On 2004’s “Justify My Thug,” Jay-Z warned listeners, critics and the streets that they did not want him to take it back to Reasonable Doubt. The pride of Marcy Projects was referring to his seminal 1996 debut album, which was largely based on over eight years of life in the streets, of a man ascending from apprentice to hustler to one of the most vivid storytellers and respected voices Hip Hop will ever know.
For Jay-Z though, perhaps Reasonable Doubt is an era in life that he too, prefers to keep in the past. As a teenager, Shawn Carter learned the codes of the streets and the science of the sale through a man only known as De-Haven, a once championed figure in the emcee’s lyrics, and a grand-scale dealer of the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, the man that “introduced him to the game” would fade from Jay‘s circle as his career skyrocketed, and the former pusher battled the legal system and subsequently, felony incarceration.
Upon returning to civilian life over two years ago, De-Haven had trouble reaching the man he frequently refers to as his “little brother.” Resistance throughout family members, mutual friends and players of the old circle added to the frustration, ending up in a series of emotional, inflammatory and arguably damaging YouTube messages and interviews. Jay-Z battled back with less than savory lyrics and bold accusations throughout his American Gangster release.
Almost three years later, having not spoken to press, De-Haven clarifies his position. A calm, soft-spoken and nostalgic figure, this one-time mentor talks about his star apprentice with pride, and certainty of a resolution. With his own endeavors coming to fruition in entertainment, read this exclusive interview with HipHopDX on how De-Haven took Jay-Z to battle the Poor Righteous Teachers, the misunderstanding of those aforementioned clips, and his hopes of restoring the brotherhood that would shape history.
HipHopDX: I want to rewind it to the very beginning. Who was De-Haven in 1988? Because obviously, that’s the timeline that we’ve gotten on the rap side of things.
De-Haven: De-Haven was a young hustler that was making major moves out on the streets doing my own thing; holding down family and friends wherever I found myself. De-Haven was about money. If it didn’t make money, it didn’t make sense. De-Haven was chasing money across state lines in ’88, going for that double or nothing type money. It wasn’t a game. I had moved out of state, [to] Trenton, New Jersey, and it was poppin’ like hot butter on popcorn. A couple months later, I came back for [Jay-Z], I let him know that it was all good, and he came out. My aunt was good people, and before you knew it, Jay never went back home. [At this point,] I had my homeboy with me, you couldn’t tell me nothing. Money was coming, chicks everywhere, and the road ahead was alright.
DX: In New Jersey or back in Brooklyn?
DX: East Trenton.
DX: People watch films like Paid In Full. There is all this talk about characters that end up on BET at 10 o’clock for better and worse. I want to ask you, from your perspective, how much of the depiction we get from that era, in that movement in the media today? Was it really like that?
De-Haven: Let me just say this: dudess are making money off of writing books and rapping about what they saw going on in the streets at that time, feel me? If they are getting paid from writing, filming, and rapping about it, imagine how it was to actually be getting the money from the streets back then.
DX: In your 2007 interviews, you mentioned the “code.” As a lifelong hustler, former hustler, whatever, what is the code of hustling to you?
De-Haven: Well, I was raised in the street by some old timers. So it’s only natural that I go by the old rules. At the same time, no one is perfect. And it is what it is.
DX: What was your relationship to Hip Hop, whether in ’89, after or before?
De-Haven: I was involved with Hip Hop real hard because my man Jay-Z was in it. It was definitely a craft for him, and Jay-Z was the best at it. I advocated that fact [to the fullest] all the time. That is what I mean about friendship and loyalty. At that time, when we were livin’ in Jersey, Jay-Z was known as my little brother. Nobody could tell me that they were nicer than my little brother, as far as rhyme skills— that was impossible. Whoever was the nicest in their hood, I would say, “Let me go get my little brother. I’ll be right back.” Jay-Z would come out and destroy them. You remember that Brooklyn footage when they used to show Notorious B.I.G. battle-rhyming on the streets? Jay-Z was known as the nicest on the microphone like that too.
De-Haven: Yes, back then, that’s when it all was good. I remember a time when I went back and got Jay-Z to rip a mic cipher. If you can recall the Poor Righteous Teachers, I went back and got Jay-Z for a battle with Wise Intelligent, and that was one of the greatest battles I’d ever seen. Jay had complications with it – but he won it though. Jay came out of it and said, “That boy [Wise Intelligent] right there is gonna’ be something.” Sho’ nuff, they ended up with at least [four albums] and getting major music industry,and Hip Hop culture respect. That’s how I felt about [Jay-Z] then. We were basically livin’ out of the same closet. That is how real that was. When people get it twisted is [saying] it was just a friendship… it was way more than just a friendship it was fam! Brothers.
DX: On one hand there’s you as Jay’s big brother in the street, on the other hand, there’s Jaz-O, Jay’s big brother on the microphone. Both of you have qualms with Jay-Z, similar and different. What was your relationship like?
De-Haven: I recall Jay-Z coming back to Trenton one day and told me about Jaz. Jaz lived on the other side of [Marcy] Projects from us. He wasn’t one of those guys that hung out at the projects or whatever, he was actually one of the first guys to enter the music business— record deal and all. I recall Jay [saying], “I gotta introduce you to this guy. He’s got a lot of knowledge about the music industry, and such and such.” Anything that pertained to his music career with Jay-Z, I pretty much was backing it all the way. If this guy is official, and you brought him in, and he’s genuine, I’m all for it. Jaz-O was definitely a genuine and loyal dude, and I definitely know that for a fact. When I met him, Jay-Z was really happy about that. He opened up a lot of doors for Jay-Z. I recall them going out of the country. I respect Jaz, and Jaz taught him a lot. I was there to see that too.
