Howard “Pappy” Mason was a soldier. In one of the most violent eras in New York City history Pappy Mason rose above the rest to cement his reputation as one of the most feared men in the five boroughs. When the South Jamaica crack wars were in full swing and bodies were dropping by the day Pappy held court in the street and reigned king. He was the one nobody wanted to fuck with. He was the baddest man on the block. To put it quite simply, Pappy Mason was a legend in his own time. In the mid-80s the crack vial spawned violence and bloodshed, paper chasers and four corner hustlers, drug empires and kingpin galore. And in the annals of mythical druglore Pappy Mason has stood tall over time as the man, the myth and the folk hero that inspired Jay Z, Nas and 50 Cent to lionize him and his exploits in verse. “They was legends, myths like urban-legends myths,” Irv Gotti said of the Southeast Queens hustlers. And for real can’t nobody front on that. But let’s go way back, before Pappy was the certified street legend that he is. Let’s look at how he got to be who he was.
“There’s not a lot of history on this dude,” says BC, a Queens’s hustler from the era. “They say this nigga was from the Brook, from Brooklyn somewhere. And Bing from the Supreme Team confirms, “Pappy Mason was from Brooklyn, Crown Heights, not Queens.” But that didn’t stop Pappy from becoming a Queens’s legend. It’s said he was born in Alabama and moved to Crown Heights at a young age. At the time Brooklyn had that thug shit on lock. Of the five boroughs Brooklyn was known for producing the thoroughest, most grimiest dudes. Pappy, who was a natural born fighter, came up in this thug culture and learned how to be a man on Brooklyn’s tough streets. First as a member of the gang, the Jolly Stompers and later as a stick up kid. Back in the day Pappy was not known as a drug player but he was known as a hothead who took no shorts and who hated the police. At a young age he was telling the police in his neighborhood to “suck my dick.” He held a big middle finger up to authority. It was just how he was cut. Pappy had a problem with authority from the jump and his preferred way of handling that problem was with his fists.
His violent ways and fights with police landed him in juvenile detention facilities like Warwick and Spofford. He did a fiver year sentence for attempted murder as a teenager and couldn’t stay out of trouble. During one of his many stays at Spofford Youth House Pappy met another young kid who was good with his fists and hailed from the Seven Crowns gang, Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols. The two young toughs hit it off. Bonded over their ability to knock motherfuckers out. They both had the I am my brother’s keeper mentality and saw the ideals they valued in themselves in each other. Spofford was an institution for bad and troubled teens. Only the worst of the worst were sent there. Kids came in bad but after years in that madhouse authorities called juvenile detention they came out worse. Pappy turned his hatred for police into a hatred for C/0’s and clashed with the staff repeatedly. “Pappy’s the only person I know back then who had seven years and did everyday of it,” Fat Cat said. “He left not owing a day.” And when Pappy left in 1983, he had already spent a quarter of his 23 years in prison.
“In every hood people make a name for themselves.” Bing says and Pappy was no different. By the time he hit the bricks in 83 his man Fat Cat was well established as a drug dealer on 150th Street in Southeast Queens. Pappy went to the block looking for Cat and Cat hired him on the spot for $1,000 a week as security. “Pap’s got a good heart,” Fat Cat said. “If he’s your friend, he’s your friend. But if he’s your enemy that’s something altogether different.” Pappy was the dude crazy dudes would think twice about trying. With his no-nonsense attitude he was vicious. And don’t get if fucked up, Pappy was fiercely loyal to Cat.
