DJ 50 Grand’s loss of life is an enormous loss for hip-hop — Andscape

To my mothaf—ing man 50 Grand, the alcoholic man/ Inject a tall can in his bloodstream if he can …

The Infamous B.I.G., “Let Me Get Down”

If Christopher “The Infamous B.I.G.” Wallace was his personal galaxy within the universe of hip-hop, Kevin “DJ 50 Grand” Griffin was his North Star.

Griffin, 55 — who produced Wallace’s first demo tape and was instrumental in serving to to kick off the rapper’s profession — died over the weekend. The reason for loss of life has not but been introduced, however what makes the information significantly crushing is the timing.

On Friday, Griffin attended An Orchestral Tribute to The Infamous B.I.G. on the Lincoln Heart for the Performing Arts in New York. For a lot of Saturday, Griffin posted footage and movies of his journey on Instagram. Hours later, information of his loss of life started to flow into on-line.

Labeling Griffin as merely a DJ who put some of the well-known Brooklynites on the map is each correct and unfair. Correct within the sense that it’s true — with out Griffin, the world possible by no means would have met The Infamous B.I.G. In any case, upon assembly Wallace at 15, Griffin gave him an area to file and later handed his demo to his childhood pal Calvin LeBrun, who glided by the identify DJ Mister Cee, who gave it to Matteo “Matty C” Capoluongo, who ran The Supply’s “Unsigned Hype” column. But, it’s additionally unfair to scale back Griffin’s contribution to only that one second, as a result of it doesn’t start to inform your entire story.

Griffin might be remembered within the annals of hip-hop historical past because the Infamous B.I.G.’s first DJ, however his story isn’t solely concerning the legendary rapper. Griffin was probably the most recognizable member of the Previous Gold Brothers (or OGB) — a homage to the malt liquor all of them drank profusely. Two Brooklyn guys named Jazz and Paul of Lafayette Gardens began OGB, they usually introduced Griffin into the fold round 1982.

“I began hanging out within the tasks as a result of I used to be coping with this woman from there,” Griffin instructed me in 2020. “We obtained into some beef and after that beef we obtained shut. They made me a member of Previous Gold Brothers. So I took it on my finish on Bedford and Quincy and I made all the fellows down there OGB members. And we simply expanded from there.”

What made Griffin such an vital determine in Brooklyn is that regardless of the gentrification that upended the borough, he by no means left Bedford-Stuyvesant. The place high-rises and excessive lease outline a lot of Brooklyn as we speak, Griffin got here up within the model that had deserted buildings and vacant heaps. If there have been tenants, there have been, in his phrases, “a whole lot of stray cats, canine and rats.” Shootings, stabbings and robberies had been the norm.

“It was a lot wilder again then … a whole lot of drug actions,” Griffin recalled. “I used to be younger, so we thought we’d by no means see it look the best way it appears now.” 

Like numerous different younger Black boys who’d quickly turn into males, Griffin was a part of a era that discovered monetary freedom within the streets — but additionally the stress, and menace of incarceration, that got here with it. He hustled, however the one love he all the time stored near the center was music. Within the Nineteen Eighties, when you had been younger and Black, you may have performed a job within the emergence of hip-hop. Some had been graffiti artists. Others had been b-boys or b-girls. Some rapped. Many extra had been simply followers. In Griffin’s case, DJing was his calling.

Griffin and DJ Mister Cee grew up a stone’s throw from one another. DJ Mister Cee was on Gates Avenue between Bedford and Franklin, Griffin on Lexington between Bedford and Nostrand Avenues. Griffin was the DJ who introduced out turntables on the block and entertained his pals and the neighborhood. DJ Mister Cee was turning it right into a profession, serving because the DJ for the largest rap artist from Brooklyn at the moment, Large Daddy Kane.

Whereas hustling sooner or later, one in all Griffin’s pals, Damion “D-Roc” Butler, introduced an affiliate with him. The pal was tall, like D-Roc, just a little heavyset and quiet. He known as him Large. However, as D-Roc would hammer dwelling, Large might rhyme, and he needed Griffin to pay attention.

“ I took him straight to the basement. We smoked. We drank,” Griffin instructed me, laughing on the reminiscence. “And ’bout an hour later we got here out with that demo.”

It’s some of the impactful demo tapes in rap historical past. However even earlier than the response that will change rap historical past actually picked up velocity, the friendship between the 2 blossomed. Large — some 5 years youthful — determined to hold across the OGB crew. If Large wasn’t posted on Bedford and Quincy, then Griffin and the OGB crew would go to Large on Fulton Road. This was Large’s first crew. On the time, Junior M.A.F.I.A. hadn’t been utterly shaped.

