Rap music has a short history, having been established in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s. But it is a history rife with utterly bizarre footnotes, from gunfights to drug abuse, self-mutilation, court battles, and at least one horrifying case of cannibalism. The stories below confirm that rap is indeed one of the weirdest parts of the music world.
10The DeAngelo Bailey Verdict
Eminem (born Marshall Mathers) is far and away the best-selling rapper of all time. Part of his recipe for success has been a dramatization of his troubled past. His songs have included fictional references to murdering his ex-wife Kim and ravaging his mother Debbie. Another victim of his verses was his childhood bully, DeAngelo Bailey. In Eminem’s song “Brain Damage” from The Slim Shady LP, Marshall raps, “I was harassed daily by this fat kid named DeAngelo Bailey,” before detailing the abuse, which includes a savage beating in the boys’ room.
Eminem’s mother unsuccessfully tried to sue the school district for the beatings her son suffered (though the verse also narrates Marshall’s abuse at her hands, culminating in her literally beating the brain right out of his head). In a 1999 interview, Bailey readily admitted to bullying young Marshall, but he turned around in 2001 and sued him for slander. In 2003, Judge Deborah Servitto dismissed the case in hilarious fashion, partly delivering her ruling in rap form:
Mr. Bailey complains that his rap is trash
So he’s seeking compensation in the form of cash.
Bailey thinks he’s entitled to some monetary gain
Because Eminem used his name in vain.
The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact
They’re an exaggeration of a childish act.
Rap is big business, and product affiliation has made some rappers extremely rich. 50 Cent owns shares in Vitamin Water, and Dr. Dre may have been more associated with his Beats by Dre headphones in recent years than with his music.
Shout-outs to liquor companies and exotic cars are common, but in 2005, as part of its “I’m Lovin’ It” ad campaign, fast food giant McDonald’s unveiled a plan to recruit rappers to mention Big Macs in their songs.
McDonald’s would get final approval on the lyrics and would pay rappers between $1 and $5 every time the song played on the radio, a scheme that could potentially net an artist millions. Unspecified rappers were approached by McDonald’s and the firm behind the scheme, Maven Strategies. But a huge public backlash arose, led by organizations like watchdog group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which called the plan a “new and deceitful [method] of targeting children.”
Fortunately for the expanding waistlines of America’s youth, the Big Mac plan never really got off the ground.
8Coolio’s Kitchen Skills
Rapper Coolio (born Artis Leon Ivey Jr.) had a handful of hit singles in the 1990s, but his career will forever be tied to 1995’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Featured in the Michelle Pfeiffer film Dangerous Minds, the song is one of the best-selling singles in rap history (and it led to a fantastic “Weird” Al Yankovic parody, “Amish Paradise”). Coolio could not duplicate that success, and though he continued to release music, his career stalled.
A reality TV stint and some brushes with the law followed, but these days, Coolio is trying to make a comeback in the kitchen. In a bizarre turn, he released his own cookbook called Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price.
These aren’t your grandma’s recipes. In chapters with titles like “How to Become a Kitchen Pimp,” he includes recipes for meals like “Kung Fu Chicken” and “Bro-Ghetti.” Best of all, Coolio writes like he’s spitting verses, with lines like “Everything I cook tastes better than yo’ momma’s nipples” and “[My mom’s] fried chicken would literally put on tennis shoes and run the f–k into your mouth.”
7Big Lurch The Cannibal
Rappers tend to glorify violence, but the crime perpetrated by Big Lurch (born Antron Singleton) is far beyond any mere drive-by.
On September 16, 2000, the rapper was in his car when he was struck by a drunk driver. The crash broke Singleton’s neck, so he turned to PCP to deal with chronic pain. At high doses, the powerful drug can induce psychosis, a kind of temporary schizophrenia that has led to some horrifying crimes over the years.
In October 2002, Los Angeles resident Alisa Allen saw 25-year-old Lurch naked and smeared with blood, standing in the street and gazing into the sky. She headed to the apartment that Lurch shared with her friend Tynisha Ysais. What she found was the stuff nightmares are made of.
Ysais had been savaged. Her torso had been torn open, her lungs chewed up, and teeth marks gouged her face. A blade had been broken off in her shoulder.
Though a medical examination found human flesh in Lurch’s stomach, some still believe he was innocent of the crime, launching a serious “Free Big Lurch” campaign. Evidence indicates another person may have been present at the time of the murder. Although he pleaded insanity, Lurch was sentenced to life in prison, as PCP intoxication cannot be used as grounds for insanity in the state of California.
6T.I. The Guardian Angel
Southern rapper T.I. (born Clifford Harris Jr.) is probably not what you would consider a model citizen. He dealt drugs as a teenager and spent time locked up for probation violations and a federal weapons charge. But in two separate instances, T.I. has been in the right place at the right time and acted with incredible grace under pressure.
On October 13, 2010, T.I. was in Atlanta when he heard that a man was threatening to leap off the 22-story 400 Colony Square Building. He rushed to the scene and asked police if he could help. They let him record a message via cell phone that a negotiator showed to the man, 24-year-old Joshua Starks. Starks came off the roof a few minutes later, and the men met briefly, with the rapper advising him, “It’s never as bad as it seems—and it could always be better.”
