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The GrainAn Autobiography
By Shawn Berry Michael Salazar
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Shawn Berry with Michael Salazar
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy street name is Bebo and I'm Grain. The Jamaican drug dealers, who we call, "Dreads," gave me that name. They used the word "bebo" almost like a whistle to shout each other out, like "What's up?" Somehow the name got stuck to me.
I come from the Stapleton Projects in Staten Island, New York.
Locals here call our projects "The Town." It is a place you don't go if you don't live there, unless you're related to someone, or welcomed in. Anyone who does get lost here gets scared and acts as if they were in a war zone, and it is, sometimes.
I'm the middle child in a three sibling family. My mother, who everybody calls Ms. Karen, has been a teacher in the hood since I can remember. My father, Roland, is the funniest dude I know. My older sister, Sherri Berry, cooks the best food in the world, and my little bro Rahsaan, we all call Mouse, because he hasn't spoken louder than that in years. These are the people who nurtured my morals and values and taught me about family love and loyalty, and I took that out into the world with me.
The Town's not a pretty place for a young nigga growing up there. But the Town was all I had, and I loved it. I grew up playing in the streets way after the children's games turned serious and deadly. This town was mine, and The Town taught this nigga about life and how to grind.
The Town taught some other dudes that came from here about love and hate, and they used that shit to take over the world.
I lived there when The Wu Tang Clan was conceived. I was there when crack cocaine took over. And I know and saw what went down with all of that shit.
Back in 1989 I stopped hustling with the Up the Block Crew. Not because I had any feelings of guilt, but because Macky, the dude who ran the crew, shit on his niggas; he never paid us right for the rock cocaine that we moved.
So, at 16 years old, I put together what cash I could get, headed Uptown to Harlem, bought my crack, which we call 'work,' and went into business for myself.
I started hustling back at my building 218, with some of the dudes from my building who I knew since we were kids.
We had had an ongoing "up the block, down the block" war the summer that had just passed. It was our own civil war. And just like a civil war nobody outside the Town could get involved, or we would deal with them first, together, and then go back to mad feuding.
The shit originally started over some bullshit that the older, OG (Original God/Gangster) niggas amped up, but later the war continued when it all turned into greedy money issues.
The Up the Block (UB) team decided to get all the crews in the whole hood down with moving the work together, and those that didn't get down with the UB got robbed for their work. I was on the front lines of those assaults on nigga's pockets, and I even went against my own 218 niggas during that time. But only because I believed that together we were untouchable.
We bought guns for our own protection and to fight against all the other Hoods that were arming up, but not to use against our own niggas from the Town. It went from fist fighting, what we called "shooting the fair ones," to settle a beef, to hella gunfights.
It got so bad that a nigga had to be strapped 24/7. Shit started getting too out of hand as far as Grain-on-Grain beefs went. So, in my eyes, the war amongst us just had to stop. So I went to holla at my niggas.
Basically, I told them, "Yo. I believed in Macky. And I trusted his word. But he fucked me like he fucked y'all. So I apologize, and if it means anything to you, I know where he lives. And where the good 'work' is at, and can be got."
Then my homeboy Doug, whose real name was Dennis, but we called him Doug because he was nice with the beat box like Dougie Fresh, who would eventually be known as Wu Tang's Ghostface Killa, said, "A'ight. We can make that move."
That was our way of saying the beef was dead.
Besides, selling crack was so lucrative that everyone else was on the hustle tip.
For months everyone clocked, and we held down the building so that nobody from other buildings could come and hustle at the 218.
During that time vibes were all good with the crack that we moved. We did so well that eventually Ghost, and my man Tek, put our money together, and we started grinding hard together.
At that time we were fucking grinding hard under the GP (Gladiator Posse) flag.
We were still in high school and rolled large. I could turn fifty dollars into a thousand by the end of the day. We had the best of the best clothes, bling, and ladies.
It might be hard to believe, but back then the Stapleton Projects were just like one big family. If someone had a problem with somebody from the "Town," or didn't live there, then the outsider had a beef with the whole fucking neighborhood.
People respected other's property, helped each other out, and stuck together, no-matter-what. But crack changed all that. It totally fucked everything up! There wasn't a family I knew who wasn't affected, including my own.
But that didn't stop me from moving that rock. Like I said, there was just too much money to be made. Why should I opt out, and lose my chance at making my own cash, right?
And above it all, real Hip Hop was rocking 24/7. You could hear it everywhere. It brought niggas together. It was our own groove that we could grind to. It was our language, our beats, completely our own shit; this was our generation and no one else's. Erik B, Rakim, KRS1, BDK, and others just like them, spit the words that we lived.
