The Game's Bad Rap
As the Gameknown as Jayceon Taylor before he got famouswas chauffeured around town last fall, rap's new "It" guy could afford to go anywhere and do practically anything he wanted in one of the world's great cities. The one drawback was that he'd have to endure a constant, not-so-inconspicuous tail by a supposedly secret NYPD unit that rappers call the Hip-Hop Cops.
The Hip-Hop Cops are a poorly kept secret; the NYPD continues to deny its existence. "No such thing," spokesman Paul Browne tells the Voice.
The Game's arrest last November 16 after a traffic stop puts the lie to that, according to fresh details of the incidentand according to the NYPD detective who created the unit.
"Game is right in his assessment that the cops are following himthey are," says NYPD detective Derrick Parker, who founded the squad, formally known as the Rap Intelligence Unit, in the early 1990s, wrote a book about it (Notorious C.O.P.: The True Story of the NYPD Hip Hop Cop), and is now retired. "The reason being is, they don't want another rapper killed." Parker says there are now as many as 10 NYPD cops working full-time gathering intelligence and doing surveillance on rappers. No. 1 on their list, he says, is 50 Cent, followed by the Game.
Rappers are not only being hounded but, in the Game's case, arrested on spur- ious charges.
At the time, the Game's bust was splashed in the media as simply another rapper pulling another boneheaded move: Police claimed that the Game flashed a badge, said he was an undercover cop, and ordered a livery driver to run red lights because he was late for a meeting.
The Manhattan district attorney's office vowed that it wouldn't consider dismissing the case. Last Thursday, 10 months later, it quietly did just that.
As the Game and his bodyguards sped off in their black SUV, the paparazzi who had swarmed all over him only minutes before in front of the courthouse suddenly sprang into action again. They got in the face of a tall black woman wearing sunglasses and clicked away. The woman's lawyer, Ivan Fisher, stopped and had a few words with the Game's attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, before escorting her inside the courthouse.
"That's Remy Ma," Lichtman said. The rapper has been charged with shooting her best friend in July outside a Manhattan nightclub after accusing the woman of stealing money from her purse. Lichtman added, "At least she supposedly shot someone."
The Game tells the Voice that the case was "preposterous" and was pursued "only 'cause I'm high-profile." Surveillance by the Hip-Hop Cops had become so ludicrous last year that the Game had made a game of it. And because the tails continue, he still does. Lichtman says the rapper and his entourage try to make the best of a bad situation. "So if they're eating in a restaurant, they'll go outside and give the police some food," says Lichtman. "They give them cigars. They constantly want autographs, for God knows whohopefully not for themselves. He obliges them. He figures, 'Either that or else I'm going to get hassled.' "
The arrest, however, doesn't amuse Lichtman, who calls it a reverse example of celebrity justice: The judge refused to excuse the Game, whose fiancée was going through a difficult pregnancy, from subsequent court proceedings, forcing him to fly in from California for routine status hearings. Until a few weeks ago, the prosecutor refused to budge from his demand that the Game plead guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for time served: the four hours he was held during booking. (The D.A.'s office declines comment on the Game's arrest or the case's dismissal.)
"Why didn't they offer this in January?" says Lichtman. "We had to go through almost an entire year for this? If it was anybody else, they wouldn't have even been arrested."
Lost with the dismissal is the opportunity to question some of the cops, who would have been under oath at a trial for the first time, about the existence of the Hip-Hop Cops. That encounter will now have to wait for another rapper's arrest.
Derrick Parker has a bit more sympathy for the cops. Parker, who now has a company that specializes in nightclub, executive, and celebrity security, says he stays in close contact with the NYPD's Rap Intelligence Unit, which he tells the Voice has grown from just him back in the day to eight officers, a sergeant, and a lieutenantall full-time. Whether the Game is truly a thug or 50 Cent is as tough as his stare is secondary. Parker points out that both hang out with real gangstas and are both targets for young guns looking to make a name.
