“When you hear talk of the Southside, you hear talk of the Team,” 50 Cent rapped on “Ghetto Qu’ran,” a track leaked from his shelved debut album, Power of the Dollar. For those in the know, it was clear the rapper wasn’t referring to the Yankees. He wasn’t alluding to the Mets, the Rangers, or the damn Knicks, either. 50’s now-legendary track was all about the drug game in the Queens blocks he ran, so of course he was shouting out the infamous Supreme Team.
Long before the word Supreme was emblazoned on box top logos and worshiped by Hypebeasts, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and his nephew Gerald “Prince” Miller made the name synonymous with drug game domination during the crack-cocaine explosion of the 1980s. The two men founded the Supreme Team syndicate, which quickly became the chief crew lording over the borough’s Southeastern region. Or, as 50’s aforementioned rhyme continued: “Niggas feared Prince and respected ’Preme.”
At its height, Supreme Team reportedly amassed upward of $200,000 per day in earnings. It was run out of the Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica, Queens, with a home base and infrastructure that recalled New Jack City’s Carter Apartments. In the process of all that illegality, the crew turned enterprising hustlers and murderous henchmen into street legends—the kinds of figures who’ve been idolized by rappers and immortalized in song lyrics for decades.
Showtime and Mass Appeal’s latest must-see crime documentary, Supreme Team (out now), features Supreme and Prince telling their stories, alongside commentary from their affiliates, loved ones, lawyers, law enforcement, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and stars like LL Cool J, Irv Gotti, and Ashanti. The Nasir Jones-directed doc goes deep on the rise and fall of these underworld bosses and how their reigns have reverberated through so many aspects of hip-hop culture.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen Supreme Team’s influence: They’ve been cited in rhymes by 50 Cent, The Notorious B.I.G., Ja Rule, Nas, Noreaga, Ice Cube, Lost Boyz, Pharoahe Monch, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and Nicki Minaj. The overlap between the drug game and hip-hop is even more evident when you press rewind on some iconic songs to see the ways these kingpins’ legacies have shaped rap, and vice versa.
Whether you’ve already sat through the three-part Supreme Team docuseries or have yet to check it out, LEVEL presents a brief musical guide to deepen your viewing experience. You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.
“Night of the Living Baseheads,” Public Enemy
Allow Public Enemy to set the scene: The Crack Era ravaged communities around the country, from Compton to Queens, making users resemble zombies. This is the backdrop against which organizations like Supreme Team built their criminal empires, as described here by Chuck D.
“Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park),” Nas
Since the very start of his career, Nas has been paying homage to larger-than-life figures of the underworld. This Illmatic cut namedrops Supreme Team and Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols—and the area of his borough that they reigned.
“$ Ova Bitches,” Kool G Rap
G Rap references NYPD officer Edward Byrne, whose 1988 murder in South Jamaica, Queens transformed policing nationwide and led to an all-out blitz on crime organizations in Black and Brown communities in NYC, a point Supreme Team emphasizes. That killing was committed by Howard “Pappy” Mason, whose name has been mentioned on wax by everyone from Rick Ross to Puff.
“Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me),” 50 Cent
Don’t have three hours to spend on Supreme Team? Here’s an audio Cliff Notes. Perhaps the most controversial song of 50 Cent’s career is believed to be the cause of his notorious shooting, due to the stark detail and nonchalance with which he reels off names and attributes of key Supreme Team personnel and other illegal regal figures. (Genius it.) After 50’s debut album Power of the Dollar was shelved, this track re-emerged on the indie LP Guess Who’s Back? in 2002.
“Rap Game / Crack Game,” Jay-Z
While Shawn Carter doesn’t explicitly mention any of the street figures whose stories are told in Supreme Team, this musical extended analogy from his sophomore album expertly draws parallels between moving music and moving weight. That line became all the more murky when Supreme—who was affiliated with Jay via producer and music executive Irv Gotti—came home from prison and attempted to go legit in the music industry.
“Survival of the Illest 2 Intro,” Ja Rule
Supreme’s connection to Irv Gotti and Murder Inc. is well-documented; it’s the basis of the label’s infamous raid by the feds, which led to a high-profile 2005 trial in which Irv and his brother/business partner Chris were charged with money laundering. (The Gottis beat the case.) Here, Ja formally shouts out ’Preme, rhyming: "You wouldn't deceive/Top dog, Supreme Team."
“50 Bars,” 50 Cent
Long before building a Power empire at Starz, Curtis Jackson was dedicated to telling the stories of his old stomping grounds. Here, he spins vignettes about Colbert “Black Justice” Johnson—a mentor—and Troy “Baby Wise” Jones, both of whom were high-ranking members of Supreme’s organization. (Honestly, you can sift through much of Fif’s early catalog for tales involving folks highlighted in Supreme Team.)
“Thugs Calm Down” E Moneybags Featuring Nas and Noreaga
Before past street deeds led to his demise, E Moneybags was exploring a career in rap, having befriended and collaborated with the likes of Tupac Shakur, Nas, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and Capone-N-Noreaga. In 2007, Supreme was convicted of ordering E Moneybags’ 2001 murder—a revenge killing for his shooting of ’Preme’s right-hand man, the aforementioned Black Just, in 1999. CNN fans will remember the above track from 1997’s The War Report; this alternate version includes a previously scrapped verse from E Moneybags.
“Veterans Memorial 2,” Prodigy
Prodigy pours out a little liquor for E Moneybags, recalling a conversation about the events that led to his death. Supreme Team also documents these instances in detail.
“A Queens Story,” Nas
Nas commemorates fallen soldiers of the streets and salutes those who made it out alive, nodding to Black Just, E Moneybags, James “Bimmy” Antney (former Supreme Team lieutenant and uncle to Waka Flocka Flame), and Pappy Mason’s Bebo crew. A proper sendoff.