It’s been 10 years since XXL magazine interviewed Shyne Po outside of prison walls. Nine of those 10 years he spent locked up behind bars and barbed wire. On this sticky mid-June evening, though, lounging in his penthouse apartment, looking out over the Caribbean Sea and almost all the other buildings in the capital city of his native country, Belize, Shyne is a free man. “I learned several things from my experience in the pen,” he says. “Humility. How powerless we are as human beings. And I just really mastered who I was. It’s all about mastering who you are. And you can’t master who you are unless that’s challenged.”
Certainly, who Shyne is has been challenged. On December 27, 1999, when he was just a 21-year-old rookie MC from Flatbush, Brooklyn, working on his debut album for Bad Boy Records, he was involved in one of the most infamous incidents in hip-hop history: a shooting at a midtown Manhattan nightclub called Club New York that left three people injured and led to a much-publicized trial for Shyne and his boss, Bad Boy owner Sean “Puffy” Combs.
During what the media began calling “the Puffy Trial,” testimony indicated that as many as three different people shot weapons in the club that night. Evidence from the scene showed that the fired bullets came from a .40-caliber gun. Shyne was caught with a 9-mm weapon. The mysterious .40-caliber gunman, who was described by two witnesses, was never identified or charged.
During the trial, Shyne granted this magazine a blockbuster cover story, in which he discussed his frustrations with Combs and the proceedings. He admitted to XXL, and later in court, that he’d shot his weapon into the air that night in self-defense, but he refused to identify any other shooters. Shyne claimed Combs was a “snitch” who hired witnesses to testify against him in court. Whatever the truth was, at the end of the trial, Shyne was found guilty of assault in the first and second degrees, reckless endangerment in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second and third degrees, then sentenced to jail.
Shyne the album dropped during the trial and sold a million records, but Shyne the person spent the next nine years at Rikers Island and as New York State Department of Corrections prisoner No. 01A3886 at Clinton and Woodbourne Correctional Facilities. In 2004, he signed a multi-million deal with Def Jam Recordings for his label, Gangland Records, and put out his second album, Godfather Buried Alive. In 2006, he legally changed his name to Moses Levi.
Upon completing his sentence last October, Shyne was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and taken to a federal prison. As a convicted violent felon of foreign birth, he was subject to automatic deportation under laws passed after the terrorist attacks of 2001. He started a legal appeals process, but 22 days later, he chose to accept deportation to the Central American country where he’d lived until the age of seven, and where his father, Dean Barrow, has been prime minister since 2008.
These days, Shyne is an orthodox Jew who says his prayers every evening, eats only kosher food, observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday ’til sundown Saturday, and travels around Central America visiting synagogues. In April, he was named Belize’s official Musical Ambassador and appointed as the head of the music program at the Natural Institute of Culture and History. Meanwhile, he hits the studio and is gearing up for the fourth quarter release of two new albums. One through a renewed partnership between Gangland and Def Jam, and one through an undisclosed deal. He also hopes to one day return to the United States.
But only if he can do so as a free man.
So take me back. What can you say about the night of your case and what happened?
I can tell you I was defending myself and the muthafuckas that was with me.
And, that night, did you have any idea that it could turn out the way it did?
Listen, I live my life for what’s right. When I grew up, death and harsh consequences and spending the rest of your life in the pen is a matter of fact. It’s not somethin’ that you read about in the newspaper, or you’re watching TV and you say, “Wow, that’s fascinating.”
It’s a possibility at any moment.
No, that is a fuckin’ damn near probability. Not even a possibility—a strong probability. In my life, when I make decisions to roll, I roll. And I don’t give a fuck what the consequences are. If I’ma defend myself, I’ma defend myself. If somebody tryna kill or hurt one of my partnas or my comrades that’s with me, there is no, Yo… or Damn, well, if I pull this shit out, this is what’s gonna happen. No! I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna be laid up in no fuckin’ hospital with a tube runnin’ through me, hurtin’ and sufferin’. Pain is real. So you know what? I’m not doin’ that. You gon’ do that, muthafucka. You gon’ roll and say hi to Satan, not me. And that’s that. After the fact, you deal with it. Your survival instincts tell you to protect and preserve, and you deal with whatever later. When you runnin’ on your foot that you just got shot on, not until you get to where it’s safe do you collapse. Because your body is designed to preserve. So it’s more important for your body to get to a place where it won’t die, than to just not work. The foot is gon’ work until you get to that point where it’s okay. Then the body will automatically shut down. And that’s how it was. So when I popped, I popped. Not because I was tryna be tough. For me, when you do things for show or you do things for wrong reasons, then you might think of consequences, and you calculate. But when you do what’s right, then any red-blooded human being [would do it], ya dig? A muthafucka threatenin’ your life, you do what you gotta do now. It ain’t about, Yo, did I do the right thing? Of course I did the right thing.
At the time, do you believe that one of the people you’re doing it for is someone that’s gonna look out for you in return?
No, no. You’re doing it because someone is threatening your life, as well as your comrade’s life. It has nothing to do with my comrade, with the exception that you protect and you preserve those that you love and you fuck with. You don’t sit there and think, Yo, I don’t know, man. Is this guy gonna…? I don’t give a fuck about that. In the world I’m from, comrades take care of they comrades. When you’re on the battlefield, you gon’ drag the dead body back to home base and bury him. And you’re gon’ give your soldier the honor that he deserves. You’re not gonna leave your soldier. Even if he’s dead. You’re still gonna carry his dead body back to base and bury him, like he deserves. So I assume that everybody is honorable and everybody has integrity and character and does the right thing. When I make my move, I’m not making my move questioning what people are gonna do. I know what I’m supposed to do.
Was that a mistake on your end?
Never a mistake. ’Cause I live with myself, and I sleep at night. And I sit here before you with all my dreams realized and being rewarded from the universe for having my character and my integrity. So I’m good. I did what I was supposed to do, and I was rewarded greatly for it.
Did your comrade—Puffy, in this situation—let you down?
You can always say, “Man, that ain’t the way to handle the situation.” Sure, I know in my soul that the situation was supposed to be handled in a different way. But it ain’t really a matter of disappointment or letdown, ’cause I never really… I grew up never having shit, never having anybody. So I never was that dude to depend on a muthafucka. Obviously, the actions is not something that you condone or that you’re happy with. Not at all.
But, ultimately, that’s the reason why you got a longer bid?
Yeah, if it was handled different, muthafuckas could have did a shorter stretch. If muthafuckas was banding together and we was all on the same team. For him, I don’t know whether he was nervous, afraid. When you’re afraid and you’re emotional, that’s a different survival tactic. Those are the people that do anything, regardless of character and integrity, to preserve and protect themselves, regardless of who they hurt. I guess maybe that was the situation. Never been in a situation like that, where he facing years, and he got hundreds of millions and all that shit at stake. But where I’m from, doesn’t matter. You lose everything for your comrade. Again, if you’re in battle, I’ll catch a bullet, too. It ain’t like, Yo, he’s dead. Don’t make no sense for me to die, too. Nah, I’ma die, too! So you hope or you take for granted that all men are the same. But I know all men are not. It’s disappointing when they don’t live up to themselves, but you roll. You know that the creep is in all of us. It’s just a few of us is able to suppress that creep, and some of us are able to extract it from our soul altogether. —Vanessa Satten
To read the rest of this exclusive interview with Shyne, be sure to pick up the 13th anniversary issue of XXL, September 2010, when it hits national newsstands August 10.