On the Wednesday in April 1988 that Kenneth E. Moore walked into his video store and asked to buy five kilos of cocaine, proprietor Sam Ferguson wasn't hurting for cash. Ferguson had met the Delray businessman through mutual acquaintances, and for the Liberty City shop owner it was no big thing, really, just a favor for friends.
Ferguson told Moore he could set up a deal for three keys at $15,000 per, made some calls, and a runner was dispatched to deliver the goods. When Moore returned to Magic City Record and Video Store with a brown leather satchel full of money, the three men gathered around the trunk of the buyer's car. But before the transaction could be consummated, Ferguson got a good look at the man in the passenger's seat of Moore's car and hesitated.
Aside from the fact that he was on the verge of facilitating a three-kilo sale, Ferguson had reason to be cautious. For one thing, his neighbors in Miami Lakes included some heavyweight dopers, and police surveillance was a constant near the house he shared with his wife Daisy and their four kids. Five days before, in fact, he had been pulled over by Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau agents who searched his Porsche 928 and found a Cobray M-11 machine gun, which Ferguson had intended to take with him to the video store to dispose of. The gun was unregistered.
Now, standing outside Magic City, Ferguson thought he recognized Moore's passenger as a man he'd seen before around the area, a man he felt pretty certain was a cop. He backed off. "Naw...naw...that's okay," he said to Moore. "I don't want to deal." They should take their business over to Fifteenth Avenue like everyone else, Ferguson said; the sale was off.
It turned out Ferguson's hunch was a good one, but it was a little too late. Kenneth E. Moore was actually an investigator for the Dade State Attorney's Office. His passenger, Nathaniel Veal, was an undercover City of Miami police officer. The two men were working with the FBI in a multiagency investigation of Ferguson, who eventually was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. That count, along with the firearm violation, was enough for a judge to sentence Ferguson in late 1989 to three years in federal prison.
"To be honest," the 30-year-old Ferguson says by phone from his cell in the Federal Correctional Institution at Sandstone, Minnesota, "I wasn't a street peddler. I felt I wasn't selling drugs to people per se, but that it was just another marketable item. I'm drug-free. I don't regret selling drugs. But if I hurt anyone, I do regret that. My goal was to make a little money and change my economic standing, not to be Sam the Big Drug Baron. If that was my standards, I wouldn't invest my money back in the community. I could just live large. I could never walk in a bank and obtain $50,000 to start a business. I put a $180,000 investment in Magic City. I could have bought a Rolls-Royce with that."
By the time he told Moore and Veal to take a hike to Fifteenth Avenue, Ferguson says, he was more than ready to turn his talents to other enterprises, to "go 100 percent legit." Besides Magic City Video, which was doing well after two years of operation, he was also running Magic City Car Care, as well as a teen disco, and working Thursday nights as a DJ at a popular nightclub, Mr. B's Lounge. "I was just a busy person," he recalls.
Before he was arrested and sent to prison, Ferguson undertook a fifth project that promised to be even more lucrative. In early 1989 he began working with a pair of talented seventeen-year-old rap singers, Charles Trahan and Leonerist Johnson. Over the course of only a few months, their musical ability combined with his business savvy engendered an LP and a video on MTV, and it seemed likely that the streets of inner-city Miami had produced yet another hip-hop success story.
The Brownsville-reared Ferguson had been involved in the music business since his days at Carol City High School in the late Seventies, when he'd worked with a business called Space Funk DJs, spinning records at parties, benefits, and sock hops. Ferguson later moved on to another outfit called Triple M DJs, run by his friend Norberto "Candyman" Morales. That venture generated annual revenues in the six-figure realm, Ferguson says, thanks to a simple formula: they charged a 50 percent fee. If an event drew 2000 people at five dollars a head, Triple M cleared $5000 for an evening's work.
