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These photos were taken in the highly controversial Stapleton projects in Staten island New York. A lot of Wu Tang Clan (family) members lived – and some still do – in Stapleton. Rappers Shyheim and Ghostface Killah  of Wu Tang Clan lived together in Stapleton Houses; RZA likens the area to a concentration camp in “Impossible”; Ghostface also notes Stapleton in his song “Maxine” as being a violent neighbourhood.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stapleton,_Staten_Island#In_Music

Shyheim is featured in many photographs wearing the Orange.

Rolling up to the Stapleton projects was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life. Hearing all of the horror stories coming out of the area including cop killings and gang related violence, I knew what we were doing was dangerous. Luckily, one of the members of the team that I was with had produced and shot music videos for Bottom Up Records and he assured us that our journey was to be a safe one. Getting out of the car we were instantly eyed down by the 4 large tattooed men across the street sitting on the hood of an orange 88′ Pontiac Grand Am. With no fear Tom (The Music video Producer) went straight up to them and asked where Rhyno was. Rhyno was to be our tour guide and interviewee and as I understood somewhat of our hall pass for being there. Upon meeting Rhyno the first thing I noticed was his bright red hooded sweatshirt and black flat brimmed hat that read “Staten Aint Dead” he was intimidating as anyone I had ever met but it turned out that he was excited for us to be there and he was happy to show us around and keep us safe. He brought us into the heart of the Stapleton houses. Words don’t accurately depict this place, it truly was a different world. I fear that even my pictures don’t describe what being there was like. Our presence was somehow known immediately and the residents of the houses came out of their homes to lean on the fencing and see what all the fuss was about. Taking pictures of everything at first was intimidating due to all the people I was about to potentially offend. But I decided in my brain right then and there that I would just suck it up and I was only ever going to experience this place once so I had to get as much as I could. as we walked around more  I felt more and more comfortable.

One of my best friends Wiki Park who was filming on an 8mm leaned over to me and voiced my thoughts exactly. “I feel at home here” i couldn’t have agreed more. The people were not these monsters that the media had made them out to be they were merely trying to get by like the rest of us. Not long after we were given a tour of the Stapleton houses we were introduced to another member of Shyheims record label Bebo. Bebo was a super nice guy but it was obvious when he rolled up and stopped all traffic on the street that he had a silent power in the neighborhood that demanded respect. We sat on the stoop across from the corner store for around 30 minutes waiting for Shyheim to come and when he finally did Tom (the leader of the crew) got his interview and The rest of the day was spent storytelling and drinking 40’s and Hennessy in a barber shop.  When night fell the place came alive again. People came from seemingly out of nowhere to one of the only lit buildings on the street The Barber shop that we had been in. I could not believe how stupid I felt, here I am coming into this place thinking “ oh my god im going to get shot” and now im surrounded by a community of loving people who were anxtious to make sure that the entire crew was comfortable, I was even offered chinese food which I graciously accepted and what turned out to be the best beef with broccoli I have ever had. (note to self never drink hennessy while eating greasy chinese food again…) After we finished our interviews it was time to head outside on the corner. Some people including myself would wonder what you do on the corner and boy did I find out. Everyone stands outside and friends drive by in cars and they stop and theres just a general block party atmosphere that I thought I could only get at a family function.

The NYPD as I found out constantly lurks around this area due to Two undercover cops who were executed, gang-land style, during an investigation into arms smuggling in the area in 2003. But honestly while standing on this street corner I finally found out what it was like to be on the other side of the law and seeing how nosey and what a breach of ethics they have been instituting in the area. They drive by every 10 minutes and sit on the street no more then 100 feet away and snap pictures of everyone there apparently keeping a file on everyone who enters and exits these projects. I wonder what my file will say “White kid with camera, no threat”

This was easily one of the most life altering experiences I have ever encountered. I had never experienced what life was like living in these project housings, only what i had seen in the movies. But now I can accurately assess that these places are no joke. Gangs do exist in these projects but they exist only to protect the community. I personally experienced a member of the Blood gang and a member of the Crips shake hands(which is shown in the video below). A sense of community in these housing projects that even the most affluent suburb communities lack. When entering this sacred place I could not have felt like more of a wuss, I was scared of anyone who came close and felt like everyone was watching me. When leaving this new found home, I couldn’t help but be extremely sad. These people took me in as if I was one of their own and taught me things that I will never forget. I believe that everyone could learn a lot from just spending one day in these government funded housing projects and I cannot wait until i can go back to the Stapleton Projects to see what else I can learn.

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