03/09/2004

Miami Police Secretly Watching Hip-Hop Artists

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 associates."

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 Conference.

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 life."

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 Beat.

"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 York?"

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 heavy-handed.

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."

Back to previous page