But in 1987 Morales "fell into the wrong crowd," Ferguson says. "Some guys came to rob him, and they killed him." The same people, he believes, figured he might be out to avenge the death of his close friend and business associate. "They felt it was them or me," he says. And as he was leaving Mr. B's one night, a black Honda pulled up alongside him. Ferguson was shot twice, in the arm and leg.
"I made up my mind," says the six-foot-four, 250-pound inmate now, "that the street business wasn't for me. I wanted to find a group and make it in the music business."
Ferguson was acquainted with a Carol City teen-ager named Charles Trahan, who often performed during amateur nights at area clubs, such as the Inferno, Laziers, and the teen disco Ferguson co-owned, the Bass Station. Trahan also worked for Ferguson at the Magic City Car Care Center, where he was constantly singing and rapping while he washed cars. Another teen, Leonerist Johnson, also danced, rapped, and sang at area clubs.
After meeting four years ago, the two youths eventually began working together. As Johnson tells it, though, teaming up with Ferguson was a serendipitous coincidence. "I was at the Sunstreet Festival," recalls the lithe, handsome Johnson, with quick smile. "Before I performed, me and Charles walked down to Sam's record store. He was getting ready to sign these two other rappers." Johnson says he and Trahan talked Ferguson into giving the two of them a chance instead, and the soon-to-be manager staged an impromptu contest on the spot: whoever rapped best would become Ferguson's group.
(Johnson also remembers a night two years before he and Trahan met. He was performing at the Bass Station, he says, when someone punched him. "It was Norberto Morales," Johnson says. "My mom was going to sue him, but he died.")
They would cut an album, Ferguson decided. He would act as executive producer and financier, and Trahan and Johnson would be Young & Restless, rappers who offered a lighthearted alternative to the hard-core beats delivered by so many other groups. "The songs aren't about issues, rape, and violence," Ferguson says. "That's what I'm about and that's what I projected."
In need of a producer, Ferguson enlisted his friend Eric Griffin, a radio DJ from St. Louis who had worked as a music technician at the Bass Station. After his work in radio and even a stint as a hip-hop performer himself, Griffin, then 28 years old, was looking to establish a reputation as a record producer specializing in urban sounds. So Griffin provided the technical expertise, Trahan and Johnson provided the words, and Sam Ferguson says he provided $40,000. In three months, primarily at Quadradial Studios in North Miami, eight funky, funny Young & Restless songs were taped as masters that would be released as Something to Get You Hyped.
The music was a bracing contradiction of the theory that Miami's rap scene comprised nothing more than the 2 Live Crew and the big bass sound. Young & Restless had crafted a record full of heavy beats and light lyrics, infectious hooks and verses that cast Trahan and Johnson as Dr. Ace and Prince P., a pair of lady killers with boyish charm and the beat to kick dance-floor activity into the highest gear. In songs such as "Gimme Them Guts," the blatant hooks wound through pulsing beats, often interrupted by snippets of dialogue. Nursery rhymes are an obvious influence, and subject matter tended toward important concerns such as girls, cars, and clothes.
With only 50 copies of the pressed acetate in existence, Ferguson put demand before supply and shopped the lead single, a remake of the Coasters' "Poison Ivy," to radio stations and clubs across the nation. Once the song proved itself airplay-friendly, Ferguson went to Robert "Bo" Crane, president of Pandisc Music in North Miami. Crane, says Ferguson, offered him $5000 for distribution rights to the LP. Banking on the increasing popularity of "Poison Ivy," Ferguson turned him down. Crane came back with $17,000. Ferguson says he held out for $5000 per song, a total of $40,000, plus royalties. Crane shelled out the money.
"I don't remember all the negotiations," Bo Crane comments today. "But yeah, I paid $40,000 for the record."
By the end of 1989, Pandisc's Something to Get You Hyped was moving off record store shelves. At Young & Restless live shows, "Poison Ivy" was so well known that Johnson and Trahan would hold their microphones out and allow the audiences to sing the chorus. A second single, "B Girls," was released along with a video, which was picked up by MTV.
