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The shooting death of a rap mogul is the first link in a sinister chain ensnaring New York District Attorney Butch Karp. With his wife and daughter on a New Mexico retreat, Karp is left to fend for his teenaged sons and himself. Descending into the hip-hop underworld to prosecute a killer, Karp comes head-to-head wih Andrew Kane, a powerful would-be mayor whose corrupt web of influence leads Karp to unveil a shocking church sex-abuse scandal. In a world where secrets can be ...
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The shooting death of a rap mogul is the first link in a sinister chain ensnaring New York District Attorney Butch Karp. With his wife and daughter on a New Mexico retreat, Karp is left to fend for his teenaged sons and himself. Descending into the hip-hop underworld to prosecute a killer, Karp comes head-to-head wih Andrew Kane, a powerful would-be mayor whose corrupt web of influence leads Karp to unveil a shocking church sex-abuse scandal. In a world where secrets can be buried for an often-deadly price, Karp discovers there is no safe haven.
Eleven days earlier...
The air in the nightclub pulsed to the repetitive throbbing of a bass guitar as two spotlights swept above the bobbing heads of the audience. With the recent ban on cigarettes in Manhattan restaurants and bars, the wraiths of smoke that danced to the beat in the glare of the lights emanated from quick secret tokes on marijuana pipes, giving the big room a smokey-sweet smell and a decidedly outlaw ambiance.
The beams of light met at center stage and focused on a pair of young men who had stepped from behind a curtain. The men — one black and one Hispanic — sauntered to the center of the stage where they were handed microphones by the master of ceremonies like eighteenth-century duelists accepting pistols. But instead of "ten paces turn and fire," they stood two feet apart, glaring at each other and seemingly oblivious to the throbbing music and the pumped-up crowd.
Six inches taller than his counterpart, black rap musician ML Rex was thin as a slab of bacon and wore a loose muscle shirt to show off a bevy of thick gold chains and tattoos on his mocha-brown skin meant to impress "the bitches and the busters." His left shoulder bore a tattoo of the ornately drawn numerals 10-78, the police radio ten-code for "officer needs assistance." The inference was that he was a cop killer, though he'd never actually had the balls to shoot at someone who was ready to shoot back. Drive-bys and firing indiscriminately into crowds had been more his style back in his gangbanging days in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. But the 10-78 tat went with the gangsta rap image he cultivated, as did the drawing on hisright shoulder of a large-breasted and nude woman posing with a semiautomatic handgun above the inscription Guns & Hos.
The son of a hardworking grocer and a domestic servant, ML Rex had been given the name Martin Luther King Johnson. His parents had greatly admired the fallen civil rights leader, but that was all ancient history to "Marty," as only his mother still called him. His heroes were superstar athletes, rappers, and, especially when he was young, the OGs — old-time gangsters in the 'hood — because they had the money.
He'd insisted in junior high that he be called Mustafa Khalid Mohammed after a sudden growth spurt to six foot two had him fantasizing about a lucrative future career in the NBA, and he decided that an Islamic name sounded more sensational. However, his talent with a basketball did not grow with his body, and he'd had to look elsewhere for the attention he craved.
With both parents working long hours and little else to do away from the gym, he'd gravitated to the Bloods street gang that infested his neighborhood like the red-brown cockroaches that took over the house he grew up in every night when the lights went out. The gangs made life difficult, even dangerous, for any young person who might have had a mind of his own and dreams that included college or actually working for a living. But Mustafa was lazy and so he fit right in — selling crack cocaine and taking the occasional potshot at members of the rival Crips gang.
He might have ended up like so many of his friends — in prison or in a cemetery — but he'd discovered a talent for the violent, misogynist rhyming to music known as gangsta rap. Combined with a certain knack for getting his foot in the door and ingratiating himself with people who mattered, he'd found his ticket out of the poverty of his youth and away from the 'hood where a boy could get shot for the color of his clothes. He took the stage name ML Rex. Someone had once told him that rex meant king in some fucked-up European language — so he thought Martin Luther King, ML Rex, was pretty clever. Now, except for the occasional pilgrimage back to Crenshaw Avenue and 103rd Street to show that he was still a Blood at heart, he lived in a nice upscale apartment in Brentwood. Not quite Beverly Hills, he conceded to his envious friends, "but the same 'hood where O.J. kilt that white bitch, homes."
