It wasn’t always us chilling in the pools at the Hamptons, eating good at Mr. Chows or tearing down New York City nightclubs as we sprayed champagne bottles, fine wines floating through the air, not caring that the suede Gucci loafers were getting splashed on. It really boggles my mind how a whole lot of deals was being made in the 1990′s. If you had great talent, good solid contracts in place, and valid connects to real execs who could get a check cut, you had a great chance of catching a grip. Low six figures on a bad day. The music industry streets were paved in gold.
Like in any industry, money like that brought out all types of people. Characters. That kind of money also attracted cats that was accustomed to pulling them numbers easily and on the regular, the same type of cats that were experts in negotiating their way around the law. The best word to describe them cats is Gangsters, like in the true sense of the word, not like in those Al Pacino movie roles. And most definitely not at all like them rappers running around with their shirts off, tatted up, words all up in the hook talking about how gangsta they are. Nah, B, the Gangsters I’m referring to is nothing at all like those rapper dudes. The way some of these Gangster cats moved, how they talked, you knew they lived a life you didn’t wanna know anything about. That kind of information, I didn’t need and mos def didn’t want anywhere in my life. Quiet, subtle in appearance, some of these cats you’d never notice in a room full of people, especially with how colorful everyone else in the industry was. These dudes mastered the art of not drawing attention to themselves.
Great thing about the Gangsters though, was that they were a far different breed from the other types in the business. They worked hard, were always prompt, on time. Ironically, they tended to be far more honest in keeping their word than all of the the rest. Being that they were business men, they needed contracts like everyone else. And they paid on time. In cash. The Gangsters were great for our business, especially during the lag time between negotiating deals. It was a great relationship between the gangsters and us. We did our job, they paid their bills and life was much simpler dealing with them than having to chase down a tardy artist or producer ducking our calls on account of some outstanding bills. I maintain a great amount of respect for the Gangster. Not one bit of sloppiness on their end.
This one older cat hired us. He knew my law partner’s pops from back in the day in the streets of Queens and when he came out with the intent of going legal in the music game, our names were the first that were referred to him. His legacy was deep, a true street legend whose name is written in the books. He was recently out after having served a couple of bids that added up to double digit numbers, his rap sheet going back to the ’70s. Still, for an ex con everyone in the industry, Black and white, took his calls, took his meetings. Just because. He was that connected, some of the younger cats he “raised” ended up being major somebodies in the industry during all them years that he was locked up behind bars. Plus, you didn’t ever want to be the dummy that said no to dude. You just knew that from the gate.
Smart enough to know there was money in the game for him, old enough to know how lucky he was to be alive at his age for the life that he lived, he came to us with a rap act that he wanted to sign to his newly incorporated production company. We handled the incorporation. We also drew up the contracts to be negotiated and signed by the artists in his sights. We moved quick, especially since the retainer he paid us, and up front, pushed our bank account deep into the black. Like I said, gangsters were great for business. After we sent the paperwork to the artists, we realized we had a problem, our client had a problem. Come to find out the artists he wanted to sign were already signed to some no named production company, a janky ass operation that had no intention of pushing their career forward. With contract in place, the production company was just biding their time, laying in the cut, waiting for an unearned handout in the event the artist ever blew up.
My partner was handling this matter. He contacted the lawyers of the production company. Told them that since their client was sitting on the contract, would they be willing to release the artists in exchange for a nominal fee. My partner even drafted up a release agreement. The lawyer on the other end was a real abrasive fuck, a Jewish cat who pegged us as being young Black attorneys too green, too meek to go hard. So he decided he was going to start the process with all the unnecessary tough talk. “Who the fuck is your client to want to sign my client’s act?” “Why should my client even give you guys the effin time of day?” “We don’t need no nominal fees to release the artist, we’re waiting around for real parties, like a major label to step up to the plate so you guys are just wasting my clients’ and my time.” Like I said, this lawyer was a real sweet heart to deal with. Being real gentlemanly, patient, our client persuaded us to further the negotiations process. The more we kept calling their lawyer though, the more abusive he became. Eventually he ended all types of progress when he told my partner “Look, I don’t give a fuck who you guys are, the artists are locked into a deal and there’s no fucking way in hell they’ll ever be released, so stop fucking calling here!” We had tried our best before we hit a brick wall. The lawyer and his clients were being pricks. The next time our client came to our office, we explained to him what transpired, how the other side’s lawyer swore over his dead body that our guy would never end up signing the artists. Taking our status report in, our client calmly smiled, quietly saying to us “Well I’m sure there’s some way we can work all of this out.” We were clueless as to what he meant. Still, before he left our office, our client quietly requested several copies of the release agreements that we had drafted.
