Hip-hop is the world’s most brazenly capitalist genre of music. If Jay-Z’s not talking about playing Monopoly with real cash, then Kanye West’s tweeting about the cherub-motifed Persian rugs and golden goblets he’s just scored at Fishs Eddy. But while certain rotund rap types would have you believe they were running extensive criminal enterprises before they decided to pursue a career in rhymed verse, the truth is more mundane. Most rappers suffer the rite of working demoralizing dead-end jobs while attempting to jump-start their careers and clock up music industry cash, whether it’s the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man greeting tourists at the Statue of Liberty, Biggie bagging groceries at a Met Foods supermarket, or Kanye’s mush-mouthed rapping friend Consequence ringing up monochromatic sweater vests at GAP. So when Fat Joe–who just so happens to have released a new album last week–opened his heart to us about sweating it out as a security guard one summer at a sneaker store, we decided to round up a whole batch of New York City’s hardest-working rappers–including Prince Paul, El-P, Joell Ortiz, and Tanya Morgan’s Von Pea and Donwill–and ask them to talk about their old temp-job blues. Their wretched stories are below.
“I worked at Flavor Shoes, on Fordham Road in the Bronx. It was the worst job I had. I wasn’t dealing with peoples’ smelly feet–I was more or less security. I was a big guy, so they made me a little security guard. I always caught kids, cause I used to boost myself so I already knew how to catch ’em. I’d look for certain moves, like this guy’s really not gonna buy this $100 pair of sneakers. We also used to play spades and whoever lost used to have to go and walk to get the food.
The worst thing about working there was I realized that with bosses, there’s a way to work with employees where you don’t have to do it in a nasty way and enslave your workers and be mean to them, like we’re all a team and do it together. I hate when I walk in a grocery store and the guy screams at his employee. You don’t have to do it like that. There’s a right way, we can all get it done. My boss at Flavor was like that, yelling all the time.
I only worked there for two days. I told my moms I was going to change my life and be a good guy, but then I was watching the videos they was playing in the store and the Big Daddy Kane video where he’s shooting the pool, “Smooth Operator,” came on. I saw that, quit my job, and went to hustle, took it to the streets.”
“My worst job–and I’ve had a few of them–was loading trucks for UPS. My back was destroyed! I did all the lifting properly, but it still doesn’t help. They have the nerve to say you have to load the boxes into the truck a certain way because of the route, and then you gotta scan them all and make sure that it’s for your truck. If it’s not, you have to walk them to another truck.
I worked there for a week then I quit. What happened was, this guy goes, ‘This right here is your trailer.’ I’m looking at it, it’s empty, and I see the conveyor belt. He goes, ‘I want at least 800 scans a night.’ So that’s a scan and a load per box, and there’s 800 boxes. I was working the graveyard shift, from like 11 p.m. at night until 7 a.m. in the morning. So he goes, ‘That’s all I need, those 800 scans.’ It’s 11 p.m., so I get to it, and the first two days there I finish at 4 a.m.. I call him over, I’m hype, I’m proud, I’m showing him my work ethic. He goes, ‘That looks nice. How many did you do?’ I looked at my scanner and go, ‘1,012.’ He goes, ‘That’s perfect, come with me.’ I walk over with him and he points to another empty trailer and says, ‘Do the same thing.’ I walked out of there! You do your work and you only get more work? Come on!”
“Everyone knows about Pos and Dave [from De La Soul] working in Burger King as they made a song about it [“Bitties In The BK Lounge”], but I worked at McDonalds at one point. And a lipstick packing factory. I’ve had about 15 different part-time jobs. The worst was at a nuts and bolts factory. I had to sort out the shavings from the bolts. It was always all greasy and there were flies about everywhere. I also worked at Nationwide Construction, who also made nuts and bolts. You could say I was pretty savvy about them at one point. I could have probably started my own nuts and bolts business…”
“Construction–that was shit! I worked that when I was 17-years-old, just hauling rubble out of a ten-story building with no elevator. That was a real shitty one. But the last real job I worked was in ’96 right before Funcrusher, the [Company Flow] E.P., came out. It was at Tower Records, in the mail-order department, which was on Lafayette Street, right above Tower Books when that used to be there. There was two sections: [Fellow Company Flow member] Bigg Jus was in the ordering section, which was an 800 number–it wasn’t even online then. Then in the back were the ex-cons and the work release program dudes boxing up Bone Thugs-N-Harmony CDs and smoking weed.
That job wasn’t the best in the world, but I got the five-finger discount every day. I don’t think they knew about it. I also learned how to scam Fed-Ex. Between Jus on the computers and me in the shipping department, we were running things. We sent out every single Company Flow vinyl promo to any D.J. that wanted it, and sent it overnight delivery via Fed-Ex. That shit got there immediately! They never knew about it. So I learned how to be a scam artist out of that. I can talk about it now–I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations is up on that one.”
Tanya Morgan’s Von Pea and Donwill
Von Pea: “I was doing promotional work where I had to hand out flyers for the Tribeca Film Festival. I had a supervisor who was a real close talker. He was literally on my neck all the time. I was supposed to hand out these papers to people going to see different films. He’d be across the street telling me, ‘You can’t stand against this wall, you have to smile a certain way.’ And this went on from like 6 p.m. until midnight that day, and by that point there was no way I could smile and greet anybody cause the dude was driving me crazy.
Then I worked at Radio Shack in East New York. People would come in the store and basically turn out the store almost every day. It was on Pitkin Avenue, a really bad part of Brooklyn, an area known for being a place where you don’t want to shop cause people will steal your stuff. There was a girl who worked in the front of the store who would always come in the back saying, ‘These guys have come in, they’re gonna rob the store, don’t say anything!’ I worked there for three weeks–I realized that one day they were going to come in and really do something serious to the store and I didn’t want to be around that. But I’m one of those dudes that’s had a million part-time jobs; I’ll take a job for the discount. I’ve had a billion jobs in retail–I worked at Footlocker once for two days just to get the discount!”
Donwill: “I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, but my worst summer job was working at the Cincinnati Zoo. I was a parking lot attendant. Pretty much all I did was stand in the middle of an asphalt parking lot, which was blacktop so it’s hotter than usual in the sun, and do a four-to-five hour shift where all you do is stand and point. You can’t move from your post either–you had to get people to bring you water.
I also worked at UPS but I didn’t last long there. I’m a little dude but they have you load these trucks, just load and unload boxes. It was torture. You couldn’t do it at your own pace. Your work was based on how fast you could load and unload your truck. If you could do one truck an hour, you were the man. That was the only job I’ve ever had where I made a big scene and walked out. You know that phrase Biggie said: ‘Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring’? Rappers, do not go to UPS!”