When Entourages Attack

The Slate guide to managing your posse.

Jay-Z: traveling light

Jay-Z has the stuff of hip-hop dreams: A megabucks tour, a No. 1 album, a hagiographic concert film, and designs on a corner office at Def Jam. He also has the one thing no rapper has to dream about: an enraged entourage. One month into the “Best of Both Worlds” tour, a Jay-Z associate named Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith allegedly spritzed Jay’s co-headliner R. Kelly and members of the R. entourage with pepper spray. Jay kicked R. off the bill; R. filed a $90 million lawsuit.

Could this dust-up be bad for Jay-Z? Are there consequences for a rapper when his entourage acts up? While Kelly’s lawsuit claims “Ty-Ty acted on instructions and authorization from Jay-Z,” hip-hop case law holds that no rapper is his entourage’s keeper. If rappers had to give out $90 million every time their entourages misbehaved, the small-time record execs and club owners entourages typically prey on would dominate Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people.

Every rapper has an entourage. These days, even the entourages have entourages: Eminem’s posse D12 is known to travel with a 40-man posse of its own. And even the most inoffensive, old-person-friendly rappers can have violent hangers-on. Will Smith’s bodyguard allegedly punched a record promoter in the face in 1989, allegedly at the Fresh Prince’s behest. (The charges were later dropped.) A few years later, three members of MC Hammer’s posse claimed they were the victims of a drive-by shooting. Witnesses countered that it was yet another member of the 35-man entourage who actually pulled the trigger. (In the end, no charges were filed.)

Sometimes, an angry posse can get its leader sent to jail. But just as often, the fury of an entourage can transform a no-account, wannabe rapper into a superstar. Since Slate is extraordinarily popular with the entourage-having-rapper demographic, we’ve compiled a list of entourage best practices: tips on how to make your entourage’s violent impulses work for you. Maybe you’ll never get your security team to teach underprivileged kids how to read, but with a little know-how and planning, you can at least stay out of the clink.

Entourages can vary wildly in shape, size, and composition, but must include at least one driver, several bodyguards, and a few lesser-known rappers. Hammer’s three wounded associates—a bodyguard, a member of a backing group called the Homeboy Choir, and a representative of tour sponsor Kentucky Fried Chicken—are a good representative group. Women (Lil’ Kim, and to a lesser extent Foxy Brown) sometimes have entourages, but cannot be in an entourage. Sorry, ladies.

Your entourage will also most likely include a couple of guys whose duties are completely unknown, even to themselves. Take Jay-Z’s buddy Ty Ty, who has been described in recent press accounts as a “partner,” “a former executive,” a “well-known associate,” and a “right-hand man.” Keep your eye on the floater. One thing we do know about Ty Ty: He was on the scene when Jay-Z and his bodyguard were arrested and charged with third-degree gun possession in 2001.

Not that you should get too riled up when your bodyguard gets arrested on weapons charges. It happened to Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, and look what became of them. The main consequence of having your bodyguard arrested is that people realize you have a bodyguard. Once people realize you have a bodyguard, they will assume that you are a rich, famous, and powerful superstar who requires constant protection from jealous haters. Once enough people assume you are a rich, famous, and powerful superstar, then you are a rich, famous, and powerful superstar. And don’t worry if you get pinched on the weapons charge, too. If you’re so inclined, you can, like Fabolous, try to win some sympathy by threatening to sue for false arrest. If you’re trying to win sympathy, though, be sure to send out an all-entourage memo. It won’t help your case if your bodyguard allegedly bodyslams a DJ named Golden Girl. Just ask Fabolous.

Entourages usually have good intentions—they want to pick fights to defend your honor, which can be impugned at any time or place. You can’t expect your entourage to take a joke. When of the Black Eyed Peas had his bandmates arrested on the MTV prank show Punk’d, the entourage wasn’t laughing. One BEP adjunct punched a pretend cop in the jaw; another tackled an actor into a swimming pool.

