If you've been watching HBO's Entourage the last few seasons, you are probably aware of Saigon, the young, aggressive rapper who plays himself on the show and briefly became the first client that Turtle represented in the hip hop community (before Sai's old crew hung Drama out of a window ala Suge Knight and determined that it was in the rapper's best interests if Turtle stepped aside).
It's been a nice subplot to what has become a steady stream of Ari subplots (he's the best character on the show, but do we really need all the stuff with his daughter?) and Johnny Drama punch lines. Even better than the storyline is the fact that Saigon is more than just an up-and-coming rapper on a TV show. He's also about to blow on the real hip-hop scene.
The real Saigon is probably one of the biggest rising stars in rap music. He has the voice, the flow, and the lyrics to be a mainstay. He's already left his mark on mix tapes, had a few guest spots, and he even has a decent album, Warning Shots, released in '04 on an independent label. On top of that, he has some marketing advantages that will help make his major label debut a massive success.
He is the first artist signed to mega producer Just Blaze's new label Fort Knox Entertainment. His album, The Greatest Story Never Told, is one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2006 and will be distributed through powerful Atlantic Records. Then there is the fact that he is gaining tremendous exposure by appearing on Entourage (not to mention already hitting the multimedia crossover level of stardom before even dropping a major label release).
This last factor could be his biggest advantage (as I will be pointing out later in a column detailing which up-and-coming rapper has the best chance at superstardom), but also the most improbable when you consider this seemingly impossible pairing.
Obviously, Entourage took some creative license in changing the Saigon character around a little bit. Most notably, the real Sai is from Brooklyn and is New York through and through, whereas on the show he hailed from South Central Los Angeles and worked at an imported car dealership off of Rodeo ("pronounced Ro-di-yo this side of Washington" as Sai's mom memorably cracked to Drama on one episode).
There is one other little thing the writers and producers of the show decided to tweak when it came to their guest emcee: they decided to stay away from portraying the real Saigon's apparent fascination with putting bullets into people.
Obviously, gunplay is not unusual in rap music. One only needs to reference the multiple words used for "gun" to know that it’s a favorite topic. We've got gat, heat, toast, steel, piece, chrome, burner, pump (usually for shotguns), biscuit, nina (for a 9mm), K (for an AK-47), ruger, tech, AR (for an AR-15 machine gun), mac (for Mac-10's), four-pound (for a 44 Magnum), trey-eight (for a 38 revolver), and duece-duece (22 caliber pistol), among others. So yeah, it’s a prevalent topic.
It is also far from shocking to hear a rapper boast of shooting people. That said, my man Saigon is taking things to a whole new level. He tells specific stories and then follows them up with assurances that they really happened. In fact, he takes great pains to make sure we are aware of this.
Take a look at some lyrics pulled from just one track, "N.Y. Streetz." In the song, Saigon details three shootings and alludes to multiple murders. He leads with, "Remember when I shot Crack Head Reg in the leg, for running off with the pack, even after he gave it back." Saigon goes on to say that "this is deeper than rap, and though a lot of (people) say that, everything I speak is a fact."
Next Saigon brags, "Then I shot Crack Head Debbie. Talk about domestic abuse, this (chick) got hit with the Dezi (Desert Eagle)." This is followed by, "After Reggie and Debbie … there was that kid at the Camelot, who thought s*** was sweet, until his ass got hit with the heat."
So there are the three shootings. Later in the song, he taunts rappers 'Nore (Noreaga) and Nas, saying that he has "a real body in the trunk, and not one but two guys." (A reference to the Nas and Noreaga song "Body in the Trunk" from Nore's 1997 N.O.R.E. album, which Saigon obviously feels is a fictional tale.)
He details three shootings (two of crack heads), which may or may not have ended in someone's death, and then he specifically indicates he has had two bodies in his trunk. The shootings and the bodies may be interconnected or we could be looking at five total incidents — all bracketed by numerous statements that everything discussed is true.
I did a little research into this Saigon character and found that he spent some time in the system as a juvenile for his "involvement in multiple shootings," so perhaps the Reg/Debbie/Kid-Who-Thought-S***-Was-Sweet shooting trilogy is what he went away for.
It would make more sense for Saigon to be bragging of specific incidents like this if he had, in fact, already served time for it. As my buddy Emeka said, when I told him of these admissions/lyrics, "He better make sure the DA doesn't hear that." Considering the statute of limitations on most of these crimes, it would be incredibly foolish for "S-to-the-A-to-the-I" to be admitting them on an album unless they had already been prosecuted.
I have to believe he's discussing the very shootings he was tried for back in the day. In fact, there are lyrics that support this theory from one of his other songs ("Stocking Cap") where he raps, "I could tell you mad s*** that I did – there's some s*** that I got away with, but my lawyers advise me not to say s***." This seems to indicate that the tales detailed in "N.Y. Streetz" are A) public knowledge and B) only the tip of the iceberg.
All of which brings me back to my original question: how did this guy wind up on Entourage? I know a little bit about the way the entertainment industry works (and whatever I don't know I can pretty much pick up from the show itself) and it seems utterly impossible that the show would decide to feature an up-and-coming rapper in the show and then agree to terms with what appears to be a homicidal maniac. Talk about liability concerns.
Throw in the fact that Sai plays a pretty cordial, hardworking guy in the show and you can see why confusion reigns supreme on this end. Did they fail to do a background check? Did the producers decide, "Screw it, we don't care what he's done; he really pops on camera"? Perhaps there was a clandestine meeting in which a guest director warned the group, "Listen, if this guy shoots someone between Season 2 and 3, we are going to be in big trouble." Is the 50 Cent "killer in past life, global superstar in this one" appeal skewing everyone's judgment? I find it all very intriguing.
One thing I do know is that I love Entourage and I love Saigon, so I couldn't be happier that things turned out they way they did. But every time he came on the screen in a polished, fairly big-budget HBO show, I couldn't help but think of his opening lyrics from the song "Yep, Yep" — "How many (people) have I shot? What, is you a cop?"
Not the usual rhetorical questions posed by someone with a SAG card; that is for sure. But hey, maybe that is what makese this odd pairing so fun to watch.