Kool G Rap’s The Giancana Story: An Oral History

Robbie Ettelson gets the story behind the street rapper’s ill-fated Rawkus deal

Anthony Barboza / Getty Images


Kool G Rap // Pioneering Juice Crew MC

CJ Moore // MC from Black By Demand, Producer for Akinyele and Kool G Rap

Dr. Butcher // Kool G Rap’s original scratch DJ, Producer for Percee-P, Kool G Rap, MF Grimm and Akinyele

Mike Heron // Currently A&R for Shady Records, cut his teeth at Rawkus Records

Four years after his last major label deal (and two years after his independently released Roots of Evil album), Queens rap royalty Kool G Rap was offered three separate record contracts in 2000. When he elected to sign with Rawkus Records for the princely sum of $1.5 million, many fans of hardcore street rap hoped that the highly influential lyricist would finally see some of the wider recognition already enjoyed by Queensbridge natives Nas and Mobb Deep. Two years later, the album was released to little fanfare and a lukewarm critical response on a different label. Where did it all go wrong?


CJ Moore

Kool G Rap went around to everybody – from the Large Professors, the Lord Finesses, Easy Mo Bees, Premiers – all of the producers who were hot at the time. They wouldn’t mess with him, so he comes to Dr. Butcher and Butcher comes to me. He was over in Arizona, and we teamed up to bring Kool G Rap out of the water. Went down to Arizona for two months, we only left once. We started coming up with ideas, putting choruses together. When I say blood, sweat and tears? We bled that whole Roots of Evil album out. I made him sound better than he has ever sounded in his life. He was down with an independent guy who invested in the project and all the parties were happy. They bring the project back to New York, and they wound up getting to Rawkus Records.

Dr. Butcher

When he started working with the guys in Arizona, the producer that was doing the music was a very talented guy – he could play 20 instruments – but he didn’t have a hip hop feel to him. G Rap hit me, “Yo Drew, I don’t have that G Rap stuff that I need.” I sent him a bunch of beats and the first track that he started writing to was the first part of “Thug’s Love Story (Chapter I, II, III).” He wrote the whole song to that one track!

Kool G Rap - Foul Cats

I was like, “Yo G, it was 15 minutes! We can’t record this to one beat!” He was like, “I know, but I hadn’t had anything like that in so long that when you gave me that track I couldn’t stop writing!” He was amped, so I broke it up into three separate beats to keep it interesting to the public and little interludes in between. After the project was done, “Foul Cats” got a little heat on the street and Rawkus gave him a deal.

Kool G Rap

I always wanted to do an album that was constructed like a movie. I think I accomplished it with Roots of Evil. When people ask me about my favorite albums, that’s one that’s at the top of my list.


Mike Heron

Kool G Rap had a very clear plan, and it worked. Before he got the deal, he did something like 30 features in less than two years! He was in demand because all these rappers were putting him on these records. The only fucked-up part is he signed with Rawkus. [chuckles] He built his name up again, [and] everybody was fighting for him, and Rawkus put all that money on the table and just didn’t know what to do with him.

Kool G Rap

I was doing so many features at the time that I began to resurface again. The Mobb Deep feature [“The Realest”] was like a knock out the park. It made everybody start paying attention again.

Screwball - H.O.S.T.Y.L.E.

Mike Heron

I ended up working on the G Rap fiasco. They hired me because of the Screwball thing [Y2K: The Album], because they wanted a hard album for G Rap, and then when G Rap got there, they didn’t want a hard album anymore! They didn’t understand G Rap anymore. It was weird, it didn’t make sense. I envisioned his comeback album had to be really gritty, with features from Nas and Mobb Deep, a celebration of his career as the pioneer gangster ni--a from Queens. It would have been edgy, Havoc would have done beats – real Queens shit – and I’m sure it would have sold a lot of records. But these ni--as were on some pop shit, like they wanted this ni--a to get some plastic surgery and a get in a fuckin’ time machine! And that ni--a wasn’t tryin’ to do that! [laughs]


Dr. Butcher

They wanted him to use all these big-name producers. It’s kinda disheartening, sittin’ there watching all these other cats coming in, doing stuff, and you got these corny A&R dudes, sittin’ there, riding Hi-Tek and them. I’m like “Yo man, you should take the guys that been with this dude from giddy-up! We know what to make this guy sound like.” It was an annoying situation, dealing with Rawkus.

