When they’re shot, who’s to blame?
Shyne, muthafucka! Don’t forget the name!
—Jamal “Shyne” Barrow
In his gangsta rap “Bad Boys,” Jamal “Shyne” Barrow mouths off against those “Andrew Cunanan-ass niggas” who “see me in the streets [and] try to give me death.” In the early morning hours of December 27, 1999, as he, rapper Sean “Puffy” Combs, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, and Combs’s bodyguard, Anthony “Wolf” Jones skylarked at the trendy Club New York in Times Square, Barrow may have run into some of these killer “ass-niggas.”
As the four revelers left the club, according to court documents, “Combs and Jones became involved in an argument in which they believed a third party was disrespecting them.” Then someone insulted Combs, the 31-year-old hip hop mogul who runs Bad Boy Entertainment, and threw money in his face. Such insolence should have meant nothing to the 21-year-old Barrow since, as he claims in “Bad Boys,” “hundred–dollar bills wipe the tears from ma eyes.” But there is another side to Barrow, whose “hand [is] never far from the safety” of his “two cannons.” If the “ass-niggas” intended to put a whuppin’ on him, Combs, and Jones, they were sadly mistaken. “I say fuck a fist fight,” Barrow roars in “Cock It,” a hit rap. “Clip fights is what I’m into.”
What happened after the verbal jousting in the dance hall, Barrow’s critics contend, was yet another example of a hip hop artist imitating thug life. “Guns I brandish make men vanish,” Barrow brags in “Cock It.” And that’s exactly what prosecutors allege went down inside Club New York: “Within feet and milliseconds of each other, both Combs and Barrow pulled out 9mm semiautomatic handguns, and, after the smoke cleared, three people lay shot on the floor.” Although”all three [Barrow, Combs, and Jones] engaged in retaliatory conduct,” Barrow is the one prosecutors insist opened fire on the club patrons—none of whom were the dissin’ “ass-niggas.”
The trial of Barrow, Combs, and Jones on charges of attempted murder, gun possession, and bribery was in the throes of jury selection in state supreme court in Manhattan on Monday when news came that Barrow had had another brush with the law. On Sunday, he was arrested for driving with a suspended license after an automobile accident at the corner of West 19th Street and Ninth Avenue in which two people were injured.
In court papers, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos claims that at 2:52 a.m. on December 27, Midtown South police officers John Murtagh and Paul Franco, who were working the crowd outside the Club New York, “heard three or four gunshots” and saw Barrow bolt from the nightspot. “As soon as Barrow came within an arm’s length and made eye contact with the officers, he came to a complete stop, turned to his right, and began to run away from the officers,” Bogdanos alleges. When an oncoming limousine blocked Barrow’s path he abruptly braked. Murtagh and Franco, “fearing for their safety,” shouted, “Police! Don’t move!” and “Let me see your hands!” Barrow, who as his alter ego, “Shyne,” might have “bust shots at them street cops,” threw his hands up. That’s when the cops, who had not drawn their weapons, the prosecutor claims, saw a gun sticking out of Barrow’s waistband and arrested him.
Barrow was indicted on attempted murder charges, a scenario he’s fantasized about in “Cock It.” The rapper, however, may have felt cheated by the grand jury because in the gangsta world, the usual charge leveled against him is “murdah; never attempted.” Combs was charged with two counts of illegal possession of a weapon after police found a pistol in the Lincoln Navigator used by Combs and his girlfriend, Lopez, to flee the nightclub. Police said a second handgun was thrown from the SUV. Combs and Jones also were charged with bribery for allegedly offering to pay his driver, Wardell Fenderson, $50,000 to claim ownership of the gun in the vehicle. Police said Combs offered Fenderson a diamond ring Lopez had given him as collateral. Lopez, who testified before the grand jury that indicted Combs, was not charged in the case. Shyne faces up to 25 years behind bars.
The Club New York incident isn’t a case of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil: Both sides aim to “better a better witness,” 50 of whom will be called to testify. “Information in the possession of the defense shows that at no time did the police observe Mr. Barrow with a gun,” Barrow’s lawyers point out in court papers. Bogdanos, however, is relying heavily on “the dozen or so witnesses who observed . . . Barrow fire his gun inside that crowded club that night” to win a conviction.
