SWAGGA Interviews Chuck Philips
September 25, 2012
I was happy to do a Q & A with Swagga Music last week. This great online site is in Spanish. For those of us who don’t speak it fluently below is the translation in English.
Q1: When did you start to get interested in the hip-hop industry?
A: I am a music fan. I began freelancing for the LA Times in 1990, writing about free speech and censorship for the feature section, transitioned into covering the record industry as a business (unfair artist contracts, executive upsets, mergers and acquisitions, ticket scalping, sex harassment at music corporations), until I was eventually hired as a staff writer in the business department to cover the music biz as a beat in 95. I like funk and happened to be writing about Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, and started exploring the success of rap labels like Ruthless, Death Row, Def Jam and Bad Boy. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, rappers started getting arrested, for obscenity, for assault and violent acts, even murder: Nobody at the LA Times was writing accurately about it. That’s how my career as a crime reporter began.
Q2: You said Tupac impressed you the most. What did impress you the most about him?
A: Tupac was a poet, and I like poetry. Words appeal to me. Poems, protest songs, ancient ballads. I’d been a Bob Dylan fan since I was a kid. Curtis Mayfield, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, not just lyricists like them though. I loved Willie Dixon too, John Lee Hooker, Louis Jordan, and C.L. Franklin. I like sacred texts, myths, proverbs and scriptures.
When Tupac came along, I thought he was quite the poet. At the time I was already into Cube, Scarface, Slick Rick, Outkast and Goodie Mob. It wasn’t just how cleverly they rhymed. It wasn’t just the rhythm or the cadence. I liked their attitude. It was protest music in a way nobody had ever thought about before. I loved it. These artists were brave, wise and smart – wickedly smart. The thing about Tupac was he had so many sides. He was unafraid to write about his vulnerabilities.
Q3: You were able to interview him. How do you remember that moment?
A: The first time I interviewed Tupac was in 92. He was pissed at me. A kid in Texas had stolen a truck and shot a Trooper in the face while listening to a violent song off “2Pacalypse Now.” The cops recovered the tape from the car-jacked truck’s cassette deck. The kid’s lawyer decided to put Pac’s “cop-killing” music on trial. Police organizations rose up and began protesting Pac all over the country. Politicians, including then-vice president Dan Quayle, grabbed headlines trashing Pac at televised rallies. I think Pac blamed me for inflaming the scandal because I had gone down to Victoria, Texas and interviewed the kid who shot the trooper, as well as the trooper’s widow, who later sued Pac and Time Warner. I interviewed him by phone for Rolling Stone (Part of the tape will be posted this week on my website). Pac waxed eloquent on every subject he discussed. He was brilliant – and barely 22. Nobody I knew that age was as sharp as him. He called out racists and phony politicians who were ganging up on him, including then-Attorney General Janet Reno, who he blasted as a real cop-killer, referring to the troops who got murdered when she decided to raid a cult leader’s compound in Waco, Texas.
Q4: Is it true you lived in Madrid and Barcelona? How was it?
A: Nope. Never lived there. A close friend of mine, Paul Hench, lives in Cercedilla. A real anti-hero, a musician who 35 years ago made a pit stop in Spain and never left. Paul makes his living teaching English, an expatriate in an ancient stone house in an idyllic village where all the businesses shut down for siesta two hours a day. I flew out to visit him in 1999. Back before Frank Gehry built Disney Hall downtown in LA, I was fascinated with the design of the Guggenheim Museum he built in Bilbao, and was dying to see it. Paul used to live in Bilbao, so we took a road trip across Spain and drank our way through a bunch of fishing villages up into the Basque region. Paul spoke fluent Spanish and knew artists and philosophers everywhere. That’s where I found out about Juerga. Still abide by it. I remember drinking at some bar where Hemingway was supposed to have passed out, and we took time to check out my favorite Heronimus Bosch triptych, which had just been freshly restored, at the Prada. We had a blast. I flew to Barcelona alone to soak up Gaudi’s art before returning to the States. Spain was unbelievable.
