– The NYPD’s Intelligence Division’s Gang Unit includes some of the force’s younger officers, who know the hip-hop scene and are occasionally called on for their expertise during cases in which hip-hop culture and its personalities figure prominently. Police insist these officers are not assigned to monitor hip-hop specifically.
They said it’s commonplace for detectives to reach out to other detectives who have a given area of expertise — be it bank robberies, carjacking, gay bashing or hip-hop. Detective Kevin Czartoryski, also an NYPD spokesperson, is the police commissioner’s official liaison to the gay and lesbian community, and he’s routinely consulted by other detectives when gay bias crimes occur. “But does that make me ‘the gay squad?’ I don’t think so,” he said.
Reports of a rap-music task force began circulating following high-profile nightclub arrests involving P. Diddy and Jay-Z back in 1999 but gathered steam late last year in the wake of the Jam Master Jay homicide. The New York Times reported that the NYPD had assigned a team of six detectives whose duties were to “spend their days navigating through the worlds of rap and hip-hop.” This was followed by a New York Daily News story that claimed the existence of “a new NYPD unit that monitors the hip-hop world.”
Such reports, NYPD spokespeople insisted, are wild exaggerations — inaccurate journalism morphing with street rumor to create an urban legend.
“Obviously some reporters are playing fast and loose with their own jargon,” said Mazziotti. “To anyone with a real inside knowledge of how law enforcement works, the whole idea that you could have a secret hip-hop task force is laughable.”
Parker admitted that calling it a task force might be an overstatement. “They do have a unit, though. I don’t think it’s six guys. There’s probably a guy who compiles information that comes in.” He said his own work in the NYPD consisted not only of consulting other cops who caught hip-hop cases, but also monitoring the rap industry in general.
“That’s what my unit was,” said the retired detective, who today works as a private investigator and does security consulting for hip-hop stars. “Everything that came in from every borough, everything having to do with rap, with clubs, with hip-hop music, they had to notify me — it was a standing order — whether they thought it was irrelevant or not. They had to notify me, and I’d pick and choose when I’d respond to certain cases. If there’s an arrest of a rapper, I’d say, ‘Yes, I’m going to go interview this guy and try to find out what the circumstances were.’ ”
He said his hip-hop work led to hostility within the force, and he had to fend off accusations that he was too close to the rap community. “You could do a job like that and be admired by your peers,” Parker said. “Then just as quickly you could be hated. There’s a lot of guys that think maybe you’re crooked, maybe you’re working for the rappers, maybe you’re helping them out. You have guys within the department saying, ‘He’s too close to these guys.’ ”
The history of animosity between cops and rappers may help explain the gulf between the official police explanation and the rap world’s perception of the supposed hip-hop task force. Rap lyrics and videos have long been informed by a distrust of, if not outright animosity toward, the police, sometimes referencing specific events like the Rodney King beating or the more recent brutalization of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
And the police, for their part, have no love lost for rap music.