By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
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In Harlem, it's Dipsetthe short handle for Cam'ron and Jim Jones's group, the Diplomats. Staten Island, on the other hand, is Wu-Tang territory. The Marcy Projects claim Jay-Z. And 10 years after his death, Bed-Stuy is still the home of Biggie.
New York's neighborhoods have a powerful hold on their rappers, and Bed-Stuy's Brevoort Projects are no different: home to John Jackson, a/k/a Fabolous. But in his case, it's been hard to shake the notion that his connection to home is a little too strong.
Fabolous, who first rose to prominence with the single "Can't Deny It" from his 2001 debut album, Ghetto Fabolous, promotes his ties to the projects with constant references to his "Street Family." The name is used as a reference to both his entourage and his independent record label, and it also graces merchandisenamely gold necklaces that bear "SF" pendants.
But for years, Fabolous has had to fend off accusations that "Street Family" is really a reference to a Brevoort street gang that has capitalized on his fame by targeting celebrities in robberies. Fabolous has been characterized as either the bait that the gang uses to gain access to high-flying targets, or, in less charitable versions, as a kind of godfather to that gangwhich would explain why he ended up being targeted for a shooting in 2006 and lost a close friend in a nightclub stabbing last year.
And while Fabolous denies having any connections to crime organizations, police not only consider Street Family a menace, but the latest incarnation of a Brevoort cabal that goes back years and has had various namesBGS, for example, which stands for "Brevoort G-Squad." Growing up around BGS, this theory goes, Fabolous couldn't help but take his neighborhood thugs with him as he began to live the good life. His crew, redubbed Street Family, then saw that their friend's success put them in contact with sports figures and other celebrities who tend to walk around with enough flash to make an assault worthwhileand who tend not to go to police when they are victimized, making the crime even more attractive.
Fabolous has repeatedly denied that anything of the sort is going on. But, frustrated that his version isn't getting out, he invited the Voice to spend some time in his fabulous world, to see that he's come a long way from the Brevoort Projectsand that he hasn't brought the worst elements of that life with him.
It's Fashion Week, and Fabolous is making his rounds. He's rolling out a full clothing line with Rich Yung Society, so he needs to be seen. Which means showing up at the screening of the documentary Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton at the Tribeca Grandfashionably late. Throwing a peace sign at a phalanx of photographers, he heads in and settles into the back row, the film already rolling.
Later, en route to another party, this one for Tyra Banks, he offers his thoughts on Jacobs: "He's not the most attractive-looking man," he says. "He has all this prestige to his name, but it's all for what he creates." The documentary had apparently fascinated the rapper. "We're sitting in a theater watching him work, looking at his mind. Even when he comes out on the walkway, he comes out in a Mickey Mouse T-shirtand he's supposed to be Marc Jacobs."
The idea of being rich, yet not showcasing that wealth in the most ostentatious possible way, seems to baffle Fabolous. "Maybe he's attracted to the simpler things in life. I think a lot of black people are attracted to the big names and flash because we don't come from itwe always looked at material things as a status symbol or the object you could never afford. I looked at this car as that. Now if I ever went back to having nothing, I could say, 'I drove a Bentley.' It's also why those guys go out and rob celebrities or whoeverbecause they want that lifestyle too."
Fabolous's career began in 1998. He was a senior in high school and, through some luck, ended up rapping live on the famous DJ Clue radio show, then on Hot 97. He hadn't thought seriously about pursuing a career: He had no connections in the record industry, wasn't related to people in the business, didn't know any established artists. He was just a kid with some natural talent. Three credits shy of graduating from high school, he decided to get serious. Four albums later, including last year's From Nothin' to Somethin' , he's sold more than three million records.
So he now lives in New Jerseya typical destination for rappers, no matter how much they still extol the 'hood. Brevoort, meanwhile, hasn't changed much since his departure. It's long been known as one of the most violent projects in the city. Last September, a sniper took aim at an NYPD officer in his patrol car from the roof of one of the buildings. The project is known for its strong Crip gang affiliations. And in the 1990s, it produced a gang with a taste for snatching coats.