Q5: You won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999. How did your life change after it?
A: I’m a lucky man. Always have been. Blessed – before and after the Pulitzer. Loving family, good friends, excellent mentors and teachers. I work hard. I’ve traveled all over the world, on my own dime. I’ve experienced more than most men could hope for. Beautiful intelligent women. Fascinating characters. You can’t imagine. Journalism was a fluke. I’m a misanthrope, and I’m nosy, so it was a good fit. I’ve never been fond of authority. Even now at my age. Like Elvis, I was born standing up and talking back. Truth matters. I investigate what interests me. I’ve never tried to figure out what people want, never tailored my reporting to trends or eyeballs. I follow my gut. Winning the Pultizer legitimized what makes me tick, in the eyes of the profession. But it didn’t stop the LA Times from firing me.
Q6: In 2002 you wrote an article which said Biggie’s offered 1 million for Tupac’s death. Do you still think that is right?
A: The newspaper I worked for was very cautious about how we worded what I had learned regarding that proposition. It wasn’t like it was a one time, take-it-or-leave-it offer. No way. The proposition had been floated more than once, in a variety of locations. Individuals affiliated with Bad Boy, including Biggie, made it known to various members of Compton’s Southside Crips that they could earn a quick $1 million.
Q7: Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace and ex-wife Faith Evans stated to be angry after the article. Did they contact you then?
A: I’ve got nothing bad to say about Voletta, or Faith. I used to talk to both of them a lot in 97. Back then, I was the only reporter actively trying to pursue Biggie’s killer. The entire media pack just kept reprinting the same bullshit press releases the LAPD. We’re talking 5 years before I ran my 2-part series about Tupac’s killing, which didn’t break until September 02. By then, Voletta had bought into that lame conspiracy theory blaming Big’s murder on a clique of corrupt black LAPD cops. The lawyers promoting that racist fairy tale had already filed a $500 million lawsuit on her behalf against the city of LA. The entire case was based on the delusions of a disgruntled incompetent LAPD detective, who was trying to save his job. Voletta and Faith were being manipulated by dishonest ambulance chasers eager to stick their hands into the deep pockets of the city. I liked Voletta. In the beginning, we shared a common goal. We used to talk a lot. She once cooked soup for me in the kitchen of Biggie’s condo. But truth is not a popularity contest. I understand why she got angry.
Q8: The 2008 article “An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War” on 1994 Tupac’s attack in LA Times which linked Diddy and included by accident a fake file as source was probably the most controversial. Why did you decide continuing researching on Biggie’s and Tupac’s cases after it?
A: My Quad story was right on the money. Jimmy Henchman did everything I wrote he did. I never said Combs had anything to do with it. I said an associate of Combs set it up. Last summer, Dexter Isaac, the guy Henchman hired to “discipline” Pac, confessed publicly on allhiphop.com that Henchman paid him $2,500 plus all the jewelry he could steal, to ambush Pac. I did not reveal it until after Dexter publicly acknowledged it, but he was my lead source – 1 of 5 anonymous sources on whose information I based my article. In May, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Henchman in his trial also told the judge, in court, that my story was true. The history of what happened around my March 2008 story is very complicated, and creepy. Henchman’s lawyer leaked the fake 302s to the smoking gun.com, and told the LA Times lies about me. He lied to the BOP too, and the DOJ as well.
I might be the only reporter in history who was fired by his newspaper’s 1st Amendment attorney. So much for free speech. The paper canned me as part of a secret pact it cut with a murderer, in which the corporation agreed to pay him a quarter of a million dollars, and promised to publish a patently false retraction.
Q9: What do you think is Jimmy Henchman’s role in Tupac story?
