By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Styles P has been to prison for stabbing a guy in the ass, and once chewed out 50 Cent for being soft. The Yonkers-bred member of platinum hip-hop collective the LOX is not just gangsta, he's super-gangster, to borrow the title of his 2007 solo album Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman). Along with his LOX cohorts Jadakiss and Sheek Louch, he owns a Yonkers car wash and fitted-cap store, and also runs D-Block Records, but recently, the 35-year-old added yet another job title to his CV: published author. His debut novel, Invincible, dropped June 1 on Random House's urban-lit imprint, Nikki Turner Presents.
The book follows the trials and tribulations of one Jake Billings, an ex-drug-dealer who begins the story in prison. He's ready to serve his time and go straight, but—wouldn't you know it—just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in. Characters include the world's most corrupt lawyer (known to cut throats and seduce judges), a mob boss who sodomizes his victims, and Billings's love interest, Kim, who has "the body of a runner, the face of a goddess, and the mind and heart of a cold, calculated criminal." Just about every character is out to kill Jake (or, at the very least, steal his money), causing him to morph into a righteous, badass, John McClane–meets–Bigger Thomas type.
"It was something I always wanted to do—I wanted to be creative in more ways than music," says Styles, after we take our seats in the backyard of a Harlem juice shop called Fruits of Life. He's wearing a blue hoodie and a Nike headband; among his tattoos is one on his back with a timepiece enveloping a naked, spread-eagle woman whose legs are the clock's hands.
Yet it turns out that he is something of a new-age hip-hop man. A former vegan who still eschews chicken, pork, and beef, he keeps his bulky frame solid by eating fish, riding his mountain bike from his Westchester County home to the Metro North stop, and taking plenty of "bark" shots here at Fruits of Life. The black, Jäger-like elixir contains the "herbal" ingredient in Viagra, he says, promising, "It will keep the lead in your pencil."
He pecked all of Invincible on his BlackBerry, inspired to begin after forgetting to bring a book on a long flight. The story isn't so much culled from his own time in the joint as from scattered situations from his and his associates' lives—"shit we've seen"—and he strove for a universal appeal: "I wanted something that, say, a businessman could relate to, and not just a crack dealer."
But though he felt confident about the story, with only a semester at Westchester Community College under his belt, he doubted his writing chops. "I'm 35. I barely remember where the period and question mark go!" But after his lawyer sent a few chapters to Nikki Turner, she signed him on, and now raves that the final product needed surprisingly few edits: "We get tons and tons of unsolicited manuscripts," says Turner, the Richmond, Virginia–based former travel agent now known as the "Queen of Hip-Hop Lit." "But [Invincible] made me stop wanting to work on my own book and read his." Turner, who last year published Fort Greene rapper "Cinderfella" Dana Dane's novel Numbers, adds that she likes working with MCs because, for one thing, they understand deadlines.
For Styles, the publishing industry may serve as an exit strategy. Since ruling New York radio in the late '90s and early aughts, Styles's tough-but-melodic, gruff-yet-lyrical sounds aren't as in demand. He famously squabbled with Interscope and 50 Cent—whom he felt were colluding to push back his 2006 work Time Is Money—as well as Diddy, whom the LOX accused of stiffing them on publishing (turns out Diddy was in the right, but he upped their royalties anyway, if you can believe that). Styles later signed with Koch/E1, who recently released his excellently titled new mixtape, The Ghost Dub-Dime, and a new LOX album is on the way, possibly on Bad Boy.
Still, Styles remains disenchanted with the rap game. "Sometimes it irks the fuck out of me to turn on the radio," he admits. "At them times, what do I do? Do I just stay irked, or do I try to be creative and do something else?" Hoping it will segue into screenwriting and movie-making, he's currently penning a follow-up novel: "It's a touching story about the reality of when things go wrong with someone you're close to," is all he will say. Sounds gangsta.