I’d first heard about Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family via trap songs where his name gets dropped. I didn’t think much about it at the time but when doing research on gangs in Miami for the novel series I’m writing I came across their name again. I watched a video that Big Meech had released shortly before he went to prison and a documentary after and was intrigued. I came across a series of articles that Mara Shaloup had written about them as well as a book length treatment that she gave them titled BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family, so I decided to read it. I enjoyed the book. It’s light and quick reading and though remembering the names and relationships of people with multiple aliases was a little confusing at first, the chart included in the book helped make things clear.
The story presented is fascinating and illustrates why Big Meech and the gang he started with his brother Terry became so famous within the hip-hop community. The most obvious manner why he has been so celebrated within that community is his promotion of Young Jeezy at the beginning of his career. While not an official signee to the BMF crew, he clearly gained from being associated with BMF members by gaining a greater aura of authenticity. Shaloup touches upon this and also tells an aside story of the conflict between Jeezy and Gucci Mane that left an associate of the former dead following an attempted robbery. Another reason for Meech’s lionization in the rap community is his attempt at going legit through a record label. While Bleu Davinci, an BMF associate that also engaged in cocaine trafficking, was it’s sole signee – it’s likely that it may have one day been a launching pad for rappers. One of the pictures shown in the book is of a conversation between Meechie and Nelly and his connection with Puff Daddy (Meech employed his cousin), T.I. and other important rappers is also detailed. In a way, this dynamic and these interactions seems like Meech wanted his life to imitate the musical art that he and his crew were so fond of.
One of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed was the description of trafficking craft. How certain hidden compartments in cars were created and opened, pay rates for couriers versus traffickers, means of laundering money, the manner of processing the uncut cocaine for distribution to associated seller, the different types of employee relationships that existed, the wildly excessive partying and extravagant purchases, difficulties felt when trying to “stay off the radar”, how relationships were formed with other crews so that wars were avoided, the relationships forged and destroyed over fear. It makes for compelling reading as even though it’s hard to identify with the people being described one still can’t help but wonder at what point someone is going to get caught. While reading I kept feeling wondrous anticipation as to what it was that would lead to someone’s arrest and, once that was done, wondering if they would snitch.
It’s this, in fact, that makes me feel a little uneasy about the celebrity which Meech has received. Shaloup doesn’t delve into these sorts of reflections, sticking more with the journalists craft, however after reading this and a number of the telephone transcripts available for perusal in the very large prosecutorial file on B.M.F. it’s clear the amount of stress that was felt by the individuals involved in the enterprise. The parties were like over the top cathartic releases for they seemed to all recognize that this was a house of cards and thought they were flying high – such heights meant that like Icarus they’d soon come crashing down. The sole factors involved in the safety maintenance of the operation seemed to be Meech’s code of conduct – No talking on the phone and make your employees love you first and also fear you so they don’t snitch – and a few corrupt people in minor government offices that could provide info or fake identification cards. While not sighting the tails that followed them, they all seemed to recognize – as more bodies of innocents and potential witnesses piled up and as police came to see that people which could potentially testify to crimes would clam up on learning who the suspects were – that greater police attention was being paid to them.
While the greater depth of personal insight into “the game” that I was hoping for was not to be found in the book through quotes or any interview with Meech, I found something of the sort while reading an interview. It seems that after a few years in the pen, when his legal options are dried up, his once boisterous, rebellious energy has disappeared. In his own words he states:
I’m crying inside. I’ve been in the hold on ’23 and 1′ [23 hours in cell and one hour out per day] since June 2011. This SMU sh*t is like a torture camp for real. First, showers are only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Both me and my celly have to cuff up whether one of us is leaving to go to rec, shower, or medical, or if both of us are leaving. Everywhere we go, our hands are in black box handcuffs behind our back with a C.O. holding our cuffs, walking with us. I’m always trying to get out of my handcuffs first because you never know when your celly may have a bad day and jump you while you still have your cuffs on.
There’s three or four fights or stabbings daily, especially since it’s hot. If you disobey them, you’ll get a heavy dose of tear gas, which has the whole building choking and coughing, eyes burning. Then they’ll put you in restraints handcuffed extra tight with a chain around your waist, shackled. I’ve heard grown men cry crocodile tears from their hands swelling and nerve damage from the cuffs. If that’s not enough, they have another form of punishment called “Four Points” where they put you on your back chained around both ankles and wrists in a very cold room with the lights on. Everyone who reads this should look up Lewisburg SMU online and read about the deaths, disfigurements, and inhumane conditions and brutality that goes on in here. So, my days are like a living hell.
It’s at this point that I start to agree with some of the people in the comments section of a number of Hip Hop news sites that despite his “success” it was all a big waste.
One of the other aspects that I found interesting in the book is the narratives about BMF associates that tried to start successful side business to launder money and to potentially become a platform to go legit. There was the BMF record label, of course, but within the story Mara also accounts for a recording studio, a high-end car dealerships and a number of other enterprises. Ironically but perhaps not so surprisingly, the successes that BMF had selling drugs was undermined by their failures as actual businessmen. Another irony is that despite all of the criticisms made by Terry against his brother Meech, it was the latter’s generous attitude and willingness to engage in opulent conspicuous consumption at strip clubs and night clubs with his subordinates that motivated them to not snitch on him once caught. Not that their testimony would have been the point on which the prosecution’s case would have rested in full – but it’s worth noting: as a means of maintaining organizational morale, it turns out that warmth and affection rather than coldness and annoyance have a significant impact.
Yet another major irony illustrated in the book is that after the capture of the Black Mafia Family, the drug task force which had helped bring them down gets disbanded following the accidental death of an elderly woman that the Atlanta Police Department tried to frame as a cocaine trafficker. While not widely announced in the paper, the presence was common knowledge amongst the criminal elements in the area and following this trade picked up apace and with greater openness. This time, however, it was largely done by Mexican gangs with military backgrounds that made the 270 million brought in by the Black Mafia Family look like peanuts.
Some of the original notes and articles from which made the book was written can be found here.