hen you leave the slick streets of Manhattan’s fashion district and travel across the Brooklyn Bridge to the grimy streets of Brooklyn, the name Calvin Klein no longer symbolizes a fashion icon. Here Calvin Klein is a street certified icon. The kind of street dude the alphabet boys get a hard-on over while dedicating their lives and careers to putting away forever. New Yorkers are well aware of Calvin Klein and his contributions to the streets in Brooklyn. One couldn’t think of Marcy Projects without thinking of Klein and his partner Danny (R.I.P.), since they controlled all of Marcy Housing at one time. The same Marcy Projects that Klein’s former protégé Jay-Z has made famous in his rhymes. In and out of prison since he was 15, Klein caught an attempted murder case in Maryland with a young Jay-Z that had him looking at a 45 year bid if convicted. Klein sat down to serve out his plea bargain, one that he claims earned Jay his freedom (he also alleges paying $50,000 to get Jay-Z dropped from the case because he knew Jay had a future as a rapper).
“Never felt more alive than riding shotgun in Klein’s green 5, til the cops pulled guns…” - Jay-Z, “Allure” After Klein was incarcerated for 14 years, he expected to take his rightful place somewhere within Jay-Z’s empire. At the very least, he was guaranteed a check. Sadly, this never came to pass. Klein has been very vocal about his experiences with Jay-Z, and claims to be yet another person in the long list of folks that Jay-Z has not done right by. Akon, who hails from New Jersey, offered Klein a position within his empire. Akon stepped up where Jay-Z didn’t, although he never ran with nor caught a charge with Klein. Akon never had Calvin Klein buy his way out of a jam, nor were any of his songs based on his life stories and exploits. I caught up with Klein while he was on tour with one of Akon’s artists to hear more. Wendy Day: Before we get into the whole Jay-Z situation, I’d like to talk about what kind of man you are. It’s hard to find anyone with a bad word about Calvin Klein. How is it that you are such a strong human being and a true leader? Calvin Klein: My dream was and is to have everyone around me have what I have. That’s what leadership is. I didn’t wanna have a lot of things by myself that they didn’t have as well. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s very rare. A lot of people in the music business who claim to be “from the streets” seem to only care about themselves and the almighty dollar and fuck everybody else. When you get a lot of money, it shouldn’t be a problem to share it with others and pretty much touch the lives of others as well. You know, they are the ones who help make it for you too. You know how most people say that their boss treats them like shit? They say that if they ever become a boss, they’ll know how to treat their employees better. But when that time comes, they wind up treating their employees worse than their boss treated them. They dish out the abuse given to them and they don’t even realize that they became worse than the person who did the worst thing to them. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. You can only be as good as the people you have in your circle. Yes. You have guys like Jay-Z, Puffy, you have a list of guys - I’ll just say the guys from New York that sit on a billion dollars. It’s like four people. Let’s use four people, as an example, and not to take anything from them, but most of them didn’t come from the street. So now when the street is in a crisis or the streets are in some sort of a dilemma, they don’t understand. Their thinking is: “Why do you want me to help you? I don’t come from where you come from.” They aren’t there to help anyone. Puffy doesn’t know how to help anybody. Jay-Z doesn’t know how to help anybody. Then, it’s like at the same time, they take on the lives of the people that they looked up to. Maybe Puffy took up the life to live like the Rich Porters and maybe the Nicky Barneses, you know what I’m saying? And the Frank Lucases and everybody else. Puffy acts like the legends of his borough. Jay-Z in some ways tried to act like the legends of his borough. So when Jay-Z talks about people, who does Jay-Z have to talk about other than myself, other than Danny Diamonds, other than maybe one or two other people?
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It’s funny that you picked those two people as examples. They’re great businessmen. But are they successful human beings? Are they truly great leaders as people? All that comes from like guys like myself, because we missed the opportunity because of being away. You have a lot of guys that are original. You have a lot of guys that are somewhat kinda smart. If we stood the test of time, and we were able to be free at the time when the transition changed — because at the end of the 80s, change came. Like any era, time has to turn, for better or worse. The opportunity for blacks to either not sell drugs or to not bounce a basketball, turned into the music industry. And when it turned into the music industry, it went into the 90s. Now you got the Calvin Kleins that are locked up and got sentenced to 25 years. You have the Dannys that got killed in the 80s. You’ve got a lot of guys that were real who got killed in the 80s and/or went to jail in the 90s. So the 90s were open with no leadership. For all the thorough females and gangsta girls, the ratio was like 2 guys to 10 girls. There was nobody left out here. Even having the opportunity to start from the beginning, when Puffy didn’t have anything, and Jay-Z didn’t have anything, they were given a chance. They got to try something new. They got to emulate the new Puffy, or the new Jay-Z, or the guy that’s working a 9 to 5 job. Most of the girls out there didn’t have that; they had a gangsta dude. They had a hustla. Then all of a sudden, it’s okay that this dude is talking like this, because he reminds her of her man. He talks about bustin’ guns and all that. But her man who used to do all that didn’t have that sort of savvy, he didn’t have that sort of aura. He didn’t have that sort of style, that glitz, and that glamour, or all of that stuff that’s built around that: the façade, the Hollywood look. All that came into play, and all of the sudden you see Jay in videos throwin’ money out of cars. And JD throwin’ money out of cars and all this. And they accept this. They can be flashy because they won’t go to jail. Somebody on the streets can’t be that flashy cause they’re going down. Tell us what you have going on now? I have so many positive things that’s going on for me now. I got have a book coming out sometime next year. The book is actually called - and this the first time I’m actually saying this though, but I plan on calling the book Beyond Reasonable Doubt. I’m kinda mad because Damon Dash already used it for the title of the CD that he’s got online for Jay. The reason why I chose that name is because I feel that the story was misinterpreted the way Jay told it. I think the story wasn’t told the way it was supposed to be told. As a character, on his part anyway, the story was told very well. It made sense, but when it started getting personal with him telling the story as if he was using “I” rather than using a particular person as in me, or even “we,” or “us,” it got misconstrued in a lot of ways. Right. Because it was told through his eyes instead of the real person’s eyes who lived it — yours. Yeah, it’s cool to tell the story if you tell it the way it’s supposed to be told. But don’t tell the story and make it seem as if you were the man in the hood, and you had the hood on smash; like you had it on lock down, you had niggas shootin’ up for you, and you was bustin’ your gun putting work in. Or like you had the strongest drug on the block and all that other stuff. I liked the Jay-Z that was the — what did he call himself before Jay-Z? Um, not The Slim - it was something he used to call himself. Wow, I forgot what he called himself when he first started coming up - when he was trying to be on some pimp shit. So what happened between you and Jay when you came back home from prison? I went to Def Jam and had a meeting with Jay. Me and him, we talked—well, actually, we didn’t exactly have a meeting. I went up there and imposed myself on him. I take “the meeting” part back.
(laughs) So you had a meeting, but he had a shake down. (laughing) A shake down. Yeah, I went up there and had a shake down with Jay. But still to this day I would really, really like to know what happened. To be
Ozone Mag #65 - Mar 2008