Rap COINTELPRO Pt 4: DEA vs Rap-A-Lot, Scarface & James Prince

Cedric Muhammad

For the past two days I have attended Congressional hearings on the Drug Enforcement Agency‘s (DEA) Investigation of Rap-A-Lot Records. While the hearings were called by Republican members of the House Committee on Government in an effort to provide evidence or to imply through innuendo that Rep. Maxine Waters and even Vice-President Al Gore intervened to slow or end a DEA investigation of James Prince, the head of Rap-A-Lot records, some of the most striking information revealed in the hearings was the extent to which the federal government had placed federal informants in not just Rap-A-Lot Records but throughout Houston’s 5th Ward section.

The federal government, with the help of the Houston Police Department, infiltrated Houston’s Fifth ward in a manner that can only be classified as military in nature. For at least 8 years, the DEA and Houston Police Department worked aggressively to form an intelligence network that would result in the conviction of James Prince and the shutting down of Rap-A-Lot records. It was also revealed in the hearings that the DEA has over 300 DEA agents in Houston alone and when combined with the Houston Police Department task force currently has over 400 people working the city in the “War on Drugs” effort.

Depending upon whose testimony you rely upon the DEA investigation of Rap-A Lot records began in early 1992 and possibly 1988 when two large cocaine busts were made. The DEA claims that since that time 20 arrests were made in connection with the investigation, with convictions ranging from drug use and sales to murder.

But in over 8 years the investigation never produced proof that the intended target, James Prince, formerly known as James Smith, was guilty of any suspected crimes.

James Prince Rap-A-Lot Records

During the hearings, DEA Special Agent In Charge Of The Houston Field Office, Ernest L. Howard spoke of the great effort and energy expended to attract and groom informants from Houston’s inner cities to be of help in the investigation. Agent Howard explained how difficult it was to “infiltrate the 5th Ward” and that the investigation made “no progress from 1992-1997” until the government began to have success in its efforts to recruit informants in the 5th Ward and inside of the Rap-A-Lot organization.

And Agent Howard left little doubt that the government was looking to use its informants and its intelligence network to build a case that would not only lead to the arrest of James Prince but would which would also shut Rap-A-Lot down, as a business enterprise.

And the manner in which the DEA hoped to do this was made clear during the investigation: the government hoped to get James Prince in jail and to shut the legitimate business activities of Rap-A-Lot records down under the Racketeering In Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) which allows the government to associate entire organizations/businesses with the criminal activities of its members.

RICO is the ultimate guilt-by-association statute in the federal government’s arsenal, which allows it to link the activities of executives with those of employees and individuals with that of corporations.

“The only way that we were going to get the target (James Prince) of this investigation was through a conspiracy”, Agent Howard stated during the hearings.

Agent Howard then offered that there were two individuals affiliated with Rap-A-Lot records which they hoped to arrest and/or turn into informants who would be “key to proving a conspiracy”.

A letter was also released during the hearings written by James B. Nims, Group Supervisor in the DEA, to Rep. Dan Burton (R-In), chairman of the Committee on Government Reform which revealed that multi-platinum artist, Scarface, was a significant target of the DEA investigation and that the DEA was working to get Scarface to turn against James Prince.

In the letter Nims writes to Burton:

“In regards to the US Attorney’s Office, we could not convince them to indict Brad Jordan, AKA “Scarface”, even though I strongly believe we had him tied in solidly on a federal drug conspiracy charge. This was devastating to the case as we felt that Brad Jordan could have provided us with important leads and information regarding Mr. Smith.”

Many close to the investigation say that an indictment against Scarface never occurred because the evidence against him was so weak and that the DEA was willing to do almost anything to pressure Scarface in an effort to get him to become an informant.

The reason that Rep. Maxine Waters was the focus of committee hearings was because of the fact that Rep. Waters wrote a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno in August of 1999, after Prince sought her help, fearing that his life was in danger due to the DEA /Houston Police Department investigation.

Rep. Waters wrote the letter which reflected her commitment to issues of civil rights violations, unlawful search and seizures, racial profiling and police brutality.