“Large frolicked with us on them corners loads. We’d come out early within the morning and Large used to come back down,” Griffin recalled. “He needed to smoke, so when the person would ship milk, bread or no matter, he’d put a bottle in a bag. And Large was an enormous man! He’d pull out the bottle and inform the man don’t transfer whereas his man would go in his pocket. That’s how he obtained his weed cash.”

When Wallace went down south to Raleigh, North Carolina, to promote medicine within the early Nineteen Nineties, Griffin helped with the rating. Greater than something, they loved the camaraderie. They did what they needed to do within the streets, nevertheless it was music (and smoking and consuming) that served as the perfect post-work groove. Everybody rapped, like OGB’s Cash Twan and CRKAMAR. However at any time when Wallace would rhyme, everybody noticed one thing totally different. Like within the spring of 1991, when a 19-year-old Wallace recorded a freestyle on the road in entrance of the Pool Room, a Brooklyn relic that served as a playing spot and a spot to stash weapons and medicines.

“I used to be simply glad to be a part of it. I knew he would go someplace [with rapping]. And I knew I knew the proper individuals,” Griffin instructed me, the satisfaction evident in his voice. “If I wouldn’t have carried out the demo at hand it to Mister Cee, I don’t assume it will’ve been a B.I.G.”

Griffin noticed his pal’s meteoric rise to fame from the entrance row. He obtained the tape to DJ Mister Cee, all however begging him to pay attention. And it was DJ Mister Cee who obtained the tape to Matty C at The Supply. Matty C obtained the tape to Sean “Puffy” Combs, who was nonetheless at Uptown Data and pondering of beginning his personal label.

“From there,” Griffin stated, “the whole lot appeared prefer it occurred in a single day.”

As Wallace turned making music from a pipe dream into actuality, Griffin remained in his orbit. He was there when Tupac Shakur would come and smoke out Fulton Road with Wallace and different stars equivalent to Treach from Naughty By Nature and Nas. He was there when Shakur was shot in Quad Studios. And Griffin noticed firsthand how fame affected his pal.

“As he obtained larger, he realized the more cash you make, the extra issues you bought. He seen that,” Griffin stated. “He was all the time speaking about loss of life.”

Time didn’t heal the harm that got here with the slaying of his pal in March 1997. Griffin by no means obtained the picture of The Infamous B.I.G.’s casket being wheeled out of the church out of his head. In non-public, Griffin cried. Not simply on the time, however within the many years to come back. It was unattainable to be in Brooklyn on March 9 (The Infamous B.I.G.’s loss of life) or Might 21 (The Infamous B.I.G.’s birthday) and never see Griffin representing his pal. This was his remedy. It was a method to nonetheless join with a friendship that not solely modified his life, however The Infamous B.I.G.’s too. On any given day, one might catch Griffin by the The Infamous B.I.G. mural on Bedford and Quincy speaking to his pal who, in Griffin’s phrases, “stayed with the jokes.” That is how he coped with grief, how he realized to reside with part of him absent for 1 / 4 century.

As Wallace turned a star in life and an icon in loss of life, Griffin wasn’t all the time a family identify. He wasn’t a radio character like DJ Mister Cee or persistently seen like DJ Enuff. However Griffin predated all of them. That’s why Griffin is a legend, even when many don’t acknowledge his identify.

“50 Grand is an unsung hero in hip-hop,” stated Dennis Mathis, a longtime Brooklyn resident and leisure trade veteran. “In Mattress-Stuy, he was a legend. He’d all the time take time to hearken to younger artists on the come up. He was by no means too busy … [But] 50 all the time placed on for B.I.G. in no matter he did, wherever he was.”

Shortly earlier than our dialog ended two years in the past, Griffin thought concerning the totality of his profession for a second. In 2020, we had been nonetheless two years away from what would’ve been The Infamous B.I.G.’s fiftieth birthday. Neither of us knew then that Griffin’s time on Earth was nearing its finish. But when Griffin might inform his pal something on his birthday, he thought, what would he inform him?

“I like you a lot,” Griffin stated. “We did it. You set Brooklyn on the map!”

That’s the place Griffin obtained it improper. The Infamous B.I.G. is synonymous with Brooklyn, hip-hop, and far of American tradition. However that merely simply doesn’t occur with out Kevin “DJ 50 Grand” Griffin.

Justin Tinsley is a senior tradition author for Andscape. He firmly believes “Money Cash Data takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the only most impactful assertion of his era.

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