Domination on the streets
What’s it like to be an independent artist and have the music industry’s top-seller systematically cock-block your every move? Just ask Domination, a young Queens lyricist that 50 Cent really doesn’t want you to hear about.
A couple of years ago, Domination’s mentor, Bang’em Smurf, was 50’s right-hand man. As Dom puts it, “You couldn’t breathe the same air as 50 without going through Smurf. That was his shooter, his gunner.” Then, strangely enough, Smurf got arrested and 50 wouldn’t help pay the $75,000 bail. It’s been beef ever since. But the day Bang’em was sentenced, he and Domination also got a record deal.
On a recent sunny Wednesday, we met Domination in front of his grandmother’s house in Richmond Hill, Queens. We followed his daily grind, all the while keeping tabs on his incarcerated mentor. As Smurf sits in a Sing Sing jail cell with “G-Unit” tattooed on his hand and “50 Niggas” on his arm, Dom strives to make their music heard, against all odds.
Domination: I get up pretty early. My grandfather always told me you sleep half your life away, so I’m up by 9 o’clock at the latest. Usually earlier, but it depends on what type of night I had. The first thing on the agenda is thinking about music. I was going to school, so that used to be my first priority, and then I started working in an office in Brooklyn, doing mailroom work. Up until the album dropped, I was still working a 9-to-5. I needed a little money in my pockets and hustling wasn’t for me anymore, cuz I’m on probation. It just ain’t gonna work, me being in jail, you know? I can’t do my music from jail. It’s hard to do music from jail, unless you got C-Murder or Master P type-money. So now that the album’s out, I get up, call up my dudes to see what they’re doing, and hit the promotions side. This morning I called Mook, the president of my company, and we discussed what we had to do for the day. Then I grabbed one of my dudes up and we just went riding around the town.
Domination: Now we’re all together. My homie C, I usually snatch him up first. Then I get with Soldier Boy, 6-5, and Agony, and we just move around and do promotions. We hit Jamaica Ave., go to the hood, go grab something to eat, probably McDonald’s. Food is like the last thing on our agenda, though, after business is taken care of. After we eat we’re about to jump in the car and go see my man Smurf.
Bang’em: 11:30, that’s when I get up. But I never go to chow at noon. They serve you some corny bullshit over here. It’s terrible. So instead, I go see one of my mans who’s a cook. We’re allowed to have pots in here so I get some food at the commissary, bring it to him, he grills it, chefs it up, and we split it down the middle. It’s a process, but we do what we do and I’m not gonna front, we cook like we’re in town. I’m talking fried chicken and jack mac. Then I go to the gallery and work out. Every day I got to do my calisthenics, pull-aways, dips, and pushups.
Our Sing Sing visit begins at around 1PM. First it’s registration and security procedures. Then a guard has to phone Smurf to confirm that he is indeed willing to accept visitors. That’s when we’re taken to a large common room. Chairs are set up in pairs for couples, and tables are reserved for parties of three or more. Smurf comes to meet us at our table. Immediately, Domination gets him food and drinks from the vending machines in the Inmate Restricted Area, at the far end of the hall. We chat for around two hours. Tape recorders are not allowed, so I have to take minuscule notes on two tiny Post-its, given to me by a guard. Of course, cameras are not allowed either, but the duo does pose for the customary jail Polaroids. At 3, they exchange hugs, pounds, and secret handshakes, and we’re off.
Bang’em: By 3:30, we’re back on lock-in. That means you got to go to your cell. I usually read books like The Art of War by Machiavelli or Dutch by Teri Woods. The one I really recommend though is No Regrets by Anthony “Inch” Thomas. He’s got good concepts and his topics is crazy. I like reading, man. Either that or I’ll just be sitting back thinking about how when I come out, we’re gonna to take over the industry.
Domination: I want to go up to our record label before they close. I’m always having to bang heads with them. They’re real scared of 50’s power, and I don’t believe they put as much effort into our project as they could. We do everything for ourselves at this point, we print up the mixtapes all the way in the Bronx and we get the videos done on our own. Their street team is corny, so I get out and put up posters myself. It’s funny vibes up there. And I don’t ask for a lot, cuz I’m from the hood, so I ain’t used to a lot.
Dom and Bang’em at Sing Sing. Photos by Alain Levitt
Bang’em: After lock-in, I come back out to our tier. I’m in invol, meaning I can’t be with the general population. They got cameras and mics where I stay at. On the gallery, I work out some more or watch TV. We watch stuff like America’s Next Top Model, TLC, and Prison Break. They let us see violence but no sex. Wednesdays and Sundays are movie nights. So tonight I’ll either watch TV or play spades. I don’t fuck with too many people out here though. I usually be with my man Art the Kill. He’s an old-timer who got life. He schools me and he really wants to see me get back out and win cuz he ain’t never gonna see the streets again. That’s the only dude I mess with; everybody else is funny style. See, Sing Sing is run by black people. You can’t let black people run a prison, cuz they’re crooked. Up north, in the real white jails, like Clinton and Attica, they don’t play that shit. Here, the COs is corrupt. You can get liquor, weed, anything you want.
Domination: Now I’m back in Southside, kicking it with my homies Vic and Fresh. We just go to the block, chill, drink, make some jokes, and listen to music. We’ll be out here until we feel like going home. It’s a corner store right there where we get beef patties and drinks from so we’re all right. Like I said, eating is the last thing on our list.
Domination: I’ll probably go to Brooklyn and kick it with a young lady for a second. Then I’ll go back home and relax, listen to music, and write. I’m not trying to be out of the ordinary, I’m not trying to sit here and say I do a million things. I just move around a lot. From work to the hood, I’m in five boroughs every day.
Bang’em: The day ends and it’s back to lock-in. We got radio, so I listen to mix shows to see what’s new. It’s a bunch of bullshit though, so I might just read until 2 AM and go to bed. I ain’t scared at night. I’ve only had one problem here. See this cut on my head? I got that three months ago. Let’s just say that somebody put a hit on me a couple of years back, but the guy who took it never did anything. Then I ran into him here and he was trying to play it like it’s all cool and shit. What a bozo. I let him think he could get away with it, and then I touched him. Except that in here, he was running with the God Bodies [Five Percenters]. So they ran up on me in my cell with a rug cutter while I was sleeping. They didn’t do what they wanted, obviously. Four niggas and this is all I got? Shit, this is nothing. Just a little medal of honor.
Bang’em & Domination’s God Giveth, God Taketh Away is out now on GF Records/Koch. Also look out for their GroundWorks mixtape series.