A: Pac is only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to Jimmy Henchman. Henchman will be remembered as the most dangerous snitch in the history of the music biz, a cold-hearted rat, who in January, will stand trial for the murder of Lowell “Lodi Mack” Fletcher, who was merely the last notch on Henchman’s belt. Rap fans will soon find out that Henchman was the guy who gave the order to open fire on Snoop’s trailer in 95 during Tha Dogg Pound video shoot for “New York, New York.”
He set up the Quad attack on Pac, and blamed it on an ex-colleague named King Tut, who he later also framed for the robbery of a Brooklyn drug dealer executed by Henchman’s crew. Thanks to Henchman, Tut became New York’s first 3-strike conviction, in jail for a life sentence. He ratted out his Brooklyn buddy Max who was on the run in Costa Rica, causing his extradition. He ratted out Haitian Jack too, causing his deportation. He’s also rumored to have played a part in leaking R. Kelly’s sex tape to a Chicago reporter (on behalf Kelly’s fired manager Barry Hankerson). Cohorts have also accused him of putting out failed hits on Chris Lighty and 50 Cent during his feud with G Unit. In addition, he shot up Yayo’s mom’s house with a machine gun. And don’t forget that Kanye West party in Miami where Suge got shot. Guess who paid for that? In 2010, Henchman even asked somebody to shoot me. How do I know? The hit man was so pissed at him he called to give me a heads up.
Q10: Some months after this 2008 article, you had to leave LA Times. I bet it was a difficult moment. How did you experience it?
A: It sucked. My article was true. The paper got weak knees, sold me down the river. Refused to defend me in a court of law – not in the court of public opinion either. They hung me out. I was the fall guy, framed up to save an editor and lawyer who fucked up. Backstabbing colleagues and superiors cut a deal with the murderous snitch who set Pac up. The LA Times defrauded me. That false retraction they concocted destroyed my reputation. Don’t believe what they teach you in Journalism School. Like John Lennon, I found out.
Q11: In what aspects did your life change after leaving LA Times?
A: Nobody would return my calls, or emails. Nobody would give me the time of day. I lost my job, my hope, my faith. My motherfucking mind. Then, after about a year of unemployment, I said fuck it, and decided to spend my savings on completing Big’s murder investigation. I solved it in 2009. Late in 2010, the money ran out. I couldn’t pay my mortgage. My wife left. I had to sell my condo. But like James Cleveland says, when the load gets the worst, when the night gets the darkest, that’s God’s good time: that’s when he steps in. The universe intervened.
Q12: What are the articles you wrote you feel more proud of?
A: Probably the stuff I’m most proud of exposed sexual harassment in the corporate workplace. I’m also proud to have come to the aid of Jimi Hendrix’s dad, helping ward off powerful forces trying to abscond with his son’s catalogue. I’m extremely proud to have cleared the names of Amir Muhammad (AKA Harry Billups) and David Mack, innocent men implicated in the murder of Biggie Smalls by clueless publicity hounds at the LA Times and Rolling Stone, as well as by some hack British documentary filmmaker. But what I’m most proud of are the relationships I developed over time with so many amazing sources – people whose identities I will forever protect, who have helped me produce truthful stories, for no other reason than that truth deserves to be known. Steadfast individuals, who did not desert me in dire times, but taught me the meaning of trust and courage and dignity, people I deeply respect and admire, who have taught me who I am and what I am made of.
Q13: You have just launched the website Chuckphilipspost.com. What will we find on it?
A: I’m going to publish investigative pieces you will not find elsewhere. Plus interviews with the underground architects of rap, real behind the-scenes legends responsible for much of what happened in the music biz over the past 25 years. And, within a few months, I plan to publish an expose examining who killed Biggie, why, and exactly how it went down. Also, explaining why no one was ever brought to justice.
Q14: You already posted an article about Eric “Zip’s” funeral. Are you happy with the reactions you are receiving?
