For Jamal “Shyne” Barrow, it’s been a long and tumultuous road from growing up in the ghetto to his newfound fame and fortune.
Bad Boy Records signed the 20 year old to a lucrative high six-figure contract after two men discovered him – one being Foxy Brown’s manager – while rapping outside a Brooklyn barbershop.
“I just spit for him and he appreciated it,” Shyne says describing the encounter. “Then they drove me to meet Don Pooh, the man at Don Pooh entertainment.”
As word spread about the young talent, a bidding war ensued. Sony, Interscope, Def Jam and Elektra were also all in the hunt for his unproven talents.
Offers of six-figure advances, cars and homes were all thrown at the youthful 17 year old but he finally decided to sign with Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy label, even though they were reported to be the lowest bidder.
“Bad Boy is the best at what they do,” Shyne says. “I mean, I used to watch these guys on TV and here I am signin’ wit’ em. Bad Boy was where I wanted to be.”
Shyne also says that the label guaranteed a high six-figure advance and ownership of his publishing rights.
“Puffy let me do me,” he says. “That’s why I write my own lyrics and produce my own music video treatments.”
References and comparisions to the late Notorious B.I.G have run rampant since Shyne first made headlines and he joined the fold at Bad Boy. His think and husky voice has garnered many thoughts of a similarity to Biggie.
“I don’t know what you be taking about,” answered Shyne agitatedly about the question. “Everybody who’s listened to my shit says that I don’t sound like him. Puffy knows it, everybody knows it.”
Shyne described Biggie as an inspiration and “the greatest rapper of all time.”
In his self-titled album, released in September, Shyne pulls no punches with his detained portrayal of the harsh urban landscape he grew up in.
“I’m not tryin’ to say nothin’ wit’ my music,” he says. “I’m just tryin’ to say what I’ve seen and what I been through.”
Born in the Central American country of Belize, Shyne moved to Brooklyn with his mother in 1986 and joined the Deceptions street gang soon thereafter. At 13, he says he served eight months in jail for a failed robbery attempt.
Three years later, he suffered a shotgun wound following a dispute, leaving a six-inch scar on his right shoulder and chest.
“After I got shot, my mom was goin’ into depression,” he says. “Then I was like ‘yo, I can’t do this to my mom and started to focus on my education’.”
Shyne says he was always listening to music, attributing a love for reggae as the stepping stone to his interest in hip hop, spawning that fateful encounter in front of the barbershop.
Although Shyne seems to enjoy his newfound stardom, trouble still seems to creep its way into his life.
He faces three counts of attempted murder, as well as assault and weapons charges for allegedly firing a handgun in the highly-publicized shooting at Club New York in Manhattan on December 27, 1999.
Puff Daddy and his bodyguard were also charged with illegal weapons possession after fleeing the scene. If convicted, Shyne could face up to 25 years in prison.
When asked about the shooting, he grew noticeably upset. “Now you goin’ places you shouldn’t go, you understand?” he said. “That case is still pendin’. You don’t be asking me that.”
Shyne, who pleaded not guilty, has his trail date with Puff Daddy set for January 2, 2001.
Despite the adversity he’s faced, and about to face, Shyne says he’s staying committed to fulfilling his dreams.
“I’m a musician at the end of the day, not some kid who wants to drive fast cars and make fast money,” he says. “The dream I have is important. my life is committed to this.”