Matthew Bogdanos has plenty of ammunition to work with, and it’s all supplied by the bullet-mouth Barrow—the self-described “DOA” gangsta who claims in a rap called “The Commission” that he’s “sponsored by the NRA.”
Touted as the re-incarnation of slain gangsta rapper Notorious B.I.G., Barrow is riding a wave of popularity with Shyne, his eponymously titled debut album. It’s lyrics are riddled with gun talk. If allowed in court to dredge up alleged “numerous prior uncharged criminal, vicious, or immoral acts” attributed to Barrow, Bogdanos will portray the defendant as a common street thug who promotes the violent exploits of his drug dealer character through rap music. “I switch nines [9mm pistols] and rhymes,” Barrow declares in “That’s Gangsta.”
But how “gangsta” is Jamal “Shyne” Barrow? asks hip hop journalist Jorge “Big Mouf” Navaro in theSource.com. “With all of his tough talk, a skeptic might wonder if Shyne isn’t just a studio gangsta,” Navaro muses in an online vignette. “After the shooting . . . in Club New York . . . some people were quick to regard Shyne as an impressionable thug-wannabe with a point to prove.” Not so, the Belize-born Barrow tells Navaro: His woof never glorifies the embellished crimes of some Pappy Mason impersonator. “I done seen the highs and lows of life,” says Barrow, who emigrated from Belize in the mid 1980s with his mother and grew up in Flatbush. “It wasn’t like I was some kid from Westchester, bottled up. I had to deal with catching a [gunshot] and watching my man drop right in front of me. I’ve been in and out of facilities before this rap game. I lived it; so when I talk about it, it’s for real. I ain’t gonna lie. I just say what I know.”
In that case, “The Life,” Barrow’s riveting rap about the wiles of dealing cocaine and heroin, may be an autobiography in the making. “At 15, I sold ma first bag of dope,” Barrow reminisces in the rhyme. “Used to stiff Dominicans . . . gittin’ like 15 grand a half a ki’.” (In his interview with Navaro, Barrow said: “When I first came to America was when crack first came out, in 1985. I was right there with my cousin when he took that shit and threw it in a pot, then cut it up and put it in red, blue, and yellow vials. Then we take it downstairs in brown paper bags.”) Later Barrow became an enforcer, but after one of his friends got “pinched”—he died in “a shootout with the cops in front of the precinct”—he “went from enforcer to moving product.” Selling cocaine made him the hottest nigga in the street.” According to the rap, Barrow drove “a 190 Benz with Louis Vuitton seats” and bought out entire bars at his favorite watering holes. “Shit was going right and only went better when I got ma Italian connect, hitting me with pure heroin,” he says. Barrow became “the first black nigga with mafia ties”—he had become a made man who’d leased his “soul to the devil with an option to buy.”
So quit dissin’ this “ghetto star” who “made money in every hood”—this “heartless villian” who wound up killing and burying the opposition. In fact, “you’ve never seen a nigga” like him. When “li’l niggas rap,” it’s him they’re lionizing. “I did that time,” he reiterates in his rap. “I flipped that dime, nigga. . . . Shootouts, jet planes, cocaine, and automobiles, nigga. The life. I love it.”
How cops captured one of Sean “Puffy” Combs’s “Bad Boys,” and pinned the Club New York shooting rap on him, remains a contentious issue. To begin with, Jamal Barrow’s lawyers argue, stopping the rapper as he was running from a location where shots had been fired was illegal, and in fact was a violation of his constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure. “[T]elling Barrow to stop and show his hands was not a seizure,” Bogdanos counters. “[And] even if the stopping . . . were to be considered a seizure, the officers had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was at hand.” Bogdanos adds that the “loaded gun recovered from Barrow’s waistband was in plain view” and that cops “had a right (actually, a duty) to have Barrow show them his hands as a safety precaution.”
