Conde nasty: You can't say that in the New Yorker, parts 1-5

With the New Yorker running pieces like this, who the fuck needs Vibe? Ben McGrath's rehash of the Hot 97 wars won't be newsy-news to anyone with an even remotely passing interest in rap music, but it's still a totally genius must-read piece. Prior knowledge of the situation robs the piece of the you-can't-make-shit-like-this-up aura it'll have for squares, but even if you know what's coming, there's a wonderful symmetry to the way he frames the eviction battle between Hot 97's gangster clientele and the landlords, a Mobbed-up white union with a president named -- Ripley's Believe It Or Not! -- Christopher Wallace, who is alleged to have put a city councilman in a headlock. There's more than a little wink-wink here, but we've got a soft spot for the NYer's viper-tongued false modesty and aren't-we-naughty condescension to the plebes. The lead is classic Remnick-era fake understatement:

On the last Wednesday in April, a former drug dealer named Jamal Woolard, from the Lafayette Garden housing projects, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was preparing for his big break. Woolard, whose hip-hop name is Gravy and whose songs include “Drugs, Drugs, Drugs,” “Get Wet, Get Wet,” “I Know, I Know,” and “Murder, Murder,” has for several years been a figure on the Brooklyn underground circuit, cutting mix tapes with better-known performers like Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, and 50 Cent. A year and a half ago, he signed a major-label recording deal, with Warner Bros., but outside the bootleg market on Canal Street, where you can collect the latest rap demos and mix tapes (CDs, actually) for five dollars apiece, Gravy remained an unknown. That Wednesday night, he was due to make an appearance on “Riding with Funkmaster Flex,” a popular radio show on WQHT, otherwise known as Hot 97. He’d been invited by Flex, a veteran d.j. who wields a kingmaking power in the hip-hop industry, to perform in an improvisatory freestyle session with a couple of other rappers, Joell Ortiz and Saigon.

For moral support, Gravy had assembled a sizable entourage—three or four dozen men—and outfitted them with extra-large blue T-shirts that read “Gravy” on the front and, on the back, “Brooklyn ‘Get Up,’ ” a reference to the first single from his forthcoming album. Punctuality is unusual in the rap world, but Gravy and his crew arrived early for his session, and when he presented himself at the Hot 97 studio, on Hudson Street in the West Village, at a quarter to seven, Flex sent him away and told him not to return until ten. Gravy went around the corner to get something to eat.

A couple of hours passed. “Then, after I got a sandwich and came out of the store—da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da! ” Gravy told me later, mimicking the sound of gunfire. “The only thing I remember is falling, and knowing that I’m shot—just don’t know where. It’s not like, when you get shot, ‘Oh, I got shot here.’ Nah. You know you hit, so your mind frame is—you pumped, your adrenaline is going. I reach my hand over, and I see I’m bleeding. I didn’t see the hole. I can’t see behind my ass.”

Like all the best punchlines in McGrath's piece, the joke here is pretty much, "Hey, wait . . . you can't say that in The New Yorker!"

Put this in your table of contents: Here's five other things that undoubtedly made William Shawn's bones shiver in the grave:

1. We love how they had to explain who Flex is, but then they just drop "Nike dunks" -- first reference in the NY'er ever, guaranteed -- without comment or explication, as if the old lady in Dubuque got two pair:

Gravy had on jeans, a zip-up sweatshirt, orange-and-green Nike dunks, and a Mets camouflage hat. Despite his size, and his lyrics (“They ain’t bulletproof / Fuck them boys / We put holes in they badges”), Gravy has a gentle, almost vulnerable, affect, with an impish smile and glassy, deep-set eyes that undermine any attempts at a scowl. News accounts of the shooting gave his age as thirty, but he told me that he was twenty-seven. He said he’d been mostly lying low, doing physical therapy and working on his MySpace page. (“It’s addictive—lot of hot women on there, boy,” he said. “You could be on there for hours.”)

2. The aforementioned Gravy on his disappointment when Hot 97, suspecting he staged his own shooting, declares a ban on his records:

Gravy was sitting in a car, listening to Hot 97, when the devastating news was delivered. “If I died, or if I had to go through a shit bag—you know, where you get shot in the stomach and you can’t shit regular, got to wear the bag—they’d be playing me like crazy,” he said, still incredulous. “You have to damn near die to be famous these days?”

3. The New Yorker learns how to conjugate the epithet "that bitch":

Nas and Jay-Z never came to blows, but, late one night that September, Flex, whose given name is Aston Taylor, ran into Lova (Stephanie Saunders) outside 395 Hudson Street while leaving the studio, and, according to Lova, he began to choke her. She says he also called her a “slut,” a “whore,” a “broke-ass bitch,” a “stupid fucking bitch,” a “dumb bitch,” and an “ungrateful bitch.” Then he threw money at her feet and said, “You’re going to need this to pay your lawyer’s retainer.”

4. It's been, what? 90 years or some shit? They went 90 years without using a phrase referring to midgets with erectile dysfunction. 90 years straight, an amazing streak, only to run into this:

Star's defense—other than his sworn allegiance to an Ayn Rand-inspired philosophy he calls "objective hate"—was that Envy's on-air partner, Miss Jones, had spent the same first few days of May calling Star an "alcoholic," a "faggot," a "spermless dwarf," and the son of a white prostitute "who got knocked up by the blackest, blackest, blackest nigger—and then the coochie must not have been that good because he left her." Jones, who is black, invoked her own child—a one-year-old son—for the purpose of comparing penis sizes with Star; they were, she said, "about the same."

5. In five references, the word "hood" is used -- without the contractional apostrophe -- to refer to a mythical construct of "neighborhood." Alert Webster's:

[Gravy] drew a distinction between "the hood" (where "not a lot of dudes got computers in they cribs") and "the streets," a larger, amorphous space where public opinion crystallizes.

Weirdly enough, after quoting several pages of real talk, you get the distinct impression that the infamous New Yorker voice is beginning to buckle under the influence of the voice of the streets. For instance, at one point Ice-T gives a lesson in the appropriate usage of the phrase "up in":

"Yeah, this the Bentley," Ice-T says, before directing the camera to the front seat, where he shows off a customized steering wheel. "Got a lot of wood up in there. You go check niggas' Bentleys out, you ain't even going to see the wood steering wheel, 'cause that's extra. That cost five thousand. . . . But I got it from hard work."

And then suddenly, an uncharacteristic lilt pops up in McGrath's own prose:

Up in Rockefeller Center after the shooting, Gravy said that he believed God had tried to teach him a lesson. It was this: "There's no reason you should be up at Hot 97, thirty or forty deep, with shirts on. You try to show your movement—'Wow, he got a lot of support'—but, sometimes, you know what? The movement can hurt you. So many dudes cause problems. My motto now is: Four or five deep, I'm good. Four or five dudes, plus security."

All of which makes you inclined to agree with Gravy in the article's final kicker:

Then, as he escorted me to the elevator, he said, "New Yorker? How many people see that shits?"

He reflected a moment. "Damn. Who needs Hot 97? I got New Yorker and MySpace."

DOWNLOAD: Gravy, "Can't Knock the Hustle" (mp3)

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