Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler

Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler (QRS) explores the relationship between the violent and often out-of-control drug scene of the 1980s and the increasingly Queens reigns Supreme . . .popular and influential hip-hop scene of the 1990s in southeast Queens.  The book is based extensively on court and government documents and interviews with many people involved in the story including most of the major players and Brown comes to conclusions that are largely at odds with the urban-heroic mythology promoted in the hip-hop world.

Brown begins his analysis with a brief description of the socio-economic differences among the neighborhoods in southeast Queens in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Around this time a fractured drug scene mainly made up of independent, small time hustlers began to coalesce into several large scale, more-or-less-organized drug gangs.  Among the major players in these gangs were Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols and his lieutenant Howard “Pappy” Mason, Kenneth “Supreme” or “‘Preme”, McGriff and his nephew Gerald “Prince” Miller and Thomas “Tony Montana” Mickens.  Through the 1980s, and more so after the introduction of crack in mid decade, the gangs became increasingly violent, ostentatious and arrogant culminating in the assassination of NYC policeman Edward Byrne who was sitting in a patrol car as part of NYPD’s round the clock surveillance of the home of a local resident whose house had been unsuccessfully fire bombed by drug hustlers unhappy with his frequent complaints to police about his block having become an open air crack market.

The killing attracted national attention, the police cracked down, and both the leaders and many of the low-level hustlers in the large drug organizations ended up dead or in jail.  While all of this was going on a number of kids who were either too young, too smart, too soft or too fearful to live the deadly life of the street were growing up and idolizing the drug hustlers who dominated their neighborhoods.  Some of these kids got into hip-hop which, at the time, was more about kids dancing and having a good time than it was about making money and selling image.  As the ’80s moved into the ’90s, the hip-hop players who desperately wanted the street cred that their lives had not earned found common cause with the hustlers who had the cred and who were retreating from a street life which had become too costly to pursue because of the increased likelihood of arrest and conviction, or of becoming the victim of random, senseless violence.  Association with hustlers who ruled the streets back in the day gave the hip-hoppers what they pretended was real street cred while the hustlers found a new and safer way to make money.

Some of the hip-hop people that Brown brings into the story are Def Jam impressario Russell Simmons, RUN-DMC’s Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, Murder Inc.’s Irv Lorenzo and his brother Chris, Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent.  Virtually all of these people had little or no real life experience as the gangsta hustlers they portray in their public roles in the music world.  Those few who did, such as 50 Cent, are much too young to have been important participants in the ’80s drug-lord world that is celebrated in their music.  These guys are seen as image mongers nostalgic for a world they were never part of and trying to gain credibility by associating with the street hustlers who were. 

Brown tells a convincing story in part because his narrative is so well documented and in part because he does not take sides and has no interest in judging the hustlers, the rappers or the police.  So much writing about hip-hop is drenched with the kind of bombastic self-mythologizing that characterizes a large part of the music that it is both a pleasure and a relief to read an author who clearly enjoys the music but who also takes a clear-eyed view of the business.

The hustlers revered by the rappers killed people for money and control of the lucrative drug trade.  The people in the music business shoot each other over juvenile spats of the kind you’re likely to find on junior high Facebook pages in an attempt to enhance their image as tough guys.  It’s hard to read about this without thinking that many of the icons of the hip-hop world are almost as sad, small and pathetic as the suburban kids who idolize them and make them rich.  If you’re a hip-hop fanboy who thinks Tupac Shakur is a cultural hero, you’re probably not going to enjoy QRS.  However, if you like hip-hop and are interested more in the way it is than in the way they like to pretend it is, QRS is likely to be an enjoyable and informative read.


05/17/2008 - Posted by | book reviews, music | , , ,


  1. Thanks you. 50 Cent ❤

    Comment by LonniE | 07/31/2010 | Reply

  2. Like i need to say this. 50 Cent is the best!

    Comment by LonniE | 07/31/2010 | Reply

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