Saturday, June 2, 2012

Street Royalty: Seth Ferranti Lifts The Shroud of Mystery Surrounding the Supreme Team Part 1

Hip-Hop may have been born in The Bronx, but much of its attitude and style was derived from the borough of Queens.  Throughout the 1980’s, the burgeoning street culture flourished and thrived in neighborhoods like Hollis and Jamaica, as well as public housing developments such as Queensbridge.  In those same areas, another culture developed alongside Hip-Hop, and at an equally prodigious rate.  Its legacy is much darker, but no less far reaching.  It produced legends of a much different sort, ones who sold narcotics and lorded over entire armies that held court in housing projects and local nightspots.  These organizations became infamous throughout New York City, and none loomed larger than Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and the Supreme Team.  By the mid 1990’s, their exploits would be known the world over thanks to a new generation of rap 

Though serving a lengthy bid in federal prison, true crime author Seth Ferranti has considerable resources at his disposal.  His new book, ‘The Supreme Team: The Birth of Crack and Hip-Hop, Prince's Reign of Terror and The Supreme/50 Cent Beef Exposed,’ is a detailed work that attempts to separate fact from fiction in regards to its subject.  That’s a difficult task, given the mystique that has always surrounded both Supreme and his nephew, Gerald “Prince” Miller.  Fortunately, Ferranti is more than up to the task.  His research has made him privy to a wealth of knowledge in regards to the Southside’s most fabled hustlers.  He has agreed to share a bit of it with me, and I now share it with you.

“Some fiends scream about Supreme Team/a Jamaica, Queens thing”
- Nas, from the song “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in the Park),” on his debut album Illmatic (1994)

Scott Wilson: Your book makes the Supreme Team seem larger and more murderous than in books like Queens Reigns Supreme.  It also makes it seem like their names rang bells far beyond the confines of Southside Queens.  Is it safe to say that their power and success have been underreported and/or underestimated by mainstream media?    

Seth Ferranti: There was a recent article on the AP wire talking about James "Wall" Corley.  He and 44 other people were busted this past May for running a large scale cocaine ring in Queens.  That shows that the Supreme Team’s name is still present and accounted for. Think about it.  The Supreme Team hasn’t really existed since the late 1980s, but in 2012 they are still being cited in mainstream newspapers. That shows how big their name is, even to this day. James "Wall" Corley wasn’t even a member of the Supreme Team.  He was only an associate.  He ran the Corley Brothers, who held sway at Forty Projects. Look at the photos from the era and you’ll see James “Wall” Corley in pictures with Fat Cat, Supreme, Prince, and Pappy Mason, just like any other member of the their respective crews.  That is because even though they all had their own operations in different areas of Queens, as well as separate cases, they are always identified together in mainstream media even today.  

Lorenzo "Fat Cat" Nichols (Left), James "Wall" Corley (Center), and Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff (Right)

Who murdered rookie police officer Edward Byrne? If you believe what the authorities say, then four Bebo's did it on Pappy Masons order. The Bebo's were Pappy Mason's crew, but they were under Fat Cat. At one time it was said that the Supreme Team, Fat Cat, and Wall Corley all got kilos from Pretty Tony and the Fuertado Brothers. These are just some of the legends that have been passed down and repeated. Out of all the crews and all the gangsters in Queens, the Supreme Team was the biggest and largest crew. They supposedly had over 200 members. There were many different crews and factions, all flying under the Supreme Team banner. This was because of Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who was the leader and founder of the team. He was the one who brought all these diverse people flocking together under his banner. It was because of his presence and his charisma. 

I don’t think that only those who are truly “in the know” can really understand the impact and influence of Supreme and the team he created.  By “in the know,” I mean people who’ve met him and/or done time with him and/or other Supreme Team members.  I also mean people who were involved in the Queens underworld at that time.  I have been in the feds since 1993 and the street legends that everyone talks about are Wayne Perry, Boy George, Pappy Mason, Prince, and Supreme from the Supreme Team. But it goes deeper than that, because there are so many more dudes on the team who have become a part of hip-hop's lyrical lore and whose names were ringing in the streets and in the prisons. This includes Bimmy, Black Just, Babywise, Puerto Rican Righteous, Green Eyed Born, God B, C-Just, Big C, Tuck, and Bing. These dudes are all legends, not just in their hoods and in the prisons, but in hip-hop. They are the original gangsters with that hip-hop style, swagger, and bounce. They are the ones that the rappers emulated. They are the ones who embraced rap music when it first came out, through the big parties where New York rappers like Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, the Beastie Boys, and L.L. Cool J played.  I wouldn't say their power and success have been underreported and/or underestimated by the mainstream media. There are multitudes of articles about them. 

