Images by Perou

The afternoon sky is a crisp blue and the wild birds of Belize are chirping as Shyne Po sits on the balcony of his penthouse apartment overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. He is in Belize City, Belize, where he was born in November 8, 1978. He hasn’t lived here since his mother, Frances Franklin, moved him to Brooklyn when he was 7 years old. Now, having been deported by the United States Department of Justice after serving nine years in prison for charges stemming from an infamous shooting incident at Club NY in Manhattan, he’s back to the Central-American land of his ancestry.

That ancestry is important here. Shyne’s father, Dean Barrow, comes from a long line of Belizean political power and became the nation’s first Black prime minister in 2008. The two had little contact for years—and the vast difference between Shyne’s life with his single mother, who worked overtime to keep the lights on, and his father’s position at the top of society back home led to some understandably hard feelings.

But after Shyne hit it big with his 1999 single “Bad Boys,” and through his long stay in prison, the two have been forging a healthier relationship.

Shyne arrived in Belize in November last year. He has been recording an album—to be released under the partnership between his own label, Gangland Records, and Def Jam—in the months since, and was appointed the nation’s official musical ambassador in April. He heads up the music program at the National Institute of Cultural History. And while he fights for the legal right to return to the U.S., he’s dedicated himself to building Belize into, as he puts it, “a Central-American Dubai.”

Lofty goals, for sure. But on this sticky summer night, as he discusses them with XXL, Shyne looks comfortable in his surroundings. Life in exile suits him in a way. He’s at home here.

Tell me about Belize. What is Belize known for?

Shyne: To me, Belize is known for that independence. That improbable existence. Belize is like Israel, shit is surrounded by bigger muthafuckas—by a bunch of Goliaths. But it maintains its sovereignty. Like, you know Guatemala used to have Belize drawn as part of they map. Honduras, Mexico, all surround this shit. It’s all part of the same landmass. But somehow Belize was able to maintain its sovereignty. Three hundred thousand people. You would think—surrounded by different countries with hundreds of millions of people—they would just grab this little shit up. But nonetheless, Belize remains in that sovereign space. So that’s very significant to me, ’cause I’m the same way. Just like when I was in the pen, you would think a muthafucka in the pen ain’t got shit—desperate, fightin’ for life. He’ll take anything. Never me. I’d rather not have anything than have a muthafucka that devalues or does not assess my value the right way, ya dig?

How do you personally connect to that?

Before I was in the pen, even when I was in the street, I was always a young muthafucka, different. Looked different—I wasn’t dark enough, I wasn’t light enough. I was always right there. What you call an enigma. I always stood out. Confident in my eccentricity, ya dig? ’Cause there’s one common bond that ties most men. I get that from that Belize bloodline. Where even, improbable as it may be, I still push forward with my vision and my confidence that I could accomplish that. And I actually do accomplish it. ’Cause a lot of us got pipedreams. A lot of us aspire for shit and it don’t never come to fruition. But for me, I was always able to aspire for the improbable, and it materialized. And that definitely is a part of that Belizean shit where there’s people, for whatever reason, wanted their independence.


Images by Perou

What do you think you can do for Belize?

I hope that I can make entertainment that will have a mass appeal, allowing me to generate the resources where I could build better housing, build up the infrastructure, get businessmen to come down and invest, build hotels, build restaurants, just totally develop the country. Probably take like maybe a couple billion dollars to really get it started. And success is magnetic, so if I’m touring all across the world and my shit is jumpin’, then muthafuckas gon’ want to be a part of that Shyne experience. And part of that Shyne experience is being in Belize. And that’s what I hope I can do. The exposure, attracting the tourism, but more so being an attraction—being a national treasure. And through my relationships in business and the different billionaire dudes I know, getting them to see that we can make this a Central-American Dubai and that there’s more jobs for everybody, there’s better education for everybody—just a total overhaul of the country and industrializing it and modernizing it.

Your father is currently Prime Minister of Belize. Is politics something that appeals to you?

I’m more of a behind-the-scenes dude. I wouldn’t mind providing the resources and the assistance to make sure the right muthafucka was in power to do the right thing. But I would never personally want to be the Prime Minister. That’s my grandmother and them. They came up fighting for the people… My great grandfather was like the district commissioner so he ran Belize for the British. My grandfather had his own drug store. My pops and my uncle have their own law firms. My pops is the CEO of the country now, he’s the prime minister. My uncle is a supreme court justice, chief appellate court justice. So I’m from a family of muthafuckas that are leaders. God shows them shit that they don’t show everybody else. My uncle on my mom’s side is a handicapped dude, that’s one of the most powerful politicians in the country.

What’s your relationship with your father like now? And what was it like before your bid and during it?

We cool. I can definitely say we got a better relationship than we ever had. But that was a process that was years in the making. I would say a lifetime in the making, ya dig? But more practically speaking, over the last 10 years before I went to the pen. Maybe the last 15 years, you would say. Because before I went to the pen, when I got shot, there was a line of communication goin’ on there. But nothing significant, ’cause as a young muthafucka, you still hate the world. You know whatever, he got his issues. He’ll admit he wasn’t perfect and had shit he had to figure out. But you know, there was a beginning there. Whereas before, I just wasn’t fuckin’ with him at all. Fuck him. But there was a beginning there. I remember one time he might have visited. I think it was in 1997, he visited my little brother, his son, and his daughter and shit. And I was on my shit, “Yeah, man I’m ’bout to do this record deal. I’m ’bout to sign here.” Then I actually did it. And when I did it, I came to Belize with the fuckin’ Rolly and the diamonds and shit. Stayed in the big hotel and rented a car and burnt the bitch down. So I think muthafuckas thought I was sellin’ drugs. I was known in the music circles in New York for signing to Bad Boy, but globally, ain’t nobody know who the fuck Shyne was. And then the record came out, “Bad Boys” came out, video and shit. Full mainstream shit. Then he reached out and said he was happy for me. And I was the type of dude, I had already started talkin’. It wasn’t no father-son shit, I’m not the type of dude to show my ass. I’m the type of dude to be like, “Thank you,” and I’m happy where I’m at in my life, grateful with God. I’m not on no keeping-score type shit. So the relationship continued there. —Vanessa Satten

To read the rest of this feature, be sure to pick up the October issue of XXL, which is on newsstands now!!