American Gangster: Season Two - Disc 3 Review
Posted by Wendell Mitchell on 06.28.2008
After seven plus hours of viewing some of the most notorious gangsters in American history, have I become sympathetic to their stories? Join me as I finish off this season with stories of bank robbery, hip hop artists, murder for hire, and more New Jack references.
Three more gangsters, three more stories. Let's see what darkness lies in these men's hearts.
Chaz Williams: Armed and Dangerous
Williams story begins very similar to many of the other men featured throughout these three discs: a less than ideal upbringing led to him pursuing an alternate venue towards the American Dream.
Though, in a welcomed change of pace, instead of a drug dealing and gang banging, we learn the exploits of a bank robber. Unfortunately, we briefly return to all too familiar territory as Williams was arrested in his youth and immediately returned to his criminal ways.
Williams and his gang targeted federally insured banks, rationalizing that they were stealing money the government owed their people. But as investigators and testimonies from this episode are quick to point out, Williams was no Robin Hood and spent the money on fancy cars and other excesses.
The most successful time frame of William’s bank robbing career came after his third stint in jail. He managed to get his hands on documentation that explained a program that would allow prisoners close to their release date to attend college during the day. Williams had other plans and after ensuring that he and his crew qualified for the program, he initiated part two of his ingenious scheme.
Virtually unsupervised once they were dropped off on campus, they would check into their first class, leave, and rob banks.
Giving his criminal record, Williams was a prime suspect during this six month period, but was never investigated because technically, his file read that he was incarcerated.
Finally, a suspicious bus driver alerted the authorities and Williams was caught.
More jail time would come, including a daring jail break where he impersonated a fellow inmate.
Bank robbing was his addition and despite a joint task force hot on his trail, he still managed to rob a few more banks before finally being put behind bars again.
After this last release, he was given seven years probation and struggled to hold a job. Finally, through a few contacts, he started some small promtional efforts, mainly night club level efforts until he pulled off what would lead to him becoming a legitimate business man: assembling hip hop artists to perform music inspired by the book Black Gangster.
Since then he has become a manager of hip hop artists, who respect his street cred.
Being legit has allegedly changed him as he now mentors to prisoners and juvenile detention detainees.
Rating 7.5 - A nice change of pace from the rest of the series and like Frank Lucas a disc ago, he seems to be okay letting go of his past life.
Rayful Edmond: Capitol Crime
I almost, almost feel bad for Rayful Edmond. In addition to the typical, “inner -city, few opportunities” upbringing, his parents were involved in drugs. His mother in particular would sell diet pills to drug dealers so they could cut their heorin. Edmond played basketball for a while in highschool then enrolled in college only to drop out and take the family business beyond part-time status.
Between his 18th and 20th birthdays, he went from cutting cocaine to being credited to introducing crack to Washington, DC. as well as the violence that sprung from it.
Easily the most interesting part of his story is the fact that legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson demanded that Edmond not associate with his players. At least one testimonial conveyed surprise that there was no reprisal against Thompson for standing up to Edmond.
As with many of his peers, his ambitions became too great and his needs to plentiful and it drew the attention of law enforcement which had him put away by age 24. Of note, a few of his relatives, including his mother, were sentenced for their roles in his empire.
This could not be an episode of American Gangster without the recurring theme of conducting business from a prison cell. Edmond hooked up with a Columbian cocaine connection while in prison, ended up making more money from the inside than on the streets, until finally someone checked a phone log or something and realized the nature of his calls and added thirty more years to his sentence.
I found it interesting that Edmond, though apologetic, had no problem helping convict other dealers in exchange for an earlier release for his mother. He even sounds sincere when he says if he had to do it all over again, he would have stayed in college and got a real job and just been free.
Rating 7.0 It had it’s moments.
Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff Crime Partners
McGriff actually had a decent home life. Both parents had government jobs and his neighborhood was conducive to raising kids.
Unfortunately, he would fall in with a extreme Muslim group called the “Five Percenters” that would shape his worldview.
Adopting the name Supreme, he followed one of his brothers into the drug trade and using hip hop as a cover, they began carving out their territory.
Like Felix Mitchell before him, McGriff converted a housing project into a drug manufacturing and distribution center and is directly credited as the inspiration for Wesley Snipe’s Nino Brown character in New Jack City.
Irv and Christ Gotti, heads of the record label Murder Inc. maintain that McGriff was a changed man when the government started their investigations after McGriff violated parole a few times.
McGriff had managed to secure the rights to the book “Crime Partners” and get it produced using Murder Inc. as financiers.
McGriff was allegedly behind the shooting of rapper 50 Cent and while no evidence has surfaced, neither McGriff nor 50 deny the animosity between them.
Shortly after this, another rapper, E-Money Bags killed one of McGriff’s long time friends and in turn was found dead.
Between a videotape, the woman holding the camera, and a hitman that testified that McGriff personally hired him for the kill, McGriff was convicted.
Irv Gotti comes across as very bitter because of their friendship and truly believes that the government had it in for McGriff.
Something that struck me as “about time” McGriff is not allowed to consort with other inmates for the next ten years, presumably so he cannot establish outside connections like so many other American Gangsters.
Rating7.0 Another less than stellar episode with a few interesting moments thrown in to keep my attention.
The 411: Another let down compared to the first disc. It was refreshing to have Chaz Williams' bank robbery/legit businessman break up the monotony of drug dealer/trafficker. There's an extended interview with Bo Baines as the sole extra on this disc and it's worth a listen. Mild recommendation. I suggest not watching these back to back as I have or it could lead to a bit of ambivalence to the subject matter.