Word on the streets. A Guide to Books on Urban Gangsters

With the success of American Gangster, the fictionalized story of drug lord Frank Lucas’ life, more and more true crime books on inner-city street legends, hustlers and players have been appearing in popular culture. What the street magazines, Don Diva and F.E.D.S. started, a whole new generation of authors are building upon, adding their own tomes to the growing litany of what has been termed, street books. From the chronicles of gangster lore and the lyrical prowess of rappers who name check their ghetto star heroes, a new genre is emerging. One that is firmly entrenched in hip-hop culture and Hollywood’s glorification of the drug game. These books are tailor made for anyone who worships Brian DePalma’s Scarface or Mario Van Peoples’ New Jack City. Here we recap the top 10 best urban gangster books of all time. Bookmark this.

BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family
Author: Mara Shalhoup
Release Date: January 18, 2011

In the early 1990s, Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and his brother, Terry “Southwest T” Flenory, rose up from the slums of Detroit to build one of the largest cocaine empires in American history- the Black Mafia Family. They socialized with music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, did business with New York’s King of Bling Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo, and built allegiances with rap superstars Young Jeezy and Fabulous. Yet even as BMF attracted celebrity attention, its crew members engaged in fear tactics in cities across the nation.

When the brothers began clashing in 2003, the flashy and beloved Big Meech risked it all on a shot of legitimacy in the music industry. At the same time, utilizing a high-stakes wiretap operation, the feds inched toward their goal of destroying the Flenory’s empire and ending the reign of a crew suspected in the sale of thousands of kilos of cocaine and a half dozen unsolved murders. But their legacy lives on in Mara Shaloup’s fascinating and intriguing story, which recounts the rise, fall and everything in between.

Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and The Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler
Author: Ethan Brown
Release Date: November 22, 2005

Based on police wiretaps and exclusive interviews with drug kingpins and hip-hop insiders, this is the untold story of how the streets and housing projects of the Southside Jamaica Queens took over the rap industry. From the trends, styles, attitudes and swagger, the drug lords impacted and influenced the burgeoning rap culture. Leaving their mark on the genre and gangsta rap in particular.

For years, rappers from Nas to Ja Rule have hero-worshipped the legendary drug dealers who dominated Queens in the 1980s with their violent crimes and flashy lifestyles. Now for the first time ever, this gripping narrative digs beneath the hip-hop fables to re-create the rise and fall of hustlers like Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, Gerald “Prince” Miller, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and Thomas “Tony Montana” Mickens. Spanning twenty-five years, from the violence of the crack era to Run DMC to the infamous murder of NYPD rookie Edward Byrne to Tupac Shakur to 50 Cent’s battles against Ja Rule Murder Inc., to the killing of Jam Master Jay, Queens Reigns Supreme is the first inside look at the infamous Southeast Queens crews and their connections to gangster culture in hip-hop today.

Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
Author: Sanyika Shakur aka Monster Kody Scott
Release Date: June 29, 2004

After pumping eight blasts from a sawed off shotgun at a group of rival gang members, eleven-year-old Kody Scott was initiated into the L.A. gang the Crips. He quickly matured into one of the most formidable Crip combat soldiers, earning the name Monster for committing acts of brutality and violence that repulsed even his fellow gang members. When the inevitable jail term confined him to a maximum security cell, Scott channeled his aggression and drive into educating himself. A complete and personal transformation followed: from Monster to Sanyika Shakur, black nationalist, member of the New Afrikan Independence movement, and crusader against the causes of gangsterism. In a story that has been compared to the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleavers Soul on Ice, Shakur makes palpable the despair and decay of America’s inner cities and gives eloquent voice to one aspect of the black ghetto experience today.

Copshot: The True Story of a Murder that Shocked the Nation
Author: Mike McAlary
Release Date: December 1, 1992

This was the first book to look at the emerging gangster scene in Queens, New York, which impacted hip-hop culture in profound ways. Introduced to the public (outside of New York’s tabloid newspaper) for the first time, was the colorful cast of South Jamaican drug lords, who reigned in the mid-to-late 80s as the crack wars raged. Fat Cat, Supreme, Prince, Pappy Mason, the Bebo’s, The Supreme Team – their crimes and exploits are all detailed as are the lengthy criminal prosecutions they endured for their actions and lives of living dangerously in the drug game.

The culmination of the crack influenced chaos McAlary describes was the murder of 22-year-old rookie police officer Edward Byrne. A lynch mob/witch hunt mentality resulted after the killing and the NYPD went on a rampage to get their revenge. This book shows why our nation’s prisons are filled with small-level drug offenders. The cop’s murder proved the catalyst. The events that unfolded in this story directly led to the federal drug sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences and the draconian 100:1 crack to cocaine ratio. A crucial piece of informative and detained American gangster history.

Sergeant Smack: The Legendary Lives and Times of Ike Atkinson, Kingpin, and His Band of Brothers
Author: Ron Chepesiuk
Release Date: June 21, 2010

Sergeant Smack chronicles the story of North Carolina’s Leslie “Ike” Atkinson, an adventurer, gambler and one of U.S. history’s most original gangsters. Under the cover of the Vietnam War and through the use of the U.S. military infrastructure, Atkinson masterminded an enterprising group of family members and former African American GI’s that the DEA identified as one of history’s ten top drug trafficking rings. Ike’s organization moved heroin from Thailand to North Carolina and beyond. According to law enforcement sources, 1000 pounds is a conservative estimate of the amount of heroin the ring transported annually from Bangkok, Thailand through U.S. military bases, into the U.S. during it’s period of operation from 1968-1975. That amount translates to about 400 million of illegal drug sales during that period.

