By Del Quentin Wilber and Stephen A. Crockett Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 18, 2005
The crime should be easy to solve: A blinged-out rap star is shot in his royal blue $250,000 Lamborghini on a busy Washington street during Howard University's homecoming weekend. A half-dozen people witness the attack, including several members of the star's entourage, following him in a bubblegum-pink Range Rover. The celebrity himself apparently gets a good look at the gunman.
But the police say their investigation is stalled for one maddening reason. The victim -- platinum-selling New York rapper Cameron "Cam'ron" Giles, who was shot in both arms -- doesn't seem to be cooperating. Nearly four weeks have passed, and the police can't even get Cam'ron on the phone.
"Cam isn't going to do it," said Juelz Santana, Cam'ron's rapping buddy and protege. "It's not in our nature. He isn't going to stand up and point out a guy in a witness line and say, 'That is the dude who shot me.' We all came from the street."
Snitch? Never. He'd lose all street cred. His rivals would pounce, his CD sales would crash, his cologne and liquor sales would dry up, the game would be over.
It's a familiar but frustrating refrain that police hear every day from shooting victims in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods.
"We need the cooperation of witnesses and victims," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "I can't relate to that mentality. I can't comment on that thought process. I don't think much of it. I don't see the logic at all."
The police are so fed up that they're looking for ways to force the issue. Turns out, Cam'ron's on five years' probation for a gun conviction in New York and could wind up in trouble if he fails to cooperate. Police officials said authorities also may subpoena him to appear before a grand jury.
Who Shot Killa' Cam? Within the hip-hop world, the rumor mill has cranked up full tilt with theories at clubs, on radio stations, on the Internet. Maybe rivals had it in for him. Or someone he beefed with that night. Or carjackers. Or robbers. Or maybe some D.C. thugs were upset that Cam'ron was "flossing," showing off his jewelry and sports car in a city not his own.
Some even argue that Cam'ron staged the attack -- that it was nothing more than a publicity stunt.
Any way it shakes out, one thing seems sure: Getting shot means more street cred for Cam, more aggravation for the cops.The Shooting
This is what police do know:
The 29-year-old rapper was in town Saturday, Oct. 22, to promote the forthcoming release of Juelz Santana's second album, "What the Game's Been Missing." Howard University's homecoming, legendary in rap circles, was the perfect place to do it. The shows, concerts, club parties and after-parties draw celebrities from hip-hop, sports, high society. Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J and Ludacris have all rhymed about it.
That night, Cam'ron and his entourage hit the trendy H20 nightclub on Water Street, off Maine Avenue SW near the city's waterfront. Hip-hop mogul Diddy, a Howard alum, was hosting the annual Homecoming Blockfest there with a crowd that included music stars and tennis ace Venus Williams.
But Cam'ron and his 30-member entourage were stopped at H2O's door. Some of them were wearing T-shirts, jerseys and jeans -- not up to the club's dress code. So Cam'ron and a friend left in his Lamborghini -- a 2006 Gallardo that has been featured in a music video and his publicity photos. Some in the group followed in the pink Range Rover.
At New York and New Jersey avenues NW, Cam'ron stopped at a red light. By now it was 1:20 a.m. A burgundy Ford Expedition pulled up. A man got out of the passenger side, walked up to the Lamborghini and began shooting. Then he fired at the Range Rover.
Cam'ron and his friends weren't the only ones to see it happen. So did an officer with D.C. Protective Services, an agency that protects District government property. He was at the intersection, too -- in a marked police car.
Cam'ron was hit in both arms but was able to speed off. The gunman jumped back into the Expedition, and the driver hit the gas, but they crashed into a parked car and a house in the 600 block of U Street NW. Both doors of the SUV were jammed, and the men had to shoot out a window to escape. They got away before the Protective Services officer could catch them.
Police later searched the Expedition and turned up fingerprints, a Nextel phone and shell casings. They also found a .45-caliber handgun in a nearby alley. Investigators tracked down the Expedition's owner, but the trail did not end there; the owner apparently rented the SUV to someone else, and police are having trouble establishing who was using it that night.
Cam'ron was treated at Howard University Hospital. The wounds weren't severe, but he did suffer nerve damage in his right arm that will require follow-up surgery. More than a dozen hours after the shooting, he was released from the hospital and faced a media throng.
He stood outside the hospital touching the $200,000 worth of jewelry around his neck and proclaimed: "They didn't get anything; I still got my car and my jewelry." He made other boasts: "I didn't give up the car because I paid $250,000 for it. I won't just give up anything to anybody because they're waving a gun around." And: "I roll with the punches. The people who did it was real sloppy."
Was he mad at D.C.? "I love D.C." Cam'ron proclaimed. "This could have happened in Idaho or Wyoming."
