cover image  Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler

Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler

Ethan Brown, . . Anchor, $13 (239pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-9523-0

This engrossing portrait of the trigger-happy hip-hop demimonde explores the origins of the gangsta-rap ethos in southeast Queens, home to legendary narcotics gangs and many of rap's biggest stars, including 50 Cent and Ja Rule. New York magazine music editor Brown begins by chronicling the careers of three Queens drug kingpins during the 1980s crack epidemic, when maintaining a fearsome reputation for violence was a must for doing business. He continues through to the 1990s, when a younger generation of hip-hop artists and impresarios idolized such criminals and adopted their twisted moral economy of street cred. Rappers dissed rivals' lack of a criminal background while burnishing their own; the war of rhymes occasionally escalated into gunplay between hostile entourages; prison stints and shoot-out wounds were coveted markers of hoodlum authenticity. Drawing on interviews with gangsters and rappers alike, Brown looks behind the tabloid headlines about such hip-hop luminaries as Russell Simmons and Tupac Shakur, while fleshing out the dynamics of machismo, loyalty, vengeance and greed in the claustrophobic 'hood. His is a vigorous account of an American subculture that's colorful, influential and, given the body count, tragic. 16 pages photos. (Dec. 6)