Who Didn’t Shoot 50 Cent?
On Monday, Nov. 21, a bulky, soft-voiced black man in a brown hooded sweatshirt named Jon Ragin sat in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. He was offering testimony about one of hip-hop’s most notorious shootings, the May 24, 2000, attack on superstar rapper 50 Cent. The incident—in which 50 was shot nine times outside his grandmother’s house in the South Jamaica section of Queens—is perhaps the most critical chapter in the multi-platinum rapper’s mythology, the subject of numerous songs in the 50 Cent oeuvre and the crux of his recently released biopic, Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
It was Day 3 of the tabloid-friendly money-laundering case against hip-hop executives Irv (Gotti) Lorenzo and Christopher (Gotti) Lorenzo and their business, Murder Inc., now rechristened as just The Inc.
And the testimony from Mr. Ragin—a credit-card fraudster and pimp who is cooperating with the feds in their case—was the first A-bomb to drop, particularly notable during a trial that had until then only been enlivened by bumbling government witnesses testifying about shoe boxes stuffed with cash. Indeed, Mr. Lorenzo’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, groused to Judge Edward Korman that allowing evidence related to 50’s shooting would have a nuclear effect on the trial akin to revealing a “plot to assassinate Bob Dylan”—and, appropriately, Judge Korman ordered jurors out of the courtroom before the testimony was heard.
With the jury out, Mr. Ragin calmly laid out the events of that night before a hushed crowd of attorneys and journalists. According to Mr. Ragin, 50 Cent aroused the ire of the Lorenzos’ friend and business partner, Kenneth (Supreme) McGriff, by dissing Ja Rule.
Mr. McGriff had a fearsome rep in the hip-hop world, thanks to his stewardship of the crack-dealing Supreme Team in the 1980’s, so he assumed that 50 would simply back down.
But when 50 continued to mock Ja and the Lorenzos, according to Mr. Ragin, Mr. McGriff and two others ambushed him outside his grandmother’s house in South Jamaica.
Believing that 50 had been murdered—he had been shot nine times, after all—the trio drove to Brooklyn and met up with Mr. Ragin. According to him, they confessed to the crime and then washed their hands with rubbing alcohol to remove the gunpowder residue.
Mr. Ragin said that he’d helped the three-member team come up with an alibi. They had all been shopping in downtown Brooklyn, they would say, in preparation for a trip to Cancun the next day.
It was enormously compelling stuff, but there was a problem beyond Mr. Ragin’s con-man credibility. Just a few weeks ago, in an interview with Hot 97, 50 Cent had already identified his shooter.
The man named by 50 Cent was Darryl (Hommo) Baum, a stick-up kid from Brooklyn (“Hommo” is short for “Homicide”). Over the weekend of Nov. 20, Irv Lorenzo’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt—who was fresh from representing Russell Crowe in his phone-throwing case—took this and accompanying information and delivered it in a sealed letter to Judge Korman.
And on Monday, Mr. Lefcourt relentlessly pushed the Hommo theory in the courtroom, at one point shouting, “Hommo shot him! Hommo shot him! Even 50 Cent said Hommo shot him!” The prosecution countered that it was in 50’s interest to name Hommo as the shooter, seeing as Hommo had been killed in the spring of 2000 and 50 Cent would never have to fear retribution from Mr. McGriff.
This set off a fiery debate between prosecutors—who were arguing not only that Mr. McGriff had ordered the shooting, but that Mr. Lorenzo had boasted about the shooting in a two-way pager message that read, “FUCK HALF A DOLLAR, ME AND MY NIGGAZ KILL FOR FUN.”
That 50’s shooting would come up in the Lorenzos’ trial makes a kind of karmic sense, if not a legal one. The brothers have had a long-running feud with 50 Cent that goes at least as far back as the founding of their record label, Murder Inc., in 1999.
The Lorenzos and 50 come from rival sections of Southeast Queens—Hollis and South Jamaica, respectively—and, after Murder Inc. rapper Ja Rule slighted 50 at a party in Queens in the late 1990’s, 50 went on an anti–Murder Inc. crusade, painting the Lorenzos as “studio gangsters.” “Murder!” 50 taunted on one song. “I don’t believe you!”
So it was something of a curveball from federal prosecutors when they began stating definitively that Mr. McGriff ordered the now-infamous shooting, the one that, instead of killing him, made 50 Cent hip-hop’s biggest star.
