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"It was a blizzard, and snow was all over the windows, so I couldn't see much," Carey recalls. "There were several different people shooting, and the whole car was annihilated. I don't know who shot me. I was dealing, and when you get to a certain plateau, everyone knows you, though you might not know who they are. They think that doing something to you will benefit them, whether it's for a rep or financially."
At Harlem Hospital Center, doctors ripped open his rib cage to remove bullets, and for months afterward he couldn't see, hear, or talk properly. Spinal cord damage confined him to a wheelchair, and larynx damage affects his speech to this day. But his afflictions didn't stop him from dealing dope. Five years later he was pinched on narcotics and illegal-firearms charges and imprisoned for three years. Upon his release in 2003, Carey pledged to reform his ways and had reason to believe things were looking up.
During Carey's incarceration, Dumile found success as a solo artist, assuming aliases from Viktor Vaughn to King Geedorah and collaborating with increasingly famous artists. (His next album, slated for release in early 2007, will be a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah.) Known for his dense flow and intelligent wordplay, Doom's become a hero or villain to hip-hop heads worldwide. His 1999 debut album, Operation: Doomsday, was a big seller by indie standards, and Carey, who, before his incarceration, helped finance the album and supplied samples in his role as executive producer, expected fat royalty checks. More importantly, he and Dumile could resume making groundbreaking music together, now with an audience to receive it.
But it wasn't to be. Dumile had left his friend in his dust. He says they grew apart, but Carey feels betrayed. "I consider him a brother to me, and it shouldn't have gotten to the point where it's at," he says, adding that his visionary former friend has changed. "Sometimes the line of genius and acting crazy is so thin, you might fall over the line and need someone to bring you back."
Carey's modest apartment in a gentrifying South Bronx neighborhood overlooks basketball courts, a concert pavilion, and rows of tidy houses. From the pale brick building's open windows, mothers yell in Spanglish for their kids to come home for supper. Inside, his abode is a shrine to hip-hop and comics. Action figures still in their plastic cases line the walls à la The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Most belong to Carey's roommate, rapper Robert Warfield, who became a member of M.I.C. in 2003, around the time Dumile dropped out. Warfield, a lanky Puerto Rican, plasters Transformers stickers on his recording equipment and assists Carey when he needs it, both with his record label and in pushing him up steep hills or lifting him up out of his chair when he needs to zip up his pants. Though Carey navigates the world with the relative ease of a man who's spent one-third of his life in a chair, there are still a few spots beyond his reach.
"There's nothing cool about being shot," Carey says. "It hurts. It changed not just my life, but also the ones around me. People have to help take care of me. I can't do shit on my own sometimes."
On this drizzly late-September day, Carey sits atop a towel in his black wheelchair. He rolls himself out into the hallway at the request of a photographer named Dumas, who has come all the way from Brussels, Belgium, to take his picture for an Internet site called 90bpm. ("Le 1er magazine de la culture Hip-Hop en France depuis 2000.")
Carey has dark skin, a thin goatee, and a muscular upper body that looks like it could still absorb punches. From beneath a backward-tilted ball cap, his deep-brown eyes stare menacingly back at the camera. He doesn't smile. But immediately after the shutter snaps, the veneer fades. "You got enough light?" he asks.
Though even now his lyrics don't always reflect it, Carey has renounced his violent past, and he's exceedingly polite. He calls men "sir" and women "ma'am." His deep voice contrasts with his still childlike personalityhe prefers candy to beer and remains a comic-book fanatic.
It was his interest in superheroes like Superman and Green Lantern, in fact, that helped convince DC Comics to publish his life story as a graphic novel. Next fall will see the worldwide debut of Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm. Written by Carey and illustrated by Brooklyn artist Ronald Wimberly, the book will be released on DC's Vertigo imprint, known for titles like V for Vendettaand the Sandmanseries.
"There's a lot in common with comics and music, in particular the underground aspect of it," says Vertigo executive editor Karen Berger. "Certain songwriters, certain hip-hop artists, they're storytellers. That's the beauty of it. Percy has so easily moved from writing songs to writing a graphic novel. He's a great storyteller, and he's now found another medium to tell his stories."
Carey and Berger are also in talks to develop a comic series called Candy Land, set in an urban ghetto controlled by gangs of sugar-filled personalities. "There's a crew called the Donuts, led by Choco, a chocolate donut," Carey explains. "Chewy P. Newton, he's the political one, and tells kids they shouldn't be out there using bleached flour and refined sugar."