A: I am. So far, thousands of people have signed on to the site, from all over the world – from Japan, Italy, Egypt, Spain, Africa, as well as from dozens of U.S. cities – to read about Zip, and to hear 17-year-old tapes of Tupac talking. I’m surprised so many people care about the same mysteries that move me. I see this as a new adventure. It motivates me to keep fighting, to finish work I love. I’m sick and tired of hearing nervous boring editors define what matters. Intelligent people reading my Tweets could care less about what the LA Times deems important, or the Washington Post, or what any ancient news dinosaur thinks. The monopoly they once imposed on truth is over.
Q15: According to it, Zip introduced Diddy to the Southside Crips. Is that true?
Q16: And according to it, Crips shot Tupac. Is that true?
Q17: Do you mean Diddy could be involved in Tupac’s death?
A: Only Diddy and the Crips know the truth. I’m not a cop and I was not there. I only know what the Crips told me – and they were not playing. They said Bad Boy wanted Pac killed – and Bad Boy was willing to pay $1 million. Years after I reported it in 2002, the LAPD interviewed a Crips shot caller who told them exactly the same thing. The Crips killed Tupac. The money was never paid. Do yourself a favor. Listen to the lyrics of “Long Kiss Goodnight” from Big’s “Life After Death” CD. Pay attention. Who is Puff berating? What is Biggie bragging about? Play “Stop Yapping” from that Bad Boy mix tape released weeks before Pac was murdered. What does Puff mean “Bad Boys Move In Silence?” He says the same thing in a Vibe magazine interview that hit the stands days before Tupac was shot. What does he mean? Mull it over with your friends.
Q18: Did you go to Zip’s funeral? (if so, how and why did you do it?)
A: No. But I talked to people who did. In fact, they called me, to fill me in on the entire event. I confirmed every fact I wrote.
Q19: What do you think about Greg Kading’s book “Murder Rap” which links Diddy with Tupac’s murder?
A: Greg Kading’s book is provocative. He got down to the bottom of some things, particularly regarding Tupac’s murder. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions. One of the most startling facts revealed in the book was the motive behind that particular LAPD investigation, which he ended up running. The investigation was launched solely to clear the LAPD’s name, not to catch the killer. I deduced the same thing back in 2006. All the cops wanted to do was protect the City against that lame lawsuit – not solve Big’s murder. How pathetic is that?
Q20: Why do you think Diddy decided to sue LA Times after your article but he does take legal actions against Greg Kading’s “Murder Rap” book which links Diddy with Tupac’s murder?
A: Diddy knows the LAPD possesses a tape in which a shot caller tells detectives that Diddy offered him $1 million. Witness interviews prove Diddy knew the shot caller in question. I had never heard Diddy respond to the allegations raised in Greg Kading’s book, so two weeks ago I asked him what he thought. He declined comment. The fact is Diddy did NOT sue the LA Times. Neither did Jimmy Henchman. They both paid tons of money to showboat lawyers to threaten and scare the cowards for whom I used to work. Those guys knew what they were doing. They knew what kind of characters they were dealing with. By the way, it worked. The paper caved. Henchman and his lawyer laughed all the way to the bank.
Q21: Greg Kading said he thinks Diddy will never pay for this supposed crime because of his money and influence. What is your opinion about this?
A: No one will ever be arrested for either murder. It would take a presidential order from Barack Obama to get these law enforcement agents off their asses. First the Las Vegas cops fucked up the case. Then the LAPD. Then the FBI, and the DOJ. If Celine Dion got shot, how long do you suppose her killer would be allowed to walk the streets?
Q22: You have researched about many people. Were you ever threatened by any of those people?
Q23: Do you think Tupac’s and Biggie’s murder will be ever solved?
A: Not officially.
Q24: Is there anything else you would like to tell to Swagga Music audience?
A: Thanks for listening. And thanks for checking out my site. I truly appreciate it. Stay tuned. Thank you for your time again.