And it was an astonishing moment not just because the courtroom was hearing an account of 50’s shooting that could have been written by a B-movie screenwriter, but because an eerily similar version of the incident actually was playing out in a B-movie on thousands of movie screens around the country. In 50’s cruddy, deservedly disastrous biopic, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, he plays an aspiring rapper named Marcus who battles a neighborhood drug dealer named Majestic (sound familiar?), who orders the rapper shot after Marcus records a number of songs that displease him—including one that labels Majestic a snitch. “Don’t disrespect me in front of my people,” Majestic counsels Marcus in one campy scene. Get Rich … is not just a reflection of real life, but a revenge fantasy for 50 as well. At the very end of the film, as Majestic tries to prevent Marcus from going onstage at a July 4 concert (how unpatriotic!), a friend of Marcus’ shoots Majestic dead. This frees 50 from Majestic’s menacing shadow, and he then strides onstage to perform the 70’s-soul-infused “Hustler’s Ambition” to an adoring, roaring crowd—and then the credits roll.
While killing off the cartoonishly violent and gaudy Majestic may have been easy, ridding himself of the real Supreme will be a more difficult proposition.
Late on Tuesday, Nov. 21, Judge Korman ruled that the feds couldn’t introduce the 50 Cent shooting into evidence. This left open, however, the distinct possibility that it will be brought up during Mr. McGriff’s own trial in March. Pinning the attempted murder of 50 on Mr. McGriff will be a much easier task for prosecutors, because Mr. McGriff is charged with a number of murders, including the slaying of aspiring Queens rapper Eric (E Money Bags) Smith.
If 50 Cent is subpoenaed during Mr. McGriff’s trial, it will be a showdown pulled straight from Get Rich … : Marcus versus Majestic in a trial that could deliver the death penalty to the defendant. Though the prospect of testifying against Mr. McGriff presents enormous hazards for 50—this year, he’s faced catcalls from hip-hop fans for telling federal agents “read my lyrics” when interviewed during the investigation of the Lorenzos—he nonetheless possesses survival skills that are positively Rove-ian. He’s vanquished one enemy after another, from Lil’ Kim to Ja Rule to Jadakiss.
Of course, it would be nearly impossible for 50 Cent to reverse the identification of his assailant. But a true hustler would have no higher ambition.
A Drink With Bob Stern
Ostensibly, last week’s event was a celebration in honor of the renowned architect’s latest coffee-table-sized tome, Robert A.M. Stern: Houses and Gardens. But there was little talk of gardens: Real-estate banter rarely strayed from the rapid-fire condo sales at Mr. Stern’s newest project, 15 Central Park West—$650 million and counting!
Sure, the real 15 C.P.W. is a still-gigantic hole in the ground, and it won’t be done until 2007. It was represented by a roughly four-foot-tall model standing in the center of the party—which had been held, as if by chance, in the condo’s lavish sales office on the 44th floor of a midtown office building. An adjacent touch-screen allowed the slightly tipsy attendees to scroll through sundry amenities and jaw-dropping floor plans. With well-heeled neighbors like the Dakota and San Remo, 15 C.P.W.’s penthouses are reportedly selling for as much as $45 million.
The spry, 66-year-old architect himself sat upright on the couch, just a few feet from that intricate model. Occasionally, he peered over at the two plastic mini-towers and then through the window behind him, as if to visually place it amongst the city’s grand buildings. With his round, tortoise-shell glasses perched midway down his nose, Mr. Stern’s enthusiasm burst out at any mention of bricks and mortar.
“When the sun comes up in New York and hits those buildings, there is nothing more beautiful in the world,” he said. “Like the sun hitting the Parthenon in the morning.”
While he didn’t travel back to Athens for inspiration, Mr. Stern deliberately chose a classic building material, Indiana limestone. The Empire State Building, the Met and many storied apartment buildings are all constructed of it as well.
“We were fortunate that Indiana had a slow period,” said developer Arthur Zeckendorf, who described a roundabout method of obtaining the limestone—which incidentally provided the first silver lining that New York has yet seen in the cloud that is the Iraq war.
“Most of the buildings in Washington, D.C., are Indiana limestone. Because Bush is not doing much building in Washington—because of other activities in Iraq—Indiana was sitting there with a gigantic quarry. They gave us a very good price.”
“We walked the streets of the Upper East Side,” said Mr. Stern of his preparatory strolls with the Zeckendorf brothers. “We all agreed that the great buildings in New York are limestone-clad—740 Park, a bunch.”
By blending into the Central Park fabric, Mr. Stern avoided controversy, and the design for his residential towers hasn’t generated the heated debate of, say, Richard Meier’s white glass-and-steel towers in the West Village.
“I think Richard [Meier’s] buildings are very interesting, and they express in a strong way …. That’s what’s important—something that has identity, memory. The only key question is whether a new building is an icon that stands out from its surroundings, or an icon that fits in and gathers together. I’m a gatherer-together. I think Richard is a stand-apart.
“This is a building for New Yorkers,” Mr. Stern said, “because New Yorkers will look at that and say, ‘I’m home.’ Other buildings—shall be nameless—are gigantic.