Despite the look of impending violence on his face as he stared down at the teenager in front of him at the nightclub, Martin aka Mustafa aka ML Rex was in a great mood. Some of that had to do with the two fat lines of cocaine he'd snorted immediately before leaving the dressing room backstage, the daylong use of which caused him to grind his teeth until his jaw ached. But his ebullience had even more to do with a business meeting he'd demanded that morning with his record label's executives.
His first CD, Some Desperate S**t Fer Ya, had been recorded in Los Angeles but produced by Pentagram Records, the main offices of which were in the Penn Plaza building off Thirty-fourth Street and Eighth Avenue. A single from the CD My Baby a Crack Ho' had reached number six on the hip-hop charts for two weeks, and the CD had gone gold, but then it tumbled back off as quickly as it had climbed aboard. He was wealthier than he'd ever imagined growing up on the streets, but he was very disappointed not to have reached the elite status of rappers like Eminem and Snoop Dogg. The way he saw it, Pentagram's failure to pour more money into promotion had cost him a platinum record and his rightful place among the hip-hop hierarchy.
So he'd come up with the idea of forming his own record company. He was calling it, logically enough, Rex Rhymes. His business manager, childhood friend and fellow Blood, Kwasama "Zig-Zag" Jones, had protested the move. He was worried that his own ride out of the ghetto was about to hit a brick wall, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He wasn't much mollified when ML Rex explained that this way they'd cut out the middleman, pocket all the cash, and "we'll control our own des-tin-nees, dog."
ML Rex expected that Pentagram executives — a "bunch of white faggots in suits" — wouldn't be too happy with his declaration of independence. So he was surprised when he and Jones met with them that morning and the company president listened quietly and then merely asked if he was sure he had "thought this through carefully."
"Fuck, yeah," ML Rex said, adjusting his sunglasses with what he hoped looked like nonchalance and slouching even farther in his seat to demonstrate that his position on the matter was firm.
"Word," Jones added, adjusting his shades and slouching, too, in a show of solidarity.
"Well, all right, then," the executive said with a sigh and a shrug. "I'm sure we'll find some amicable way to resolve the fact that you're still under contract to Pentagram."
ML Rex scowled at this and prepared to tell whitey where he could shove the contract. But the man stood, held out his hand, and insisted that ML Rex continue to avail himself of Vincent, the bodyguard/chauffeur the company had sent to meet him at La Guardia. "We want your trip to New York to continue to be a safe one," the man said with a smile. "You never know...we might work together again sometime."
The executive's friendly response had at first unsettled the rapper, not to mention hurt his ego — he'd expected them to make a bigger fuss over losing a rising star of his caliber. "Fuck those muthafuckas," he'd told Jones as they left the building. "Fuckin' wit my head, thas what they tryin' to do."
"Word," Jones agreed.
Several hours and two grams of cocaine later, ML Rex was feeling better about how he'd "stood up to the man." Still, he was happy to retain the services of Vincent, "jus' call me Vinnie," a huge white man he assumed was some sort of mobbed-up Italian. Vinnie was nearly as wide as he was tall, and with a round, pink face so fat that his beady brown eyes nearly disappeared into the slits above his cheeks. The rapper assumed that the lump beneath the chauffeur's left armpit was a gun, which made him feel better as he'd been forced by airline regulations, and a previous felony conviction for distribution of a controlled substance, to leave his own heat at home.