“When you hear Cat, you hear Pap.” Says BC of the pairing. Pappy emerged as Cats man on the streets. Cat wanted Pap on his team because he knew Pap had that mad heart. And Pappy did his job with a vengeance. He pistol whipped a prostitute who stole from Cat in broad daylight on the block. He shot a rival dealer who tried to encroach on Cat’s territory and he shot a customer dead outside a church because the customer had the nerve to complain about the purity of Cat’s product. Pappy’s viciousness and image enhanced his already fearsome reputation. He had a strong mystique around him. With his Rastafarian dreadlocks and adopted Jamaican patios dudes thought he was from Jamaica. “That dude with the dreadlocks. That’s Pappy.” One informer told the police. “He’s Fat Cat’s enforcer now. He the craziest guy out here.” And street tales tell of Pappy sticking hot curling irons up dudes’ ass to torture them or get them to talk. The dude was vicious. He definitely did not play. And Pappy’s work was rewarded by Fat Cat. He handed Pappy a lucrative drug spot in Forty projects to ply his trade and get money. Pappy took the spot and ran with it.
The enforcer for Cat’s crew formed his own crew. Pappy’s sub-organization was called the Bebos. The Bebos grew dreads too and sold cocaine and heroin. “The Bebos were underneath Pap. He was the head nigga in charge,” BC says. “He was amongst them Bebo niggas from Forty projects.” And along with the dreadlocks Pappy’s crew emulated him in all matters, from his violent ways to his speech patterns. “They used to try and be like Pap talking Jamaican and the like. A lot of dudes were under Pap. He had a strong influence in our hood.” And the Bebos adopted Rastafarian culture as their own. “They got a thing where they call one love and when Pappy say you do, you do.” Scott Cobb, a Bebo said. “One love mean do or die. We all tight, we family. When Pappy give you an order you do.” Pappy was down on 150th Street but his crew held it down in Forty. “Those Bebo niggas they were out there,” BC says. “They had leather jackets with Bebo on it.” And Phillip “Marshall” Copeland, another Bebo said, “There was no boss with us, every man was for himself. Bebo is a way of life to Rasta man and Jah for real.” But still, even with his own crew and spot Pappy was in charge of Cat’s security.
“When you think of Pap you think of an enforcer for Cat,” BC says. And Prince from the Supreme Team said, “The first person I met from Cat’s crew when I came home from state prison on July 1, 1984 was pap.” Pappy was a wild dude in the streets too. He didn’t give a fuck. He was blatant when it came to violence. “He had his own identity as far as getting busy,” BC says. “He was a loyal faithful soldier. In my hood it was all Cat and Pap.” Even the infamous Supreme weighed in on Pappy, “He was a real thorough dude.”
And when crack hit it changed Queens dramatically. The violence erupted and Pappy was at the center of it. “He was a wild nigga,” BC says. And Pappy Mason didn’t play. When Fat Cat was arrested in 1985, Pappy crept on the arresting officer as he escorted Fat Cat to a police car. Pappy slipped behind the cop and was prepared to shoot the cop to free Cat so they could make a get away but Cat shook his head no, so Pappy crept back into the cut, gun still in hand. Pap used to visit Cat in jail at the Queens House of Detention and even threatened Fat Cat’s girl after his arrest. “I don’t know what you know,” Pap told her, “But Cat says you better forget it.” And when Cat’s parole officer was killed for violating Cat’s state parole, Pappy was the main suspect. On February 28, 1985 Queens’s detectives arrested Pappy for the murder on Cat crew member Perry Bellamy’s statement. Bellamy told the cops that he lured the PO to the ambush spot where Pappy gunned him down. When the cops arrested Pappy he had a loaded .22 caliber Derringer in his boot that he was trying to get at before the officers arrested him, adding to his charges. Asked to cooperate into the affair and implicate Fat Cat for the murder of the PO, Pappy told police, “I ain’t no Perry Bellamy.” Referring to the snitch in Fat Cat’s camp. Because of his refusal to break the street code Pappy joined his boss in the Queens House of Detention. And during Pappy’s incarceration his legend grew.