“The majority of buildings in New York, whether they are apartment houses or office buildings, are so ho-hum, so without conviction,” he scoffed, “that it doesn’t make any difference.”
Mr. Stern stopped himself there, rather than slight any “ho-hum” and conviction-deficient buildings by name.
Are you sure you don’t want to? The Transom asked.
“No, no,” he said. “I’ve had only one drink, so I’m going to be quiet.”
“Ladies and gentleman, direct from the Barracuda,” announced Daily News gossip koala Ben Widdicombe, “can I present the very cheapest drag queen we could find this evening: Ms. Aurora!” He paused. “Who still isn’t ready yet.”
Eventually, Ms. Aurora came strutting out in stiletto heels, tight jeans and a long blond wig, a femme outfit that only emphasized her broad shoulders and well-defined biceps. Clearly, she could kick the asses of the skinny media boys in attendance at the birthday party of Horacio Silva, the handsome just-turned-40-year-old who is the features director of The New York Times’ T magazine.
Two back-up dancers, one in a wife-beater that said “GAY IS THE NEW BLACK,” accompanied her. Singing “My Prerogative,” Ms. Aurora impersonated the pregnant Britney Spears with a stuffed bear in a pink cape hidden beneath her shirt, which was eventually birthed from between her spread legs. The floor was sticky, Ms. Aurora remarked.
Ms. Aurora then pulled Mr. Silva to the stage. “You can lick up the afterbirth if you want,” she said.
Ms. Aurora did a few more songs, but soon enough she would quit singing and tell the D.J., “That’s enough—no one’s listening to me anyway.”
The low ceilings and dark lighting of Aer lent the birthday bash an intimate atmosphere. Mr. Silva sat at a corner table, surrounded by attractive friends. Those friends included “the best graffiti artist in the world,” a gorgeous girl in a silky blue top—“she’s the Japanese Carson Daly”—and longtime pal Pia Lieb, a fantastic cosmetic dentist with a line of lip gloss and teeth-whitening products debuting soon.
The Transom asked the stylish Mr. Silva if he had any tattoos. He said that he didn’t, because he never felt strongly enough about anything to get it permanently marked on his body. He also issued a warning about bad juju for getting a tattoo abroad. “You never know what you’re getting,” he said.
Mr. Silva recounted how he met the night’s performer: “She introduced herself to me as ‘I’m Ms. Aurora, a.k.a. Ms. Aurora.’” Of course she did.
Soon enough, Mr. Silva was urgently warned by a tall blonde that Aer, shudder to think, was now open to the public. “Let’s go to my house,” he said. Mr. Silva and his friends quickly left the club. As they congregated outside of Aer deciding where to go, Mr. Widdicombe stood apart, holding a large plate of cheese.
The Architect’s Dream
The staff of The Architect’s Newspaper likes to throw parties in raw spaces, before the realities of actual living or working set in, so they celebrated their first birthday party in the former McBurney YMCA before it went condo.
Their second-anniversary party last Friday took place on the dimly lit 49th floor of 7 World Trade Center, which won’t be open to tenants until early next year. “We just called them up and asked,” said Diana Darling, the publisher, twirling a bit on the vast concrete slab.
The space was so raw, in fact, that its owner, Larry Silverstein, had received a temporary certificate of occupancy just three days earlier. It was so raw that the newspaper had to cart up its own furnishings, designed by Craig Konyk, which consisted of transparent inflatable armchairs, cones of silence formed by mosquito netting, and benches made from translucent polycarbonate sheeting, under which were suspended small L.E.D. bulbs.
Aside from these bulbs, the 49th floor was lit only by the New York skyline peering in, and it was hard, even for architects, to find one’s way around. “We will be giving a little toast to our honorees on the south side of the building,” someone said over the P.A. system. “The south side is the one without the chairs.”
It was also the side where, outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, one could see Ground Zero 700 feet below. The east side was recognizable because it featured the top of the Woolworth Building, close enough to touch; to the north lay the street grid of Manhattan; on the west side, the orange-hued dome of 2 World Financial Center sputtered like Vesuvius.
In its brief lifetime, The Architect’s Newspaper has gained a sort of cult following. The concept of a biweekly trade paper couldn’t be simpler—didn’t these wretched, underpaid souls have one before this?—but somehow this one, with its good gossip and unwillingness to buy the big-name hype, has found a special place in its readers’ hearts.
“On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I am deeply honored to be honored by my favorite publication,” said the architect and critic Michael Sorkin, once a suitable crowd had gathered on the south side. With a graying but trim beard, he struck a balance between irreverence and irrelevance. “And I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I did not say, standing in this unbelievable space with this fantastic and poignant view, how important it might be to forsake the dubious morality of contracts and profits”—his voice rose, as if at a political convention—“and leave this space alone, and free of commercial construction and hotels and corporate centers …. ”
The crowd began clapping.