Cam'ron's publicity department went into overdrive. It put out a news release reassuring everyone that "Cam'ron will be just fine." And while it was at it, the PR team made sure to plug the release in February of what it called "Cam'ron's next highly anticipated album and feature film, KILLA SEASON."
Through his publicists, Cam'ron declined several requests to be interviewed for this story.
A few days after the gunfire, he was on a New York hip-hop station talking up the remix of a song called "Get Em Daddy" that will include new lyrics about his shooting. And soon after that, he was on MTV, promoting his music and wondering whether he was the target of a hit.Brash Beginnings
Even in the excess-driven rap world, Cam'ron is known for being gaudy. Liberace gaudy. He wears royal blue fur hats, matching waist-length fur coats and pink polos. Gold necklaces, chains and diamonds dangle from his neck. On MTV, he has compared himself to Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. -- just the kind of brashness that creates a buzz.
He has his own record label, Diplomat Records, and plans for a clothing line. He markets his own liquor, SIZZURP, a cognac-based purple punch, and cologne, "Oh Boy." And he is directing the movie "Killa Season," which his publicists say will trace his self-proclaimed "rise to the King of Harlem."
It's quite a story. Before he got into rap, Cameron Giles was a standout basketball player at his high school in Harlem. His coach, Charles Johnson, recalls a "very feisty and temperamental" player who was often jotting rap lyrics into notebooks.
He reportedly had basketball scholarship offers from colleges but didn't have the grades. He dropped out of high school in 1994 and hustled on the street, according to associates and news reports. But basketball remained a passion. He got his GED, and hoped to make a comeback at a junior college in Texas. That dream died when he was kicked out after a fight in a dorm room, according to a basketball coach there.
Back in New York, Cam'ron hooked up with a buddy from his high school basketball team, Mason Bethea, who had become a prominent rapper known as Ma$e. Ma$e introduced Cam'ron in early 1997 to Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G., giving Cam'ron his first huge break.
Smalls was so impressed with the young rapper that he helped get one of Cam'ron's songs, "Crush on You," onto an album by Lil' Kim. The rap, performed by Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease, was a hit.
Soon Cam'ron was rapping on his own. His debut album, "Confessions of Fire," sold 600,000 copies. His second, "Sports, Drugs and Entertainment," sold a half-million. In 2002, he went platinum, selling more than 1 million copies of "Come Home With Me."
As his career rocketed, Cam'ron formed a loose-knit group of rappers, known as the Diplomats, or the Dipset, that often collaborated on albums.
With success came more trouble.
Biggie Smalls was slain in 1997. Another of Cam'ron's mentors, a rapper named Big L, was gunned down outside his New York brownstone in 1999. Then in 2003, Freaky Zeaky -- a member of the Diplomats-- was wounded during a street gun battle.
That same year, someone on Cam'ron's tour bus was alleged to have fired shots at three women in a car on a Boston highway. Police arrested a member of the rapper's entourage on handgun and assault charges. They said the shooting stemmed from an earlier dispute in a nightclub.
Cam'ron got busted, too. In 2002, he was arrested on gun and drug charges. He pleaded guilty to weapons charges in that case in February and got probation.
All of it fed the music. The Diplomats released a mix tape called "Who Shot Freaky Zeaky?" Cam'ron laced his songs with expletives and descriptions of killing, guns, sex and drugs. Titles included "More Gangsta Music," "Get 'em Girls" and "Dead or Alive."
Cam'ron has recently gotten spreads in magazines including VIBE and the Source. Only last weekend the Diplomats were named the best rap group of the year at the VIBE Awards.
"He is one of those rappers who has ears for the street," said Erik Parker, VIBE's music editor.Motive Unclear
Police say that they're looking at a potential suspect in the shooting but that, without Cam'ron's help, the case will probably go nowhere. The motive remains a mystery. So with the police chasing Cam'ron and Cam'ron chasing fame, his friends and fans are trying to sort out what happened.
Juelz Santana said the gunman might have been jealous of Killa Cam's success.
"There are all these people who love us and respect our gangster," he said. "But there are people who want to test our gangster. . . . Some people hate to see you on top."
At Howard, students are wondering whether Cam'ron was asking for trouble that weekend in the District.
"A lot of people thought that he was really stupid driving a Lamborghini in D.C. This isn't New York," said Lauren Poledore, a senior who helped organize the homecoming activities.
Her view was shared by Brian "Fatboy" Young and Derek "Chill" Rogers, hip-hop deejays who said Cam'ron's flamboyant ways might have ticked someone off.
"Truthfully, I think he forgot where he was," said Young, a Howard freshman. "This is D.C. It was definitely a carjacking."
"Yeah, he was probably showing off," said Rogers, a sophomore.
"But this is definitely going to help his sales," Young said.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.