So there we were on the block, Tek, Ghost, me, and the rest of the 218 squad doing our thing, working the work, poppin' and having fun. Hell, my dudes had some live lyrics too!
I lived just to rep my niggas and our GP team!
And here was the original Grain lineup, Doug, who you know as Ghost, my boy Pop, also known as the Brown Hornet, TT aka RNS, Donell also known as DownLowReka, Andre aka Juice, June aka June Luva, and Dez, known as Strictly.
They were all M.C.'s except for RNS because he was the producer of the team.
I played my part behind the scenes, doing my thing, helping where I could, and holding down drama in the hood the best that I could.
I didn't want to be an mc or a producer, I was always interested more in the "business side" of things. I would rob niggas and pass the money off to fund the movement. My ideas, energy, and leadership were respected amongst my niggas; we always moved as a democracy.
Now where I lived in the "Town" we always seemed to have a constant rivalry with the Park Hill Projects, which we called the "Hill," and was within easy walking distance from our projects, just over the hill where the Bertha Dreyfus Intermediate School (I.S. 49) is located.
The cliques and crews all went to the same schools, shopped at the same stores, and even went to the same parties.
Just like sports teams, or social clubs, we always had to see which crew could make more noise or wild out heavier. And this always led to a beef of some sort that just kept escalating.
It was crazy! We fought hard, but we knew each other's families, and more. But it was what it was.
The drama rose to the point where the Town and the Hill geared up for a fully armed, all-out war. And it was all over shit that nobody could even figure out, but we didn't care because the drama and shit became just too much fun for us.
And things didn't look great for GP and the Town, because a few of our side got knocked by the cops. Then Pop went to college to play football. And another of our crew with a lot of guns went into the Marines.
So the Town was kind of empty of soldiers except for me, Ghost, Tek, and the rest of the 218 squad.
Throughout this time, wutang, the vibe, was slowly evolving into a lifestyle. If you don't know anything about Wu Tang, or even if you do, or think that you do, here's how wutang really evolved.
The DBC started doing mad shit together. We hustled crack like pros. We smoked dust and would wild out. We all fucked chicks together, bust guns, and sold hella drugs together. And when we got bored, we read banana books written by people like Dr. Malachi York, and watched mad movies, and we would build with the Older Gods in the neighborhood on various subjects, like religion, politics, life, reality, and of course, loyalty.
We made our own discoveries, like the five percent mathematical principals, originated by Clarence 13X. Then dudes would incorporate some of those lessons into their lyrics just like Rakim did.
Then we'd talk about what we knew in our own, new language.
We might've not known shit about the outside world, just our world that we rolled in. With the bank flowing in, our world was all we cared about. And that left us with our own style, and ideas of the world. We lived in our own zone with our own rules and ways to live. The outside world couldn't give two-fucks about us, so it was two-guns up to the outside world!
Eventually we got rid of what we didn't like, and that left us with what we did like, weed, pussy, books, and movies.
Of the countless kung fu flicks we watched, the one movie that left a lasting impression on the GP was "Shaolin vs. Wu Tang." If you see it then you'll cop a deeper understanding to this entire story.
It wasn't just about fighting. It was a heavy kung fu flick with a message. It hit me harder than learning the five percent principals; it was all right there. It paralleled how the GP lived. It was the same Town and Hill beef, with their own Chinese generals running the show. But this movie had some answers for us.
The story was about two fighting schools, Shaolin and Wu Tang, who the emperor was trying to keep from combining because they might overthrow him. So the emperor devised a plan to make them go to war and destroy each other. It was some ill shit to see how it played out.
So then the GP, being down with the Wu Tang style of work, started calling the minor things we had "wutang," and then we added "Wu Tang" to our GP name. We were now the Gladiator Posse/ Wu Tang from Stapleton. We liked the way it sounded. It had a natural beat that we could use; Wuuu Tang, Wuuuuu TANG! See?
We called the 40's Old English Malt liquor "wutang juice." Then we started adding "wutang" words in our rap lyrics, such as "may Buddha's name be praised," to our shit.
We started to vibe heavy on wutang. It really meant something to us; and it was ours. It was a Stapleton original, and can't a nigga walking or layin' say any different.
I didn't know what philosophy was back then, but that's exactly what we were working on.
Dupree, Ghost's cousin, and Hez, two of the dancingest niggas on the planet, even came up with a wutang dance. But that shit was ill, because they used to smoke a ton of angel dust. They had to be high to come up with some of the crazy ass moves that they did!
Through our wutang vibe, we still warred with the Hill.
