Hip-hop's shadowy empire 

In the summer of 2005, the party would get out of hand for Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory and the Black Mafia Family. And the feds would be ready to make their move. Part 3 of 3

Page 7 of 7

The two other Atlanta rappers commonly associated with the Black Mafia Family, though for different reasons, would see bigger payoffs. It was as if the success Meech wanted Bleu to enjoy was diverted -- in part to Young Jeezy, who had split from the BMF camp. And in a perverse twist, the BMF connection also was credited with boosting the career of Gucci Mane.

On May 24, 2005, Gucci posted bond on charges that he shot one of his attackers in the home invasion that allegedly had ties to BMF. Gucci's release from the DeKalb County jail happened to coincide with the release of his first album, Trap House. And the publicity from his alleged problems with both Jeezy and BMF gave his record some hype. That week, his single "Icy" debuted at a respectable No. 24 on Billboard's rap charts.

In October 2006, when he dropped his follow-up album (the aptly titled Hard to Kill), Gucci improved upon his debut performance. And in the song "Everybody Know Me," he alludes to his troublesome path to success:

"Whoever said getting cash was easy?"

"I got beef with BMF and I got problems with Jeezy."

As for Jeezy, his 2005 record, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, catapulted him to the uppermost ranks of hip-hop fame. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. And the press lavished him with praise. As the New York Times fawned, "Young Jeezy's sluggish rasp evokes both a ruthlessness no one can touch and a weariness no one can cure."

Jeezy's second album, The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, dropped on Dec. 12 to a mixed reception. But he's still a huge star. And though Jeezy is said to be estranged from the BMF camp, he contributed a verse to the recent remix of Rick Ross' "Hustlin'" that pays homage to one source of his "inspiration."

"I know Big Meech, the real Big Meech,

"It's over for you clowns, soon as my nigga hit them streets."

Whether Meech will see the streets again remains an open question: If convicted, he could face life in prison. Yet the feds' efforts to break up the Black Mafia Family have quelled the alleged criminal enterprise only to a point.

"They're not dismantled," says a law enforcement source, who estimates that BMF's Atlanta members still number in the hundreds. "There's still action, still activity even in the Atlanta area. They're just not as flamboyant as they once were."

Message-board chatter and online comments, including responses to the first two parts of this series, testify to the staying power of the BMF myth.

"Meech proved himself to be a credible guy to those in the industry as well as in the streets, which is why you will NEVER hear anyone speak ill of his name," one man posted on a SOHH.com message board. "The man was genius at diplomacy, and his ability to network amongst various factions is unparalleled."

As Meech himself says -- in a letter written in a St. Clair County, Mich., jail cell and posted on his MySpace page -- the game is far from over.

"As you can see they can lock up my body, but not my mind! The world is still BMF's. I'm still focused on my 'vision,' making my challenges temporary but my 'vision' permanent."

Regardless of how the federal trial shakes out, Meech will keep on commanding respect -- a respect that's unfathomable to some. His hustle, however right or wrong, will still be worshiped. And he will continue to be known as a man who came from little and wound up, for a time at least, with everything.

[Deep background on the above section]


For updates to this story, check out CL's Fresh Loaf blog.


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