Immortalized by a much-publicized legal skirmish that resulted in a stiff ten-year prison sentence (and an acquittal for co-defendant Puff Daddy), Shyne was well-known among the public before Bad Boy Records even released his debut — which was, for many years, his only — album. That album charted well, thanks in part to all the media attention he'd garnered over the years, and he showcased a remarkable talent for rapping despite his young-twentysomething age. The album wasn't an especially memorable work, however, and Shyne remained far better-known for his story than for his music.
Born Jamal Barrow, the young, gifted, and black New York rapper joined Puffy's Bad Boy camp in 1999, shortly before the episode that would define his life, which occurred on December 27th of that year. That night, a shooting incident occurred at Club New York in Manhattan. The details were initially foggy. A shootout at the club led Shyne, Puff Daddy, and Puffy's then-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, to flee. Three people were wounded in the shooting. Police then caught up with the fleeing Bad Boys and ultimately charged Shyne and Puffy with numerous crimes: Shyne for attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first and second degrees, one count of reckless endangerment, criminal use of a firearm, and criminal possession of a weapon in the first and second degrees; Puffy for felony gun possession, as well as one count of bribing a witness (with a diamond ring he'd been given by J-Lo).
The court hearings in June 2000 were a media circus — at the time, Puffy and Lopez were celebrity icons, and Shyne had become notorious overnight despite his lack of recording output. When it was all over and done with a year later, Puffy was acquitted of all charges while Shyne was convicted on two counts of assault (including a first-degree count, for shooting Natania Reuben in the face), reckless endangerment, and gun possession. In the course of the court proceedings, he admitted firing a gun at the club, though he argued that he did so in self-defense. Regardless, he packed his bags and embarked on a ten-year prison sentence (he'd faced up to 25 years in the pen, so it could have been much worse) and looked forward to his parole eligibility in, at the earliest, 2009.
Then there's Shyne's music. Just two weeks after the shooting incident, the Los Angeles Times reported that BMG, the company that owned Bad Boy at the time, was considering shelving Shyne's forthcoming debut album — and perhaps even severing ties with Bad Boy altogether. Well, that didn't happen as commercial interests trumped ethical considerations. BMG indeed retained its very lucrative ties to Bad Boy, and Shyne's debut album did finally surface on September 26, 2000. The shooting scandal certainly helped garner interest in the release, and the self-titled album peaked at number five on Billboard's album chart. It wasn't a bona fide success, however. Neither of its singles — "Bad Boyz" and "That's Gangsta" — was an especially big hit despite the media-circus publicity and a strong marketing push on behalf of BMG, and the album died a quick, quiet commercial death. And that was pretty much the end of Shyne as far as most were concerned — he was locked away in Clinton Correctional Facility, and his fan base was minimal and forgetful.
Then, four years later, in April 2004, surprise news came that Def Jam had signed the imprisoned rapper to a multi-million-dollar contract after a heated bidding war with Warner Brothers (then headed by former Def Jam CEO Lyor Cohen), and a new album would be forthcoming by the end of the year, as well as an attempt by Harvard law professor and practicing lawyer Charles Ogletree to get Shyne an early work-release discharge. (Echoes resounded quietly of 2Pac's imprisonment, his subsequent signing with Death Row, and his eventual prison release to much celebration.) That reportedly forthcoming album, Godfather Buried Alive, did surface months later in August 2004. Like its predecessor it spun off no major hits and got a weak critical response, though the album did benefit from all the media publicity, debuting very strongly at number three on Billboard's album chart and returning Shyne to the spotlight for a fleeting moment. ~ Jason Birchmeier