American Gangster Hist...
American Gangster History: THE SUPREME TEAM
Southside of Jamaica Queens, New York City, Circa 1985
Who? What has become known as the Supreme Team was a crew organized in the early 80s in the vicinity of the Baisley Park Houses, a public housing project in Jamaica Queens, New York by a group of teenagers, who were members of a quasi-religious sect known as the Five Percenters. The “Peace Gods” as they were known for greeting each other with the words, Peace God, evolved into the Supreme Team. A drug organization that recruited both Latinos and blacks, which enabled them to bypass larger local dealers like Fat Cat and plug directly into Colombian cocaine distributors due to their Latino members.
What? Under Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, the team’s founder, leader and namesake, and his nephew Gerald “Prince” Miller as his second in command, The Supreme Team became one of the most polarizing crews and stories in the golden age of hip-hop. From their 1980s crack era heyday to Supreme’s affiliation with Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc in the 1990s and early 2000s their crew’s name has stayed relevant in the rap world. Under Supreme and Prince, the gang concentrated its criminal efforts on the widespread gang concentrated its criminal efforts on the widespread distribution of crack cocaine. At its 1987 peak, the Supreme Team’s receipts exceeded $200,000 a day and the gang regularly committed acts of violence to maintain its stronghold on the areas drug trade. Eventually Supreme was convicted by the feds of a continuing criminal enterprise, the kingpin charge and imprisoned. Prince soon followed after he was found guilty at his own RICO Act trial.
Where? The Supreme team has gone down in street legend, the lyrical lore of hip-hop and gangsta rap as one of the most vicious crews to ever emerge on the streets of New York City. Under the red brick towers of Baisley Projects, an around the clock crack cocaine trade that operated more like a corporation than a drug outfit prospered, selling 25,000 crack vials a week. The Southside of Jamaica Queens became both ground zero for crack and hip-hop, the fertile crescent of a culture that went international. Supreme played a pivotal role as he used to book early acts like Curtis Blow, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, paying them a $1000 a night to play at his lavish gangster parties. In turn the rappers copied his style, swagger and trends.
When? When the crack era jumped off in the 1980s many street legends were born in a hail of gunfire. The murder rates were at an all time high and crack cocaine became an epidemic in the inner city. Long before P.Diddy and Jay-Z took hip-hop global, The Supreme Team epitomized the essence of the era, swagger jacking the spirit of hip-hop. Business minded and ruthless dudes seized the opportunities afforded them and the Supreme Team became synonymous with the definition of the new era black gangster. They were the insidious young black males and millionaire crack dealers all rolled into one that terrified America and led to Hollywood movies like Menace II Society, Juice and Boyz ‘N the Hood.
How? Their mythical and iconic status inspired hip-hop culture and rap superstars like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas and Ja Rule. Born at the same time as crack, hip-hop was heavily influenced by the drug crews that controlled New York’s streets. The resulting folklore had a big impact on the rap artists growing up under their umbrella. Their crime exploits were well known. Team members devised a variety of ways to avoid law enforcement attention including communicating in coded languages and numerical systems. They also deployed lookouts and rooftop sentinels on the top of Baisley Projects. The sophistication of the gangs operations enabled it to survive the periodic targeting of various members for prosecution by the NYPD and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. Their legend and images were adopted by gangsta rappers to great commercial success.
Why? Drugs, murder, kidnappings, shootings, more drugs and more murder were the rule of the day. They called it “The Game,” but it was a vicious attempt to come up by any means necessary. In the late-80s, the mindset was “get mine or be mine,” and nobody embodied this attitude better than the Supreme Team. They took their cue from Scarface and ran with it times ten. American culture loves its bad guys and the legendary figures of the drug game were the province of myth and hearsay until hip-hop artists romanticized their exploits in verse. The Queens underworld has long captured the imagination of the public with the fusion of ghetto and prison culture unique to gangsta rap. The Supreme Team is just the latest in a long line of outlaw heroes immortalized in popular culture.
Legend? The Supreme Team became Robin Hood-type figures, very central to the core of rap’s lyrical lore. Their legend has impacted the beat, vibe, style and rhythm of the music and culture. They transformed Queens into a “nightlife Mecca” where drug lords reigned king and the burgeoning hip-hop generation took note, turning their 80s exploits into the bling-bling proliferation that came to define rap in the 90s. Hollywood movies like New Jack City and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ have characters based on Supreme and its been alleged that Supreme had 50 Cent shot and Jam Master Jay from Run DMC murdered. Going from drug baron to federal prisoner to hip-hop maestro to life in prison, Supreme was involved in hip-hop and the crack trade since day one.
Conclusion? The Supreme Team has been romanticized and glorified in hip-hop, but the truth of the matter is that most of their members are currently in prison for life or have spent decades of their prime years behind bars. The team and its infamous leaders, Supreme and Prince, have been profiled on BET’s American Gangster series, in Ethan Brown’s Queens Reigns Supreme and Seth Ferranti’s Street Legends Vol.1 and in street magazines like Don Diva, As Is and F.E.D.S. Currently Prince is serving 7 life sentences at USP Allenwood in Pennsylvania and Supreme is serving life at USP Lee in Virginia. Their tale is one of turns, twists and fate, but their influence and relevance has left a lasting impression. The drug game influenced the style and swagger of street culture, hip-hop and gangsta rap and made the Supreme Team icons in the annals of gangster lore.