Someone has gone and messed up Dirty’s face again—an ugly smear of grey paint masking his famously confused expression, another offending streak obscuring his self-imposed last name: “Bastard.” Now he’s a faceless man named Ol’ Dirty. The street is relatively silent on Saturday morning—as silent as it can be in Bed-Stuy, a rough and tumble Brooklyn neighborhood where the rapper used to hang with his crew. Somewhere under the grey paint, Dirty’s eyes look out from the side of Lovell’s Liquor Store; an ad promises “the coldest beer in town” and the neon clock affixed to the sign ticks one hour fast. This is the second time the mural, memorializing rap superstar Russell Jones (a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a.k.a. Ason Unique, a.k.a. Big Baby Jesus, a.k.a. Dirt McGirt) has been defaced. Back in 2007, someone canceled out his face with a splash of white paint. In February of 2009, or thereabouts, an anonymous artist repainted the face. Now it’s all fucked up again. So much for resting in peace.
Over the bridge on the isle of Manhattan, Jarred Weisfeld sits in the Canal Street office of his company, Objective Entertainment, mulling over his own loss of face. Weisfeld, now a literary agent, had been Jones’s manager until the rapper died in November of 2004—an incident USA Today called an accidental death from the “combined effects of cocaine and a prescription painkiller.” This past November, a Brooklyn author named Jaime Lowe came out with a book about Jones titled Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB—a book that Weisfeld claims libels him. According to the 29-year-old agent, it’s anti-Semitic to boot.
That’s why he served Lowe, along with publishing house Macmillan, a big fat libel suit in February to the tune of 10 million dollars.
Ever since the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album in 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), ODB has been embroiled in controversy. In life, Jones got into his fair share of scrapes (mainly drug-related), was rumored to suffer from mental illness and basically lived up to his infamous moniker. And death has done little to stem the trouble that seemed to be ODB’s constant companion. He was and is surrounded by a cadre of people who want what is best for him but also want a piece of his legacy. His family fights tooth and nail over his assets, his family and business associates play tug-of-war over his last album (titled A Son Unique) and now his manager and biographer/fan are doing battle over the words that constitute his history.
Weisfeld clutches a few pages of the biography and a pile of notes recounting Lowe’s alleged dirty dealings. The pages have been ripped from the yellow-jacketed book, the offending words stained with highlighter ink. The young man crosses his khaki-clad legs at the knee and folds his hands across his chest as he lists Lowe’s offenses. Weisfeld says he turned to managing authors after ODB’s last album was leaked onto the Internet following the rapper’s death. He says he’s better suited to the new gig, comfortably ensconced in his office with a pile of books on ex-vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, and his laptop—on the desktop of which is a digital photo of Weisfeld and ODB’s mom visiting the rapper in prison.
Weisfeld recalls his first meeting with Lowe and how the whole mess began: “When Dirty got out of jail, we were getting interview requests like a mad person,” he claims. “One of the requests that came through was Rolling Stone.” Naturally, Dirty and Weisfeld jumped at the chance for an interview. What followed was a fairly disastrous meeting in which Dirty told Lowe, who claimed to be conducting the interview on behalf of Rolling Stone, that he took Ecstasy before a recent show. “He would try and be the character of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He wanted people to think of him in a different light, so he would always go into character,” Weisfeld says. When the story appeared in the Village Voice, Weisfeld was confounded. He had never signed off on a Village Voice story. (Inquiries to an assistant editor at Rolling Stone reveal that Lowe has never been on staff at the magazine; but the editor cannot confirm whether or not the author worked as a freelancer.) So when Lowe approached Wesifeld and asked him to be involved in her book, Weisfeld told her: “I’m just not into it. You lied to us. You said you were with Rolling Stone…. Good luck with it…. But I want no part of it.”
(When approached to give her side of the story for this article, Lowe declined to be interviewed, saying: “I would love a balanced story as well. Unfortunately now that Jarred has filed papers, anything said can be used in court. I’d be happy to talk when he drops the suit!”)
Weisfeld contends that Lowe sought to defame him because he refused to take part in the book. He shuffles through his papers to present her first offense. “There’s a chapter called â€˜Enter the Weisfeld.’ Then there’s a quote underneath that says, â€˜It wasn’t long until I was the highest paid slave in town,’ from Billie Holiday. What’s this all about?” Weisfeld pauses for emphasis. He continues to read a chapter that recounts a press conference that took place in 2003 at Manhattan’s Rihga Royal Hotel after ODB’s release from prison. At the conference, the rapper announced that he had signed a contract with then-CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, Damon Dash. This conference also marked ODB’s first appearance with new co-manager, Jarred Weisfeld (ODB’s mother, Cherry Jones, made up the second half of the management team).