"On some level, you can't blame the police for saying, you know, 'Let me go out here and make sure nothing happens,' " says Parker. "Most rappers don't hang with choirboys."
But that wasn't the issue last November when the Game was busted in midtown. Few details of his arrest have been made public before now. The account based on the Game's statement, court records, and his lawyer's recollections goes as follows:
After taping an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman (Ellen DeGeneres was the other guest), the Game went back to his hotel to change. Around 9 p.m., he, his bodyguard, and another friend left their hotel at 56th Street and Seventh Avenue for a business meeting with magnate Jay-Z at the Westin at 43rd and Eighth. Spotting a livery idling in front of the hotel, Game and his two guys jumped in. At first, driver Mohammad Butt told them he couldn't take them (liveries are not allowed to pick up street hails), but the Game talked him into it.
As the livery started off, an unmarked police car pulled in behind it. The driver then became nervous, repeatedly looking in his rear-view mirror, asking, "What's behind me? What's behind?" "Relax, man," the Game answered. "That's just the hip-hop police. They're with me." The cops had been tailing the Game everywhere he went in the city for the past two days, Lichtman says.
The driver then started "driving like a maniac, going through red lights," says Lichtman, and the Game told him to slow down, "because he knows what's going to happen[the Game's] going to get blamed."
Cops stopped the livery after it went through two red lights, made the driver get out of the car, threw him up against the hood, frisked him, and then checked his license, registration, and insurance. The Game contends that he heard a cop ask the driver, "Did Game make you do this?"
It may have been at this point that Butt told police that he'd told the Game and his friends that it was illegal for him to pick up street hails. According to police reports, Butt said the Game assured him that it was all right, because they were undercover cops. When the unmarked police car pulled in behind them, Butt told police that Taylor said, "See, we're together," and then ordered the driver to go through red lights.
If the police case was as cut-and-dried as their reports make it out to be, what happened next makes no sense: By all accounts, the cops let the driver get back in his livery and drive the Game, who never left the car, to his meeting with Jay-Z at the Westin. The Game tipped the driver $200, an amount the prosecutor would later intimate was shut-up money. But the Gamewho Forbes estimated made $11 million in 2006 claims that's just what he tips these days.
The rapper emerged from the meeting around 11:30 p.m. to find "about eight police cars there and a zillion cops," says Lichtman. "You'd think the guy just robbed a bank." The driver, who had left after dropping the Game off at the Westin, was there as well. He pointed out the Game, and the cops arrested him.
"What wasn't a crime at the time when all of this supposedly occurred suddenly becomes a crime two hours later," Lichtman notes.
The Game was taken to Midtown South and called his manager, who called Lichtman. The lawyer says the cops told him that the Game had shown the driver a wallet that had a police badge in it.
Lichtman claims that the cops at the precinct wouldn't let him speak to the Game and that, over the lawyer's specific instructions to the desk sergeant that his client not be questioned, they took a statement from the rapper.
The statement that the police took down, based on what they claimed the Game told them, says that the driver told the Game, "[T]he police are behind me," to which he replied, "I know, I know. They are following me." (A judge subsequently ruled that the statement, even though it doesn't implicate the Game, was improperly obtained and barred it.)
Lichtman asked the cops if they were going to make the Game go through arraignment or issue him a desk appearance ticket (DAT), which sets a future court date and allows immediate release.
"They said, 'We'll let him go on a DAT if you promise to have him go right from here to the airport,' " recalls Lichtman. "I said, 'What do you give a shit for?' They said, 'We want him out of town right away.' "
Lichtman says he had no choice but to agree, adding, "I just wanted to get my guy out of there." Before leaving the station house, the attorney retrieved the Game's property and noticed that the police returned his wallet, supposedly the key piece of evidence in their case. Expecting to find a fake police badge, Lichtman opened the wallet and instead saw a picture of the Game's two-year-old kid.
