In a time before working with record companies and magazines… A time before the luster of the entertainment business was peeled back to reveal its sordid unsavory underbelly, there was a time when I was only a fan of the music. I was always a writer, but never thought of rapping myself. Back then I was a huge Nas fan. Nas I felt was the closest to a street poet with his rhyme scheme, content and word play. Yet it was when I heard Big Pun’s debut, ‘Capital Punishment’, I felt the need to pick up a pen and pad and start writing raps even if it was for my own amusement. Eventually I’d meet someone by the name of Ray Boogie and that encounter shed some light on the path some artists take.
I went to Brooklyn Tech HS, one of the few NYC schools where students didn’t come from one zoned location, but rather from all over the city. Brooklyn Tech boasted probably the most diverse student make up of any High School around. At that time I was living in Canarsie and my commute was about an hour each way. Add to that I was dating a girl who lived in the Bronx at the time, a trip which literally took me from one end of the subway map to the other amounting in 2 and a half hours each way sometimes. Ah to be young again.
Even though Tech was so diverse, little cliques formed. These cliques were typically determined by group affiliation (football, baseball teams), ethnicity or neighborhood since you were most likely taking that long ass ride home together. Coincidentally one of my Canarsie people was also dating someone from the Bronx and one day he asked if a few of us wanted to go chill with her and her friends at a spot in The BX called Skate Key. We said fuggit and went along.
Now if anyone has ever seen the 1979 cult classic The Warriors, then understand that this is what this train ride felt like. Late night on a weekend, with stabbings and robberies still running rampant on the train system, a few dudes from the farthest part of Brooklyn headed up to The BX, but instead of us attending a city wide gang meeting… we were going skating. So we get there and find the place and all bullshit aside it was a fun time. I noticed on this ‘teen night’ there were a few dudes easily pushing 30-40 years old there. Pure BX dirt bag shit… applaud them.
So we all leave to take homegirl back to East Tremont, when we get there no lie we see 3 dudes running down the block and 2 cops chasing on foot shooting at them, but that is besides the point. On the way there one of the older dudes from teen night engages in conversation with us. We all do what anyone else would do, ignored him. He continues on about how he raps and one of my boys says “Yo he (meaning me) is a rapper too”. Dick move on his part because now this guy is only talking to me. I explained how I just write and he said that is where it all starts. After a few minutes of convo I realized he wasn’t insane… he told me his name is Ray Boogs. He said he used to be signed to a major label and got some connects, gave me his number. Then we were off to witness hill street blues in the flesh on Tremont.
I never had intentions of calling Ray, but one day I’m watching the Big Pun video “I don’t wanna be a playa no more” and one of the dudes dancing in the video is Ray. Now all this could have meant was dude was a back up dancer, but I am someone that believes to an extent in signs… (add to that the fact I wasn’t up on his history later on finding out he was part of the then anthem “I’m Puerto Rico.. HOOOO”). I took it as a sign to call and see what was up. The first time we chatted he kicked some rhymes over the phone and even convinced me to respond in kind. I don’t even remember what I was yappin about, but he said I reminded him of Pun with my flow. I spazzed out. Funny thing was I heard Pun in video interviews and we had the same speech pattern meaning we both spoke fast and often mumbled. So I didn’t think it was far fetched (lol the arrogance of youth).
One day I’m meeting up with my girl at the time who lived in Crotona which wasn’t far from where Ray lived so I got off the 4 train a few stops early and linked with homie real quick. He had a few stories about being signed to a record label, getting his advance money (in the amount of 50k or something like that) and going to California to blow it all in a month or so and coming back to the BX broke. At this point he lived in one of those rented rooms and it seems all the money he had to his name was in the form of change in a brown paper bag. He offered to buy me Chinese food, but I declined as I was headed somewhere else. Before I left though he said, I’ll walk you to the train… I thought why not.
Back then the BX at least in that portion seemed to be nothing but burnt out buildings and vacant lots with actual residences sprinkled in between. And as we walked and talked about music and who was really doing their thing at the time I noticed we took a much longer round about way than what I took to get there and it seemed he knew all the various people along the way. Looking back I could have been getting set up to be robbed since at the time I always wore a 36 inch cuban link gold chain with a giant obnoxious Jesus piece (what can I say), but my youthful sense of invincibility wouldn’t let me think of the possibility.
Nearing the train Ray sees a group of guys all huddled around this one guy in particular. I remember it was early November, but this dude had on a snow white full length chinchilla… a gold ring with diamonds on every finger and a bike lock looking gold chain that must have weighed a pound. Ray ran up to him eagerly and introduced me as “this kid can rap he might be the next pun”. He gave me one of those head nod ‘whattup’s before I went on my merry way. Thinking to myself that was some drug kingpin movie shit.. While I appreciated the vote of confidence, I thought it was hyperbole to say the least.
We spoke quite a few times. Ray said he was going to try and become an A&R at an indie or mid level label and it was only a matter of time before he got the call back from one of his connects and then he’d work with me. Thing was I really had no desire to go that route. And this was before everyone in the 5 boroughs and their mother rapped, so I might just could have stood out, but in the end I loved the music and wrote simply to vent. I told him I appreciated his friendship and didn’t expect anything in return.
That Thanksgiving I was back in the BX going to my girls house for the festivities, but I made a quick detour to drop off an Entenmans Pumpkin Pie to Rays crib as a gesture for the holidays. It wasn’t much but he told me he didn’t have much family so who knew what he was doing for the holiday. He wasn’t home and his gruff roommate told me he’d relay my gift and message. I didn’t give it much thought. I get a call the next day and Ray told me that was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for him, the conviction in his tone grateful and appreciative though somber to an extent. My thoughts were damn, how fucked up in the game was he that this moved him so much. I told him “Anytime.. you’re a friend” and we bid each other farewell. That was the last time I ever spoke to him, his phone shortly after was not in service.
As Thanksgiving approaches again I wonder what happened to homie.. Hopefully he found a second shot working behind the scenes somewhere and got his life on track, though the realist in me doubts that very much.