“So I beseech the contract holders to come to their senses and spare the city the revolting expressions that are planned for this site that should remain forever sacred ground.”
The “contract holder” for Ground Zero is, of course, Larry Silverstein, the same guy who had built 7 World Trade Center and allowed these 1,300 or so architects and their guests to gather. He had left 20 minutes earlier, saying on the way out: “The newspaper is terrific. This party is terrific. To see all these people here having a party is just terrific.”
Ms. Darling—who had, along with her husband and co-founder, William Menking, mortgaged her house in order to get the newspaper started—took the microphone, a little embarrassed, but also quite amused.
“With that being said, I’d like to thank Silverstein Properties and Tishman Construction and all these guys who put this building together, because they worked so hard to get this building to the point where we could have this party. Thank you for coming.
“We are running out of vodka,” she said, “but I think there is plenty of wine left.”
Your Best Friends
“I pretend I’m their new best friend,” said Jonathan Van Meter, the Vogue writer known for profiling kooky lady celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, from the stage of the New York Public Library on Nov. 16. “I lull them into thinking they’re hanging out with someone who really cares about them.”
This and other sinister confessions were offered in response to the question, “What do you think the art of the interview is for you?” which was posed by Vicky Ward, the angular English Vanity Fair writer. The evening was advertised as a “roundtable discussion” on the “Art of the Interview,” moderated by Ms. Ward and featuring, in addition to Mr. Van Meter, the comedian Stephen Colbert, NPR contributor Sarah Vowell, broadcast journalist Ashleigh Banfield and New York magazine’s Deborah Schoeneman. Their collective power attracted an auditorium full of aspirational socialites to the library on a wet, cabless night, courtesy of the highbrow literary organization the Young Lions Committee.
“I realized that the power of the camera lobotomized my subjects,” Mr. Colbert said, describing the many advantages he has over his unwitting interview victims. “They wanted to make sure they looked good on camera.”
“The best conversation comes from lulls and silences—that’s usually when the most honest stuff comes out,” said Ms. Banfield, the former MSNBC and current Court TV anchor. She didn’t appear to be a big fan of lulls and silences herself. “That stuff doesn’t work so well on television.”
Ms. Banfield wore a short, pleated gray skirt—the kind that girls wore to school with big safety pins in the 1980’s—and sported her trademark brainy eyeglasses and voluminous, frosted blond hair. Frankly, she sounded a bit down on the television business. In her speedy-overdrive voice, she said that television news had been dumbed down beyond repair, and lamented the “crossfire” aspect and the “fighting boxes” on TV, which led to truncated, unproductive interviews.
“We facilitate it on cable news,” Ms. Banfield said, shaking her head. “We don’t have time to listen.”
“You have 24 hours!” said Mr. Colbert.
“I have hours to listen to Liza Minnelli. I just let them be themselves in front of me,” said Mr. Van Meter.
When Ms. Ward asked the group who their favorite interview subjects had been, Ms. Banfield immediately piped in.
“Arafat!” she said. “He is such a flirt. If you ever get a chance to go to Israel, folks, go to the West Bank and take a look around. It’s living history.” She described the feast she’d consumed with the late P.L.O. leader in Ramallah, when he was holed up in his crumbling compound, under siege by the Israelis. Apparently, that didn’t stop him from taking certain liberties.
“He literally fed me eggs,” said Ms. Banfield. “It was really weird. I had the flu. They were hard to swallow.”
“He had his fingers in your mouth?” said Mr. Van Meter, with horror.
Ms. Banfield explained that, although Arafat was infirm and practically delirious, she and her crew spent a whole hour with him, dining and conducting the interview, which was exquisitely long. “He speaks almost all in gibberish,” she said, although the last 15 minutes of it were O.K.
“We scooped 60 Minutes,” she said. “I hate to say it, but I think he just likes women.”
“We have this Freudian fascination about women,” said Mr. Van Meter. “I like being around women, because you feel safe. We all want to be understood and paid attention to in some way. We want a perfect boyfriend …. That’s the role I’m playing. I can sense it.”
Toward the end of the evening, the group took questions from the audience. A young man stepped up.
“I’m taking a media-ethics class at N.Y.U., and I was wondering,” he said, “what are you willing to do to get the good quote? Is there a line you wouldn’t cross?”
“Well … every interview is different … ,” said Ms. Banfield.
“You have to be able to sleep with yourself at night,” said Ms. Ward.
“For the record,” said Mr. Colbert, “I’ll have sex with my subject—after the interview.”