“He was a big presence in Queens,” BC says and it’s said that while he was incarcerated Pappy gave Phillip “Marshall” Copeland a gold and diamond ring shaped like Africa worth $40,000 off his finger in a visit at Rikers to take care of future Bebo ventures. Pappy would call his crew in the streets from Rikers and go on tirades about the cops and word on the streets concerning the PO killing was that “the Bebos did it.” But Pappy maintained that, “I didn’t kill no PO.” And before trial started in January 1986 one Queens Native said, “There’s not a single soul who is gonna come in and testify against that boy.” In the borough that was the prevailing sentiment. Pappy had that much juice on the street and his cold blooded antics put fear into people’s hearts. “He was a motherfucking killer, BC says. “His influence was so strong. He had a big influence.” The prosecutor and judge in the case were living under constant anonymous death threats during the weeks prior to the trial and right before the case started the star witness Perry Bellamy refused to testify. Pappy had got his man. Only Bellamy’s taped confession was played for the jury.
“They was all there when the PO got killed,” Perry Bellamy voice said on the tape player. “Pappy, he just open fire. Pappy got him. That shit was swift.” But without a live witness willing to testify the jury hung. As Pappy made bail in February 1988 after the hung jury he formed an imaginary gun with his thumb and index finger, turned to the prosecutor and pulled the trigger. Pappy Mason was free again. But this time he would only be on the street for 10 days. But during that 10 days he set in course the motions that would shock the nation. Pappy was on bail and drinking a beer on a South Jamaica street corner when a beat cop accosted him. “Do me a favor,” a cop called the Iceman told Pappy. “Don’t drink beer in front of me.” Pappy was stunned. No cop ever told him what to do. “Do you know who I am?” He demanded of the cop. “Yeah, the guy who is going to put his beer in a paper bag.” The cop replied. “Fuck you,” Pappy screamed and a shoving match ensued. After a couple of seconds Pap walked off, his beer on the ground spilling on the pavement. Pappy was in a rage. “That cop has to die,” Pap said. “He dissed me.” Death threats against the cop followed and he was pulled from the streets for his protection. Pappy’s gun case, for the Derringer he was arrested with, was remanded a week later and Pappy was back at Rikers. He had only lasted 10 days on the street since the Rooney murder. “He was out before they remanded him,” one local said. “He was organizing at that time. It was already planned.” Pappy Mason was about to set in motion a jarring set of events that would have repercussions for the decades to come.
“We lose one, they lose one,” Pappy allegedly told Marshall. Pappy wanted the Bebo’s to send the police a message. He wanted to send a message out. The message was that even though he was behind bars he still gave orders. The message was devastating. Pappy wanted a cop hit. He was eventually convicted on the gun charge but that was the least of his worries.
“When Pap went to jail after Cat most of Cat’s strength in the streets was gone,” Prince said and Pappy knew this. He needed to do something drastic to keep his power and the hood in check. Something unheard of. His message was carefully constructed to have a maximum effect. Early in the morning of February 28, 1988 NYPD Officer Edward Byrne, a 22 year old rookie was shot five times in the head while sitting in his patrol car in Queens 103rd precinct protecting a witness whose house had been firebombed after he testified against some local drug dealers. The rookies’ murder was front page news all over the nation and kicked the War on Drugs into high gear and let to the creation of New York’s Tactical Narcotics Task force (TNT). Informants said some Jamaicans from Brooklyn killed the cop. Pappy went to prison the day before the officer was killed.
Four suspects, all Bebos, were immediately arrested- Todd Scott, Scott Cobb, David McClary and Phillip Copeland. Three of the four suspects made video taped statements off the jump implicating themselves, Fat Cat and Pappy. The only one who didn’t talk was Phillip Copeland. The police played it up to implicate the drug lord Fat Cat in the media. “This was an order, not for the murder of a particular officer, but any officer for the purpose of delivering a message of death to anyone who opposed Fat Cat,” Lt. Phillip Panzarella of the Queens Homicide squad said. But behind the scenes a different tale was emerging.
