Chapter 1

When Scholar showed up at the studio and threw ten G’s in cash down on the automated faders of the classic forty-eight channel Neve mixing board, Biz knew there was no way out of the deal. His cousin towered over him, lips in overdrive and cranking like a jungle groove at 180 bpm underneath his scruffy mustache-goatee. This man with the tattoos and the rock-hard physique, which only a prison gym could create, was on a mission, yo! As manager of his group, Proof Positive, he was gonna “blow up extra, extra large and be the bigges’ on the planet. Hear me, bro? More bigger ‘n Biggie Smalls, Snoop, Jay Z, all of ‘em.”

Biz had already tried to blow Scholar off more times than he could count, but his cousin never took no for an answer. “No” was a one-syllable excuse, a free ticket to ask for the same thing again. Scholar saw him as a convenient step on his ladder to wealth and fame, a little man with big connections. Biz had said he needed “stupid green” to get the project moving forward, and now here Scholar was, raining mad cash down on the console. Wasn’t no big thing.

“Yo, Little Man,” Scholar said, after all the bills had left his hands, falling in a thick pile of twenties and fifties. “There it is. Make it happen.”

Biz didn’t really want to produce Proof Positive, even though Scholar was his cousin on his mama’s side and she was always bugging him to help his cuz break into the “reckit bidness.” Biz was well connected, respected, and rolling in the dough; he didn’t need this shit. Scholar was a royal pain in the butt. But truth be told, Scholar and his Proof guys scared the living shit out of him.

Despite his big rep in the hip-hop game, Biz was no ghetto thug. He was a gentle man with the gift of crafting multi-platinum hits. So what if, way back in the day, his grandmother had given birth to twins who gave birth to boys who were forever linked by blood as cousins? Biz could run away from Scholar, which he had done many times, but he couldn’t hide. No matter how much he insisted, his mama could not help but give his whereabouts to her nosy sister, Florice, who, of course, passed it on to her lazy, devious, violently twisted, criminal son.

As long as Biz could remember, Scholar had always beat on, bullied, and ridiculed him. Calling him Little Man, as he had just done, was just one example, as if Biz were still some punk-ass little kid. Always disrespecting him. Always disrespecting everyone, come to think of it. Scholar had not changed one iota from the time he came out of his mama, screaming for her succulent, nourishing titty in exchange for doing what? Crying and screaming?

He was supposedly a man now. But a man took care of his business. He worked, and he worked hard. A man didn’t burden other people with his problems. Scholar was a baby in the body of a man—an adult still fixated on finding the big titty, something that would deliver everything he needed in exchange for as little work as possible. As if such a thing existed.

At the moment, to Scholar’s distorted way of thinking, hip-hop was that big generous titty. In his dreams, he could taste it. In his day-to-day living, he was always thinking up ways to get his mouth on it and start sucking. The way Biz saw it, Scholar’s dreams and schemes were all a big waste of time. Scholar was destined to be what he was now and always would be—a small-time drug dealer, hustler, and thief who ran with a posse of thugs from the Far Rock PJs. Thieving, stealing, and robbing and shit—a plague on the neighborhood, a disgrace to African-American manhood.

Biz remembered the first time Scholar had been sent upstate, barely eighteen years old, for assault with a deadly weapon. His aunt was inconsolable and it broke his own mama’s heart to see her sister in such a bad way. As far as he was concerned, they should have locked Scholar’s ass down tight, right then and there, and thrown away the key. But no, it didn’t happen that way. Some shyster had gotten him out, after only three years of doing time. The result was that Scholar was now in his face, throwing money down, insisting that he “step up.”

But, Biz had to admit that his predicament was of his own making. In one of his many attempts to stop Scholar from bothering him all the time, about taking Proof Positive into the studio, he had told him, plain and simple, that if he could come up with fifteen grand cash, he’d make a demo of Proof. He knew that no one in his right mind paid that kind of money for a demo, even if he was loaded. But, in a moment of supreme denial, he had forgotten that Scholar qualified as someone not in his right mind. And now, what could he say? His insane cousin had shown up with the money. Bidness was bidness. Word was bond. He had made a deal, and he was locked into it, and, truth be told, he was terrified not to go ahead with it.

Scholar was staring at him with that penitentiary, who’s-the-playa-now look, which implied, “Don’t you dare fuck with me, bitch, or, blood or no blood, I’ll waste your ass.” Biz knew the look well. Half the kids from his neighborhood had it. If prison did that to young men, he would do everything he could to stay out. He was a lover, not a fighter. The women loved him. He was suave, and he was sweet. For the ladies he was a treat: light cocoa, tall, lean, eyes to die for—made to be seen. Yup, Biz had it goin’ on. All he wanted to do was make his music, smile, and spread joy.

So when Scholar said, “When you gonna make it happen?” he knew what his response had to be, and, as emasculated as it made him feel, he gave it. “Yo, Scholar, you da man.” He waited and then added, “I got to edit Jah Ray E all day tomorrow. He down with the Elektrik crew.”

The pause obviously irritated Scholar who probably read it as reluctance and a bit of defiance. “I don’t wanna hear when you cain’t do it, Little Man,” he said, “just tell me when it’s on.” He wasn’t playing.

Biz, being from the hood, had his radar on perpetual scan for things to fear and avoid. And, right now, the signal activating his fight-or-flee instinct was set to broadcast quality. “How ‘bout we put down vocals tomorrow night at Sound RX, Scholar? ‘Round six-thirty. At 40 Duane Street. Fourth floor. Say you with me.”

“Bet, yo.”

The Proof was hanging on the sidewalk practicing rhymes as Scholar got out of the beat-up Ford Crown Victoria from the car service in Far Rock. They greeted him with high fives and love. “I tolt you my cuz was gonna take us next level,” he said, grinning.

“Word!” their mouths chimed in unison.

“It’s a fait accompli, my brothers.”

The group didn’t know shit about French phrases, but they knew the gist of what it meant. Scholar’s cousin was a playa and producer/writer for the owner of the all-time biggest record label in hip-hop, Sunn Volt. And Biz, well, what could they say? They had just seen his ass on BET. The boy was lookin’ good. It was slick, the way he’d bigged up his latest joint. He was the pride of the hood, no doubt about it. The homeboy with the Midas touch. They was goin’ into the studio with Biz, yo! That shit was money in the bank.

While his cuz was cruising on back on the BQE, Biz wondered what the fuck he had just gotten himself into, knowing that a night in the studio with Scholar and his amateur crew would drive him crazy. To make himself feel better, he tried thinking of all the hours he’d spent with thugs just like Proof, who went on to go double platinum. There were quite a few…well, at least one. Maybe. Then he rationalized that ten thousand cash—with another five on the way—was a lot of money. Then he had a temporary moment of clarity. He didn’t need it. That was plain and simple. It occurred to him that his willingness to accept the gig was all about deep fear. With all his success, his connections and his fame, when it came to his cousin, he was still a frightened little boy waiting for another inevitable smack upside the head.

Excerpted from Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed by Marc Blatte
© 2009 by Marc Blatte