That moment when a twenty-two year old hacker gives you evidence that the most influential hip-hop artist in the world wants you dead.
Dania met me at a cafe across the street from Yeri & Yoli’s Unisex. From where I sit sipping on matcha tea, I can see that the place is packed. No one knows that I’m the third but silent partner in the business or that it was my idea to design and market the salon as the place where you could get your shape up, purchase your new Tims and meet Ms. Right Now before hitting the club or that I’m the one who put in a call to Mona Scott Key’s location manager and lobbied sitdown status on Love and Hip Hop. All they know is that it’s the trendy boutique where Erica Mena made her comeback to Love and Hip Hop by flinging a bottle of acetone at some Instagram model trying to break into the rap game. That appearance on the show with a cameo from the Segui Twins – the most endearing sisters on VH1 since Cardi and Hennessy – made the salon where you had to get your nails polished and edges smooth before a Thursday night on the town.
After ordering a toasted chocolate croissant and cappuccino, Dania pulls a binder out of her La Boriqueña backpack and slides it over the table. I flip it open and the first email says all I need to know. “You never told me how you found me,” she says before biting into the croissant.
“A friend recommended you.” My stomach sinks deeper with every page I turn. There are emails, Google Docs, text messages. They’d be cryptic to others, but they’re explicit to me. “I got voicemails, too. That guy you thought might be involved?” I put my finger to my lips to warn Dania not to say any names. “You were right.”
That moment when the nigga whose career you resurrected decides the next upgrade requires teaming up with your nemesis and plotting to kill you.
Dania casts her eyes on her gnawed nails. “They laugh.”
The night I suspected Malik wanted me dead was the third and last time I thought maybe we could resolve our differences. His invitation to appear on the remix of The Miner’s Canaries – a track dedicated to the memories of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones – was supposed to be an olive branch. Not only were we in the studio for the first time in years, things were really flowing. When the engineer stepped out for a smoke, Malik had pulled off his headphones, bit his lip and said, “We should do a whole album.”
Between running the label and promoting Ankhanetics, I hadn’t released an album of my own since the disaster of 2011. I stayed on the radar with a handful of features that scored high on the charts, but that just amped up the pressure. Fans were giving me the Frank Ocean treatment, and the block to my creativity only ballooned.
Malik had offered me a break that I so desperately need, but my pride made me snicker at his suggestion. “No, for real,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder. “I’ve been so focused on building the Movement, the Music’s fallen by the wayside. The whole point of the Movement was to push the Music.”
This fucking Movement. What I pitched as a concept for Malik’s next album took on a life of its own and now might cost me mine. Meanwhile, I’m the Frankenstein behind this monster. Ankhanetics went multiplatinum, and every song has my touch. The entire concept was mine not Malik’s. What I conceived as a comeback album reinvented Malik into the Black L. Ron Hubbard.
I stay underestimating myself.
“Yeah,” I told Malik. “Let’s do it.”
“This calls for a celebration.” He left the booth and came back with two glasses filled with champagne. He kept refilling my glass between takes, encouraging me to have more even though he knows damn well I don’t drink like that. Meanwhile, he nursed the same glass throughout the night.
Later back at my condo that single drink had me laying in the fetal position across the porcelain floor. With my stomach in a Palomar knot, I tried to call Malik maybe eight times, but he never answered. No matter how bad things had gotten between us, he always returned my calls. That’s when I realized that Malik tried to poison me, and any more champagne would have killed me for sure.
So I called Leila. She left her husband and kids and got to Edgewater within the hour. She cleaned me up after every round of ipecac, and when I was well enough to talk, she gave me Dania’s number. “Before you make any moves, you’ll have to be sure.”
Dania now asks, “Is there anything more you need me to do? Say the word, I’ll fuck his whole shit up.”
I laugh. The girl looks twelve with those 90s overalls and Where’s Waldo eyeglasses. Dania probably has a list as long as her arm of childhood bullies she done fixed but good after teaching herself how to code. “I know you can.”
“Or if you feel you need to…” Dania lowers her voice and leans across the table. “I can set you up and make you disappear. You’ll have everything you need, and no one’ll ever be able to find you.”
Running never crossed my mind, and yet for a moment, I consider it. I’ve already fought for my life twice before. But running isn’t an option. Trump is president, and people desperate for rebel leadership are falling behind Malik when he’s just as dangerous.
I can’t run because this is my fault.
I place a twenty dollar bill on the table to cover the tab then slide a business envelope across the table to Dania. Inside is five hundred dollars in small bills. She had only asked for half of that, but based on what Leila told me about her, I knew she would over deliver.
On the drive back to Jersey, I call Leila. “So? What’d she say?”
“It’s true. He’s in cahoots with Hi-Jack. Niggas got the whole thing scripted like they write for Shonda Rhimes.”
“Fucking Hi-Jack,” says Leila. “You know what this means. You can’t divorce Malik, Cass. Not just yet.”
As I turn onto the George Washington Bridge, I look down at my four-carat wedding ring. Leila’s right. I discovered Malik. I made him, and when his career began to fade like Trump’s promises to his lemmings, I reinvented him.
Now I have to end him before he murders me.
(©) Sofia Quintero