett told Dorismond he'd done something really criminal—a stickup—but that he'd fessed up and cut a deal with the Brooklyn D.A. to keep from doing 15-to-life. His surrender and sentencing was set for April. Pagett asked the Haitian immigrant what he should do. "He was mad at me 'cause I was gonna turn myself in," Pagett remembers. "He wanted me to run. He begged me to go to L.A. or somethin'." It was the last time Pagett saw Dorismond.

On the night of March 16, during a break in the filming of the "Brooklyn" video, someone told Pagett, "Avalanche got kilt; the police kilt him." Dorismond had been fatally shot during a scuffle with an undercover police officer as he left a nightclub in Times Square. The officer had approached Dorismond as part of a drug sting and asked if he would sell him marijuana. Dorismond rebuffed him, a struggle ensued, backup officers arrived, and one officer's gun went off, killing Dorismond. It was the fourth shooting of an unarmed black civilian by undercover officers in the city in 13 months, and it occurred only a few weeks after an Albany jury acquitted four white undercover officers in the shooting of Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 bullets. There is a bitter irony to the shooting that haunts Pagett. He remembers Dorismond saying shortly after Diallo had died, "You don't wanna catch 41."

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