“Cat was mad about what that stupid motherfucker Pappy did,” Viola Nichols, Cat’s sister said. “What Bebo did was fucked up,” Cat raged. “Now nobody will make no money.” And in a call to Viola Pappy explained his reasons “The man dissed me.” It was because the police officer ordered Pappy to put a can of beer in a brown paper bag. But as Cat found out Pappy had the wrong cop killed. The execution style murder was said to have been ordered by Pappy from prison for revenge against the police. And to make matters worse on August 12, 1988 the feds indicted Fat Cat and his whole crew on racketeering charges. The New York Daily News headline read- Fat Cat’s Empire Crumbles; Feds Bust Drug Clan, $20 million in Dope Seized, 30 Suspects Nabbed in Massive Raid. The suspects included Pap and Cat’s mothers. While all this was going down Pappy was sentenced for the gun receiving a three and half to seven year sentence. At sentencing he told the judge, “You gotta do what you gotta do. I look crazy so people are going to judge me on that. This is two cops I supposedly allegedly killed. Cops come to me at precinct and say I’m the leader of a drug ring. I’ve never been arrested for drugs in my life. I don’t know what they’re talking about.” The federal racketeering and conspiracy case included charges that Pappy and Fat Cat orchestrated and gave the order to kill the cop. The four suspects in the state case, the triggerman and his three cohorts had already been convicted and sentenced to 25 to life. Now the feds were going after the ringleaders.
“Todd Scott and them niggas are from the projects. Forty Projects.” BC says. And Todd Scott is the one who said that Pappy ordered the hit. But he wasn’t the only one who betrayed his man. It’s alleged that on September 29, 1989 in a secret court session Fat Cat agreed to testify against Pappy Mason. “The feds offered me and Pap 40 years under the old law to cop out to 848 for our mothers freedom,” Cat explained. “Pap said he wasn’t going to plead guilty. I took the plea.” There was a lot of outrage in the streets at the time concerning Fat Cat’s alleged duplicity. And there was outrage at the prosecutor’s office too where one prosecutor said, “Using Fat Cat to get Pappy is like using syphilis to get gonorrhea.” But to this day Pappy maintains that, “Cat never testified against me. His name is not in any of my paperwork.”
Pappy Mason went to trial alone in the federal racketeering case. “I’m not letting these crackers roll me,” he said and about his mother facing the indictment he explained, “My mother knows about white people. She said god will make a way.” Harry Butchelder, Pappy’s lawyer tried to enter an insanity defense at the November 1989 trial. But it didn’t play. Pappy was violent in court and the judge isolated him. So in effect he boycotted his own trial, preferring to follow the proceedings on a specially installed speaker system in his cell. “They did me wrong,” Pappy said. “Jah is good, it was no trial. It was a KK meeting for real. That was not an indictment that was the government.” Scott Cobb was a witness saying he knew in advance of Mason’s plan to kill a cop. The order was given to Marshall who was instructed to pay $8,000 a head. Mike Bones, from Cat’s crew also testified and Viola Nichols, Cat’s sister, spent three days on the stand. Fat Cat was never called.
“They say that me and Pappy planned this,” Phillip “Marshall” Copeland said. “But me and him never talked and I didn’t go see him so I can say that he didn’t play no part in it.” David McClary, the accused shooter denied Pappy ever gave him an order. And even Pappy claimed innocence, “No, hell no, why would I kill a cop?” Still Pappy was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment after the jury deliberated three days before finding him guilty. “I look at it like this, they used me and my boy to make points during that election year Marshall said summing it all up from his point of view. But whatever the truth is the legend lives on.
“I am a man amongst men. I am God’s son,” Pappy Mason said. “I am strong I will never give up on Bebo. I’m the hip-hop kid from Southside Queens.” And a lot of the kids who grew up on hip-hop and later became rap stars looked up to Pappy. He’s had a strong presence indirectly in their lives and this has translated to their songs. Nas on God’s son’s Get Down spit, “New York streets where killers’11 walk like Pistol Pete and Pappy Mason, gave the young boys admiration.” Nas also namedropped Pap in The World is Yours, “Facin’ time like Pappy Mason,” he rapped. And Southside Queens most controversial rapper 50 Cent used Pap’s name in verse too in the Ghetto Qua’ran where he alluded to Fat Cat snitching on Pappy. “I used to idolize Cat/Hurt me in my heart to hear that/He snitched on Pap/How he go out like that?” And 50 also big upped the Bebo’s in his song, “Go against crews like Bebo and killers like Pap Mason.” Other rappers like Ja Rule, Fat Joe and Ghostface have also saluted Pappy in verse.