But the issue that most galls defense lawyers was the “police-arranged confrontation”—also known as a lineup—in which several witnesses fingered Barrow as the gunman. This, they assert, was fraught with errors. As in the controversial stopping of Barrow, the lawyers—who claimed that Barrow was denied the right to an attorney prior to the linup —lost a legal battle to throw out the ID testimony of witnesses to the shooting.
Bogdanos says cops had no choice but to conduct the lineup, and he unequivocally backed their decision not to delay it until the arrival of Barrow’s attorney at the time, Ian Niles. At the outset, he claims, three key witnesses were fed up with the delay. “The witnesses viewing the lineup had been waiting in the police precinct for a number of hours,” Bogdanos explains in court papers. “Having been up most of the night, they were tired and wanted to go home. One was ill and the other two were walking out the door at any minute. These were witnesses who had been present in a room where guns had been fired very near them, creating a traumatic experience. Delaying the lineup any longer was not possible: All three would have been gone. At least two had already indicated that they were not coming back.”
According to Bogdanos, if the cops had not staged the ID parade—relying instead on witnesses to identify Barrow in court—they still would have come under attack for this strategy. “[I]f the witnesses had left and, true to their word, never returned, then the only time those witnesses would have been asked to identify the shooter [would be] in court with . . . Barrow—whose face by then would have been seen by the witnesses countless times in the media—sitting at the defense table,” he says. “Can [you] imagine the (not unreasonable) outrage registered by the defense in that scenario?”
Another factor cops considered was the fear that witnesses might forget crucial details about the shooting. “The officers here wanted the witnesses to view the lineup while the events were still fresh in their memory,” Bogdanos says. “This would ensure the most accurate identification, a clear advantage for the officers as well as for an innocent defendant. By conducting the lineup quickly, the officers ensured that the defendant would not be falsely incarcerated for any period of time. Also, this was a violent act. Three people had already been seriously hurt. Finding the shooter before more damage could be done was imperative. Waiting for the defendant’s attorney, whom the officers did not even know was coming, could have endangered other innocent citizens. By conducting the lineup as quickly as possible, the officers ensured that they had the correct shooter and that the danger was over.”
Barrow allegedly never asked for an attorney, and Bogdanos suggests that if anyone is to be blamed for the legal predicament Barrow found himself in at the station house, it is Niles. The attorney subsequently charged in a hearing that cops failed to notify him of their plan to put Barrow in a lineup. Niles was not in New York City at the time. But Niles or an associate should have been there, Bogdanos implies. Neither Combs, Jones, nor Lopez was placed in lineups, reportedly because of the prompt responses by their legal team: Edward Hayes, Harvey Slovis, and Lawrence Ruggiero.
“The officers waited more than three hours before conducting the lineup—ample time for Mr. Niles to have spoken with a detective or to have arranged for his partner, who was in New York, to go to the police station,” Bogdanos emphasizes. “This was never done.”
Niles claims that he called the station house at 1:49 p.m., almost 12 hours after Barrow was arrested, and told someone he was representing the rapper. “Indeed, while it is clear that Mr. Niles made the telephone call to the desk at the Midtown South Precinct, nothing more about the call can be relied upon,” Bogdanos asserts. “Rather, the far more reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that Mr. Niles did call the precinct to confirm that Mr. Barrow was present and, at most, that Mr. Niles would like to speak to the case detective or Assistant District Attorney handling the case. This and nothing more.”
Jamal “Shyne” Barrow sits at a defense table in Judge Charles H. Solomon’s seventh-floor courtroom at 111 Centre Street. Absent on this day during jury selection are the shadowy players in “The Life” he loves: The “bitches with riches who carry .22s up in their hosiery,” the “bitch” he treated “like a Blunt—Hit! Hit! Hit!”—then passed on, and some of his bad boys, the “type of nigga [who] slang and bang in the streets,” the “type of nigga [who] stay in the Trump for weeks.” Now it’s just Wolf, Puff, and Shyne with their backs against the wall. Barrow constantly gazes at Combs. He has signed an affidavit declaring that he won’t testify at the trial, so he won’t be able to tell the jury that Combs did not have a gun on the night of the shooting. He knows that in the end, “prejudicial overspill” from the attempted murder and assault charges he alone is challenging can sink Combs.