The next day I walked into my office, my partner was already at his desk. Something was wrong though, because he looked shook, like some major shit went down. Hands shaking, he started to talk. Told me the minute he walked in the office, he noticed our phones were ringing off the hook. Mad messages had been left on our answering service. A full night’s worth of messages. All them calls was made from that lawyer that wouldn’t play ball. The minute my dude sat at his desk the phone rang. It was that same lawyer. My partner told me what that lawyer told him. How the afternoon before, right when his office was getting ready to close shop for the day, they were paid a visit by an unannounced party of three, maybe four black men. Said three or four black men walking in wearing ski masks. Said three of four black men rocking black gloves. Said three or four black men toting several semi-automatic firearms, loaded and drawn. Saying he didn’t know what the fuck kind of operation we ran, how he didn’t appreciate when the three or four black men forced him, the other lawyers and their secretaries into a back room. How the black men professionally tied all of their hands behind their backs, then hands were bound to ankles, hog tied. How one of the black men calmly began discussing how the artists that were signed to their clients’ production company needed to be released. How, with numerous guns being firmly pressed against his audience’s heads, the black man pulled out a release agreement and demanded that someone in the office best sign that bitch on the dotted line or else the walls would be splattered with red. How that release agreement was the very same document we had drawn up, our names, my name printed on the header as the attorneys of record on behalf of our client. The Jewish attorney said he did indeed sign the contract releasing the artists, once one of the gunmen untied his hands. Several copies actually. And just like that, once they gunmen got what they came for, they quietly, quickly exited the premises. And without further incident.
As shook as he was, as frightened as he sounded, the lawyer still tried some of his tough talk. Talked about how our client and us would never get away with some shit like that. How the signed release agreement wasn’t valid. How we were in deep trouble and it wasn’t the last we’d hear of him. Still, there was something in his voice, in his threats that made his words sound like hot air. Empty. That lawyer, what he went through, he didn’t want no more of that. He was done, and I’m sure once he shared the news with his client, they didn’t want none either. We too didn’t want none. No problems with the law, especially since we ran a legit business, and no problems with our client. There’s no parts of guns and being hog tied that sound any types of fun to me.
Letting all that sink in, like after a few hours, we finally mustered the courage to call our client, requested an emergency meeting with him. Dude came through moving as smooth as ever. When we explained what we had heard, what had happened to the Jewish lawyer, our client sat still, and with little emotion. He acted surprised, but let out a couple of little chuckles, like he was slightly amused by what he was hearing. Said he didn’t know what we or the other attorney was talking about, but with a look that read like it was all shits and giggles. We carefully laughed along, and without being in any way accusatory, explained to dude that that wasn’t how we wanted to run our business, and for however long he was going to be our client, how he might not ever want to be involved in any kinds of criminal activity that might end up pulling us all down. Being a good sport, still amused and still acting like he didn’t know what we were talking about, he assured us that nothing like that would ever take place again, how his past life of being a professional gangster was truly behind him. We believed him, but somehow, I think I remember that at some point he gave us a wink, like we all really knew what went down.
He ended up signing the newly released act, the signed release papers “mysteriously” ending up in our client’s hands some time later. That act, the artist that he signed never went anywhere though. Still, dude remained a client of ours for a long time after, eventually going on to signing acts that became very successful. He’s still in the game too, making a lot of whatever legitimate money is left in the music industry. Every time we run into each other, he’s as warm as ever, my wife even thinks he’s the perfect gentleman. He is. I also haven’t heard of any other types of subsequent criminal acts, like what went down in that attorney’s office attached in any way to dude’s name. He’s come a long way from that, top white execs now calling him on a first name basis. Dude doesn’t need to get his hands dirty anymore, even though he claimed he had nothing to do with that incident. Yes, many people know of his historic past, how dude is a certified American Gangster turned American Dream. Funny thing, even after all of that, he remains one of the most trustworthy people I’ve ever met in the music industry. In life even.
Still, I hope you never end up being the one to say no to him.