A Gangsta’s Prayer

Shyne’s Bible Is His First Line of Defense

The Lord is my shepherd
Let's get this coat measured
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadows of gangstas I fears nuthin'. . . .
Niggas waiting for me to break.
Shit! Ain't nuthin' foldin' but ma money
—Shyne, "Gangsta Prayer"

Several months ago, when rapper Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow swore by that gangsta's psalm—and lived by it—he had a careless, vicious tongue. "You!" the gloating Barrow imagines bumrushing one of his victims, a street thug, in a Bad Boys-produced rhyme. "Who you see stand over your coffin? Hey, you tell the devil I'm comin'. Keep it hot!" But these days, hell must wait, since Barrow, the accused gunman in the Club New York shooting trial, has found God.

"I've seen God! I've witnessed him," Barrow, who is under a judge's gag order, confided to a friend who spoke to the Voiceon condition of anonymity. "He's revealed Himself to me just by showing me what to tell my lawyers to ask the witnesses and what to expect. I get up every morning at 8 o'clock and pray so that I won't be confused and paranoid. I'm a warrior so I accept suffering. I never say, 'Oh, God, don't give me pain.' I just ask Him to help me endure it."

It’s a G thang: Jamaal “Shyne” Barrow (second from right) sits trancelike while his hip hop idol Sean “Puffy” Combs testifies.
illustration by Shirley & Andrea Shepard
It’s a G thang: Jamaal “Shyne” Barrow (second from right) sits trancelike while his hip hop idol Sean “Puffy” Combs testifies.

Every morning, after ambling into Judge Charles H. Solomon's Manhattan courtroom, Barrow, 21, unbuttons the jacket of his gray business suit, settles himself in a chair facing a jury of seven blacks and five whites, and whips out a rumpled, leather-bound white Bible. He looks over in the spectators gallery, searching for the Belize-born mother he nicknamed "Stress" and the 77-year-old grandmother he calls "Old Girl." According to the confidant, it was Old Girl who first "threw the book" at Barrow.

Religion can ease the trauma of a prison sentence and hasten the adjustment to a life in confinement, but that's not the life Old Girl envisions for the brat who brags in a rhyme that he "never had hope until I sold dope." In court, Old Girl smiles and gives Barrow the eye, a coded message reminding her grandson to turn to passages she's carefully chosen for him in the Book of Psalms.

In Barrow's Bible, a bookmark with a picture of King Solomon cuts at Psalm 86—for afflicted souls longing to be delivered "from the lowest hell." Barrow also reads Psalm 27, especially verse 12, pleading with God, "Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies for false witnesses are risen up against me." In Psalm 35, verse four, Barrow asks that these false witnesses "be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: Let them be turned back and brought to confusion."

Old Girl, who says she can almost hear Barrow praying, often intercedes on behalf of the novice Bible reader. "I ask God to give him power and strength to fight these devils that are fighting against him, to allow him to be fearless and humble, to have mercy on him," says the matriarch. "I know that he didn't try to kill anyone."


Prosecutors say one gun was found in Sean "Puffy" Combs's Lincoln Navigator, while a second was thrown from its window as Combs fled Club New York.


Barrow, a protégé of hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs, is charged with three counts of attempted murder for allegedly shooting three people inside Club New York on December 27, 1999. He faces life in prison. Combs, 31, and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones, 34, are charged with two counts of weapons possession and one count of bribery. Prosecutors say one gun was found in Combs's Lincoln Navigator, while a second was thrown from its window as Combs fled the club.

Last Friday, the day after Combs left the witness stand, David Cubillette, a defense witness, testified that he saw Barrow and another man pointing their guns toward the ceiling of the trendy nightspot. Cubillette was the first witness called by Barrow's attorney, Murray Richman, after lawyers for Combs and Jones rested their cases. While other witnesses have testified they saw Combs and Barrow with guns inside the club, Cubillette, 28, was the first witness to testify that another clubgoer was armed that night. Cubillette was standing at a circular bar just before the shooting started in the early morning hours. He saw a man at the bar toss money at Combs, and then another man at the bar pull a handgun.

A few seconds later, gunfire erupted and chaos ensued. "The girl I was talking to pulled me down," Cubillette said. "Everybody was running. I got loose from her. I saw Shyne with a gun in his hand." Under questioning from Richman, Cubillette insisted that Barrow's weapon was pointing toward the ceiling, and he never saw Barrow level the gun or fire it. He added that he lost sight of Combs when the shooting began.


Jamaal Barrow takes religion seriously. He told a confidant that two months before the shooting at Club New York, God saved his life.


Like Sean Combs, who once beat down a record producer for nailing him to the cross in a music video, and who now comes to court armed with his own biblical swords, Jamaal Barrow takes religion seriously. He told a confidant that two months before the shooting at Club New York, God saved his life.

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