By Nicole White and Evelyn Mcdonnell, The Miami Herald
Miami and Miami Beach police are secretly watching and keeping
dossiers on hip-hop celebrities like P. Diddy and DMX and their
entourages when they come to South Florida, a move police say is to
protect the stars and the public.
Officers say they have photographed rappers as they arrived at Miami
International Airport. They stake out hotels, nightclubs and video
shoots. They consult a six-inch-thick black binder of every rapper
and member of his or her group with an arrest record in the state of
New York. The binder begins with a photo and rap sheet of
Grammy-nominated rapper 50 Cent. It ends with Ja Rule. Both men are
embroiled in one of the most bitter feuds in the hip-hop industry,
one that Eminem, 50 Cent's producer, has warned in the song Bully
could lead to bloodshed.
The policing effort of top entertainers -- which hip-hop experts
criticize as unnecessary stereotyping -- was created, police say, to
protect the public and musical celebrities who have chosen to make
South Florida their destination to live and party.
"We have to keep an eye on these rivalries," said Assistant Miami
Beach Police Chief Charles Press. "The last thing we need in this
city is violence."
Government agencies keeping tabs on musicians is not new. The Nixon
administration investigated former Beatle John Lennon in the 1970s
and tried to have him deported. The band Body Count led by rapper
Ice-T got the attention of police nationally in the early 1990s with
the song Cop Killer. But those cases involved individual artists or
groups, not monitoring across a musical genre.
"There's been no shortage of rock stars and other musicians"
scrutinized by police, said Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor at
Rolling Stone magazine. "But there has never been anything like this."
Several music executives and legal scholars say the
intelligence-gathering highlights the misunderstanding between the
police and a $10-billion industry. The police, they contend, have
used the slayings of high-profile artists like Tupac Shakur, the
Notorious B.I.G. and Run DMC's Jam Master Jay, to justify tracking
many in the industry.
"Some people see gangs and hip-hop artists as being synonymous," said
Benjamin Chavis, president and chief executive officer of The Hip-Hop
Summit Action Network, a government-watchdog and voter-registration
group. "That's a mistake. The recording industry is a legitimate
American enterprise, not a gang."
Said attorney Bruce Rogow: "This kind of conduct shows insensitivity
to constitutional limitations. It also implicates racial
stereotyping." Rogow successfully represented 2 Live Crew when the
rap group was prosecuted for obscenity in the early '90s.
PART OF POLICE WORK
Press says it's good police work that has nothing to do with
stereotyping a culture or musical genre: "What would law enforcement
be if we closed our eyes. Our job is to know as much about things
that could hurt innocent people."
Jeff Peel, director of Miami-Dade's Office of Film and Entertainment,
said he's worried about a policy that could prompt hip-hop artists to
stay away. South Florida is a choice spot for stars to live,
celebrate and film music videos, an enterprise that pumps millions of
dollars into the local economy.
"If something's going to dissuade them from coming, that would not be
good news for us," Peel said.
Press and other officers say they welcome the musicians, but some
rappers and their groups have had brushes with the law, police said.
Miami Detective Peter Rosario said the practice of photographing
rappers with their entourages shows who's in their circle.
"A lot if not most rappers belong to some sort of gang," Miami police
Sgt. Rafael Tapanes said. "We keep track of their arrests and
Dozens of rappers are tracked in the black binder, from minor artists
like Black Rob to major figures like Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Jay-Z,
Nas and Busta Rhymes.
Publicists for Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Eminem, Jay-Z and P. Diddy refused
to comment for this story.
Tapanes said the New York Police Department gave the binder to local
law enforcement during a three-day "hip-hop training session" in May.
Officers from other major cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta
attended the event.
New York police officials denied having a hip-hop task force when
asked recently by The Herald.
`WHAT TO LOOK FOR'
"Everybody that went got a binder with information on rappers that
have been arrested, outlining charges," Tapanes said. "They were
trained on what to look for in the lyrics, what to look for when they
go to hip-hop concerts, what radio stations and TV stations to
monitor to keep abreast of any rift between these rappers."
Press said local intelligence gathering on rap artists started after
the Memorial Day 2001 weekend, when some 250,000 hip-hop fans flocked
to South Beach for four days of parties hosted by their favorite
rappers. Beach police made 211 arrests, double the usual number of a
regular weekend, most for disorderly conduct and intoxication.
No major rap artist was arrested, but police felt compelled to figure
out every nuance of the hip-hop culture that had spawned such a
following, said Press.
"Nobody on the Beach had a handle on who the players were," Press
said. "We didn't know anything, we didn't know who were the big
record labels, who were the kingpins; we didn't know why there were
rivalries with Ja Rule and Eminem."
Months later, Police Chief Donald DeLucca sent detectives to New York.
"It was paramount for us to understand because we know this is now
their destination of choice," said Press, emphasizing that the
department monitors activities related to other music events,
including Spring Break festivities and this week's Winter Music
Besides the information they get from other police contacts, officers
say they depend on hotel and nightclub workers and off-duty police
officers on security details to keep them informed on the celebrities
and their followers.
"If we know 50 Cent is coming to town then of course we have to be on
alert," Press said. "We know there have been multiple attempts on his
The very notion that the Beach needed to send police to figure out
the hip-hop culture is laughable, says Papa Keith, a DJ on 103.5 Tha
"If they're saying they're trying to learn about hip-hop, then hire
more brothers and put them in the ranks and let them help you in that
respect," Keith said. "Why do you need to send a bunch of cops to New
Of the Beach's 97 officers in supervisory jobs, only one is black. Of
Miami's 226 ranking officers, 26 are black. Chavis, head of the HSAN,
suggests sensitivity training for police departments.
Press says the fact that South Florida remains a destination for
hip-hop artists and its fans proves that the police have not been
Luther Campbell, the former 2 Live Crew rapper, said any intelligence
gathering is unnecessary because rappers only come to South Florida
to enjoy the weather and party.
"If they had problems like rappers coming down here and fighting,
yeah you got to serve and protect," Campbell said. "But you don't
have those kinds of problems. The cities should take taxpayer dollars
and put them toward something else."