Even as they were beginning to break out nationwide, Leonerist Johnson remembers, the two rappers had no trouble fitting their hats on their heads. "We never got thrilled about it," Johnson says now. "I mean, we bugged out on the raw footage [of the video]. But we didn't feel so different. Everything was a job. Part of our job was to be here and do this. We just tried to carry ourselves as performers."
The success of the album seemed cause for celebration among all involved. At the age of eighteen, a couple of kids from the wrong side of the tracks had cracked MTV and were about to appear on a tour with Public Enemy, Digital Underground, and Kid-n-Play. It was the ghetto version of a Horatio Alger story, told to a synthesized beat.
But the results of the arrest warrant for Ferguson, issued back in May 1988, also had come to fruition. A year and a half later, in September 1989, he was arraigned and released on a $50,000 bond, with a trial set for the following month. Ferguson pleaded guilty - the U.S. government had him on tape hooking up the dope deal - and the three-year sentence was passed in December. A voluntary surrender date was set for January 14, 1990, but the court granted an extension after a bank threatened to foreclose on the mortgage of the Fergusons' Miami Lakes house. "I was trying to be a smart businessman," Sam Ferguson says, "so we filed for bankruptcy because my wife would be hit with all my bills while I was in prison. She didn't know everything I was doing. I did that to protect the house. I got four kids."
"Things would have turned out different," says Leonerist Johnson, "if he hadn't gone to prison. If we hadn't've gotten signed by Sam, we would have gotten picked up by [Luther Campbell's Luke Records] or Warner Bros. or somebody. Sometimes I wish we didn't even make the record, so I could just go out and get a regular job. We never actually got to our goal."
Neither Johnson nor Trahan possessed much knowledge about the business of music, and with Ferguson's departure for prison, the two young rappers needed a new manager. Ferguson planned to run as much of the group's affairs as he could from his cell, but he needed someone to take care of business on the outside. And he thought he knew the perfect person for the job - his wife Daisy.
"Daisy has four kids," says her friend, producer Eric Griffin, "and there she was trying to keep up with some street brothers when she had no idea what she was doing."
Daisy Ferguson herself admits that she and the two rappers had different ideas about proper behavior and claims that her attempts at discipline were met with rebellion. "My husband knew how to handle them," she says. "Both of 'em were hooligans. I couldn't control them. When we went on tour, they wanted women in the hotel rooms, and I wouldn't allow that."
From the perspective of a young man cut loose by the perks that come with stardom, the Gucci clothes and the Cadillac sedan, Daisy Ferguson's disciplinary efforts were Draconian, and unacceptable. "She used to tell us not to go to clubs, not to have girls in our rooms," Leonerist Johnson recalls. "I said, `What do you mean, no girls? What are we in the business for if we can't get girls?' Attitudes changed when Daisy took over."
Further undermining the relationship was the rappers' contention that they weren't getting their fair share of the income from the act. Trahan and Johnson had signed a contract known as an Exclusive Artist Recording Agreement with Sam and Daisy Ferguson's company, P-Man Productions. "When we were through recording," Ferguson says, "we asked them to sign a contract. They were allowed to go to their parents and to lawyers. I didn't press them." Ferguson also says he and his wife had tried to help the teen-agers in other ways. "We were taken with them, and we wanted to be role models for them," he explains. "Their parents never had nobody do for their sons until then. If they had a financial problem, I'd help them. Leonerist didn't go to school, so Daisy went out to American High to try to get him back into school."
Ferguson says he and Daisy nurtured Trahan and Johnson, bought them clothes, taught them how to choreograph their stage show. He took them to nightclubs and told everyone they were going to be famous. When Johnson and Trahan would visit the Fergusons, they'd often ask to spend the night, and the Fergusons would let them. "Charles lived in an apartment with all his family," says Daisy Ferguson. "And Leonerist, well, he lived wherever he could."