Run D.M.C not only took rap music mainstream, but did the exact same for the style and swagger of organizations like The Supreme Team

When the Murder Inc. /Supreme trial was going on around 2006 or so, there were tons of more articles about them. At the time it seemed almost every rap related crime was attributed to Supreme, and prosecutors even made the allusion that Murder Inc. records was the new Supreme Team.  When you look back at the newspaper articles from the late 1980s, Prince's name is all over them for beating murder cases left and right. I think my book is just an accurate reflection of the Supreme Team from all angles: court records, newspaper articles, prisons, street legends, and the media/magazine/book coverage they had received up until that point. My intentions were just to put the whole story into perspective, and compile the whole record into one document.  I think I accomplished that. Still, my book is lacking, because there are so many people who were involved that I didn't get a chance to talk to.  It’s as authentic as it can be, and was approved and blessed by Supreme himself. I would say my book comes across as it does because I just focused on the team and all the characters on it instead of glossing over the whole era and all the other hustlers who were out there then like Queens Reigns Supreme did.

Scott Wilson: Back in the 1980’s, Queens was largely perceived as being “soft.”   Yet, many of the most successful rappers and gangsters in NYC history emerged from there.  Still, it seems that many refuse to acknowledge either the Hip-Hop or underworld legacies of Queens.  How can that be, given its rich history?  

Seth Ferranti: That is what I have attempted to do with my book, and what I believe Ethan Brown was doing with Queens Reigns Supreme. The impact and influence of the streets on rap music is crucial. Anyone who was around back in the day knows.  Mainstream media accepts the rappers posing as hoodlums and thugs, while the real thugs and hoodlums get no credit for the impact they had on Hip-Hop culture. Maybe this is because so many of them are dead or doing life sentences in prison.  Some are even still in the life, as the recent arrest of James "Wall" Corley shows. 

I think the underworld legacy of Queens has been well documented. There are my books, The Supreme Team and Street Legends Vol. 1.  There’s Ethan Brown’s book Queens Reign Supreme.   There’s also Mike McAlary's book, Copshot, which documented that whole scene before anyone else did.   There have also been a lot of documentaries, including Fat Cat and Supreme Team’s segment on the BET series American Gangster, which Curtis Scoon artfully and skillfully pulled off.  There’s also the King of Kings DVD that Lance Fuertado put out.  I also know that Bimmy from the Supreme Team has a DVD that might be coming out. He is also trying to get a movie and book deal for Prince and himself, so there is definitely still interest there. I know my man Ronald "Tuck" Tucker also has a book coming out about the era titled Team Player: Tales of a Southside Ambassador. So there is a lot of stuff that’s either already out or being worked on.  

As far as me personally, I would like to see and read it all, and I am sure that anyone who is into this black gangster stuff would like to do the same. I think that the hip-hop magazines should give more coverage to this type of stuff.  So should the more mainstream magazines like Maxim and GQ, but they have refused to cover it so far. I will keep pushing it though, so we will see. With the success of movies like Denzel Washington's American Gangster, Hollywood can see there is a definite market for these types of stories.  I believe that the Supreme Team and their story-how they influenced rappers and national policy – as well as Supreme's reemergence into society would make a great and entertaining film. Like I said, we will see, because I will keep pushing these types of stories and trying to break the doors to the mainstream down.

Scott Wilson: Italian Mafia families are notoriously exclusive when it comes to accepting new members.  By contrast, the Supreme Team had so many members that it split off into different factions.  While this might have been advantageous from a manpower and/or territorial standpoint, did it ultimately prove fatal to the longevity of the team?

Seth Ferranti: I think what proved fatal to the team’s longevity was the recurring and extended absences of their founder and leader, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff.  It was really his personality that held the team together, even when he was doing his various prison stints. His nephew, Gerald "Prince" Miller, is equally infamous.  But Prince’s run in the streets as leader of the team was violent, brutal, and short.  There were also other dudes that tried to captain the ship, like Bimmy and Black Just.  The team just kind of dissolved into nothing, eventually. The papers can say all they want about the Supreme Team being active in the Murder Inc.’s glory years during the late 1990s, and even in the more recent case with Wall Corley.  But after Prince's run in the late 1980s, the team was really no more. Without Supreme to guide the ship, the crews were bound to fail and start squabbling among themselves. Supreme was the one that held it all together. He was the glue, he was the man who could wear many hats and bring a lot of different people together under his banner. It was his charisma, leadership abilities, and diplomacy that made the Supreme Team what it was.  That is why it was the Supreme Team and not the Prince Team, the Bimmy team, or the Black Just team. They all operated under his banner, with his blessing and approval. So I wouldn't say that the size and number of the different crews was what proved fatal to the team. It was a lack of leaders that could effectively fill Supreme's shoes. Many tried, but no one really could.