At 6 a.m., the Game was on a flight heading back to California.
The Game made the Hip-Hop Cops' most-want-to-tail list when a member of his entourage was shot in the leg outside Hot 97's studio on Hudson Street back in February 2006. That shooting is thought to have stemmed from a feud with the Game's one-time mentor, 50 Cent, and his posse.
"For certain rappers," says Lichtman, "the moment they hit New York, they're literally escorted around by the NYPD. It's not like only occasionally[the police] find out their flight information and meet them at the airport. They walk out of the airport, they're there. They go to the hotel, they're there. They leave the hotel, they're there."
After his arrest, the New York Times story, like many others, parroted the police line that "Mr. Taylor told the driver he was an officer, flashed a badge and ordered the driver to speed through red lights because he needed to get somewhere quickly."
It seemed like another rap publicity stuntarrests help sell albums, and the Game's Doctor's Advocate had been released only five days earlier. The last time the Game had made headlines in New York's tabloids was after the Hot 97 shooting.
In that incident, 50 Cent announced on air that he was kicking the Game out of his G-Unit clique. Ten days later, the Game and 50 Cent shook hands and declared a truce during an awkwardly choreographed appearance at Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Much like pro wrestling, rappers' back- stories, feuds, romances, and lawsuits make the actual music seem almost beside the point to many people. Fanzines, hip-hop websites, and blogs buzz with each new dis track or reported club confrontation. The stories get regurgitated, reformulated, built up, and then torn down. After a while, it becomes impossible to differentiate fact from fiction but, true or bullshit, the stories stick. (Vanilla Ice still tries to defend, 16 years after "Ice, Ice Baby," his claim that he was a gang-banger from the Dallas ghetto instead of a suburban kid.)
Even by rap's standards, though, the Game's storyat least the folklore version that has sprung up around himis fascinating.
According to accounts from various articles and websites, the Game was born on November 29, 1979, in Compton, California, into a life of gang-banging and hustling. He has said that as a kid, he was surrounded by drugs and guns. He even saw his parents preparing to do drive-bys his father was a Nutty Block Crip and his mother a Hoover Crippelette.
According to lore, young Jayceon's grandmother nicknamed him "The Game" because he was always game for anythingbasketball, track, riding bikes. Family problems related to his father caused him to be placed in a foster home from the third grade to the ninth grade. "My childhood was fucked-up, but it wasn't really that different from anyone else who lived in the 'hood," the Game has been quoted as saying. He attended Compton High School and played alongside future NBA star Baron Davis, godfather to one of the Game's kids. A six-foot-four guard, Jayceon Taylor was heavily recruited and picked Washington State, so the story goes, but his scholarship was quickly revoked when he was found with drugs in his possession.
The Game then started running behind his half-brother Big Fase 100, who had been taken in by the Cedar Block Piru Bloods even though they grew up in the Crip neighborhood Santana Block on Compton's East Side.
According to one fan site, thegamefans.com, the Game started gang-bangin' hard: car thefts, drug dealing, and shootings. Finding him too much to handle, his mother kicked him out of her house. In 2000, the Game and Big Fase 100 moved into the projects in a nearby city and took over its drug trade. Their success attracted rivals and even a home invasion by other dealers and robbers. In October 2001, so the stories go, he was shot execution-style and wound up in a coma for two days. He was later quoted as saying, "This sounds crazy, but I appreciate that happening to me, because I'd probably be dead if it didn't. Anybody who gets shot and survives feels lucky. On the other hand, I went through so much already that I felt somebody owed me. Now I could live out my dreams."
After his near-death experience, he literally studied classic hip-hop albums. When he recovered, according to these online mini-bios, he and brother Big Fase cut a mix tape that made it into the hands of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Super producer Dr. Dre, however, beat P. Diddy to it and signed up the Game.