That's not quite the way Trahan and Johnson tell it. "We were just young and trying to get out there," Trahan says now. "He gave us the contract at night and wanted it back the next morning. He rushed Leonerist so bad he had to get his aunt to sign it. And he never helped us with financial problems. He may have helped Leonerist get out of trouble sometimes, but not with money."
"We looked up to Sam," Johnson adds. "And we got very close."
No one involved with the album questions whether Something to Get You Hyped was a hit. Everyone, however, questions just how big a hit it was. No organization keeps track of how many copies of any given musical recording are sold. The many and various ways of packaging the product - CDs, cassettes, albums, twelve-inch singles, compilations - further complicate matters, as do methods of distribution - retail, phone sales, overseas. Bo Crane estimates Something sold about 200,000 copies. The Fergusons and Trahan and Johnson believe at least half a million copies of the album were sold, in which case the record could have been certified as "gold," had Pandisc applied to the Recording Industry Association of America for certification. "I was getting no royalty money," Ferguson asserts. "I got lawyers who'll testify Bo owed me money. I'd get the royalty statement, but no money. And we're number one on the charts?"
In response to allegations that he failed to pay adequate royalties, Crane says flatly, "That book is closed. It's done with. I've concluded my business on the first album. I paid my dues. Sam's got the royalty statements." Crane's attorney, Milt Rothman, adds, "That charge is denied. We gave Sam what we think is a generous settlement."
With the success of the album came bigger, more lucrative concert productions, and the duo, along with their back-up singers, dancers, and crew, went from earning $1500 for shows to at least $4500. "The first show we did was at Club Futura [in Hollywood]," says Johnson. "[The Fergusons] paid us like $135 apiece. Then we started to wonder about it."
Charles Trahan says that meeting Stanley Gaines, who runs the 183rd Street Flea Market in Carol City and a similar operation in Atlanta, and is vice-president of All Rap Management and Productions in Hollywood, led the two rappers to a better understanding of the realities of the music business. "We got introduced to Stanley," Johnson recalls. "He was already talking about managing, so that's how we jumped on that."
"As popular as `Poison Ivy' was, they thought they were rich," says the gray-haired Gaines, who at age 62 is softspoken and phlegmatic. "But they didn't get a dime of royalties from the album. Pandisc paid $140,000 directly to Sam and Daisy. The Fergusons made them famous. Fame without fortune is bullshit."
Sam Ferguson insists he turned over to Trahan and Johnson a fair share of the money Pandisc paid him. He also says he made sure they were taken care of when remuneration for live shows was received. "They felt Daisy was getting too much money. They were making $500 a week, straight into their pockets, and later on they were getting $2500," he counters. "They threw the money away. I said, `You get the money, then, and just give her the twenty percent [manager's] fee.' They didn't want to give her twenty percent. The ones who invented this group get nothing? They did that because I'm in jail and can't do nothing. My wife was easy to beat. But there would be no Young & Restless without P-Man involved. If I was out [of prison], they wouldn't have had these problems. Daisy didn't understand the business. She just listened to me. I came to prison to pay my debt, and in return they got a chance to stab me in my back and twist the knife."
Leonerist Johnson says that while Sam Ferguson was in prison in Tallahassee during the summer of 1990 and the group was touring under Daisy Ferguson's management, an incident in Atlanta provoked the group to fire her. "We drove up to do this show," he says, "and we had two girl dancers and a male dancer and two road managers. Daisy went off to see Sam, and we decided to stay in Atlanta an extra day. We were left with the oldest one of us being [a crew member] who was only 26. The girls were minors. So who was responsible if something happened?
"[Daisy Ferguson] got an advance for the show and didn't pay us," Johnson continues. "We get back here and Daisy says, `Who told you to do this?' So we all got together and talked about firing Daisy and everybody was with it. We went to her house and, you know, everybody was behind me, but when we got there nobody wanted to say nothing. So I did - straight up told her she was fired. Man, she started throwing shit and having a fit."