“He defied the police in the street. He defied them in jail. How real is that?” BC says. “Some niggas don’t bend, they don’t move, they fight. It’s in the nature of a nigga like Pap. He was a cool ass nigga but he could get violent in a minute. Bug out and all that shit. But still the nigga was cool.” And for a guy with such an outlandish legend he wasn’t a real big dude only standing maybe 5-foot-8 or so but what made him who he was, was that pit bull heart and attitude. That take all comers mentality. Like they said, “Pappy didn’t take no short.” But looking back another hustler from the era said, “I think these guys were living a movie. They used to watch Scarface and the Godfather and they wanted to be like that.” Maybe so but whatever the reason Pappy has gone down in infamy as one of the most notorious killers to ever walk the streets of New York. And even to this day the fearless soldier Pappy Mason who some say is as strong as an ox is ready to go to war.
Tales from the pen have circulated of Pappy battling the goon squads and cell extraction teams. They say he wraps his head with towels to soften the blows from guards’ batons and saturates his body with baby oil to wrestle with the guards so they can’t grab a hold of him when they storm his cell, six deep to try and subdue one man. They say he wages a constant battle against the guards throwing shit and piss at them through the little door trap where they put the food tray through. Because you know Pappy Mason is in 24 hour lockdown. He long ago forfeited his right to be on a regular compound. “Pappy Mason’s burnt out. I was with him at MCC in 92. He had dreads down to the floor, slept underneath the bed, smoked a carton of cigs a day,” said one federal prisoner.
“They said in Attica he was bugged out.” BC says. “He was crazy but that don’t take nothing away from him. Street niggas love this dude because they know he gets busy.” Pappy’s life now consists of threatening officers, cell extraction and cutting up snitches who he hates with a passion. After 18 years at USP Marion, Pappy was transferred to ADX Florence in Colorado, the Bureau of Prisons Supermax and home to the most notorious criminals in the U.S. It’s said that the feds shoot him up with large doses of Thorazine to keep him docile. Pappy even admitted this, “The government shot me up with Thorazine, but Jah makes a way, so God brings me back to Bebo. I am not crazy, I am in prions for something I did not do.” Pappy is still at this time fighting to overturn his conviction and life sentence in the feds, waging a constant battle on multiple fronts.
“The nigga took that time. He ain’t crying, he took it, he doing it.” BC says. “You got to salute a nigga like that. I just know this nigga is burned out but Pap a stand up nigga, they love that nigga son. They love that nigga because he stood up. He’s in the joint and he still don’t give a fuck. His influence is so strong a heritage that’s not even his salutes this dude. The Jamaicans claim Pap like he’s one of their own. He’s not. He’s American.” And on the whole Fat Cat snitch fiasco Pappy stands firm.
“They lie on Fat Cat and me word to mother.” Pappy said. Pappy calls Cat his brother. But street legend discredits pappy due to him being shot up with Thorazine. Some dudes say he doesn’t know what he’s saying but whatever the truth it’s caused a lot of controversy. Not enough to diminish Pappy’s infamy though. Even though he’s been locked away from the world for the last twenty years his legend lives on. As does his link with Fat Cat. “They will forever be linked together.” BC says but unlike Cat Pappy will forever be recognized as a stand up dude whereas Fat Cats credentials, right or wrong, are in question. A chilling fact rises to the surface though in this story and that is no matter who ordered it the bullets that killed Edward Byrne – were meant for the other cop, the one called Iceman.