The Hiphop Cop

A Tale of NYPD's Rap Intelligence Unit

And so the Hiphop intelligence unit was created. "I did observations. I was at concert halls. Man, you name a rap event, I was there. The rappers got to know me after a while," says Parker. "We did databases. I had pictures, magazines . . . files on everybody. I knew everything about everybody." People got so used to seeing him, he says, that some dubbed him the "Hiphop Cop."

"When I was in the intel unit, Puffy was a big thing because Puffy was always in trouble all the time," Parker recalls. "Puffy had everything going on with him, [an April 1999 assault on record executive] Steve Stoute; [a threatened] baseball bat assault. . . . The police department perceived Puffy to be like their number one enemy in the rap industry, and he really wasn't. . . .

"Puffy and J.Lo, I was called three in the morning. 'Get up, you got a shooting up at midtown,' " says Parker, referring to the December 1999 shooting at Club New York. "When ODB [Wu-Tang Clansman now known as Dirt McGirt] got pulled over in Queens with the drugs and he was sleeping on the cell floor, I was there," says Parker, referring to the rapper's August 1999 arrest.

Derrick Parker
photo: Piotr Sikora
Derrick Parker

All rap-related incidents in New York City had to be reported to him, he says. "Everything got so big that all the chiefs knew who I was. Now everybody started dropping in like parachutes . . . every single precinct in the city was reporting that they had some kind of contact or non-contact with a guy who was a wannabe rapper, a musician, an artist, or a group," he says. And Parker's reach was not confined to the five boroughs. "Detectives from Miami called me. Detectives from Georgia, Chicago, L.A., Las Vegas." Eventually other cops were put into the same work.

Parker says that in 2001 he was the officer the NYPD sent to consult with the Miami Beach police, as recently reported in The Miami Herald. He says that the Miami Beach cops had just had some serious incidents and met with the NYPD in preparation for the Source Awards. In 2003, Miami cops came to New York for a training session. By then, what had been "a booklet" on rappers during Parker's tenure had become a six-inch binder, cited in the Herald.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the legal issues associated with rapper surveillance aren't completely clear. "If what they are doing is engaged in a good-faith investigation into criminal misconduct—that they could do whether it's in the music industry or any place else," says Chris Dunn, an NYCLU attorney. "Where they get into trouble, and this has happened in other places, is when they start targeting people for other reasons, whether it's race, music, or anything else like that; that's not criminal but is simply controversial."

However, Dunn also acknowledges that there are risks when one associates with recognized criminals. "People who, for instance, associate with people who are involved in known criminal activity . . . don't have any immunity from criminal investigations because they are musicians or engaged in any other line of work."

Karl Kamau Franklin, an attorney who currently represents two artists who allege police harassment in connection with their arrests— N.O.R.E. of rap team C-N-N, and of dead prez— questions the effectiveness of collecting data on artists and their associates. "How many people have they arrested at this point based on these logs of different Hiphop artists?" asks Franklin.

"The [intel] squad wasn't to do that; the squad was primarily set up to assist. I was there to help other squads go out and capture people," responds Parker. "We prevented certain crimes because when you started talking to rappers and you knew they had hits on them and you were onto them [as was reportedly the case with rap superstar 50 Cent], people wouldn't go and shoot them or rob them if they knew you were around. . . . Most of the times it's not always the rappers; it's the guys in their entourages that cause the problems."

In its initial stages the unit wasn't as meticulous in its observations. "First, it was rap music, and the rap investigations, and then it expanded. The reason it expanded itself was because of the Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown shoot-out at Hot 97," says Parker. The February 25, 2001, shooting followed an on-air appearance by Lil' Kim and involved more than 20 people, five guns, and 22 shots fired. One person was injured. The incident reportedly stemmed from a beef between the two female MCs. "That's when the rap stuff went global. We found out every club the rappers attend, every bar, every place where they hang out, what kind of cars they drive; all that stuff came up."

Parker says that his unit then began to investigate record labels as if they were crime families, with pictures, files, and charts outlining rappers and their entourages. On hearing this, Dash is both amused and disturbed. "Did they have me as the don?" he asks with a laugh. "That's kind of hilarious, funny—but it's not funny," he says. "To know that you are being watched on your personal time—if they're tapping your phones or just observing you, no one likes that feeling. And they're wasting a lot of money and time doing it."

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