“I remember the press conference like it was yesterday,” Weisfeld says. “We walk in, it’s me, him and Mariah [Carey],” he smiles at the memory, recalling the excitement of the pop star and rapper on stage together. (Carey and Jones famously collaborated on a remix of the pop princess’ song, “Fantasy.”) The book, however, presents a different reality from the one Weisfeld remembers, with questions directed at ODB such as, “How did prison rape affect you mentally?” “With a lot going on, how do you find time to jerk off?” and, finally—and most offensively to Weisfeld—”Who’s that grinning, shady-looking white guy behind you?” Weisfeld was baffled. How did these questions get into Lowe’s book?
It appears as though Lowe did not attend the press conference, or, if she did, she didn’t use the real conference as a source. Weisfeld believes that instead of citing the actual press conference, the writer referenced a satire available on YouTube with subtitles doctored by a blogger known as Alfred Hip-Hop. The audio on the clip has since been disabled, but Weisfeld says that the original video was edited so that the real questions were replaced with farcical ones. According to Weisfeld, the audio of OBD’s answers was kept intact, so that it appeared as though he was giving serious answers to bogus questions. Chuck Mindenhall, who worked for Blender at the time, attended the press conference. When shown the YouTube video, he responded: “The captions on the clip are completely farcical. The whole conference was light but respectful…. It was in monitored business mode, with some casual mentions of prison and his plans on collaborations/music, but nothing nefarious or disrespectfully probing.” Weisfeld’s lawyer has what he says is a tape of the press conference that supports Weisfeld’s claim.
But it was not just the use of the false video that upset Weisfeld. It was also how Lowe depicted him. While the author did not come up with the words, “grinning, shady-looking white guy” on her own, Weisfeld says the descriptors she concocted were even more offensive. The agent reads from the ripped pages of the book, anger tightening the edges of his voice: “It says, â€˜Jarred slinked onstage looking like he had just been bar mitzvahed.’ So now she’s telling everybody I’m Jewish. And you go down another couple of lines and I’m â€˜a hungry 23-year-old manager who is now financially invested in [ODB’s] very being. [ODB’s] breath is 20 percent Jarred’s.’ The only reference that comes to mind immediately is The Merchant of Venice‘s Shylock.” Weisfeld’s suit calls the comment “a clear and unfortunate literary allusion to the Shakespeare character.”
This is where the story gets complicated. Lowe is also Jewish. In fact, she mentions her ancestry in the book and expresses an ardent desire to eat matzo ball soup with ODB at Junior’s Restaurant, an eatery located in Brooklyn’s Fulton Street Mall. When asked why he thinks Lowe colored her account in this fashion, Weisfeld replies: “She thinks I’m a greedy Jew. I’m not saying she’s anti-Semitic. But those remarks are anti-Semitic.”
Letting the subject of the suit drop for a moment, Weisfeld pauses, recalling his relationship with ODB. In the silence, his pet turtle, stowed in a tank near a bookcase, scuttles among the rocks. “I was very protective of Dirty,” Weisfeld says, and there’s real affection in his voice—and sadness. “That was our whole thing. We were the complete opposites: I was this Jewish kid from the suburbs. We came from two completely opposite sides of the world, and yet, we were best friends. I was very protective of him and he was very protective of me. We had that kind of relationship.” Still, theirs was a relationship originally rooted in a business agreement.
Weisfeld was in his early 20s when he first met Dirty. He was working at VH1, managing John the Baptist, a producer who did beats for Wu-Tang. John and Weisfeld were joking around one day and Weisfeld said, “You know what would be a funny show? On Parole with ODB!” Soon after, Weisfeld sold the idea for the show to VH1 with Jones attached—without asking the rapper, who was incarcerated at the time. Needless to say, Weisfeld was in a bind. The young man sent reams of postcards to Dirty in jail, asking him to get in touch, and reached out to the rapper’s mother, asking her to introduce him to ODB. Cherry Jones consented. The rapper’s mother recalls riding the prison bus to Marcy Correctional Facility in Oneida County, New York, at 2:30 a.m. with Weisfeld. “He introduced himself to my son, and I don’t know where my son got this thing, management, but that’s what came off the top of his head and he wanted him to be his manager,” Cherry recalls with a laugh. “Jarred didn’t really want it because he didn’t want to be aggravated—he didn’t want to go into anything—but he went along with it.” And that’s how Weisfeld met Dirty. Despite the professional dynamic between Weisfeld and ODB at the onset, the rapper’s mother says that the young man and her son became extremely close. “Jarred’s like my son,” Cherry says. “He calls me â€˜Mom.’ Everything my son wanted, he gave him. Everything. So I have nothing but good to say about Jarred. If not for Jarred I don’t think [my son] would be where he was when he came out. Jarred was an
inspiration to help him do things….”