If we caught any of them Hill niggas slippin,' we were on them. Sometimes we searched them out just to start the drama because we were bored. The Hill niggas thought that we were all crazy because when we got wetted, we'd wild the fuck out! Usually with this nigga out in front.
But individually, there were personal relationships between the Stapleton and the Hill niggas that went too far back to get on some bullshit with them, even with a war going on.
Nothing can last forever.
I got knocked on a weapons possession charge in 1989 and sent to Riker's Island.
That jail is shit, and it always will be. Thousands of people are incarcerated there. It has a mean-assed reputation.
It was my second trip in that direction. The first time I was bailed out before I had even reached it. This time I wasn't so lucky.
The in-process was dehumanizing. It's one thing to hear about it, another to see it happen on television, and entirely another to be there, live, and in person.
I finally got a bed at three in the morning. I was nervous. I couldn't see shit. Who the fuck was in that cell? Thugs and killers thrived in this place.
I found an empty rack. I lay out, but couldn't sleep. I had been down with a lot of bullshit back in the streets. Now I was here and not down with shit. It was the price I paid for wilding out.
I stared at the ceiling until the sun came up.
At about four in the morning the place went crazy when someone yelled out for chow.
Motha fuckas everywhere jumped up and raced for the cell door as if their lives depended on it. It looked like a fire was happening. I was stunned. Their noise and panic took me by surprise.
I learned real quick what had happened.
There was a one minute warning for chow and if you weren't in line for breakfast by then, then the dorm doors slammed shut. Anyone left inside that wanted to eat, got no food.
They do that because there aren't that many guards up at that time. The less inmates eating, the less they had to watch. I missed a lot of breakfasts in the time that I was there.
Things smoothed out quick when I hooked up with my cousin Poopy, who was in for gun possession too, and drug distribution. With someone watching my back, things got better.
Things got even better when I went to court and the weapons charge got tossed out. I then was able to get Released on Own Recognizance (ROR'd) on the drug charge that I had already made bail on before. I was about to taste freedom.
But then something happened that forever changed my life, and those around me.
While I was held on Riker's Island, a nigga I was cool with, named Each, went to my sister and gave her enough money to bail me out. But I came home first before she could use it. Now here's the twist; Each was from our rivals, the Park Hill Crew. She told me what had happened. I took Each's bail money from her, and then considered what might have happened, and some of the possibilities as to why it happened.
Each and me had always been cool. He was a little older, and as far as I knew, he was the only American dude, who had any status with the Dreads, who'd taken over the Hill narcotics supply.
Each used to let me into all his parties for free. That's why I figured we were cool, regardless of the ongoing war with his hood. But it threw me for a hard loop that he would actually put up bail money for a "supposed" enemy from a rival hood. Usually anybody who had nothing to do with the war minded their own business but this move Each made put him smack in the middle of the shit.
How's a nigga to play it?
I could just keep the money, and let him think that he bailed me out. Or I could test the waters and see if he was really just setting me up for the niggas in his hood.
Rather than play games and out strategize myself, I grabbed my gun, and then went to the Hill looking for Each.
I was going to hit the fucking issue head on and resolve the drama right there and then. But I did have a plan.
I saw Each on Targee Street. He stood in front of the barber shop that the Dreads owned. He didn't see me because he was putting the moves on some fine assed chick.
I played it cool, but tight. I approached him from his blind side.
"Yo. Each. Can I talk to you?"
He looked really surprised, and quickly turned his attention to me. I could see from the way he acted that he was looking for me to make some kind of move on him, being that I was looking a little stressed. I had the drop on him. He might even be unarmed.
"'sup G?" he asked. He was breathing fast.
I could see that I had caught him off-guard, so I had the advantage. It was my game.
"Yo, Each, man, I hope that you didn't put up that bail money just to line me up for your people to make a move on me. 'Cuz if you did we can get busy right now." I flashed my heater to let him know I was holding.
But my act didn't work.
Each looked, and then he laughed.
He cooled out and said. "Yo, fool. How long have I looked out for your ass? And in how many places? In school, in my hood, on the court, name it. And I always let you into my parties for fuckin' free too, nigga!"
Now he started giving me shit. His chin jerked toward my gun. "So, how you comin' at me like that?"
I had him. It was time to play my hand. "Yo. I got out on ROR. So, if you were sincere about bailing me out, then here's your money back." I dug into my coat, pulled out his wad, and handed it back to him.
He looked stunned. I scored my point. It was time to close the deal.
"Now, can you go back and get more of that 'work' you was getting when you rolled with the Dreads?"
Excerpted from The Grain by Shawn Berry Michael Salazar Copyright © 2009 by Shawn Berry with Michael Salazar. Excerpted by permission.
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