Obviously, there will be moments when you won’t care to have your honor defended. If you want to predict when your entourage will start a fight, you have to keep an eye on your surroundings. Natural light tends to have a calming effect on the entourage, which can become agitated and restless at night. After the lights go out, it’s best to keep your posse away from concerts, nightclubs, recording studios, and award shows—especially award shows—if you want to have a quiet evening. Angry entourages are frequently spotted near limousines and SUVs, but it is unclear whether the vehicles themselves are responsible for entourage rage, since entourages are rarely found in other automotive habitats.

There are some places where no entourage-related violence has yet been reported—arboretums, rodeos, ice cream parlors, the Body Shop—but the entourage’s volatile nature makes location-based predictions of misbehavior unreliable. Coolio’s posse once allegedly walked out of a German boutique without paying for bushels of clothing. R. Kelly and his five-man entourage allegedly gave a beatdown to a basketball player in a Lafayette, La., health club. And according to the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, an unidentified “fellow in a Naughty By Nature Jacket” who was part of the group’s 14-man entourage “threw a pile of newspapers at [an Ontario motel employee], spit in her face and, heading for the door, screamed ‘ENJOY OUR SHOW!’ “

It’s usually not a big deal when your entourage slaps, beats, berates, or pepper-sprays a motel employee, record producer, or R&B crooner. (Official Slate prediction: Ty Ty, who was charged  with third-degree assault today, will only get probation.) In 2001, rap-group-cum-entourage D12 got a bit of bad press when its 40 “friends and associates” allegedly beat fellow Detroit rapper Esham so badly that he got a ruptured eyeball. The only consequence: They got kicked off the Warped Tour. (But so did the guy with the ruptured eyeball.) P. Diddy was acquitted this year for his role in his entourage’s alleged 1999 beatdown of a talk show host who asked a question that Puffy didn’t like. The Diddy defense, according to the AP: His “busy schedule made it hard for him to pin down the incident.” Translation: My entourage made so much mischief today that I can’t possibly remember what they did to some guy five years ago.

Entourage-on-man violence will probably go unpunished. But an entourage-on-entourage rumble can be a disaster. When Lil’ Kim’s entourage (loosely affiliated with the group Junior M.A.F.I.A.) ran into Foxy Brown’s entourage (loosely affiliated with the group Murder Unit) in 2001, tragedy was averted only because they were all such terrible marksmen. The tête-á-tête, which featured a minimum of five guns and 21 shots, ended with one friend of Foxy shot in the back, one Kim bodyguard in prison for 12 years, and Kim holed up in New York while she awaits trial for, among other things, obstruction of justice. (Perjury charges were recently dropped.)

Entourage-on-entourage action often starts because of a perceived “beef” with another rapper. While these feuds don’t always escalate into violence (see LL Cool J v. Canibus and Jay-Z v. Nas), sometimes they don’t end so well (Kim v. Foxy, Biggie v. Tupac). It’s probably safer to pick fights with one of those socially conscious nonviolent rappers like Mos Def or Common. If you want to play it really safe, you should insult socially conscious rappers who were popular 15 years ago like Digable Planets. (Cool like dat, my ass.) Another warning: A Tribe Called Quest might seem suitably innocuous, but Q-Tip once broke a guy’s jaw.

If managing an uncouth posse sounds like too much hard work, consider that an entourage crime spree might be the quickest way to earn street cred. 50 Cent, for one, launched his career by bragging that some of his buddies once lifted Ja Rule’s jewelry. But street cred doesn’t do you much good if you get locked up before you become famous. Little-known P. Diddy associate Jamal “Shyne” Barrow got a $3 million contract from Def Jam after he was sentenced to 10 years for his role in that infamous 1999 nightclub shootout. While Me Against the World debuted at No. 1 while Tupac was in prison, Shyne’s Godfather Buried Alive, which consists mostly of pre-incarceration material, has been a commercial disappointment. Despite the obvious obstacles to advancing Shyne’s career, Def Jam claims to be undeterred. One exec told the New York Times, “We approach it like he’s just in Japan.”