The Fabolous Life

Hanging with a rapper who has close ties to his home. Maybe too close.

The Breevort G-Squad, or BGS—a/k/a "the Commission" to the police, from a slang term that gang members used about "commissioning" coats and other things—soon moved up to stealing brand-name clothing from department stores. Then, says Derrick Parker, former NYPD detective, the stakes kept rising.

"They started as a bunch of kids who stole coats and clothes off racks in stores," says Parker during a phone interview with the Voice. "Then they graduated from robberies to selling drugs to murder. . . . They had someone who was older and showing them how to rob rappers."

As a kid growing up in Brevoort, Fabolous can't deny that he was aware of BGS, a crew whose history he downplays. "I've heard of them," he says. "It's like a childhood nickname of people in my projects. It's a group that made a name for themselves, like if you were to call yourself the Breakfast Club. It's not a mafia or anything like that."

Chad Griffith

Chad Griffith
While on the force, Parker spent most of his time investigating rappers and the crimes that surrounded them. After retiring, he was the first in the NYPD to admit that the department dedicates a select unit of officers—popularly referred to as the "hip-hop cops"—to investigating and surveilling the rap world. The NYPD, for its part, continues to deny that such a unit exists. But Parker says Fabolous is definitely one artist that the department watches closely. (Which is confirmed by the experience of Queens rapper Prodigy, who claims his recent three-and-a-half-year sentence for illegal gun possession was set up by the "hip-hop cops"; his friend and producer Alchemist, who was also arrested and questioned at the time of Prodigy's bust, says the police asked him for information on the Fabolous shooting. See companion story, "Prodigy's 25th Hour.") Parker, in his book Notorious C.O.P., also explains that BGS members were responsible for shooting the late Russell Jones, a/k/a Wu-Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard, in a robbery in 1998.

In the late '90s, robbing rappers was seen as a way to make big money, Parker says, and BGS had a unique way of getting access to its victims: One of the group's leaders was a bodyguard for a rapper and knew the ins and outs of some of Manhattan's more exclusive clubs and studios. The bodyguard would instruct the crew when to attack. "I had confessions from all of those kids," says Parker. "This case should have gone federal back then. We had them linked to providing stolen jewelry to a famed hip-hop jeweler. When the case grew larger, the problem was I didn't have much of a crack team, the funds, and the help to get things done.

"Street Family is a continuation from the Commission—they're just an older group of guys now. Some of the members are the same," Parker says. "For example, the kid that got killed in Duvet, Shamel McKinney, he was one of the original members. He and one of his brothers were the original members."

On Thanksgiving night, Duvet, a swank club in the Flatiron, was having a hip-hop party. After enjoying dinner at his mother's house, Anthony Taylor, 25, and his friends arrived from Brooklyn to celebrate with a few bottles. A friend of Taylor's knew a bouncer, and the group bypassed the long line and was ushered in. By 3:30 a.m., Taylor and his friends were ready to head out.

What then led to the death of reputed Street Family member Shamel McKinney was initially unclear. Newspapers first reported that McKinney, 25, had been stabbed when he found himself in the middle of a girl fight. Other reports had him fighting with Taylor over causes unknown. But Taylor insists that McKinney attempted to rob him of a gold chain that, with its medallion of a horse in red, white, and yellow diamonds, was worth about $3,000.

Taylor says that as he struggled with a group of men, including McKinney, he heard someone shout the words, "Poke that nigga!" As he was slammed against a wall, he felt the chain around his neck pop. Taylor says he pulled a knife in self-defense; his thrust caught McKinney in the heart. The fight spilled out onto 21st Street, where cameras caught Taylor slashing McKinney from behind. McKinney fell on the street; around his neck was his own diamond-encrusted medallion, with the letters "SF."

Newspaper reports have Duvet employees claiming that Fabolous was at the scene. But the rapper insists that he was home in New Jersey on Thanksgiving night and first learned of the death of his childhood friend the next morning from an e-mail on his BlackBerry.

Fabolous hasn't been questioned by the police, but the connection to him was quickly cemented for some because of McKinney's medallion. Fabolous admits to buying some of the chains for friends, but doesn't know where Shamel's came from. "I don't even think it was his chain, but he had one on," he says.

"The prosecution theory is that this is not a robbery," says Taylor's attorney, Spiro Ferris. "To me, it's shameful. The handwriting is on the wall: They should know from their own detectives that this crew has this history and connect the dots from Fabolous to McKinney to Street Family." Taylor has been charged with second-degree murder for the fatal wound and attempted murder for the non-fatal wounds. "I know Shamel. He was never someone to rob anyone, number one," counters Fabolous. "He's definitely not big enough to rob anyone with his bare hands, number two." McKinney, a father of two, stood at five feet six inches.

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