Despite the brave show, ML Rex was a little nervous about being in New York. He'd made his reputation by adding verbal fuel to the fire that perpetuated the West Coast versus East Coast rap wars that the general public had first been made aware of in 1996 with the murder of Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas, and then the shooting of Notorious BIG a year later in Los Angeles. Various truces had been arranged, but every so often someone would say something in a rap, someone else would take offense, and the bullets would fly. His own lyrics referred to the East Coast artists and males in general in numerous derogatory ways ranging from faggots to bitches to busters, and boasted about what he'd do to them if their paths ever crossed. Of course, that was safer to say when living large in LA on his own turf.
Still, he felt safe enough in the Hip-Hop Nightclub when Vinnie said he needed to stay with the limousine. "Bad neighborhood," he'd grunted. ML Rex figured he had Zig-Zag to watch his back, and it wasn't a bad idea to have his ride ready for a quick getaway should the crowd prove hostile. He looked over at his compatriot, who was standing offstage with his arms around the two hookers they'd procured for the night by calling an "escorts" ad in the back of the Village Voice. The girls were a couple of Puerto Rican sisters who, high on crack and sure of a big payday, gyrated their hips and shook their breasts to the beat as if they'd never been happier in their lives, which might have been true.
Yes, he thought as he glared down at his competition, life is good. In the morning he would consummate his business dealings in New York City by working out a deal with a national distributor to get his independent-label CD in stores for a percentage of the sales. Then in the afternoon, he would make the rounds of the big New York radio stations and sweet-talk the DJs (aided by gifts of cash and coke) into giving his forthcoming single plenty of airtime. He'd realized that to really make it big, he was going to have to move away from his West Coast-centric roots and go for a national audience. That was the reason he was going through with the appearance at the nightclub arranged by Pentagram and had agreed to a round of "battle rhyming" against one of the local rappers.
Battle rhyming — essentially two opponents competing with lyrics to win over a live audience — was the roots of rap. It was part asphalt poetry — reflective of life in a ghetto — and part clever, and generally good-natured, put-downs. A way of establishing sidewalk supremacy without anything worse than someone's ego getting hurt. But what had begun as social commentary and competition branched into gangsta rap — the anthems of the violent, cocaine-financed organized crime cartels that supplanted the old neighborhood gangs — until much of the music was little more than death threats and boasts of cuckolding each other's bitches. This was the rap that shocked mainstream white America into assuming that all rappers were angry young black men with guns, and attracted white teenagers who, bored with their safe, middle-class suburban lives, wished they were black gangsters, too.
As a whole, the rap genre had lost much of its street sensibilities when record companies finally recognized that poor urban teen-agers who couldn't afford to buy new laces for their Lugz would spend every last penny on the latest Wu Tang Clan CD. Slickly produced, with lots of bells and whistles, the commercialized rap had drummed the on-the-fly improvisation right out of the genre. Despite the success of Eminem's film 8 Mile, the story of a battle-rhyming, odds-beating white rapper, it was hard to even find the art form away from the amateurs on the sidewalks where it all began.
The Hip-Hop Nightclub, a formerly abandoned warehouse on West Thirty-eighth Street near the Hudson River, was one of the few venues left in the city. It had been open for two years, mostly struggling by in a neighborhood of boarded-up, graffiti-marred buildings. But slowly the club developed a loyal following of rap purists, and a reputation as the place for local would-be rap stars to catch the ears of record label scouts searching for new talent. Over the course of its existence, several rappers who'd appeared in the Friday night battles had been signed to recording contracts.
ML Rex couldn't have cared less about the history of his art. He was in it for the money and the prestige. Like most rappers, he got his start on the sidewalks and in gang hangouts, rhyming with his fellow Bloods while guzzling "40's" of Schlitz Malt Liquor. But for a star such as himself, battle rhyming was generally seen as beneath his status, and he considered his appearance at the Hip-Hop Nightclub to be slumming.
In fact, he'd regretted it as soon as he'd heard himself agree to "give the folks a thrill by participating in our little show," as the owner/MC had put it. He'd have much rather just to have been introduced, perhaps hyped the audience with a little taste of something off the new CD, then waved good-bye and gone on a little booty call with the hookers back at his expensive suite in the Waldorf-Astoria. But there was that ego thing, emboldened by the cocaine, and he couldn't back down once he'd accepted the challenge.