Big L feat. Tupac Shakur - Deadly Combination

Mike Heron

They put up a million dollars for this guy, and they didn’t want him to be himself. They hired me to work on G Rap’s album, but the deal took so long to go down that I ended up doing other shit. I worked on 12-inches, and the Big L shit [The Big Picture], all while I was waiting for them to finish the G Rap deal. They finished the G Rap deal after I had done the Big L thing, and they didn’t trust me and they didn’t trust G Rap. Fuck trusting me – G Rap was doing this shit before any of us thought about doing it!

CJ Moore

G Rap gets the deal and he sits down with Butcher and says, “We wanna try to put you in the Igloo Entertainment system.” Drew backed up, like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Who the hell is Igloo Entertainment? Something you just made up on the go with your boys?” He basically shitted on us, in street terms. He [Butcher] was pissed, I was pissed. The project finally came to a head and Butcher and I were submitting tracks to him like outsiders, and he turned down every track! Some of these tracks ended up being on Akinyele’s album.

I don’t think Rakwus understood what G Rap legacy’s about.

Mike Heron

Mike Heron

Rawkus wanted something else. I don’t think they understood what G Rap legacy’s about. The reason motherfuckers still mention him is because he never traded in shit, he never played himself, and he wasn’t about to start playing himself for these motherfuckers. So he was like, “Fuck it.” It wasn’t like this motherfucker walked in sexy and got all fat and ugly! Like some girls, you marry ‘em and shit and they get fat, they go crazy – it wasn’t like that. G Rap walked in as G Rap! It was sad, really.


Dr. Butcher

They sent him to work with The Neptunes around when they started getting’ hot, coming off the N.O.R.E. song [“Super Thug”]. G Rap said Pharrell and ‘em only played him one track. They made a track in the studio and he told Pharrell over and over, “Yo son, this is not me.” Pharrell was like, “I’m your number one fan, you gotta trust me on this, G!” It wasn’t a G Rap song, it was a Neptunes song. He [G Rap] was like, “Yo, I’m not feelin’ it. I’m not writing to it, I’m not doin’ nothin’. You gotta show me something else.” He’s the most blunt, up-front dude you could ever meet. They wouldn’t play him another beat. He was like, “Yo, I’m outta here!” He’d driven all the way to Virginia for that and then left. Maybe it could’ve been a big successful commercial record for him. Maybe not. But he wasn’t willing to sacrifice who he was just to have some corny commercial record. That’s what you’re always up against when dealing with record companies.

Kool G Rap

Pharrell was trying to cater to hits that I did in the past, but I wanted him to come with some of the things he was doing during those times. I was trying to explain to him, “I’m trying to bring G Rap to your world. Not convert to your world.” But he was stuck on “Ill Street Blues.” I guess that was one of his favorite G Rap records, so I suppose he was trying to cater to that sound – but I was trying to get into the Neptunes sound of the times!


Mike Heron

Rawkus were like the kids in high school that buy everybody ice cream. “We’re having a pizza party guys!” They tried desperately to sit at the cool table, and motherfuckers sent them to go get sodas and shit. Motherfuckers weren’t havin’ it. Telling a black dude how to make a ghetto fabulous record?! Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? They’re wealthy kids who went to school with Rupert Murdoch’s son, and got off! They never worked a day in their life! When they left school, they had a fuckin’ label! [James] Murdoch’s pops put up millions of dollars for a label. Who the fuck are you to tell me about ghetto fabulous, motherfucker?