"I don't know where they went," Daisy Ferguson responds. "After the show we were coming back home, and I stopped to see Sam. They were supposed to come on home, we were through with the show. They didn't come home. They had the money from the show and everything. I didn't see them for two days. I had rented the van under my name, it was my responsibility. Two days later they finally marched into my home. I let them in because I was worried and upset. They told me, just like that, they decided they didn't want me to manage them. There were three of them. They made like $5000 or something from the shows up there. They threw like $35 or $40 on the desk in the office. I said, `What's this? What's going on?' They said they paid each other, distributed the money among one another, which they were not supposed to do. Leonerist got loud. Things got a little out of hand, and I told them to get out of my home."
As for Stanley Gaines's contentions about P-Man not turning over royalties to the duo, Daisy Ferguson says flatly, "Stan don't know nothing. When Sam first met him, he was trying to get security to throw Leonerist out of his flea market. [Later] I met Stanley up there, and he was trying to get them to go against us. He wanted to get in between."
Charles Trahan confirms the story of Johnson's banishment from the 183rd Street Flea Market, explaining that Sam Ferguson paid Gaines a visit in order to make sure there would be no problem with the rappers visiting the popular hangout and hub of Carol City hip-hop activity. Trahan says that's typical of how the physically imposing Ferguson helped the pair in their formative years - more muscle than money.
After the incident at the Fergusons' house, Trahan and Johnson refused to work for P-Man any more. Sam and Daisy Ferguson maintained a contractual hold on the duo, however, as well as rights to the name Young & Restless, and they even went so far as to enlist two high school rappers and put them on the road as Young & Restless. Trahan and Johnson sought an injunction, but by then, says Daisy Ferguson, "everything was coming to an end anyway. Summer was over, we had the court thing going on, so the shows stopped for everybody."
In the summer of 1990 Trahan and Johnson sued to get themselves out of their contract with P-Man Productions. Sam and Daisy Ferguson claim that Stanley Gaines and the rap duo's attorney, William Robinson, attempted to take over Young & Restless. "People were trying to get me to sign my group away," Sam Ferguson says. "William Robinson turned them against me. He was trying to sign them to a major label [for a second album]." (Robinson says he acted strictly as the duo's attorney.)
Bo Crane, whom Sam Ferguson also accuses of trying to sign Young & Restless away from P-Man, says, "What I did was I tried to get them to reconcile with Sam. I thought it was in the best interest for everybody to keep it as it was. There came a point at which I saw it as irreconcilable. I offered a number of contracts that were rejected by Sam or by the group for a number of reasons, so I suggested an alternative."
That alternative was to settle the lawsuit by having Pandisc buy Sam Ferguson's Young & Restless contract for $50,000. "Bo says, `Sign with me,'" Johnson explains. "It would end the litigation and get us back in the public's eye. [Sam Ferguson] got what was owed him. You can't let what happened when you started hold you down. I can't do no more business with Sam and Daisy. I know a lot more about the business now, and things will be better this time."
Ferguson alleges that Crane was "starving the situation," that Pandisc wasn't paying him sufficient royalties for the album. His own legal fees also were mounting, he says, so he decided to take the $50,000. "They beat us out of our group," adds Daisy Ferguson. "They starved us inch by inch till we had to sign the group over."
A second Young & Restless album, That Was Then, This Is Now, was recorded during the summer and fall of 1991. The lead single, "Yoke the Damn Thing," produced by Beatmaster Clay D, has already been released. It employs significant taped samples from "The Locomotion," written by Carole King and an early Sixties hit for Little Eva, and, later, in the Seventies, for Grand Funk Railroad. Johnson says he heard the song on an episode of Happy Days, fell in love with the hook, and bought a copy of the record at Peaches. Other cuts include "Eyes of an Assassin," which Johnson describes as "an adventure song, like a movie song, a whodunit," and a gospel-heavy number called "The Lord Is Our Friend."