On the surface, Cherry’s account of Weisfeld’s influence on ODB is hard to reconcile with some of the rapper’s business decisions—particularly the decision to do a reality show for Spike TV titled Stuck on Dirty. According to Lowe’s account of the unaired show, a Queens man named Bob was challenged to shadow the rapper for five days straight, and if he moved too far away from Dirty, an alarm would sound and Bob would lose $5,000 of a $25,000 prize. In the book, Lowe writes of her disgust with the show, saying: “I guess it’s a funny concept if you’re throwing around ideas in a bar, but when you consider that these were [ODB’s] dying days, when he was least functional, least aware, least willing to live, it’s not just sad, but offensive. This was a man on the brink of suicide.” When pronouncing these highlighted words, Weisfeld’s voice rises. “That just wasn’t true,” he says. “That reality show was filmed six months before he died. Dirty was never suicidal. It’s just not accurate.” A representative from Spike TV says that the show was shot and wrapped in June 2004, several months before the rapper’s death in November. “They came to us and said, â€˜Would Dirty be into something like this?'” Weisfeld says. “And I said, â€˜If the money’s right!’ With that money he was able to pay his child support payments and that kind of stuff. If he was suicidal would I have let him do it? Of course not…. When I read stuff like this, I feel like I’m responsible for his death.” (The Spike TV representative confirms that the network approached the rapper.)
In Lowe’s defense, the show doesn’t seem to be the most tasteful endeavor, as it implies that hanging with ODB amounts to some kind of dangerous and undesirable undertaking. Moreover, Weisfeld’s reading of the book seems selective. For instance, he makes no mention of the section in which Lowe writes: “Weisfeld was knee-deep in one of the most psychologically and physically demanding jobs in history; stronger people bailed, lesser people failed. Weisfeld was somewhere in between, transparently self-serving, but also naive enough to truly care about ODB, which I believe he did.”
According to the lawsuit, “the words written and published by [Lowe] were false and defamatory and were written and published willfully and maliciously with the intent to damage [Weisfeld’s] good name, reputation and credit as an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry.” Aside from the “false words” referenced in the suit, Lowe’s biggest crime seems to be a tendency toward personalization. Digging for Dirt comes off less as a biography of ODB than the story of one fan’s journey. Lowe, who has written for snarky publications such as the now-defunct Radar magazine, inserts herself prominently into the narrative, offering her opinions and musings on nearly every page. This tactic proves itself especially troublesome when the writer appears to have muddled the facts.
Case in point: In the book, Lowe writes: “Damon Dash refuses to release ODB’s last album, A Son Unique, because Weisfeld and Jones are demanding final payments to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars on the million-dollar contract negotiated when Dirt was alive.” According to Weisfeld’s lawsuit, Lowe does not have her facts straight: “Weisfeld had not demanded money from Dash as a condition of releasing the album…. As Weisfeld had no legal standing to make any such demands.” Weisfeld blames this alleged misrepresentation of the facts on Lowe’s reporting methods, stating that she didn’t do proper research into the matter—such as checking out ODB’s estate files at the Kings County Surrogate’s Court. Because Lowe declined to be interview for this story, it cannot be confirmed whether she went to the courthouse to review the files while researching her book. But if she did, she would have found a periwinkle-blue basement room that smells like a middle school cafeteria and a middle-aged Brooklyn clerk who, in all likelihood, would have fetched a massive filing box filled with information on the estate of Russell Jones.
Jones’s name is scrawled on every file folder, the characters “ODB” set off with parentheses, like an afterthought. Reams of paper tucked into bulging folders fill one box bearing the rapper’s name—evidence of a protracted legal battle surrounding the dead rapper’s estate, which, according to court papers, is controlled by the rapper’s widow, Icelene Jones. The document that Lowe quotes dealing with the record’s delayed release,
in fact, don’t even reference Weisfeld.
However, Weisfeld’s name does appear on its fair share of papers in that file box. According to his lawyer, Mark Frey: “After ODB died we filed a claim for payment of [Weisfeld and Cherry Jones’s] management commission.” Also, Frey says that he and Weisfeld have tried to divest Icelene Jones of the estate due to what they perceive as mismanagement. In fact, pretty much everyone involved in the rapper’s life wants to take the estate out of Icelene’s hands—from his children to his managers. And so the battle rages on over ODB’s bones. Miles away from the courthouse, where lawyers scribble his name on folders and his legacy is tucked into one cardboard box; miles from Weisfeld’s office, where he waits with evidence of his innocence; miles from Lowe’s home in Brooklyn, where she keeps mum until the suit against her is dropped, in Bed-Stuy ODB’s eyes are covered with gray paint. Maybe someday the mural will be restored—but, for now, someone’s gone and messed up Dirty’s face again.