That's Taylor's story. Similar versions have been retold in Rolling Stone and elsewhere. They're a testament to Taylor's backstory, and so is his physical presence: He's a ripped 220 pounds and has multiple tattoos, including a Los Angeles Dodgersstyle "LA" on his right cheek and a tear drop under his left eye. Before his first album came out, he was already famous for being famous. It would take nearly three years before the wildly popular The Documentary debuted in January 2005. By then, Taylor had already appeared in ads for Sean John clothing, had an endorsement deal with a mobile-phone company, made cameos in videos, and released a single, "How We Do," featuring 50 Cent.
How much of his backstory is true is anyone's guess. Big Fase 100 has reportedly said that the Game's music and biography are based on his life, not brother Jayceon's. "Basically, what I did, I provided the background story for the Game," Big Fase 100 told AllHipHop.com. "For lack of a better word, I certified his 'gangster.' "
Some have said that Big Fase is lashing out because the Game dropped him as manager after accusing him and his former entourage, the Black Wall Street, of extorting $1.5 million from him.
It's hard to know what's true. One easily checkable detail in Taylor's biography proved not to be true: Craig Lawson, assistant director of media relations at Washington State, tells the Voice that Taylor never attended the school. "I guess that was part of his shtick," Lawson says.
As for the rest of the Game's story, some people think the troubles with his brother are just another publicity stunt and that somewhere down the road there will be a public reconciliation, sort of like the one he had with 50 Cent. However, others think the truce between 50 and Game is just window dressing to appease the Reverend Al Sharpton and others who started making noise about holding the record companies financially accountable for their artists' misbehavior.
If the ambiguous reality that exists in the rap world makes every reported fight, shooting, or arrest questionable to fans, it also puts the copswho rely on that dubious intelligence to make sure there's not another Biggie Smalls or Tupac-like executionin a no-win situation: It's called "profiling" if nothing bad happens, "falling down on the job" if it does. Which is why, as Hip-Hop Cops founder Parker says, the police tail rappers.
One true story about the Game was his arrest last November. But a couple of months later, at his arraignment, the Manhattan D.A.'s office indicated that it was willing to make the case go away: The offer was time servedthe four hours spent being bookedin exchange for the Game's pleading guilty to the misdemeanor of impersonating a police officer. Given that he lives 3,000 miles away and actually benefits from the publicity of being a lawbreaker, it seemed like a no-brainer.
But Lichtman says the Game told him, "No deal. Take it to trial if you have to."
During the next 10 months, Lichtman went on the attack. He made it clear that he planned to put the Hip-Hop Cops and their tactics on trial.
"I told the prosecutor, 'You're going to lose, this is why you're going to lose, and it's going to be a humiliating loss for you guys. It will be a laugher of a case,' " Lichtman says.
For starters, he asked the prosecutor why the Game would break the law when he knows the police have him under constant surveillance? And where was the badge he supposedly flashed?
In a pre-trial brief filed in May, Lichtman wrote: "At trial the defendant will set forth a theory that the defendant was unfairly followed and targeted by the Rap Intelligence Division simply due to his status as a high- profile rap artist."
Lichtman had predicted to the media that the case would end in dismissal or acquittal.
"I would have to be completely insane to say such a thing if I thought the case was a close call, because I'd make an ass out of myself if I lost," he says. "But the fact that I publicly dared the D.A. to take the case to trial and they responded by stalling, refusing to turn over court-ordered information about the witness [livery driver Butt], and then finally turning tail and offering the dismissal really speaks for itself as to the strength of their case."
The Game says he spent nearly $100,000 in attorney fees and other expenses to shake off the weak case. But no matter how weak it was, the Hip-Hop Cops are still on his tail. He claims that his SUV was followed last Thursday from the airport to court.
"They were in a blue minivan, New York plates," he tells the Voice, and the tail was so obvious that either the Hip Hop Cops wanted him to know they were following or "maybe they think they're invisible."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.