Curtis Snow has been making a name for himself in his west Atlanta hood known as the Bluff for a long time. He's a former stickup kid and D-boy (a.k.a. dope dealer) who's spent close to a decade behind bars for a variety of charges you can probably imagine, giving up a year here and six months there. In 2012, at the age of 30, he was finally able to put out his enigmatic pseudo-docudrama Snow on tha Bluff after many years of filming. It came together once Michael K. Williams (who played Omar in The Wire) signed on as executive producer and got it some real, nonbootleg distribution. You can currently watch it on Netflix and join the debate with everyone else in attempting to decipher just how real the action is.
Even as Curtis becomes legit famous (he has got a collaboration with DGK, the skate company, coming out soon) he's dealing with some of the same old drama and probation BS—he was recently locked up again on charges related to shit going on in the film. He's become a spokesperson for what's going on in some of the country's roughest neighborhoods, sort of like what rappers have been doing since hip-hop's inception, though by now the public mostly assumes rappers are full of shit. What makes Snow on tha Bluff so groundbreaking is that through its mix of fiction and nonfiction, it lets the world know what's going on in places where poverty and crime are everywhere. Curtis calls it "real-life reality TV."
Curtis just came out with a new autobiography, My Name Is Curtis Snow and I'm a G, which is kinda like a companion to the film. He writes that the "G" stands for "genius," and it's hard for me to argue he's not a genius in some way—coming from where he came from and having the life he's had, he must have some incredible talent or godlike hustling prowess. There are millions of Americans who would love to be the star of their own movie and thousands upon thousands have tried, so I figured reading this would be a good way to figure out how the hell homeboy pulled this shit off.
It has close to a hundred short chapters, which makes it real quick to read—even though I honestly wasn't feeling it that much at the beginning, by the middle I was completely hooked, and I ended up finishing it in about six hours. It's incredibly sad, actually. Curtis has been through some shit that would kill most people, like getting his throat slashed by a box cutter. Growing up and living on the Bluff is a tough fucking hand to get dealt.
When I spoke to him the other day, Curtis explained what compelled him to write the book. "Writing can help people know what happens if you don't stay away from certain things," he said. "Everything I've been through—the real turmoil, the poverty, the real shit I went through for real, for real."
He added, "I've always been writing. I was a rapper before I was an actor, so I've kinda been a writer before anything. The book started ten years before the movie. I used to rap about my life and what was goin' on with all the violence. I just needed some help to put it out."
Even though he grew up in a nasty neighborhood, his family stayed together, which is the exception to the rule. His home life was rough though: his dad sold drugs, his mom was an addict, and before long, Curtis was dealing—he even sold to his momma—and hooked himself. He admits, "Mama wasn't no saint," and he saw his dad beating on her, but to him it all made sense, and he still loved and respected his folks.
He claims to have made a lotta money selling dope and robbing people, and he was hood rich for a time, driving nice cars and taking care of his people. Every time he got locked up, he spent his money on bail and legal fees and basically had to start over. That cycle wore him down to the point that he knew he needed a new hustle.
His life hit a fork in the road when in one week: his brother was murdered, his mom died from a brain aneurysm the day of his brother's funeral,* and a cousin he was close with died in a shooting.
Later on in the book, Curtis talks about the lessons he learned and how he's making the transition from the illegal life to the legal. "I don't fuck around in the streets no more like that," he told me. "I'm goin' on a new road, determined to go legit. I got much more to lose now than I did a couple years ago."
I believe he has the brain of an artist, and if he gets free of his past he can do anything he puts his mind to. I know that's easier said than done, though. Unfortunately, he is having legal trouble (which can't be discussed) as I write this, and I can only pray that he makes it through. Probation is a motherfucker—at a time when Curtis could be making moves and furthering his career, he has a PO watching his every move and micromanaging his life. Time will tell if he can get out of the box he's in.
Curtis has a lotta opportunities, but he's at a crossroads. He needs to stop bullshittin' and play by the rules (as stupid as they are) to find legit success and to provide for his family—he has at least one child, Curtis Junior, who he is dedicated to providing for. His story sheds light on a population often ignored and I'm hoping for the best that his next move will bring him all the success in the world, whatever that is.
"Basically any opportunity that comes along, I'm down for, whether it's rapping, acting, writing, dance, whatever. I'm just in the market right now," he said. "I got a children's book coming up. It's goin' be like in my son's words."
Curtis understands that he's perpetrated some evil in his life, but he also understands the concept of making amends and I believe he's honestly trying to go legit and make it happen. He wanted the power of being a spokesperson for the hood, and he has it now. Let's see how he wields his influence.
*Update 10/5: An earlier version of this article stated that Curtis Snow's father died the same week as his mother and brother. Actually, his father died a few years later of a brain aneurysm.
You can follow Curtis on Twitter @RealCurtisSnow
Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here.
Previously: The Ex-Con Who Wants to Explain Prison to Kids