Prince especially believed that one of the officers on the case, Jack Schumacher, was harassing him and Rap-A-Lot in a manner that could have led to Prince’s death.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Rep. Waters asked Reno to give the matter her full consideration and attention. Republicans believed that Rep. Maxine Waters’ letter to Reno resulted in the investigation against Rap-A-Lot ending.

The reason that Al Gore’s name entered the hearings was because in March of 2000 Gore visited a popular Houston church, Brookhollow Baptist Church, where James Prince is a member. Prince is said to have given the church over $1 million in donations.

Three days after the Gore visit, agent Schumacher was given a desk job. Republicans sought to determine whether there was any connection between the Gore visit and the decision to move Schumacher.

In one of the hearings more bizarre moments Schumacher stated that he heard that Prince had made an illegal donation of $200,000 to the Gore campaign.

When pressed by Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) Schumacher admitted that the information regarding Gore and Prince was unsubstantiated. Schumacher told the committee, “It is third-hand information that has not been corroborated”. Schumacher said that he received the information from a source that he had never had contact with before.

Yesterday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) who represents Houston, questioned Schumacher and Agent Howard regarding the allegations and innuendo that Vice-President Gore and Rep. Maxine Waters interfered with the DEA investigation.

The questioning revealed that there was no evidence that supported the claims.

In total, the investigation brought the power of the DEA, IRS and Houston Police Department against a Hip-Hop label.

Some say that the information that came out of the investigation that revealed how the government recruited informants in Houston’s inner cities reminds them of the tactics used by former FBI head J.Edgar Hoover who in 1968 established the “Ghetto Listening Post” in inner cities across the country – an effort that resulted in the recruitment of 3,248 informants.

The DEA Rap-A-Lot investigation is full of lessons for the Hip-Hop community.

Please read:

Dallas Morning News Full Coverage Of DEA Rap-A-Lot

Rap Case Suspension Wrong, DEA says

DEA Says Rap Drug Probe Ongoing

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, December 08, 2000

Suge Knight Hit with a $4.3 Million Judgement

Suge KnightBad news for Suge Knight and his Death Row counterparts. The other day he was slapped with a 4.3 million dollar judgement for defrauding Kurupt‘s former managers. In the suit Lamont and Ken Brumfield stated that Suge Knight had interfered with the contractual and economic relationship they had with Kurupt.

In his explosive book ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ by Ronin Ro, he gives a more detailed account about this early encounter. The way it was described was Suge said ‘yes’ to a lot of the Brumfields early demands and in the same breath had Kurupt appearing on albums doing songs for free.

What was interesting about this whole scenario was that Lamont Brumfield in the book talks about how persuasive Suge was to the point he actually started promoting Death Row in spite of his misgivings and what he perceived as unfair treatment for his artist. The judgement breaks down to Suge having to pay at least 1 million dollars of his own money..

High Rents Killing Bay Area Hip Hop

daveyd-raider2Last week the Bay Area Hip Hop community was saddened to see the unintended departure of long time producer DJ Paul Nice. He had become the latest casualty in an increasingly long line of talented musicians and artists who have been forced out of the Bay Area due to astronomical housing costs. With the average price of a medium size two bedroom house going for $435 thousand dollars, rents in Bay Area cities like San Francisco, San Jose and now Oakland have skyrocketed to the point that it is now cheaper to move out and rent an apartment in Manhattan. Bay Area Hip Hop hot spots like Oakland, Vallejo and East Palo Alto are changing by the minute as longtime residents are getting evicted left and right. Paul Nice was a victim of a landlord saying he wanted to move into his pot .. so he could kick Paul out and then go on raise the rents..

In San Francisco the housing situation is all but a lost cause. Hip Hop strong holds like the Filmore have literally changed face over night thanks to the dot com invasion. You will now show up to a gig in the Filmore and be made to feel totally unwelcome and out of place in what was once your neighborhood prior to the new economy suddenly exploding. The historic colorful Mission District is currently dealing with this onslaught and next on the list is Bayview Hunters Point. The South of Market club district is now dotted with ‘live work lofts and newly arrived cranky residents who have used their economic and political clout to shut down night clubs which they say are making too much noise.. It was just a few years ago that many of these now occupied buildings once played host to raves and after hours Hip Hop parties..

