By Seth Ferranti
Supreme is a towering street legend immortalized in both hip-hop and hood lore. An infamous drug lord with ties to both major players in the rap industry and a notoriously profitable and ruthless drug crew, The Supreme Team, that ruled the same Queens streets that later produced platinum selling artists like Ja Rule and 50 Cent. To both law enforcement and a generation of rappers and hustlers, Supreme is a black John Gotti, a larger than life figure whose underworld reach seemed limitless. He was the only one of the renowned drug kingpins of the 80’s to outlast the crack epidemic and law enforcement’s pounding. But the feds finally got their man and Queens Reigns Supreme author Ethan Brown probably said it best, “By taking the storm and not flipping Preme secured his spot as one of the baddest guys ever to walk the streets of NYC.”
Chapter 8: The Struggle
Preme (right) was coming up, striving to make it, but it was a struggle. He was trying to go straight in the music and movie business but when money was tight he still turned to what he knew best- hustling. Behind the scenes he was reviving his violent drug dealing career, authorities alleged. The Black Gangster album was a success selling over 150,000 copies but there was no interest from Hollywood for the movie so Preme decided to do another Goines title, Crime Partners and instead of Black Hand, he enlisted Murder Inc. as a partner. Irv Gotti went to Universal Music Group and told them, “Here’s a guy getting out of a life of crime, can you help?” And Preme landed his Crime Partners soundtrack distribution deal for $1 million, $500,000 of which was paid up front.
Preme brought in his sister, Wayne Davis and John “Love” Ragin to be his partners to produce the film through Picture Perfect Entertainment. With Irv’s help he got Snoop Dog and Ice-T to star in the movie. “It took 16 years,” Wayne Davis said. “But he kept the same passion and the same commitment about his thing up until the year 2001 and when we got back together in the world we made it happen.” It all looked good. Maybe too good. “Shit was good. He was going legit.” Bing says of Preme’s hookup with Murder Inc. “I was glad to see that. He was with a legitimate organization that was making millions of dollars. That was like hitting the lotto. Especially, how they looked up to him like they did.” Supreme was flying high like a Trans-Atlantic concord, but he was about to experience some turbulence.
In 1999, in an argument in Queens, Supreme’s man Black Just was shot. Guns were pulled and allegedly Supreme’s gun jammed and Black Just was shot by a wannabe rapper that went by E-Money Bags. Preme rushed Black Just to the hospital in an SUV registered to his partner in the Crime Partner venture, Love’s Tuxedo Rentals. Of the event it came out later in court that Supreme said, “I pulled a gun. It jammed. I ditched it at the scene and drove Blacky to the hospital.” But it was too late. Black Just died at the Southeast Queens Hospital.
Preme hoped to get through this situation but the streets were talking. When a street legend is involved in an altercation the buzz just reverberates. At around the same time Preme started working on the Crime Partners movie. So it was a trying experience. But Preme trudged on. There was no point in looking back. He bought the rights to four more Goines titles- Black Girl Lost, Death List, Kenyatta’s Revenge and Kenyatta’s Last Hit- with the money from the Def Jam deal. He envisioned a series of movies based on the Goines books and he was ready to see his vision through. But with the streets talking about Black Just’s death and Supreme’s name ringing the feds got involved.
“The first thing the feds say is that it’s drug money,” DJ, a friend of Preme says. “Everything he did when he came back to the streets was legal but still the feds say its drug money.” And Supreme’s lawyer had a similar defense. He said his client worked hard to make a legitimate life for himself in the entertainment world when he left prison and was unfairly targeted by investigators hell-bent to find criminal activity in the rap world. “Success would of been assured without interference from the feds,” T says, but it wasn’t to be. Even Preme said how “every rap related crime, they bring my name up.” To make matters worse his partner Love got caught up in illegal activities involving his tuxedo rental service and other business fronts, for his credit card fraud and ecstasy-dealing ring. So whatever Preme was doing, legal or illegal, the spotlight was on him because of his associations. Due to his past, he was under a microscope.
