*Cues "Can’t Knock The Hustle"*
Fades In: An overview of New York City. The year is 1988. A montage of images that represent this period of New York and the hustler ambition. Clips of young teenagers on corners, wearing automatic weapons like they were sneakers. In bedrooms pulling Glocks from toy boxes and placing them in book bags next to homework. Girls are wearing girdles concealing drugs. Shots of junkies in hallways, a playground, bathrooms—strung completely out like zombies. Empty liquor bottles next to baby bottles. Condom wrappers and crack vials. Single mothers are sitting at home looking grimly at past due bills. Graffiti artists are tagging subways. Images of hip-hop, the struggle, the hustle, and '90s New York City personified.
Cut To: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Outside Marcy’s Housing projects.
A wide angle shot of a group of teenagers standing right out front of the Marcy Houses. Youthful, their clothes are big and baggy. They seem like regular teenagers—high-spirited, silly, nothing abnormal about them until junkies needing a fix approaches them. While watching the group deal drugs, a woman's voice:
Narrator (Dream Hampton): "Let me tell you something about money. And drugs. Myth and lore. Mandatory sentencing. Open caskets with bloated, bejeweled bodies.
"About kamikaze capitalists who just happened to be teenagers. Young black boys who may have never understood their position—that of mere pawns—in the larger scheme of this but who quickly expanded their tightly wound worlds. Then set them afire. With the heaviest, most sophisticated weaponry countries like Israel had to import. How aunts and uncles became somnambulant street stalkers and parents police informants. About the little girl who had always loved the little boys and quickly learned to love the things these boys now had to offer—all that glittered.
"I'm not saying this was every black person's experience; just those who were coming of age, poor, and living in a major city in the '80s. In New York, hustlers like Fat Cat from Queens and Calvin Klein from Brooklyn—they were becoming famous. Cities and small towns in Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia, and even the nation's capital—especially the nation's capital—became bloody war zones for enterprising, murderous hustlers from New York City looking to 'open' them up."
At the end of the narration, a luxury black SUV pulls up to the young boys and guns are drawn. Bullets ring out.
Cut To: Manhattan Hotel Room
A dark room illuminated by color television. A news story is playing. Reporting on the Marcy shooting that took the lives of three boys, ages 13, 15, and 17. The reporter is speaking passionately about the drug epidemic and all the youth who are losing their lives because of it. Shawn Carter watches from the very edge of the bed. Looks to be in his mid-twenties. No older than 25. Dressed in an all-black tailored suit with a white scarf draped over his shoulders. He takes a puff from his Cuban cigar. He wears a somewhat fresh look while watching the broadcast. The last thing he hears is, “Can we live?” before the hotel phone rings, he picks up, and in a very calm tone, he says, “Politics as usual.”
INT: Rival Drug Dealers Penthouse
A group of six men ranging from their early twenties to late thirties sits in the living room of a reasonably gaudy penthouse. Everything from the furniture to the marble floors is luxurious. They’re discussing the shooting that occurred earlier. How it was a warning to get the attention of Marcy’s Shawn Carter—the man who they were plotting to take over. So they shot up his childhood home knowing it would get his attention. They’re boastful, confident, more than sure, downright cocky. Fear doesn’t exist in this room. Blunts are rolled, and smoke fills the air as Hennessy is poured into shot glasses. Novice and naive, a combination that can only lead to a swift downfall in this business.
A big boom is heard from the back door. A Colombian man comes in firing an assault rifle. He’s wearing a rather new and neat velour suit—imagine if Scarface was raised in Harlem by Big Daddy Kane. Two other men are with him—very big, sturdy, with the face of pit bulls who have tasted blood. In another life, they could’ve worked within the Secret Service for the president. You can tell underneath their black shirts are bulletproof vests. Both are firing automatic weapons
Colombian Drug Dealer: "You motherfuckers, think you fuckin with Shawn Carter? You gon' die fuckin with Shawn Carter!"
*Cues "Brooklyn Finest"*
Cut to: A mammoth of a man kicks through the front door waving and shooting a .44. The notorious Francis M.H. White, another Brooklynite with a massive appetite for trouble. The way he mingles with the underworld, you would assume he’s ready to die. A big but graceful man, shooting and moving without much effort. They make quick work of the six men who didn’t expect such a swift rebuttal from their earlier shooting. White and the Colombian take two trash bags and fill them with any guns and drugs they can find. White acquires their spare blunts and their undrunk alcohol. He’s planning a celebration of his own.
EXT: Outside Rival Drug Dealer's Penthouse
A sleek black BMW is parked outside the house. The back window is down showing an emotionless Carter illuminated by the moonlight. Frank White approaches the vehicle greeting his fellow Brooklyn buddy. The two talk briefly, Shawn thanking him for the assistance at last minute. Promising to reward him further if he arrives at 560 State St.—the stash house—sometime next week. Another car pulls up, and Frank’s massive body disappears into the back seat as the two vehicles pull off into the night.
INT: Back of the classic BMW
A giant gold bottle sits on Shawn’s lap. He’s taking huge gulps as the driver swerves through the night. It’s a little past midnight—an hour where you can’t avoid the haunting thoughts of your past. They greet Shawn as he closes his eyes.