Backstage in the waiting room he'd insisted on for privacy, he considered a variety of options that would allow him to leave before the show without losing face. It had been a long time since he'd participated in a battle, and he wasn't thinking as clearly as he'd have liked. He was therefore relieved when he was introduced to his opponent, a short, stocky Puerto Rican teen who looked like he'd wandered in off the street. If this little spic's what passes for a gangsta in New York City, he thought, I got shit to worry 'bout. Li'l muthafucka can't even dress hisself.
The self-assurance, however, evaporated as he stared in his opponent's eyes while the MC worked the crowd into a frenzy. He didn't know what it was, but there was something about the other young man's gaze that rattled him. The teen seemed so...calm, or maybe it was confidence, or both...like he didn't need the bluster and bluff that defined ML Rex's personality. Thrown off his game, he broke off from the staring contest and smiled at the crowd. "Sheee-it, this li'l bitch the bes' ya'll got?" he shouted into his microphone.
Copyright © 2004 by Robert K. Tanenbaum
Posted March 10, 2010
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Tanenbaum is a great writer, but he can be a little wordy for me, and that's why I gave him 4 stars. Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi are rich and complicated three dimensional characters.I love the way he develops them, but sometimes he "rambles." Tanenbaum is not an easy read because there is lot going on and several complex plots are interwoven. He's a dark writer that doesn't pull any punches describing our inadequate legal system. When I want a book that is great suspense and makes me think, I'll read Tanenbaum.If you like suspenseful legal thrillers, this is the book for you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 17, 2005
Yes, this is a complicated (for the genre) book with several storylines interwoven, but it is richer, with better character development and more understanding of their motives than any in the past books of this series, which I enjoyed but now think of as 'Karp-Lite.' If anything, this book is anything but cliche (what would someone who reads this genre have to complain about re: cliches ... it is a genre built on them), Hoax almost flips too much the other way. As for white author writing rap lyrics ... does anybody write good rap lyrics? And there are about eight lines of them in a HUGE book. Yes, the author (whomever he or she may be) is different than the former ghost writer who assists Mr. Tanenbaum, with a different style, but I was growing tired of the former and thoroughly enjoyed this change of pace and look forward to Fury, the next in line.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2005
There are plenty of reasons not to like this book: 1) A middle aged, white, author writing rap lyrics 2) 'putting phrases' in 'quotation marks' on almost 'every' page of this 'book' 3) Cliche after cliche after cliche 4) Beginning almost every chapter in the present tense, and then narrating from a few days back to get us right where we started at the beginning of the chapter.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2005
I just wasted 6 hours on an airplane with this book. Perhaps one of the poorest that I've ever read. This book had no business being published. Someone owes me $6.95 and 6 hours of my life. I have no problem with the author as I'm sure he's done his best. I have a problem with the publisher, the editor and the agent. These people should be held accountable for allowing this garbage to make it to the bookshelf.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2004
I have no idea how the other reviewers of this book did not give it at least four stars. I've read nine of Tanenbaum's books in the Butch Karp series over the last three months, and I found this one to be as good if not better than the other eight. Once again, his subplots are interwoven, but the reader doesn't find out how until the last few pages of the book. This book was an incredible page-turner, and well worth a look.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2004
Tannenbaum's earlier Karp series books have an uncanny ability to be set in any decade in the last thirty years. . .this one was his first definite foray into the new millenium. He tackles a bunch of issues: the fierce world of rap music, the mass of people indulging in new age thinking, and corruption in both church and state. And unbelievably, Tannenbaum weaves these issues together skillfully, if not altogether believable. However, like any thriller, there is a certain level of suspension of disbelief. This was, without a doubt, one of his best. Marlene and Lucy reconstructing their relationship, and Tran reappearing. . . with possible entanglements with a new hero (the chief). . .all of this made the book well worth the time. A true page-turner.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 20, 2004