Adding fuel to the fire in the nation’s dot com capital is a 1% vacancy rate and ruthless landlords who are now starting to put rental units on auction sites like EBAY. It is now a situation where the highest bidder wins. This is complicated by big businesses that are now buying up and renting apartments for key executives and employees which has driven up rental prices even more. Can you imagine competing for an apartment with a big company that has deep pockets and is determined to fly in workers from overseas or across country? They simply outbid you by offering crazy rent prices. Its not unusual to see 1 bedroom apartments for $2500 and up. Its totally ridiculous and we haven’t even begun to address the drama surrounding commercial properties. About a month and half ago there was a highly publicized situation where a dot com came into the Mission District and displaced a popular rehearsal and studio spot that was home to more than 500 musicians. The Bay Area’s Hip Hop community has definitely been feeling the strain.

bootsriley-pamLast year Boots of the Coup along with the San Francisco Bay Guardian which has been chronicling this entire mess did a series controversial radio ads on Bay Area radio stations about the Bay Area housing crunch. In the commercial Boots talks about how he was forced to move out of his house in Oakland because of high rents and gentrification. He placed the blame on Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and warned long time Oakland residents that the new economy and the new face of Oakland would most likely not include them if they didn’t step up their efforts. Boot’s concerns were realized not too long ago when Oakland City Council members voted down an ordinance that would’ve protected residents from unfair evictions.

Another longtime Bay Area Hip Hop fixture was producer DJ Fear of the group No Concept. Earlier this year he was forced to move out of Oakland due to high housing costs. Well established Hip Hop outfits like the Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition and the Hieroglyphics Crew were forced out of their downtown office space which they had for years due to rent increases. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the past year and a half I’ve counted more than 30 Bay Area Hip Hop artists, promoters DJs etc have moved out of the San Francisco/Oakland area to the far outskirts of the Bay or down to LA because of the high housing costs. Its now gotten to the point that when out of town cats say they’d like to get a taste of the local Hip Hop scene, you have to send them to neighboring cities like Sacramento, Antioch, Stockton or Los Angeles which is 400 miles away so they can get a feel. It’s in these places that you will now find Bay Area artists like; Mac Mall, The Luniz, Mac Dre, Mystic Journeyman, Money B, and Rappin’ 4Tay to name a few. More and more Bay Area folks have also been relocating to New York, Atlanta or Texas where housing costs are cheaper when compared to the Bay..Even sadder is the fact that some Bay Area Hip Hoppers went away to school and found they can’t afford to move back..

Billy Jam

Billy Jam

In an attempt to bring attention to this housing problem, long time Bay Area DJ Billy Jam and Amoeba Music has put together a compilation album featuring 19 independent artists called ‘Just Paying The Rent’. The album is a who’s who of Bay Area underground artists like Clever Jeff, Crack Emcee, Superstar Qu’am Allah, BLACK, DJ Fear Slumlordz and DJ Zeph. to name a few cover the entire music spectrum from Hip Hop to folk music.

“Just payin’ the rent” is pretty much the battle cry for each of the nineteen indie artists on this compilation who, despite their radical range in musical styles, all share the struggle to just pay the rent and be able to create their art. The San Francisco Bay Area, where most of them reside, has felt the seemingly-overnight effects of the new dot-com economy which has escalated housing costs, changed demographics, and had a drastic effect on the local arts community.

Crack emcee

The Crack Emcee

“Living in San Francisco is like living in a computer: everything is about the Internet,” said the pre-teens’ Laura Davis. “People are been forced out because of the skyrocketing rents. Clubs are closing down and practice spaces are rare.” Indeed a major blow was dealt when on October 1st, San Francisco’s Downtown Rehearsal building, where 500 bands of all types of music had rented rehearsal spaces, were all evicted after the building was sold for a huge profit. “I call them the Dotzies,” laughed the Crack Emcee. “They’re blowing the smoke of the new economy up your ass… and all they want to do is sell you sh&*…..everyone’s selling banner space.”

There’s no telling where all this will end and what the final lay of the land will be..I guess I’ll have to move down to LA or back to New York with DJ Paul Nice to get a taste of the Bay Area’s Hip Hop scene. For more info on ‘Just Paying The Rent Project’ drop an email to Billy Jam at mailto:hiphopslam@aol.com