The story sounds too good to be true, and it doesn’t end there. T.I. also came to the aid of another man who had attempted suicide: Creed frontman Scott Stapp.
Stapp had been on a Miami drug binge, which had gone so badly that he hallucinated he was locked in a mental institution. He leaped off his hotel room balcony, plummeting 12 meters (40 ft). He broke his hip and fractured his skull, lying helplessly for two and a half hours before T.I. found him, saving his life.
Although he makes a career by bragging, T.I. never mentioned the incident publicly until it emerged years later from Stapp himself.
In 2004, rapper Houston (born Houston Edward Summers IV) burst onto the scene with the hit single “I Like That.” The next year, he suffered a mental breakdown while high on PCP and attempted to commit suicide by leaping out a window. He was stopped and locked in a first-floor room to keep him from hurting himself. He then proceeded with a horrifying act of self-mutilation—gouging out his left eye with a plastic fork.
Houston relayed a statement through his publicist that he’d acted because he had “found himself in the midst of a spiritual battle against the evil that runs rampant in the entertainment industry.” In a statement following the incident, Houston’s bodyguard Marco Powell said, “I went to check on him before going to bed and I saw blood on the floor. Houston was lying on his bed with a towel over his face and I removed the towel to find his eye hanging out. He said he had to get the devil off of his back and that’s the only way he could kill the devil.”
He would spend a year institutionalized after the incident, and subsequent interviews seem to indicate a man suffering from mental illness. Thus far, promises of a comeback have failed to materialize, and Houston has continued to have skirmishes with the law.
The rap group Geto Boys have long stood at the fringe of mainstream popularity, likely because their vile lyrics reference things like gore, rape, and necrophilia. Their biggest hit was probably “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta,” featured in the cult classic comedy Office Space. One of the members of the group is Bushwick Bill (born Richard Shaw), a dwarf from Jamaica.
In June 1991, Bill and his girlfriend got into an altercation while he was drunk on grain alcohol. Precisely what happened is known by only the two of them. Apparently suicidal, Bill urged her to shoot him and even threatened to throw her child out a window. Eventually, she complied, shooting him in his right eye.
Bill claims that the doctors thought he was dead, and he was sent to the morgue and even fitted with a toe tag, only to spring to life hours later. He says that he leaped off the gurney and began urinating, soaking a police officer who stood nearby. The eye had to be surgically removed, but Bill seems to have a sense of humor about it, allowing the group to use a picture of him with the bloody wound as the album cover for their next album, 1991’s We Can’t Be Stopped.
3Tom Hanks’s Son Is A Rapper
Street cred might not be absolutely necessary to building a rap career—Drake seems to be doing a fair job despite spending his youth playing a wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks on Canadian teen show Degrassi: The Next Generation. However, being the son of Hollywood royalty really makes it difficult to put up a tough exterior. Chester Hanks, the son of Rita Wilson and nice guy Tom Hanks, has a fledgling career as a rapper dubbed “Chet Haze.”
Chet has released a few music videos to widespread derision. He is also extremely active on social media—he can be seen railing against atheists, pontificating on hoes, and complaining about having to drive his dad’s hand-me-down PT Cruiser in high school.
In 2013, the man made headlines for a Twitter war with Jensen Karp, who used to freestyle rap under the name “Hot Karl.” It began when Chet tweeted about an appearance where he would be “blessing the mic with spoken war,” but the feud devolved hilariously.
2Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Food Stamps
For a study in contradiction, we compare the aforementioned Chet Haze with the notorious Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard (birth name Russell Jones). A glimpse at ODB’s FBI file is mind-boggling, not limited to connections to murder victims, a shootout with the NYPD, felony possession of body armor, the sale of illegal drugs and firearms, robbery, shoplifting, traffic offenses, possession of marijuana and crack, and failure to pay child support. In 2000, he escaped a drug treatment facility and went on the lam. He was only caught when a crowd gathered to receive autographs.
Despite this laundry list of offenses, ODB’s greatest notoriety came in 1995. While being followed by an MTV crew, he took a limousine to the welfare office to get food stamps. He certainly didn’t need the money—at the time, the Wu-Tang Clan’s album was in the Billboard Top 10.
Sadly, Jones struggled with drugs, and on November 13, 2004, he died from an overdose of cocaine and Tramadol, an opiate painkiller.
As if we needed any further evidence of the dangers of PCP, we have the story of Christ Bearer (born Andre Johnson). Johnson was a member of Northstar, a group signed by the Wu-Tang Clan. He had been featured alongside other artists, and in 2013, he released a video for his single “The God.” On April 16, 2014, reportedly under the influence of PCP, Johnson used a serrated steak knife to cut off his penis and testicles. Then he clambered to the roof of a building in North Hollywood. The police arrived on the scene and tried to coax him down. He said, “Okay,” then he plunged from the two-story building.
He sustained serious injuries and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Officers found his genitals, but doctors could not reattach the penis.
This religious rant from 2011 reveals Johnson may have had some mental health issues, which, combined with a powerful hallucinogenic drug like PCP, likely led him to self-mutilation and the attempt on his life.
Mike Devlin is an aspiring novelist.