Sam and Daisy Ferguson, working with Eric Griffin, have started their own new project, a group called If Looks Could Kill, with their first single, "I Got a Little Jone's," already out on Sam Ferguson's own label, P-Man. The act features Daisy Ferguson, along with three other women who sing and rap. A spokesman for the Sandstone federal prison says Ferguson's release date is October 8.
Still, there are indications that the Young & Restless rappers have not quite settled everything. On September 20 of last year, Trahan and partner Johnson appeared at Pandisc and met with Bo Crane. The record company had allocated $60,000 for the duo's new album, with $20,000 to be divided between Trahan and Johnson (the rappers received $8000 apiece; Stanley Gaines's All Rap Management got the other $4000). About $20,000 was to be spent on the production of the album, with the remainder of the money to be held by Pandisc against other expenses.
"I went to ask for $2000 out of the $20,000 he owes us," says Leonerist Johnson, who, according to a Metro-Dade police report, argued loudly with Crane "over money." As Johnson left the record company's headquarters, the report indicates, he pulled out a .25 caliber handgun and fired it into a wall. Five days later police found Johnson at his grandmother's house and arrested him on a charge of shooting into an occupied dwelling. Johnson denied to police that he fired any shots. A search of his car failed to turn up a weapon or any other evidence. A trial has been set for February 3. "I didn't even do it," Johnson says, adding that even if he had fired the shots, no one could have seen him do it. "I'm totally innocent, and he's putting the cops on me. I never thought Bo was peaches and cream anyway."
Crane says he wants to let the courts settle the matter, and insists it would be inappropriate to discuss a pending criminal case in which he is involved.
"No one got hurt," says Stanley Gaines. "It's time to start promoting them, not to be putting people in jail. That album should be finished. There's no good reason to press this, except that Bo can be stubborn sometimes."
Charles Trahan would prefer to discuss the new Young & Restless album rather than his partner's pending trial. But Trahan, too, has had his share of troubles since settling with the Fergusons, and he is less reluctant to talk about another recent shooting incident.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Having grown up in Carol City, Trahan, now twenty years old, is no stranger to street violence. But it never hit him the way it did this past October 12, when he took a break from a recording session to go down to Fifteenth Avenue to get some lunch with a few friends. As he walked out of a Liberty City market with his food, the people he was with - he and Miami police refuse to identify them - got involved in an altercation, apparently with some area toughs.
By the time he saw the commotion that was taking place in the parking lot, Trahan says, it was too late to figure a way out. He was shot twice, in the arm and leg. Several weeks lying in a hospital room on the fourteenth floor of Jackson Memorial Hospital gave Trahan time to think. The shooting, he says, was "a learning experience. Ever since I was young, I hung around some bad people. You know, they'd all say, `Let's go steal a car' or something, and I'd say, `Okay, y'all go ahead. I'll be here when you get back.' When I was fourteen years old, my mom went to this psychic lady who told her something was going to happen to me, something would be wrong with my legs if I didn't stay away from the wrong crowd."
The wound in his arm is now healed. The one that hit his right leg has left him with a nasty limp. He's lost about 25 pounds; it's as if the clothes that hang loosely off an already thin frame belong to an older, much bigger brother. "Since I got shot," he says, "I can enjoy life more. I woke up out of surgery and my stomach was open, I'd lost a lot of blood, my leg all cut - it almost had to be amputated. Even the boys that shot me don't realize how short life can be. Life is too short. A lot of my friends from the neighborhood were killed in 1991. Where I'm from, you either rap and dance or you rob and steal. Until you're on the dying bed, you don't know what life is about. It stops you from complaining about little things."
Maybe after the new album is released, Trahan says, maybe after a new round of touring is completed, it would be best if the duo started its own record label. "The public view is that me and Leonerist look very close. But we're not really that close," he confides. "When it comes to business, though, we can get down to business.