Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gangstas Hip to Mafia Rap

Friends of ours: Al Capone, John Gotti

The rap sheets say it all. They've got the body count and the prison cred, the bootlicking posses and the adoring wanna-bes. They drive luxurious cars and flash wads of cash.
Busta Rhymes
Gangsta rappers share a lot of similarities with La Cosa Nostra, and last Sunday the hip-hop hoodlums displayed yet another dreadful trait they share with the Mafia. After Busta Rhymes' bodyguard was shot dead in Brooklyn just feet from some of the biggest names in hip hop - including 50 Cent, DMX and Mary J. Blige - the rappers and their pals refused to talk to the NYPD in their own version of omerta.

Rhymes pledged to get justice for the family of his hired muscle, Israel Ramirez, a 29-year-old father of three. But so far his vow doesn't include cooperating with cops.
Al Capone
"Certainly when you look at Al Capone ... there is a connection there, a bond with hip hop," said hip-hop expert and author Kevin Powell. "The hip-hop community has always had some sort of [Mafia] connection because ... it was created by working class, poor blacks and Latinos in New York," Powell said.

"The Mafia was poor, working class. There is definitely a parallel existence between people marginalized, on the fringe of society, who want to make it - by any means necessary." That comparison has been encouraged for years by rappers and record producers who hope to capitalize on the notorious reputations of mobsters.

John Gotti, the late head of the Gambino crime family, has been canonized in many rap songs. Hip-hop mogul Irving (Irv Gotti) Lorenzo, the founder of Murder Inc. records, even adopted the Dapper Don's last name.

Snoop Dogg has called himself The Doggfather, Biggie Smalls fronted the Junior Mafia and Lil' Kim recorded "La Belle Mafia." And all the big-shot rappers surround themselves with a family - huge gangs who supposedly pride themselves on their loyalty and toughness. A shooting last year outside the Hudson St. studio of the radio station Hot 97 was blamed on a dispute between the posses of rappers 50 Cent and The Game.

"Certainly, if you look at African-Americans and Latinos, there's a loyalty to one community," Powell said. "I've interviewed Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Ice T, and they always had people they surrounded themselves with." But experts say the rappers' desire to pass themselves off as a modern-day Mafia falls short.

"The simple thing is, the hip-hop community emulates what they believe organized crime is," said Murray Richman, an attorney who has represented members of all five of New York's major crime families as well as rappers, including Jay-Z and DMX.

"It's wishful thinking on their part. They are emulating what never really existed. It is life imitating art," Richman said. "I do see similarities. The poverty aspect, coming up from an ethnically identifiable group. But in reality, that is armchair social work. "Their glamorization of the Mafia through names like Capone and Gotti is an emulation of a criminal culture, not an ethnic culture."

Gerald Shargel, a lawyer who has defended both John Gotti and Irv Gotti (Lorenzo), agreed. "As far as the violence is concerned, I don't see any similarity to traditional organized crime," he said. "In the hip-hop world, it just doesn't seem to have a common plan. The violence that you read about is like something out of the Wild West, a dispute. It's action and retaliation."

By contrast, the violence so idolized in Mafia movies was always considered "just business," a way to protect money-making interests - and power, said Powell. "That's the huge difference," he argued. "The Mafia had and has immense power. The hip-hop community does not.

"Look at the shooting last week, or any other hip-hop shooting. It's over an argument. There's no trace of controlling a power base or any kind of territory.

"One was real life, ultimately about power and control. The other is certainly real in terms of people getting killed and going to jail, but it's rooted in the entertainment industry."

Thanks to Adam Nichols

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