From gangsta rap to gangsta writer in the world of hip-hop everything spirals upwards from the streets. And in the annals of the gangsta chronicles a new writer has emerged suddenly, almost out of nowhere, to become the hip-hop writer of the moment. But this kid doesn’t write glossy puff pieces about rappers who portray themselves as pseudo drug lords. This writer hits the streets and brings the tales of those who the rappers are trying to be.
In Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent and the Rise of the Hip-hop Hustler, author Ethan Brown takes a look back at the crack era in South side Jamaica Queens the New York borough that brought Jam Master Jay, Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, 50 Cent, and his G-Unit cronies to the world. But in the 80s at the height of the crack era Queens was notorious for its drug lords, which included Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, Gerald “Prince” Miller, Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, and Thomas “Tony Montana” Mickens who ran drug gangs by the names of the Supreme Team, Seven Crowns and the Bebos. The book chronicles the evolvement of the borough from a drug hotbed to a hip-hop stronghold with the history from Supreme to 50 Cent and their never ending feud, which allegedly began in the streets of South Jamaica.
But who is this author and where did he come from? Many in the hip-hop world and the streets feel as if he’s an outsider who co-opted this whole story and made it his. 50 Cent even said as much in a recent XXL interview, is Ethan Brown, hip-hop author of the moment legit, or was he just lucky to be in the right place at the right time? Let’s check it out.
“I’m from the Washington DC suburbs,” Ethan says. “I grew up in the 1980s in DC, which was really a fascinating time. The crack trade was wild, obviously. I was a punk rock and hip-hop kid, which might have been strange in other cities, but in DC it was actually quite normal.” And with crossover bands like Basehead and Bad Brains the notion wasn’t so strange. But how did Ethan start writing about the streets?
“I started writing about the streets in the mid-late 90s while I was working at Details Magazine. I was an editorial assistant and I ended up doing a lot of research for a writer named Frank Owen who was doing pieces on Ecstasy traffickers, Peter Gatiens Empire, and the Brooklyn Terror Squad.” Ethan explains. “The pieces were published and made a huge splash, so from there I was hooked and continued to write about the streets for New York magazine.” Where he wrote a 2003 cover story about the Ja Rule/50 Cent beef that evolved into the book, Queens Reigns Supreme, which has reportedly sold into the six figures, and which has reportedly been optioned by Sony for a black underworld Sopranos like cable series. But before all this it was at NYU that Ethan laid the groundwork for his career.
“Before working at Details I was at NYU getting a Masters degree in Journalism,” he says. “Believe it or not this was also a place where I got interested in the streets. When I was at NYU I was a 24/7 clubber and hung around all sorts of hustlers who would later become sources for pieces that I wrote at New York Magazine.” And from there he has gone on to critical acclaim in the hip-hop world. Being featured in King, XXL, Rolling Stone, and others as the man in the know for the ongoing Murder Inc/Supreme/50 Cent legal fiasco.
“Supreme’s in a tough situation.” Ethan says. “He’s facing the death penalty and the feds keep adding superseding indictments to his case. He’s also facing a number of uncharged allegations including the shooting of 50 Cent. I met Supreme soon after Queens Reigns Supreme was published. He asked for copies of the book and my understanding is that he really liked it and wanted to meet me.” And Ethan finally met the street legend, visiting him at MDC Brooklyn for a series of interviews that formed the basis for a Vibe piece on Supreme that ran last summer.
“We met for the first time in January 2006.” Ethan says. “I was scared to death when I met him, because Queens Reigns Supreme really broke down his mythology. We ended up getting along well though and I think he under stood why I wrote the book in the way that I did. I should also mention how surprised I was by his incredible intelligence. He’s self-educated, but in really surprising ways. He has great taste in literature and he is a very astute observer of politics.” And of the 50 Cent/Supreme beef Ethan says, “The beef is really strange. I don’t even know what to say about it at this point particularly, because I’m suddenly personally drawn into the beef because of 50’s new cover story with XXL where he goes after me and Supreme. This is perhaps the weirdest moment related to the book and its one I’m still digesting.” And back to the book, how did it come about?
“The origins of Queens Reigns Supreme are in a 2003 cover story I did for New York magazine about Ja Rule and 50 Cent’s beef, as well as, the beginning of the Murder Inc. investigation. While researching the piece I read a few short articles about Supreme, Fat Cat, etc., and couldn’t believe that no one had written a book about them,” Ethan says. And the success of the book has been amazing.
“I’m pretty shocked by the effect the book has had.” Ethan relates. “I knew the story was big, but I am surprised that it has affected so many people so deeply. When you read the Amazon reviews some them say thing like ‘Every African-American young person should read this book’ which is crazy. Particularly because I’m white. But I guess that there are things in the book that needed to be said.” And with Ethan’s recognition in the hip-hop and street world the stories keep coming. The aforementioned Vibe interview with the notoriously reclusive Supreme along with the recent pieces on King Tut of Tupac fame for King and a look at the Black Mafia Family that Young Jeezy hails from for Vibe also. Of the street stories Ethan concludes, “I think the street stories appeal to the hip-hop magazines, because hip-hop has become so street oriented. I’m thinking of Jeezy, Weezy, Clipse, Rick Ross. I don’t think there has ever been a time when hip-hop was so deeply immersed in the streets.” And that’s saying a lot given the early 1990 gangsta rap era and Ethan is dedicated to bringing the world the stories he writes. His new book titled Snitch is already in progress.
“I’ve already done a lot of work on Snitch,” he says. “And I should be finished by the spring of 2007. Snitch is going to trace what one attorney calls the cottage industry of cooperators back to the sentencing guidelines passed in the mid-late 80s.” And with Snitch Ethan again is tapping into the whole stop snitching movement, which has exploded in hip-hop this year. Showing that Ethan is not only a man with a plan, but he’s clever enough to recognize a big story and run with it.
So who cares if his hood credentials aren’t legit. With his work on Queens Reigns Supreme, Snitch, and the articles he’s published on street legends like Supreme, King Tut and the BMF he’s more than earned a hood pass. And dudes from the streets to the penitentiary are reading and respecting his work and hey if you got 50 Cent calling you out by name and beefing with you, you gotta be somebody right?