November 30, 1999. Q-Tip delivers Amplified, his highly-anticipated debut solo album. Two days later he would celebrate the release with a party in Manhattan at the Kit Kat Club. Puffy was there, Lil Kim was there, Lil Cease was there, Busta Rhymes was there, and Jay Z was there.
Prior to arriving at Q-Tip’s party, Jay was holding his own party at Irving Plaza—a listening event for his upcoming album, Vol. 3… Life And Times Of S. Carter. He performed a few records and was in the company of Roc-A-Fella’s Beanie Sigel, Amil and Memphis Bleek. It should’ve been a night to celebrate, except there was one problem— Vol. 3 wasn't scheduled for release until December 28, but it was already in the hands of bootleggers who leaked the record an entire month in advance. Feelings were boiling over the unforeseen larceny. It was reported that before Jay Z took the stage at Irving Plaza, Dame Dash vehemently shouted into the microphone, “Fuck the bootleggers!”
That night at the Kit Kat Club would eventually be remembered not because of Q-Tip’s incredible album, but the stabbing of Lance “Un” Rivera - the CEO and co-founder of Untertainment with Notorious B.I.G. He was treated at New York’s St. Vincent Hospital for wounds to his shoulder and abdomen. Originally, it was stated that officers didn’t have a weapon or a suspect, just a description of two black males in their 20s. It’s widely assumed that “Un” cooperated and gave police officers the name of his assailant - Shawn "Jay Z" Carter.
Carter would turn himself into the NYPD Midtown South Precinct in Manhattan where he was processed and booked for felony assault in the second degree. His bail was $50,000 and he was out within a few hours. A press conference with his lawyers labeled him an innocent man. Harvey Slovis, his attorney, said, “To think that this guy, who is as gentle as can be, has anything to do with this is crazy.”
Innocent, that’s what Jay Z continued to preach. Innocent, that's what his lawyers continued to stress about their client. 15 years in prison is how much time Jay was facing. Looking back, they were truly staring down the barrel of a shotgun. This one stabbing had the potential to cost him more than just his freedom, it was going to cost him his future. One that he couldn’t foresee in those days of early Roc-A-Fella success. No one truly knew what Jay Z would become - this mogul, this husband, this businessman who now has influence that goes far beyond rap music. I knew about the stabbing but I didn’t know about the severity of the time he was facing. This was an event that could have changed everything in rap. Imagine if Jay Z's Vol. 3 was Jay Z's last album?
December 27, 1999. A Manhattan club was the scene of another incident that involved a young rapper. This time the participants would be Bad Boy signee Shyne and his label boss P. Diddy, a situation that would send Shyne away for 10 years, convicted of attempted murder, assault, and reckless endangerment. He was facing an 11-count indictment that would have put him away for 25 years maximum. His saving grace was defense lawyer Murray Richman, also known as “Don’t Worry Murray.” In his Gawker profile form 2008, it states that Murray was the most prominent mob lawyer in the '70s and '80s and is now working his charm and magic for rap artists. Incredible. He’s like the real-life Better Call Saul.
He would be hired on Jay Z’s case as well, working both at the same time. In February of 2001, Jay’s preliminary hearing was delayed and rescheduled due to Murray being so wrapped up in Shyne’s case. It seemed as if Jay was going to trial, even the video for “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” hinted that Jay would take things to trial. But after watching Puff and Shyne’s cases play out in the media, Jay decided to take a plea deal that reduced his 15-year sentence down to 3 years probation. Once again, Murray worked his magic.
"Less than a block from where Puff and Shyne were being tried, the guys accused of bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 were on trial. There were barricades in front of their courthouse. It was a major trial, important to the city, the whole country, but no media was there. Meanwhile Puff's courthouse was swarming with cameras and reporters; the local papers were writing about what Puff's mother was wearing to court. It was un-fucking-real. Of course Shyne got convicted, but the D.A had put on that spectacle to get Puff. When he walked I knew they'd be even more aggressive about getting a conviction in my case, making an example of me where they'd failed with Puff. So I settled and took probation. No way was I going to allow myself to be a sideshow for the state" - Jay Z (Decoded)
Jay explained his views on bootlegging in Decoded, a book he released in November of 2010. He likened music piracy back in the late '90s/early 2000s to your stash house being robbed, that’s the closest analogy he could give that juxtaposed the music industry and the street life. Vol. 3 flooding a month in advance caused him a great amount of anxiety. He talks about going off on the Def Jam staff and the paranoia of not knowing who to blame. This wasn’t a minor mistake, someone put his album out a month-in-advance and he wanted to know who. Un’s name is one that continued to be sung by the little birdies. He saw him that night at Q-Tip’s event, the two had a verbal confrontation that Jay claims involved a disgruntled Rivera getting loud with him in the club. Jay claims to have walked away, but his switch was flipped:
“Before I even realized what I was doing, I headed back over to him, but this time I was blacking out with anger. The next thing I knew, all hell had broken loose in the club.”
Cam’ron was recently interviewed by DJ Whoo Kid and spoke very loosely of the incident, of course, any real details would be seen as snitching and we all know how Cam feels about that. He believes that what caused the stabbing that night wasn’t over an album bootleg but a woman, Charli Baltimore. Charli was Biggie’s girlfriend before his passing and an artist signed under Untertainment. Un was best friends with Big and the two were partners in the label. From what little Cam said, the story is Jay was trying to push up on Charli and Un wasn’t having it. Cam’ron first album, Confessions Of Fire, came out under Untertainment and Epic Records with most of the production being handled by Lance. I don’t know if he’s the most trusted source for this story, but he is a voice that watched from the inside. If true, once again a woman was almost to blame for the fall of a dynasty.
There’s a line from “Streets Is Watching” that comes to mind, “If I shoot you, I’m brainless but if you shoot me, then you’re famous - What’s a nigga to do?” It’s a question Jay posed on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, his second full-length. By Vol. 3 he was well-known and had previously gone five-times Platinum with Vol 2.
To think, even though he knew what a brainless act inciting an incident in the club that night would be, even though he knew what was at stake, he couldn’t help it. Brooklyn's Shawn Carter reacted before Jay Z the famous rapper. Over an album or a girl, he almost threw away a life worth more than both. It makes me further realize that you can remove yourself from an environment but some things are just ingrained. Sadly it just takes one wrong reflex, one terrible decision, and you’re in a place where second chances aren’t given. Jay Z was given a second chance and he chose to make albums about American Gangsters instead of living the life of one.
"Early in his career, when he’d achieved some notoriety, he was involved in a nightclub altercation that resulted in an arrest for assault. Today, he says, “I did wrong and I paid. You’ve got to realize where I’m coming from; we fought all the time. It’s just what you did. You went to the club; you had fights; sometimes bottles got thrown, sometimes knives came out. You know how many times I had that sort of fight? I still had the bravado of the same guy I was, and I had to realize that I wasn’t that same guy anymore.” (Vanity Fair 2013)
By Yoh, Johnnie Yohchran, aka @Yoh31