NAS: Queens Story

(Life Is Good; 2012)
At the behest and coercion of a respected opinion, I've been nose deep in Ethan Brown's crowning literary achievement for nearly a week. For years I've sidestepped Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustler, assuming the book was little more than an opportunity to revel in the most exploited backstory this side of Tupac Shakur. 50 Cent's transition from what Ethan portrays in the prologue as a "low level crack dealer" to filthy rich entertainment mogul is obviously awe-inspiring, but that lunchbox has already been shilled several times over. Thankfully, the sensational title is misleading. Queens Reigns Supreme isn't a biography on Curtis Jackson, but rather an investigative report on the criminal empires of Lorenzo 'Fat Cat' Nichols, Howard 'Pappy' Mason, Kenneth 'Supreme' McGriff, Tommy 'Montana' Mickens, and many other notorious Queens hustlers that prospered during rap music's silver era.

50 Cent is certainly noted in the book, but no more so than Irv Gotti, Russell Simmons, Jam Master Jay, and E Money Bags. Nas is also mentioned, but only as a reference point for Queens rappers documenting the legend of Fat Cat and his nefarious ilk. As early as 1994, Nas reflected on McGriff's stranglehold on the Baisley Park Housing Projects on 'Memory Lane'. "Some fiends scream about Supreme Team, a Jamaica Queens thing," he reminisces. Nas doesn't bother to follow that non-sequitur with a detailed explanation of why the Supreme Team and Bebo Posse were relevant to his development as an impressionable teenager or professional recording artist. As someone that was hundreds of miles removed from the Big Apple when the Illmatic bootleg initially surfaced, this line always left a metric ton to my wondering imagination.

Closing in on two decades after writing about Supreme and Pappy on his seminal debut, Nas has released 'Queens Story', an entire song steeped in the same brand of vague Queens folklore I found so fascinating back in elementary school. Despite the myriad of Wikipedia profiles, street documentaries, and ridiculously informative books such as Queens Reigns Supreme being available at the click of the cursor in 2012, Nas still manages to present these already very well documented adolescent memories with a thick shroud of mystique. He provides a cinematic montage of familiar silhouettes, historic altercations, and uncompromising neighborhoods. The beauty of Queens Reigns Supreme lies in Ethan's effort to connect the dots between the borough's infamous criminal element and an entire generation of regional rappers that were infatuated, and ultimately influenced, by their affluent lifestyles. 'Queens Story' is genius, and rewarding, because Nas challenges us to connect all the dots ourselves.