NEW YORK—Like a man given only a few months to live, Beanie Sigel has spent this year getting his business affairs in order.
The rapper known for grimy depictions of thug life has worked overtime to complete his third album, “The B-Coming,” so it can be released in December. He’s finished all his scenes in the sequel to the 2002 gangsta flick “State Property,” which he starred in. And he’s spent the last few days filming multiple music videos, even though they might not air for months.
Sigel isn’t dying—but his life will change dramatically on Friday, when he’s expected to be sentenced in a Philadelphia courtroom to about three years in prison on federal drug and weapons charges. And that won’t end his legal troubles—he still faces a January retrial on an attempted murder charge.
“[I’m] just settin’ things up just in case I gotta go away, for my family—make sure everybody live comfortably, and maintains livin’ how they maintain living now,” Sigel, born Dwight Grant, said cooly during an interview at his Roc-A-Fella record label offices. “I gotta do that. Gotta plan and strategize.”
“You can’t never prepare yourself for it,” Sigel said of his potential sentence. “You can set things up for other people who depend on you. But for yourself, you can’t prepare yourself to go to jail, because you never know how it’s going to be.”
Although he may not be prepared for prison, Sigel has sold more than a million records glamorizing a criminal lifestyle. Like many of his peers, the majority of his raps depict drug slinging, gun toting, killing and torturing enemies, outwitting police, and worse—on one recent mixtape, he even raps about raping a pregnant woman.
While dozens of rappers from Jay-Z to P. Diddy have run afoul of the law, only about a half-dozen hip-hoppers with Sigel’s star power have done prison time. Still, Sigel insists that the life he portrays only represents how he grew up—a poor child of Philadelphia, surrounded by drugs and crime—and does not reflect the way he lives today.
“I may rap about a certain thing . . . [but] that’s not me. I’m an entertainer, so I’m playing a role. That person that you see in ‘State Property’ the movie, or you hear on one of those songs—that’s what I do to make money, that’s my job,” said Sigel. “Just like any actor. Like I said before, you’ve got the Terminator who’s the governor. He kills up everybody in his movies.”
But Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have the rap sheet to go along with the image. Police say Sigel’s been getting into trouble since he was a teen, and in 1996 he received probation after pleading guilty to drug possession with intent to deliver.
Two critically and commercially successful albums—1999’s “The Truth and 2001’s “The Reason”—made him a certified rap star. But in 2001, he was arrested for assault twice.
His most serious problems began last year, when in three separate instances he was charged with assault, drug and weapons offenses and then attempted murder for a shooting that left a man seriously injured. The attempted murder trial ended in a mistrial this spring.
Sigel pleaded guilty earlier this year to drugs and weapons charges; in the interview, he declined to discuss why. However, he proclaimed he’s innocent of attempted murder, and repeatedly said he was being persecuted because he’s a rich black rapper.
“We control a situation that generates billions of dollars for ourself, and we dominate in this. Yeah we’ve been targeted,” he says of rappers.
Damon Dash, who co-founded the Roc-A-Fella label with Jay-Z, agreed.
“They’re going to use his lyrical content . . . to back up what their suspicions are. I definitely believe he’s a victim of perception,” he said.
Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia district attorney, denied that: “Beanie Sigel is going on trial for an attempted murder. That is why he was he was arrested, that is why he was charged, and that is why he’s going to trial.”
Sigel didn’t help his image by promoting his State Property clothing line with boasts that the jeans had special pockets for hiding weapons. Sigel now says that was a publicity stunt.
“Controversy sells. We ain’t never made no jeans that could hold no weapons . . . it was just something to draw attention,” he said, smiling.
Other rap stars who have served prison time:
Shyne. Birth name: Jamal Barrow. Sentenced to 10 years in 2001 for assault, reckless endangerment and weapons possession after a nightclub shooting. Eligible for parole in 2009. Released the album “Godfather Buried Alive” from behind bars in August. The night of the shooting, Shyne was with P. Diddy, who was acquitted of all charges.
C-Murder. Birth name: Corey Miller. Younger brother of rap impresario Master P. Sentenced to life in 2003 for shooting death of a 16-year-old nightclub patron. New trial ordered because prosecutors withheld information about witnesses.
Slick Rick. Birth name: Ricky Walters. British-born rap pioneer convicted of attempted murder in 1991; said he shot at a man who had been threatening him. Released in 1996. Served 17 months in 2002-2003 while immigration authorities tried to deport him for being a noncitizen felon. After his release, resettled in the Bronx, bought two apartment buildings and resumed rapping.
ODB, a.k.a. Dirt McGirt. Birth name: Russell Jones. Sentenced in 2001 to two to four years for drug possession; plus two concurrent years for escaping from a rehab clinic. Released in 2003 and immediately signed new record deal.
Marion “Suge” Knight. Founder of Death Row Records sentenced in 1999 to nine years in prison for violating probation. Released in 2001 and resumed place atop Death Row.
Tupac Shakur. The biggest rap star to ever serve prison time. Sentenced to four and a half years for sexual assault in 1995. Served eight months before being released on $1.4 million bail put up by record companies and Suge Knight. Killed in drive-by shooting 11 months later.