04-20-2016 SUPREME

Supreme Team: American Gangster from Queens

Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff is one of the most infamous black drug dealers in American history, thanks in part, to his feud with pop-culture mega star Curtis 50-Cent Jackson. But Supreme's story starts long before hip-hop and the neatly packaged imagery of black "street life" invaded pop-culture and made guys like 50-Cent multi-millionaires many times over, in fact Supreme was part of the the backdrop in the early 1980's that helped grow and commercialize the local New York culture of djays, breakdancers, graffiti, and, most of all, rappers, into the billion dollar industry it became.

Kenneth McGriff got his street name "Supreme" from his involvement with the 5 Percenter "movement". The 5 percenters broke off from the Nation of Islam in the 1950's and came to dominate the New York state prison system among black inmates. They still cast a long shadow over the streets of New York to this day, Jay-Z sports a 5 percenter medallion on occasion, and just recently white hipster rapper Action Bronson was publicly chastised by the Wu-Tang clan's official 5 Percenter "consultant" Poppa-Wu for mimicking the rap style of rapper Ghostface Killer. So when young Ken McGriff started working the streets of Jamaica, Queens it was natural that he would end up running with the Nation of Gods and Earths as they call themselves and they liked giving themselves names like Justice, Knowledge, and Supreme to signify their enlightenment.

So in the early 80's McGriff rounded up some other young 5 Percenters in Southeast Queens to take advantage of the exploding cocaine business, carving out a lucrative street level business composed of numerous teenaged workers who sold crack by the nickel and dime to the tune of over a million dollars month on the street corners and the public housing of South Jamaica. They became known as the Supreme Team, and their leader Kenneth McGriff could be seen riding the streets of Queens in a special bullet proof Mercedes Benz.

To really understand Supreme you have to understand Jamaica, Queens. In the 2000 Census, Queens was the only major County in the entire United States where black household income was higher than white household income. Today, it’s probably still the largest concentration of black middle and upper middle class popultion in the country centered around neighborhoods like Hollis, Carrolton, and Jamiaca. South Jamaica was the rough part, the poor part of this vast middle class expanse, sharing a border along Linden avenue with the infamous Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York, to this day one of the Big Apple's most violent police precincts.

Drug dealing in this corner of Queens had always been lucrative in south Jamaica because it was where all the black, and white, middle class buyers from the surrounding areas would come to buy. So when crack cocaine hit in '84, spots like Guy Brewer boulevard and the Baisley Projects became goldmines for the Supreme Team and other dealers.

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