Private Enemy

Two New York rappers dreamed of stardom. MF Doom got it. MF Grimm didn't.

 Sometimes you need to cut niggas off like a light switch. MF Doom, 'Deep Fried Frenz'

I don't deep-fry friends/Grimm Reaper nuke 'em/Hearts don't mend/Brothers turned to enemies, nigga/Enemies I eat them raw, nigga/MF Grimm is god of war. MF Grimm, 'Book of Daniel'

MF Grimm
photo: David Yellen
MF Grimm

Percy Carey is a strong man. The 36-year-old South Bronx rapper, known professionally as MF Grimm, has broad shoulders and chiseled arms, the result of a daily routine including sit-ups and push-ups; he also regularly wheels himself six to eight miles in his wheelchair. Once an NFL-caliber outside linebacker and middleweight boxer, Carey was shot and nearly killed by rival drug dealers in 1994. He eventually recovered his vision and speaking ability, but he may never walk again. "I wronged a lot of people, but it's balanced out," he says. "And that's why I can live with myself in this chair."

Although Carey was once poised for mainstream success, his years as a drug-dealing thug led to a lengthy imprisonment, stunting his rap career while friend and onetime recording partner MF Doom was blowing up as a simultaneously whimsical and menacing underground supervillain. Now Carey feels that Doom has forsaken him, and he's fighting back with a dis track, a triple album, and a multifaceted company hawking everything from horror movies to energy drinks.

For a man who calls himself Grimm, Carey is optimistic, but he knows things could've been different. He grew up in a loving middle-class family on the Upper West Side. "I had decent parents that would always try to do for me," he recalls. "From a young age, I was taught right from wrong, how to be a man, to be a hard worker." Morgan Freeman, the family's next-door neighbor, quickly put Carey to work; the actor thought a three-year-old Percy—who then had an Afro and a potbelly—would look great on Sesame Street's stoop. Freeman put Carey's mother in touch with the show's producers, and for the next four years Percy regularly held court with Oscar the Grouch, Mr. Snuffleupagus, and the gang. "One episode, I lost my tooth, and me and Big Bird had to go through Sesame Street and try to find it," Carey remembers.

As a teenager, he spent countless hours at his friend Jorge Alvarez's 97th Street apartment. The guys played video games, smoked weed, and honed their rapping skills. Eventually, a young man from Freeport, New York, named Daniel Dumile joined their rhyme circle, well on the path to becoming MF Doom.

"Doom was more conscious at that time," Carey remembers. "He stood for something big. He was for black culture. I rhymed about beating people up, about shooting at people, trying to make money."

Guns and drugs were quickly becoming his reality. As a Park West High School student, Carey rarely went to class, preferring to shoot dice in the hallways, get high in the bathrooms, and chase girls everywhere. He was expelled for assaulting a school dean: "We beat him up in the snow. He was on drugs, and he owed us money for dope. So we kicked his ass."

In the following decade, Carey built a mini–drug empire and a reputation for shooting enemies without remorse. "He was a fucking murderer. What do you want me to say?" longtime friend Sebastian Rosset recalls. "I have other friends that are a little less organized with that shit. He was a little more organized."

Nonetheless, rap remained a passion, and Carey spent increasing amounts of time making music with Dumile. Influenced equally by the styles of KRS-One and Dr. Dre (both of whom he eventually collaborated with), Carey tells straight-ahead gangland narratives in his raps, peppered with political—and at times New Agey— messages. With Dumile, he formed a clique, Monsta Island Czars (M.I.C. for short), named after the mythical home of Godzilla. For stage names, Grimm and Doom shared the "MF" prefix, which Carey says stands for "Mad Flows" or "Mother Fucking." After Dumile began wearing a mask, it took on another meaning: "Metal Face."

During the late '80s, Dumile founded the group K.M.D. with his brother Subroc and had a minor hit with "The Gas Face," a collaboration with affiliated group Third Bass. K.M.D.'s playful, politically conscious debut, Mr. Hood, came out on Elektra Records in 1991, but tragedy befell the group two years later when Subroc was struck by a car and killed. Shortly thereafter, Elektra dropped K.M.D. and refused to release their second album, Bl_ck B_st_rds, which featured an African American cartoon figure hanging from a noose.

Alone and depressed, Dumile disappeared from the music scene for five years, turning to Carey for support. "Things was on the downslope," Dumile admits, on the phone from his Atlanta studio. Carey is "like a brother," he says. "We've been through so much hard times. When we were both struggling, we had each other to lean off of."

Things got worse. On a snowy January day in 1994, shortly after getting his hair cut in Harlem, Carey stepped into his stepbrother Jansen Smalls's car en route to a meeting with an Atlantic Records representative, who was courting Carey for a record deal. But just as Smalls turned the ignition, bullets riddled the car, puncturing Carey's left arm, gut, neck, and lungs. Smalls was killed instantly.

Next Page »
New York Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • May
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon