By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Touted as the re-incarnation of slain gangsta rapper Notorious B.I.G., Barrow is riding a wave of popularity with Shyne, his eponymously titled debut album. It's lyrics are riddled with gun talk. If allowed in court to dredge up alleged "numerous prior uncharged criminal, vicious, or immoral acts" attributed to Barrow, Bogdanos will portray the defendant as a common street thug who promotes the violent exploits of his drug dealer character through rap music. "I switch nines [9mm pistols] and rhymes," Barrow declares in "That's Gangsta."
But how "gangsta" is Jamal "Shyne" Barrow? asks hip hop journalist Jorge "Big Mouf" Navaro in theSource.com. "With all of his tough talk, a skeptic might wonder if Shyne isn't just a studio gangsta," Navaro muses in an online vignette. "After the shooting . . . in Club New York . . . some people were quick to regard Shyne as an impressionable thug-wannabe with a point to prove." Not so, the Belize-born Barrow tells Navaro: His woof never glorifies the embellished crimes of some Pappy Mason impersonator. "I done seen the highs and lows of life," says Barrow, who emigrated from Belize in the mid 1980s with his mother and grew up in Flatbush. "It wasn't like I was some kid from Westchester, bottled up. I had to deal with catching a [gunshot] and watching my man drop right in front of me. I've been in and out of facilities before this rap game. I lived it; so when I talk about it, it's for real. I ain't gonna lie. I just say what I know."
In that case, "The Life," Barrow's riveting rap about the wiles of dealing cocaine and heroin, may be an autobiography in the making. "At 15, I sold ma first bag of dope," Barrow reminisces in the rhyme. "Used to stiff Dominicans . . . gittin' like 15 grand a half a ki'." (In his interview with Navaro, Barrow said: "When I first came to America was when crack first came out, in 1985. I was right there with my cousin when he took that shit and threw it in a pot, then cut it up and put it in red, blue, and yellow vials. Then we take it downstairs in brown paper bags.") Later Barrow became an enforcer, but after one of his friends got "pinched"he died in "a shootout with the cops in front of the precinct"he "went from enforcer to moving product." Selling cocaine made him the hottest nigga in the street." According to the rap, Barrow drove "a 190 Benz with Louis Vuitton seats" and bought out entire bars at his favorite watering holes. "Shit was going right and only went better when I got ma Italian connect, hitting me with pure heroin," he says. Barrow became "the first black nigga with mafia ties"he had become a made man who'd leased his "soul to the devil with an option to buy."
So quit dissin' this "ghetto star" who "made money in every hood"this "heartless villian" who wound up killing and burying the opposition. In fact, "you've never seen a nigga" like him. When "li'l niggas rap," it's him they're lionizing. "I did that time," he reiterates in his rap. "I flipped that dime, nigga. . . . Shootouts, jet planes, cocaine, and automobiles, nigga. The life. I love it."
How cops captured one of Sean "Puffy" Combs's "Bad Boys," and pinned the Club New York shooting rap on him, remains a contentious issue. To begin with, Jamal Barrow's lawyers argue, stopping the rapper as he was running from a location where shots had been fired was illegal, and in fact was a violation of his constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure. "[T]elling Barrow to stop and show his hands was not a seizure," Bogdanos counters. "[And] even if the stopping . . . were to be considered a seizure, the officers had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was at hand." Bogdanos adds that the "loaded gun recovered from Barrow's waistband was in plain view" and that cops "had a right (actually, a duty) to have Barrow show them his hands as a safety precaution."
But the issue that most galls defense lawyers was the "police-arranged confrontation"also known as a lineupin which several witnesses fingered Barrow as the gunman. This, they assert, was fraught with errors. As in the controversial stopping of Barrow, the lawyerswho claimed that Barrow was denied the right to an attorney prior to the linup lost a legal battle to throw out the ID testimony of witnesses to the shooting.
Bogdanos says cops had no choice but to conduct the lineup, and he unequivocally backed their decision not to delay it until the arrival of Barrow's attorney at the time, Ian Niles. At the outset, he claims, three key witnesses were fed up with the delay. "The witnesses viewing the lineup had been waiting in the police precinct for a number of hours," Bogdanos explains in court papers. "Having been up most of the night, they were tired and wanted to go home. One was ill and the other two were walking out the door at any minute. These were witnesses who had been present in a room where guns had been fired very near them, creating a traumatic experience. Delaying the lineup any longer was not possible: All three would have been gone. At least two had already indicated that they were not coming back."