The murder of Black Just and Love’s credit card schemes cast a cloud of suspicion over the Crime Partners production but the worst was still to come. At the same time this was all happening a kid named Curtis Jackson from Queens took the moniker 50 Cent from a dead stick-up kid out of Brooklyn and started releasing a series of underground mixtapes including 2000’s Guess Who’s Back, which featured Ghetto Qu’ran and the following lyrics:
When you hear talk of the southside / you hear talk of the team / see niggas feared Prince and respected Preme / for all you slow muthafuckers I’m gonna break it down iller / see Preme was the businessman and Prince was the killer.
This wasn’t the first time the team had been celebrated in songs but the lyrics about Preme in his bulletproof BMW that reeled out a roll call of Supreme Team members like Black Just was the last thing Preme needed as he tried to pull it all together and go legit. And with 50 Cent’s ode, authorities had reason to believe Preme was back underground up to his old tricks with his life imitating his art.
“It was good that he paid homage to us for who we were and what we did,” Bing says of the verses. “But I felt different about it when I first heard that shit. It is what it is.” Preme’s legacy was now aired to the world and right at the most inappropriate time. The storied street dude was getting out of the life but the lines between hustling and hip-hop had blurred casting suspicion on his ventures. But 50 wasn’t the first to rap about Preme.
In Nas’s Memory Lane on 1994’s Illmatic he rhymes: Some fiends scream about Supreme Team / a Jamaica Queens’s thing.
And it wouldn’t be the last as Murder Inc.’s Ja Rule joined the fray with his intro on the Survival of the Illest CD: Funds unlimited / backed by Preme team crime representatives.
That was something that the feds would eventually pick up on. It seemed the rap lyrics struck a chord with law enforcement officials. While many of the figures heralded in hip-hop lyrics were either dead or in prison, Supreme was in the streets - a real live gangster. He was both a figure in raps lyrical lore and an upcoming hip-hop movie-maker. “Preme is a legend. He’s proven and he’s not a rat,” Tuck says. “That fact alone in this day and time says a lot. Stand up men are no longer the rule they are the exception to the rule.” The rappers 50 and Ja Rule’s status was less clear, as they started beefing about a world that Supreme had known far better than either of them. “The Ja Rule/50 Cent beef was partly because Supreme spoke up for Ja Rule and 50 Cent took this as a rejection of him,” T says. “Supreme thinks 50 cent is an angry young man that been venting, and his venting could be construed as ungangsta, because real men don’t put stuff out in the public that could bring about an investigation.” Adds T, “Supreme looks at 50 like he’s confused. If half the things that are said about 50 and Preme are true than 50 needs to send half his loot to Supreme.”
In the streets, it was also rumored that Supreme had something to do with 50 Cent’s mother’s death. Sabrina Jackson allegedly was a Supreme Team member who got strung out on crack and fucked up some of Preme’s money. She was found dead in her apartment. Somebody had put something in her drink and turned the gas on. Her body wasn’t found until four days later. In the streets it was seen as a message- Don’t fuck with Supreme’s money or product. “That’s some bullshit.” T says. “That’s just something that got picked up on. Supreme couldn’t even tell you what she looked like. She didn’t have anything to do with the Supreme Team.” But as rumors swirled and 50 Cent (left) caught wind of them after he’d grown up he went on the offensive escalating the beef with Ja Rule and Murder Inc. He must have figured fuck Supreme, if he’s not with me, he’s against me. And that’s how it played out. “I try not to entertain what spills out of his mouth,” Preme said referring to 50. “Because I don’t wish to engage in a war of words. I’m not at war with him nor did I ever have a beef with him. I never knew his mother. I knew of her and from what I know she was cool people.”
A couple of physical confrontations that turned violent ensued. One at an Atlanta club that resulted in Ja Rule’s chain being snatched and another at a Manhattan recording studio where Murder Inc. cronies assaulted 50. These confrontations fueled the beef and it was suggested by police that the Ghetto Qu’ran rap caused bad blood between 50 Cent and Supreme. “Men that have been in the life you just don’t put their business on wax.” T says. “Preme showing love to Murder Inc. ostracized him from their counterparts.” But in reality T relates that, “Supreme never gave 50 Cent any thought because barking dogs don’t bite and 50 never been in the life. He’s a perpetrator to the death of the game.”