*Cues "Dead Presidents"*
Fades into: A flashback sequence of a young Shawn Carter, about the age of 13 outside of the Marcy projects. The same spot the teenagers were shot prior. He’s with another young man, who is also 13, and the two are meeting Dee Dee—the man who introduced them to the crack game. From there, it goes into various scenes from his life once getting into the game. The trips to New Jersey, Maryland, Saint Thomas, and Virginia. Hospital visits to see fallen soldiers. Shootouts on blocks with rival dealers and jealous friends turned foes. Running from the police. Money, money, money. The sound of a money counter and dead presidents fill the screen. A picture of Gloria Carter’s face on a $100 bill fills the screen before Shawn snaps back to reality.
INT: Inside New York Apartment. Night.
Carter enters a luxurious apartment with a leather backpack strapped. The kind of upscale home fit for a basketball players mistress or Wall Street side piece. As he enters the bedroom, his eyes fixate on the college degree in psychology hanging on the wall. She’s sprawled on the bed—wearing only lace panties. Her skin is a beautiful black and perfectly curvy—the body of an African goddess. Playboy would pay for this image to be a magazine cover. Intelligent and sexy, a combination that has caused the fall of empires.
They don’t speak—to exchange words would be too commonplace, too regular, their relationship wasn’t regular. The bag is left by the door, leaning up against a shotgun. Shawn undresses and hits the joint a few times. It doesn’t take long before he pounces on her; the two are wrapped up in passion. Making love to the background noise of breaking news, six men murdered violently in a penthouse.
*Cues "Feelin It"*
During the lovemaking, Shawn is having visions of all the good that drug dealing has afforded him. He sees the fleet of Lexuses and glasses filled with Moet, tropical vacations spent on yachts, the evolution of his wardrobe, from the rags to cashmere. And the girls. Especially the girls. It all came with this dangerous lifestyle he chose. Living on the edge brought both paranoia and ecstasy. The woman is a personification of all that is good that comes from a life of bad. If he was flirting with the idea of quitting, that thought is nowhere to be found. The girl falls asleep, Carter closes his eyes, and as the camera begins to fade away, you notice that one eye opens.
INT: Driver Seat Lexus. Night.
Sean is driving, the radio is playing classic oldies, and a beeper sits in the passenger seat reading 911. It’s 3 AM, any emergencies this late are urgent. He pulls into a parking garage, goes up to the 5th floor and there are only two other cars inside. An all black 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and an old-school cherry red 1972 Cadillac de Ville. Sean greets the Monte Carlo driver with a nod, but he walks over to the Cadillac opening up the back door.
Cut to: Inside The Cadillac
There’s a woman inside. Black, in her mid-twenties, and tied up tightly. You can see the fear in her eyes. Shawn peels back the tape that conceals her mouth. Tearfully she begins to blurt out that she knows nothing and hasn't seen or heard anything. Shawn sits and listens. As the second verse begins, he reaches into his pocket and removes a wad of cash. He peels back a $100 bill from the stack. He grabs her by the neck, threatening to force her to eat the entire stack unless she starts talking. In the pupil of her eyes, you can see the reflection of the past. Shawn, her, and another man. Children who grew up together. Now her once friend was choking her, forcing money down her throat to squeal on the father of her child. Shawn is remorseless. There’s not a hint of any real emotion. No rage, no angst—for him this is just another day in the office. Part of the job he signed up for. His grip tightens until she finally musters up a confession. Before leaving Shawn speaks softly.
Shawn Carter: "We hustle out of a sense of hopelessness, sort of desperation. Through that desperation, we become addicted. Sort of like the fiends we’re accustomed to serving. But we feel we have nothing to lose, so we offer our lives, right. So what do you bring to the table?"
*Cues "Can I Live" instrumental* as Carter exits the car and the woman weeps hysterically.
Int: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Outside Marcy Housing projects. Daytime.
Shawn leans against his car, smoking a cigar, looking up at the massive building that he once called home. No matter how often he leaves, he always returns home. Shawn thinks backs to a meeting from earlier.
*Cues "Friend or Foe"*...
Cut To: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. An abandoned building.
A conversation between Shawn and some out of towners plays out. Based on their clothing, it’s obvious the three aren’t from New York. The scene plays out just like “Friend or Foe,” Shawn dominating the entire conversation and dismissing the young bucks from his view. They’re obviously irritated, but they are outnumbered and out armed.
Cut to: A corner boy approaching Shawn’s black whip. A teenager he’s seen around, a kid that reminds him of himself. He calls him over, and the two begin to speak like a nephew would his favorite uncle. Shawn invites him to take a ride. After climbing into the passenger seat, the two drive around the block to talk in private.
*Cues "Coming Of Age"*
Int: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Right outside Marcy Housing projects. Daytime.
Shawn steps out, passing the young man his car keys. A gift to commemorate their new partnership. He would page a ride to get him. Despite Marcy being a place that raised wolves, he was still at home. Shawn Carter, not the most prominent gangster, not the wealthiest dealer, not the powerful Godfather—he had just enough money, power, and respect to walk around his block. He felt proud to give another kid from his home a chance to step into his footsteps. The Lexus drives off, and he looks back at the housing projects. A voice calls out his name in an aggressive tone. After turning around, his eyes meet a shaky hand holding a pistol pointed in his direction. The holder is shouting about his baby’s mother. For the first time, you see the fear in Shawn's face.
His heartbeat overshadows the words.
Thump, thump, thump—intensifying as the screen fades to black and three gunshots ring out.