Kool would come to us, “Buckwild just said he’d do a track! He only wants $25,000!” I looked at this dude like he was E.T.

CJ Moore

CJ Moore

Black Shawn and Mike Heron? They were groupies to me. “I’m working with the legendary Kool G Rap! I’m so fanciful! I’m gonna bring somebody up to meet him!” They were trying to commercialize him, and we were one hundred percent with him on that fight. It was like a double-edged sword, because he would come to us, “Buckwild just said he’d do a track! He only wants $25,000!” I looked at this dude like he was E.T. “Are you serious? You’re happy paying this man 25k – who you don’t know from a can of paint – but we blood, sweat and tear’d you to this million dollar contract?” I didn’t want to shit on that guy’s money, but to me the track was garbage. We do the track, and Butcher was telling him, “G, why are you going so hard? You’re going across the grain.” I was telling him, “Just have a conversation with me, just talk to me.” The record was called “The Streets.” He went in there and he really nailed that record, it had a different aura for G Rap but it flowed. He was like, “Yo, I can’t front. That’s it!” It dawned on him at that time, “I’ve been screwing these cats over.”

Dr. Butcher

After a while I just kinda left that situation alone. Then one day Rap called me and was like, “I found a cassette with some tracks.” I ran in and recorded one song, but at the time the budget was exhausted and I pretty much did the song for free, just as a favor to him.

CJ Moore

I continued to engineer, I continued to live [out] the obligation I had to finish the album and we fought every which way. I’m the type of cat, you cannot smoke around me. You can drink, you can bang your head against the wall, but do not smoke around me ‘cos you’re disrespecting my lungs. G Rap and myself fought like cats and dogs about that, because if you want me to work for you, I can’t have a headache and I can’t be bombed out. I’ve never done that in my whole career and I’m not gonna start.

One day, a rapper by the name of Nature was in there and I just told G, “Yo G, can you put the cigarette out?” This was his session, we were in Unique Studio, and Nature lit up a cigarette right after I said that. I took the cigarette out of Nature’s mouth and I smashed it up and I stood in his face and egged him on. He knew better, so he stayed in his place. Then me and G Rap got into it. I took all the fader levels and I pulled them down and I said, “Fuck you! I’m through!” I got in his face, he got in my face, we’re about to fight. Everybody got in between us, I walked out. Small Change [his manager] mediated us, we got back in together and we started finishing out the album. The album came out, the credits were all wrong and I knew it was intentionally done.

Kool G Rap - My Life

Mike Heron

Me and V.I.C did the “My Life” record, which was a pretty good 12-inch. It didn’t get promoted the way it should have. That was my only proud moment on that fuckin’ album.

Kool G Rap

Right after the completion of that album, Rawkus lost their financial backing and they lost their distribution and had to find a new home. They had to establish another situation, and my album got all tangled up in that. By contract, they couldn’t put my record out as an independent. They had to put it out through a major – that was one of the stipulations in my paperwork. I had to sit around and wait for them to construct a whole new deal [with MCA], so I chose not to sit around.

Kool G Rap - First Ni--a

By the time The Giancana Story got an official release on KOCH Records in late 2002, the album had already been heavily bootlegged, and many of the bigger tracks from the original version were absent.

Casualties included DJ Premier’s remix of “First Ni--a,” Nas’ verse from “Holla Back,” the original Scarface version of “My Life” with Capone-N-Noreaga and “Keep Pushin’” with Snoop Dogg and Devin The Dude. While the original version was stronger than the retail, The Giancana Story clearly suffered from far too many cooks in an already over-crowded kitchen.

Perhaps it was doomed from the start – the final symptom of a terminal case of hubris that had spread throughout the offices of Rawkus just before the wheels finally fell off the label that was once the poster child of the mid-’90s independent hip hop movement.

Note: Rawkus Records founders Jarrett Myer and Brian Brater did not respond when approached to comment for this article.

By Robbie Ettelson on July 7, 2015

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