50 Cent built his career on the feud though. He called Murder Inc. out for what they were, making references to their menacing acquaintances in magazine articles and in verse. His pre-superstar hit Wanksta was a thinly veiled attack calling Ja Rule a fake gangsta wannabe, perpetrating a tough guy image. And in a battle rap 50 gave his take on Irv Gotti- Don’t nobody respect you nigga/you Preme’s son nigga/muthafucker been getting extorted since day one. The feds took this to mean that Murder Inc. was bankrolled by Supreme. They listened to 50’s lyrics like they would a wiretap. 50 Cent said the song Ghetto Qu’ran was a memorial to the street legends he grew up idolizing but The Source magazine took an anti-50 Cent stance and labeled him a snitch. Supreme even said as much, “When we was coming up there was a code of conduct. You didn’t speak about dudes who may still be in the streets.”
And the truth of the whole matter was that Supreme was trying to squash the beef between 50 and Murder Inc. “I sat down with 50 and said, ‘Listen man, this is nonsense.’ But 50 loves to keep things going. He would say ‘Yeah, all right Supreme, I respect you man’ and then turn around and go totally contrary to what we talked about.” And about Preme and the beef T says, “He’s a very diplomatic individual who feels that violence is an option that can’t be afforded. I think he feels if a situation can get to the point of physical violence and he knows both parties he would feel obligated to find a peaceful situation.” And Supreme did just that as 50 cent pointed out, talking about the Murder Inc. beef, “I had a conversation with an older god body that was holding them down. He was like yo, leave this little nigga alone. You know they pussy but this is my food. I was like okay.” And the god body 50 Cent was referring to was Supreme. “I was intervening to squash the issue because I thought it was meatball. I think he said Ja Rule didn’t say hi or something. Plus security can’t stop a real beef.” Supreme said of the situation. But it all came to a head.
On May 24, 2000, as 50 and a friend sat in a car outside his grandmother’s house on 161st Street in South Jamaica a gunman rolled up in a vehicle on his left side and pumped nine shots into his body, hitting him in the hand, hip, calf, chest and face. 50 Cent survived and went on to become a superstar but the shooting has always been connected to Supreme. After he recovered, 50 put out a song, Fuck You, that said: 50, who shot ya? You think it was Preme, Freeze or Tata?
And Jon “Love” Ragin said later that he met with Preme the day of the 50 shooting and Preme said, “I got him.” Supreme, “Explained to me that they caught him coming out of his grandmother’s house and he got into a car and that’s when he got shot. There was a lot of blood.” Love recalled Preme telling him. The New York Post ran the headline, Slay Plot vs. Fitty, indicting Supreme of the crime. But even in court the shooting was never pinned on Supreme.
The subject of 50 being a snitch has been hotly debated also. “This dude sensationalizes everything. All his statements are incendiary. The government believes every lyric- and then he says, ‘Read my lyrics.’ Where I come from that’s dry snitching.” Supreme said and on the whole beef with 50 he said, “Kid you’ve never been through nothing. I walked around wolves, man. I walked among giants.” And he’s right. Maybe 50 is a snitch, maybe not. “The chump 50 Cent wouldn’t even be a factor in the rap game today if his lyrics weren’t snitch oriented,” T says. “He owe his success to the media and his beef with Murder Inc. 50 ain’t never been nowhere but to boot camp. A place guys like Supreme wouldn’t even go to. With dudes yelling in your face telling you to do 50 pushups. How gangsta is that?”
Seth Ferranti is author of numerous true crime books, The Supreme Team: The Birth of Hip-Hop, Prince’s Reign of Terror and the Supreme/50 Cent Beef Exposed is one of his latest releases. You can order it online at all bookstores or visit Ferranti’s website Gorilla Convict to get your copy there. You can also follow Ferranti on Twitter @SethFerranti
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