The blockbuster movie, American Gangster, which depicted the criminal career of Frank Lucas, distorted Atkinson’s historical role in the international drug trade. Sergeant Smack exposes the lies about the Ike Atkinson-Frank Lucas connection and documents how Ike, not Lucas pioneered the Asian heroin connection. Sergeant Smack’s criminal activities sparked the creation of a special DEA unit code named CENTAC9, which conducted an intensive three-year investigation across three continents. Sergeant Smack was elusive, but the discovery of his palm print on a kilo of heroin finally took him down.

Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler
Authors: Azie Faison with Agyei Tyehimba
Release Date: August 7, 2007

AZ, as he was known in the streets, was one of a trio of young, flashy Harlem drug dealers who took the city by storm in the early to mid 80’s when the crack game was jumping off. His cohorts were Alberto “Alpo” Martinez and Rich Porter, who have gone down in street legend as two of the most notorious and infamous urban gangsters ever. This book profiles their story through the eyes of the third amigo of the group, AZ. Faison was a ninth grade dropout who earned more than $100,000 a week selling cocaine in Harlem, New York, during the peak of America’s “War on Drugs” between 1983 and 1990. Faison, along with his two partners, was an urban prince with cars, jewels, and women. People were in awe of this million dollar phenomenon. AZ, Alpo and Rich were like the Michael Jordan’s of the drug game. Their legacy has been praised by hip-hop’s top names and portrayed in the urban cult classic film Paid In Full starring Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris and the rapper Cam’ron. In Game Over, AZ brings forth a powerful memoir of New York’s perilous drug underworld and street culture.

Shower Posse: The Most Notorious Jamaican Crime Organization
Author: Duane Blake
Release Date: September 2005

This book chronicles Shower Posse leader Vivian Blake’s rise from the trench towns of the Kingston slums to a powerful drug lord jet-setting from Jamaica to Miami to New York. With a ruthless crew to do his bidding, Vivian masterminded a drug empire that smuggled weed and cocaine up through Florida and to the rest of the country in the 80s and early 90s. The Jamaican dealers were known to spray Uzi submachine gun blasts randomly into enemy area, showering them with bullets and leaving the streets littered with empty casings, hence the Shower Posse name.

Along with Lester “Jim Brown” Coke, Vivian Blake unleashed his crew of killers, drug dealers and thugs across the nation as they set up crack houses in various inner-cities, forcing the local dealers out with their unhesitating use of violence. The Shower Posse was feared for their brutality, take no prisoners attitude and shoot first, ask questions later mentality. This book profiles their exploits and the outcome of their reign of terror.

Black Brothers Inc: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia
Author: Sean Patrick Griffin
Release Date: May 15, 2005

The Black Mafia is one of the bloodiest crime syndicates in modern U.S. history. From its roots in Philadelphia’s ghettos in the 1960s, it grew from a rabble of street toughs to a disciplined, ruthless organization based on fear and intimidation. Known in its “legitimate” guide as Black Brothers Inc., it held regular meetings, appointed investigators, treasurers and enforcers, and controlled drug dealing, loan-sharking, numbers rackets, armed robbery and extortion in the city of Brotherly Love.

Its ferocious crew of gunmen was led by Sam Christian, the most feared man in Philly’s streets. The gangsters developed close ties with the influential Nation of Islam and soon were executing rivals, extorting bookies connected to the city’s powerful Cosa Nostra crew, and intimidating local gangs. Police say the Black Mafia was responsible for over forty killings, the most chilling being the massacre of two adults and five children in a feud between rival religious factions. Despite the arrests that followed, they continued their rampage, exploiting their ties to prominent lawyers and civil rights leaders. Convictions and sentences shattered their strength, only for the crack dealing Junior Black Mafia to emerge in their wake.

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in Age in the Bronx
Author: Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Release Date: January 19, 2004

This is the book that profiles George “Boy George” Rivera, who was known in the 80s as the Puerto Rican James Bond, due to his affinity for luxury automobiles and the often $100,000 he would invest in them in for gadget upgrades. A stunning picture of life in the Bronx drug trade, Random Family is traced through the experiences of Boy George’s girlfriend Jessica who falls for the flashy drug dealer, gets pregnant and then tries to live with the consequences as Boy George is locked up in the feds for life.

Boy George, a Bronx street icon, agreed to be interviewed for this book and it highlights his drug ring, their Obsession brand heroin and his subsequent battle with the authorities and inevitable incarceration. Random Family takes readers into the criminal underworld and shows how young girls like Jessica became fascinated with the lifestyles and material possessions of the drug game. Often getting used up and forfeiting their lives in the process. Welfare queens, crack babies and deadbeat dads, its all here, beyond the statistics, hip-hop glamour and stereotypes. Random Family hits home.

Born Fi’ Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld
Author: Laurie Gunst
Release Date: March 15, 1996

On the ethnic gangs that rule America’s inner cities, none has had the impact of the Jamaican posses. Spawned in the ghettos of Kingston as mercenary street fighters for the islands politicians, the posses began migrating to the United States in the early 1980s, just in time to catch and ride the crack wave as it engulfed the country. Feared and honored for being “harder than the rest,” they would lay claim to their new territory with outlaw bravado, and the dancehall music born of their world, would define “gangsta” culture for a generation of angry sufferers in Jamaica, America and England.

This book traces the origins of the gangs, from the rivalry between the two political parties and follows their evolution into drug dealing on the island and in New York City, focusing on specific gangs and members who tell their own stories of immigration and channeling their violence into the crack trade. Born Fi’ Dead is Gunst’s unique account of the posses of this netherworld, and the first to bring to life Jamaica’s international gangs.

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