Scott Wilson: The Supreme Team was a largely Black gang operating in a major borough of New York City, yet they accepted Latino members into their fold.  Does that kind of anomaly still occur in New York at all?  I once heard of Blood sets accepting Latino members as well.

Ernesto “Puerto Rican Righteous” Piniella

Seth Ferranti: I think that in any area where you have Blacks, Latinos, and even Whites living and growing up together, there can be that kind of overlapping in youth/street gangs. I have seen Spanish and white Crips or Bloods, and both organizations are Black dominated gangs. There will always be anomalies. But I believe the Supreme Team did this on purpose. Supreme wanted Latin and Spanish speaking members so that he could more easily access the Colombian and Dominican cocaine dealers that were controlling the flow of cocaine into the city. I would say this still occurs in New York City today, but not necessarily for the same reasons. There are so many Latino’s in New York, and a lot of times they live in the same areas.  There are also a lot of Black Latinos in the Dominican and Puerto Rican communities, so I would say that it still happens a lot.  New York is a melting pot.  Many different cultures live and congregate there.  Their kids grow up together.  So it would seem that what Supreme did tactically is still going on today, just for purely territorial or neighborhood reasons.

Scott Wilson: Supreme initially saw entertainment types like Russell Simmons as not being on the same level as someone like himself.  Isn’t that ironic (and perhaps a bit contradictory) in light of the fact that Supreme tried to break into the entertainment business upon getting out of prison?

Seth Ferranti: In the 1980s, the entertainment figures in question were not on Supreme's or any other hustler’s level, not in any sense of the word. When hip-hop started, it was dudes like Supreme who were paying Russell Simmons $1000 a group to bring the rappers to play at his parties. So how would he look at them on his level? They were just some little rapper dudes to him. Yeah, they dug the music and culture, but dudes like Supreme were actually living what the music and culture represented. When hip-hop blew up internationally and started generating lots of money, Supreme was in prison.  So obviously, when he got out, he tried to get in the industry and cash in.  Who wouldn't under the circumstances? All the ex-hustlers were doing the hip-hop thing, and some rather successfully, like Jimmy Henchman, Suge Knight, and J Prince.  It was the thing to do if you didn't want to go back to prison. So Preme just did what everyone else was doing. He was making a film through Murder Inc and Irv Gotti.  His Supreme team Lieutenant, Bimmy, was working at Def Jam next door. They were all connected from the old days, and working their new hustle in the rap game. That was just how it was. I am sure that in retrospect, Supreme thought maybe he should have done what Russell Simmons did, but he didn't.  He stayed true to his own path.  When he came home, he tried to make an adjustment into the hip-hop industry and he just couldn't stay the course. Sometimes it’s like they say: Once a gangster, always a gangster.

Scott Wilson: As your book points out, the Columbian cartels used Queens as a base of operations.  In fact, Griselda Blanco aka “La Madrina” settled there in the 1970’s.  When Prince ordered four of the Supreme Team’s Columbian connects robbed and killed, was he not afraid of retaliation?  Were none of these men affiliated with the Medellin cartel, for example?  Were they simply independent operators that Prince knew he could kill without any fear of retribution?

Gerald "Prince" Miller

Seth Ferranti: Thats a good question, and to be honest I don't know the truth.  But I can surmise that maybe by that time, in the late 1980s, that Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel were having so many problems at home in Colombia that certain low level robberies and murders escaped their notice. They must have had thousands of distributors in the states who were always getting busted, taking off with their money, or disappearing.  So a couple of disappearances in Queens were probably beyond their notice. That might’ve been the Colombians thought process at the time.  

As for Prince, I don't think he really gave a fuck. To me, he seems like the type of dude who doesn't care whose toes he steps on. I could be wrong, but he seems to be the type that does whatever he wants or feels, damn the consequences. I think he had a Tony Montana complex. He really and seriously just didn't give a fuck.  Keep in mind that I don't know him personally, only what dudes have told me about him and what I have heard, so I could be totally off base.  I do know that a lot of the dudes on his security team were smoking crack. So in their paranoid delusions and crack induced nightmares, could they have conceivably done something that Prince didn't intend?  It is a definite possibility. 

Remember, it is the feds and authorities who say that Prince ordered those robberies and murders. In fact, he has never been found guilty of any of them. So you have to look at it from both sides of the coin. Sometimes the images and legends regarding these dudes are real, and sometimes they are built up and put upon them by the feds. But everyone I have talked to has told me Prince was a real serious dude who wasn't afraid to put in work, and handled his business accordingly.


*Copies of The Supreme Team: The Birth of Crack and Hip-Hop, Prince's Reign of Terror and The Supreme/50 Cent Beef Exposed can be purchased from the Gorilla Convict website or Amazon.


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