DX: Do you see parallels between those qualms you both have with this person you mentored or taught?
De-Haven: See, the main thing is in how back then, it was very hard to get into the Hip Hop or music industry without having someone known pull you in. No matter how nice one was, it wasn’t one’s obligation to put anyone on. There were many dudes that could have gotten put on, or one could have been there and never got any actual exposure on camera.
DX: I think some people may look at your coming forward in this interview and the YouTube stuff in 2007 as someone either wanting publicity or money. In your words, what is it that you want?
De-Haven: I want [those people] to understand something when they take a look at the YouTube. Understand the fact that I came home. Literally, I came home to nothing! When people get out of prison, they go to their family until they get back to being functional in society. It’s a transition. I was not saying that [Jay-Z] is to blame or obligated though. I’ve never said that at all. I came home after five years on lockdown, to nothing, homeless, and nowhere to go. My one thing to count on was, “Let me go holler at my dude Jay-Z.” This is my dude, and I did the same for him. Our families were neighbors. Our sisters were best friends. Our mothers were friends. This is the same guy that that can be quoted in his song saying, “De-Haven introduced me to the game,” and implying stuff on [“December 4th”], so I figured we were still brothers. When street dudes take a fall, it is common to go to one’s people that they were with in the streets for assistance. Jay-Z knows those rules, so it is not a far stretch to call dudes when one gets home. All I know is that I was very angry, and probably irrational. Maybe I missed something. In all honesty, looking back, I probably had thoughts that he owed me that. With time, I really had to fall back on this whole project to really look at a different perspective.
DX: What is that new perspective?
De-Haven: Now I realize that I have what I needed from him; he doesn’t owe me anything. I have the knowledge of seeing and assisting in a business model. I was a part of something successful (and legitimate) that got built, and I was there to see it. Basically, I can take what I learned and apply that. Back then, Jay-Z had a lot of entertainment industry respect because of how I moved. I had the cars, clothes, and jewelry, so the music industry had to respect that about him. We were representing things as team members for sure.
DX: When you tried to contact him, it was 2006 or 2007?
De-Haven: This was ’06, going into ’07 I believe.
DX: This was by phone?
De-Haven: It was by phone. A lot of people don’t understand. First or foremost, we’re dealing with the hood. From the moment someone gets home, the hood knows. Word gets back. My parents still live in the same building. I waited by the phone a month to see if Jay-Z was going to reach out to me. Then, I tried to reach out to him in several ways, but I couldn’t get clearance for a direct contact. I went as far as going to [contact] a family member of his. I talked to his sister, which is my sister. This was family in my mind so why wouldn’t she get back to me on this. This is the same sister that my mom helped take care of too. So. after reaching out, I did not get that sisterly love I expected. I was getting talked to like I was a stranger, like she really did not know the history. I had lots of thoughts running through my mind and was literally shocked, [resulting in] the end product, YouTube.
DX: You mentioned the lyrics of “December 4th.” Most were endearing. To a certain point, that respect was there. How did you react, on the most recent album, American Gangster, when he said, “Fuck De-Haven for cavin’” Is that, in your eyes, a reaction to the YouTube or something else?
De-Haven: Based on the content of the YouTube video – what I had said about his family, I would say he experienced the same state of shock that I had experienced. So I kind of understand that reaction. Furthermore, I would like to apologize to his family for cursing like that, ’cause that is not how I act, and they know that…I spoke my mind at the time! Could I have done things differently? At the time, no. Looking back on the whole events, I am a man of loyalty, trust, and respect, clearly with a clear thinking mind, yes.
DX: In the last interview, that pivotal question was asked, “Can you be friends again?” To have love for somebody, after re-evaluating, sorting it out as gentlemen do, do you see a different answer to that question now?
De-Haven: I mentioned feelings, but it was more of a reaction than a feeling. I reacted. In entertainment, many people are called “yes men” because they will never speak their true opinion. I am not emotional and when I cleared my perspective back to where it always was, I realized I had to be myself. Family is always family, and anything else is on Jay-Z, if he doesn’t want to speak. Our relationship goes deeper than industry. I see us speaking, because if I see Jay-Z, I will speak to him. I was taking this who situation too personal, focused on the situation around me and not looking outside that. When I said that we could never speak, I was speaking out based on emotions and feelings. I apologized and realized that I was not supposed to lash out like I did. Politicians go hard all the time, but they move on. We both represent Marcy, Brooklyn, and history. And when you talk about Hip Hop culture, we always elevated ourselves above beefs and battles and further strengthened our art form. In the same manner, as this nation spoke and came together based on unity at the highest level of politics, we all represents change. So I see a different answer to that question.
DX: What kinds of things are you working on right now? Tell the people what you got going on….
De-Haven: I finished a short film for someone from before… I’ve been working on a few film sets learning the technical aspects of film work and directing. I had been getting my overall knowledge together. Right now, I’m negotiating and meeting different people, about a media deal which involves assorted content. I am utilizing the music knowledge that was afforded me from the onset. Fortunately, I realized that I know how to put things together like [we did] back with the [pre-Roc-A-Fella] and post-Roc days – being there to pull entertainment content together through the association and influence of Jay-Z. There is no price on that knowledge, and some executives have picked up on that. The bottom line is the dollar, and the streets had that in common with many corporations. A few of these Wall Street guys see the fact that I can help their business grow. They tease me about it, because they realize that I worked with what I had growing up [and] now I have the opportunity to do things differently. They saw Jay-Z do it and they realize that I can do a lot with the knowledge that I have acquired. I will definitely have to keep you updated.
For more information on De-Haven, [click here].