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Damon Dash, longtime partner of rap icon Jay-Z, is the CEO of a Hiphop empire that includes the brands Roc-a-Fella and Roc-a-Wear, and produces music, films, clothing, and vodka. He also is a man known to travel with an entourage of family and friends, the kind of company police rap intelligence has been watching and documenting in recent years. Interviews with former detective first grade Derrick Parker, who claims to be the founder and architect of the New York Police Department's rap intelligence unit, reveal that in the 1990s Parker thought it was important to monitor people who were starting to "latch on" to rappers and entertainers, some of whom, Parker says, may have been known to him as "a shooter, or a strong-arm guy."
"To a degree you got to understand where we are from," says Dash, "and once we become famous and get in a place where we don't have to hang out where we are from, we didn't dis any of our friends [from those areas]." The entourages are shaped in part by socioeconomic realities, he says. "If you don't have enough money to take the proper precautions to where you know you're safe, you still kind of live like a criminal because you're still dog food for the wolves," says Dash in reference to rappers being preyed upon by parasitical elements. "You're the one who has more than the next, so people can come at you in that kind of way. A lot of these dudes roll with entourages because they feel safer like that."
But Dash finds the criminalization of an entire industry objectionable. "What [our friends] are doing on their own personal time shouldn't actually affect people's opinions of us as a whole and definitely shouldn't make it to the point where we are getting all kind of [police] pressure put on us."
Parker told the Voice that those old neighborhood ties were the very associations that got his attention years ago. The NYPD's recent admission that it has "an intelligence division and . . . detectives that monitor the music industry and any incidents regarding the music industry" is simply the verification of a long series of police efforts that began in Brooklyn.
After 14 years of climbing the ranks, from patrolman to undercover narcotics officer during the height of the crack era to homicide detective in East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Parker became a part of the famed Brooklyn North homicide squad. In 1996, he was recruited into the newly formed Cold Case Squad (CCS), a detective unit investigating backlogged homicides. It was in CCS that Parker discovered his niche.
"I saw a pattern," says Parker. "The pattern was that the rap music industry was becoming more like organized crime. It was running side by side with the traditional steps of organized crime. . . . What interested me was I saw a lot of these guys that were really bad dudes in Brooklyn starting to latch onto rappers and entertainers. So I used to monitor the incidents, department-wide, of anything that happened."
According to Parker, it was from these initial observations and activities that he began to cultivate the expertise and a database that were the roots of the NYPD's rap intelligence unit. "That was my job," says Parker. "When I was in Brooklyn North and in CCS, I always had an instinct to open things up and look at them. . . . The police department wasn't really prepared for the rap music industry violence. They really weren't."
As time went on, Parker says, his knowledge of the industry became more crucial as rap exploded into the headlines. "While I was in CCS, a lot of the bosses were calling me, requesting me to come to their crime scenes, [or] their commands," he says, "and to assist them on any violence that had to do with the rap music industry, because they didn't know what was going on. There were a lot of problems that were starting to happen in the industry. [Like] the shooting that happened at Quad Studios with Tupac [Shakur]." When Shakur was killed in 1996 in Las Vegas, Parker says he was there to consult.
But it was the murder of the Notorious B.I.G. in Los Angeles the following year that marked a turning point in Parker's career. "It wasn't until Biggie Smalls's murder that everybody's eyes became open," says the detective. And while the murder occurred in L.A., there were strong implications for the NYPD. "I don't care if Biggie got killed in L.A. or Anchorage, Alaska," says Parker. "His burial, his fans, his home base, [were] all in New York. He's a Brooklyn boy. Everything comes back to Brooklyn."
By 1999, the perception of an increasingly violent rap industry and Parker's acumen resulted in his becoming a one-man rap shop. "There was a lot of resentment and a lot of problems with me leaving to go and work with these other units in the police department," he says. Parker recounts that after he had made a presentation on Hiphop and its connection to gang culture at a police convention, then-chief of police Louis Anemone pulled him aside. "Anemone said, 'Look, Derrick. I'm going to have to put you in this unit, under the Gang Intelligence Unit.' He goes, 'Your unit doesn't really have a name. You're just going to be under Gang-Intel, but your specialty is going to be the rap music industry.' "