I just finished this book last night and I'm a little disappointed, not necessarily at the book itself - the rating says it, 'OK but not great' - but because it wasn't at all what I was expecting. I've read all of the Butch Karp novels at least once, and I have to say that I agree with some other reviewers - it was as if someone else wrote this book. The voice and tone were different, and the characters were saying and doing things that didn't fit with their words and actions in previous books. I mean, Butch Karp trading pop music trivia with Dirty Warren? Ray Guma carrying a shotgun? Give me a break! It's like when some people other than Conan Doyle tried to write Sherlock Holmes mysteries - they weren't necessarily bad, and they got it almost right, but not quite. It was a very strange reading experience.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2004
Readers expecting the high level of writing and characterization of the previous titles in this series will be disappointed in this latest one. No matter who wrote it (a controversy that's been raging since it was published), it clearly wasn't whoever wrote the earlier books, and it's barely worth the paper it was printed on.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Four black people including a well known West Coast gangsta-rapper are killed in New York City. The singer ML Rex was forming his own production company while leaving the record firm owned by Andrew Kane, the next mayor of the city. Kane owns the police, and the church¿s archbishop and his assistant. He uses bribes, blackmail, frames (as he did with the rapper murder) and fame to get what he wants. He forces I.A. to declare crooked cops innocent and persuades church members not to sue the priests who performed sexual acts on their parishioners.................................. The District Attorney of New York Butch Karp thinks of running for office but that doesn¿t prevent him from taking on the Church hierarchy, a politician who has ordered the deaths of those who get in his way, and the rank and file of the police. Butch¿s problems spill over to his wife Marlene and their daughter Lucy who are on a retreat in Taos. The Church has sent its problem priests to a medical facility there to rehabilitate them. Kane orders Marlene and Lucy¿s deaths, thinking her husband sent her there to investigate the medical unit. Both Karp and Marlene are not frightened off by attempted hits on their lives and they intend to bring the guilty parties to justice....................... This is the sixteenth Butch Karp novel and it is every bit as original and exciting as the first novel in this thrilling series. Robert K. Tanenbaum writes a great crime thriller that humanizes the protagonist by allowing readers to see him as a family man. There is plenty of action in this novel but Mr. Tanenbaum also gives plenty of space for character development.............................. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 13, 2004
This is a tedious rehash of the previous books in this series, which were all terrific. this is poorly written, boring, and clearly shows that the person the author thanked for all his help in the earlier books didnt help him in this one. Dont waste your money.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2004
Posted August 19, 2004
I have good reason to believe that there is an orchestrated attempt by friends and even family of the former 'ghost' writer of this series to knock this book on these online reviews--apparently a feud between the ghost and Mr. Tannenbaum. (As for complaints about 'ghost' writers, come on A LOT of what we read in popular series are written by ghosts). As a long-time fan of the Karp series, I have no axe to grind one way or the other. And I can see where some fans of the original series might prefer the original author. Some people get used to a certain flavor and don't like change. I suppose if you are one of those who couldn't take Pierce Brosnan replacing Sean Connery as Bond, you might have the same problem here. But while I loved first books too, to be honest, I found this one to be richer, the characters more fully painted, including we finally understand some of the motivations for our favorite crime fighting family. I was truly moved by the death of Karp's mother and how it was related to his unceasing battle against evil. Yes, this book is more 'novelesque' than the first fifteen, which stayed tried and true to the crime thriller structure. But I enjoyed it and am glad this 'ghost' didn't try to mimic the original, but instead took the characters and made them his own--with I suspect a good deal of guidance from Mr. Tannenbaum (perhaps this was the cause for the feud). If I had a complaint about the book it's that for all its great length (it is far longer than any previous Karp book), the ending came too quickly and a bit too easily. As a result I would have given it four stars, but having heard about this feud from an excellent source, I felt the need to combat bad reviews that are not being given for the right reasons. Read the reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist and from folks who just seem to be fans of a good read ... even ignore this one ... but read the book and make up your own mind.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2008
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Posted November 2, 2008
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