For the last four years, Jamal “Shyne” Barrow’s home has been New York’s Clinton State Correctional Facility, but his forward progress hasn’t exactly been disrupted by his incarceration.
With a Def Jam deal valued at $3 million, some might say Shyne is actually flourishing behind bars. His new album, Godfather Buried Alive, which he recorded before being incarcerated, currently is #3 on the Billboard pop charts.
The former Bad Boy – who is doing a 10-year hit, eight of which must be served before he is eligible for parole – has requested that his conviction be dismissed for the high-profile shooting at Club New York in 1999.
Phone privilege revoked
Shyne spoke with BET.com from behind Clinton’s maximum-security walls, just days before his phone privileges were revoked by prison officials, who suspected him of running a business from behind bars, a no-no for inmates.
Clinton is now investigating all his calls, saying that New York law precludes prisoners from calling other cell phones, having calls transferred, or conducting business over the telephone. He has since been barred from giving any in-person or on-camera interviews. If he’s found guilty of the phone-use charges, his victim in the aforementioned shooting case could sue him for proceeds from Godfather Buried Alive.
But before the phone lines were cut, Shyne had much to say regarding his feelings that Sean “P. Diddy” Combs “dry snitched” on him, that his “street credibility” has remained unscathed and that he has a bright future ahead.
His fellow inmates, he says, “understood how real the situation” was with his co-defendant, Combs. Because Combs, Shyne’s former boss at Bad Boy, paid for his defense, Shyne says, he could ensure that his attorneys called on witnesses who absolved Combs but incriminated him.
“They watched it on TV, and they saw how I dealt with that, so they didn’t look at me as Shyne," he said. "They looked at me as the dude that was facing 25 years just like they was, who kept his mouth shut just like they did, and whose co-defendant snitched on them just like me."
BET.com was unable to get a comment from Combs, but he recently told VIBE magazine that he didn't hurt Shyne in court. "If I didn't have a gun, I'm gonna get on the stand and say I didn't have a gun,” Combs said. “But, I ain't never gonna sell out anybody else and say I ain't have a gun, but he did. None of my testimony could have, in any shape, way or form, hurt him."
Lost no street cred
While he never took the stand in his own defense, Shyne maintains that he shot his gun in the air in a desperate act of self-defense to prevent somebody from shooting Combs or others in their entourage. A woman was seriously wounded in that incident.
He beat an attempted murder rap, but was eventually found guilty of assault, reckless endangerment, weapons possession and related offenses. He hopes to get out of jail sometime next year, either on appeal or as the result of a new trial. He is eligible for parole in 2009.
But while his freedom has certainly diminished, he says he’s lost no respect on the street.
“When I came in here, they were like, ‘Yeah, you know, it’s Shyne,’ but it was more than that. They saw how I handled that [case], and they understood” that he’d do what he had to, to survive in prison.
His album, released through his own Gangland Records, is chock full of unrepentant gangster rhetoric. His life had changed, but his reality is the same in many respects, he says.
"There’s nothing realer than what I go through every day. So for me, when I look at music, there’s nothing that could impress me. It was just a matter—even though you might be talking about my life—it’s how you sell it,” he said. They love you more if you’re authentic.”
Godfather Buried Alive doesn’t attempt to steer children toward the positive. Rather it espouses his brand of thug wisdom.
“That’s the parent’s responsibility to take care of their kids,” he says. “It says, ‘Parental Advisory,’ and then there’s the clean version to my records. My record ain’t supposed to be what teaches these kids,” he says. “School is supposed to be what’s teaching them. If I’m saying I got a scholarship fund going on, subliminally, I’m telling them to go to school.”
Shyne says his outlook remains bright, despite the day-to-day drudgery of life at Clinton State Correctional Facility.
“I look at my history and have the greatest hopes for my future,” he says, noting that he’s planning a documentary of his life with award-winning actor Mark Walberg. “Anything can happen,” he says.