To the casual hip-hop fan, the name Jacques Agnant may not ring a bell. That quite honestly may be for the best. From Tupac to Madonna to exile, a new FX documentary series delves into the life of the notorious street power broker
“I’ve been known to put holes in quite a few people, and not just one at a time,” boasts Agnant in his very first statement in the documentary Hip Hop Uncovered.
Premiering on FX, the six-part series from executive producers Malcolm Spellman and Jonathan Chinn of Lightbox Entertainment and director Rashidi Harper aims to peel back the layers of the genre’s most influential, notorious and yet creative element: the streets. Rap luminaries such as Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Too $hort and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels make frequent cameos, and there’s a now-mournful appearance by Lil Marlo, who was murdered last year.
But the driving force in the series is five power brokers who cut their teeth (and, at times, other people) in ’hood politics and used that influence as an entrée into the music industry. The series chronicles the odysseys of Eugene “Big U” Henley, siblings Deb and James “Bimmy” Antney (the latter a former member of the infamous Supreme Team from Queens, New York), Christian “Trick Trick” Mathis and Agnant — or “Haitian Jack,” as he’s immortalized in the streets. Each character narrates his or her own story, and the familiar thread of coming-of-age in post-Vietnam/Reaganomics/crack-era America with hip-hop as its unfiltered soundtrack ties the five of them together. They even share some scenes, as Big U, Bimmy and Haitian Jack have been friends for decades. Even among this group of peers, Jack’s story stands out, partly because of its plot twists and partly because so little of it has been told outside of bits and pieces of interviews and ’hood documentaries that live on YouTube.
His reputation in the streets earned him respect in an industry that, in its dog-eat-dog ethos, was not all that different from the business that turned Jacques Agnant into Haitian Jack.
You expect Hip Hop Uncovered to delve into the most dissected part of Haitian Jack’s life — his time with Tupac Shakur — but the story of the notorious Brooklyn, New York, bully goes far beyond that. Due to an economic depression in Haiti, Jack’s family migrated to East Flatbush, Brooklyn, which had a reputation for street crime. His fellow Haitians had a reputation for being pushovers, Haitian Jack says, whereas their Jamaican counterparts were about that life.
“That’s why I ran with the Jamaicans because the respect they got is the respect that I wanted, so you can say I was raised by wolves.”
Haitian Jack’s Brooklyn of the late 1970s and ’80s is night and day compared to the gentrification epicenter of today. By the time crack had its cobra clutch on the ’hood, Jack was deeply immersed in the street life. Walking into clubs with his gun on him was normal. Drug dealers were often respected and feared — and Jack was applying pressure on them. Not because it made him a ghetto Robin Hood. He did it because it made him a lot of money. Throughout Hip Hop Uncovered, there’s an undeniable cockiness in his voice as he recalls his life and times, from handling his first bully during his adolescence (his first time using a gun) to a moment of twisted levity when his father called Haitian Jack the “King of the Thieves” after retrieving property stolen from the family.
Toward the late ’80s and certainly by the ’90s, the hip-hop industry became increasingly violent. Street money needed to be cleaned and potentially striking gold in hip-hop was a lot more appealing than, say, a laundromat. In many ways, there was little difference between the two worlds in how business was conducted and how agreements came to be. As much as individuals from the streets were looking out for their own best interests, many artists trusted them more than the suits who made millions off their art but couldn’t relate to the experiences it took to create it. Haitian Jack wasn’t looking to invest in music at first. But when people in the industry needed muscle, he was often at the top of the list of people to call. This point is illustrated with a story about producer Dallas Austin and how Jack refused to “put some pressure on” Austin after a crew from Atlanta courted his services. The only reason he didn’t was because he thought highly of the multiplatinum producer. But Austin learned an important rule: Don’t ever end up on Haitian Jack’s bad side. By the early ’90s, Haitian Jack was known around New York not only for his rep in the streets, but as an epic figure on the nightlife scene. Party promoters respected him, DJs saluted him and everyone from athletes to entertainers knew of Jack. So it wasn’t too surprising when a chance meeting in an Atlanta studio connected Haitian Jack with one of the biggest pop stars in the world at the time in Madonna. The two instantly hit it off. He was charismatic and his ties to the streets gave him the bad boy image that Madonna gravitated toward in the ’90s.
“[Jack] got [Madonna] chillin’, eating jerk chicken, n—a. I saw that flex,” says rapper and fellow Flatbush native Spliff Star in Hip Hop Uncovered. “It was the swag. It was the persona. She felt it. I couldn’t understand. I was like, ‘Does this b—- know who she hanging with?’ This a real street n—a.”
Because rappers and people of power in the streets frequently ran in the same circles — and energy finds energy — Haitian Jack met Tupac Shakur in 1993. By then, Shakur’s reputation in the media was nearly as infamous as Jack’s was in the streets. He was considered by many public enemy No. 1 who attracted drama and violence the way pollen does bees. He’d sued the Oakland Police Department for $10 million after being assaulted by two officers after they stopped him for jaywalking. Vice President Dan Quayle demanded his debut 2Pacalypse Now be taken off shelves after Ronald Ray Howard’s attorney blamed the music for “riling him up” and killing a Texas trooper. In April 1993, he was charged with assault in Michigan after attempting to hit another rapper with a baseball bat at a concert. And three months later, on Yo! MTV Raps, ‘Pac admitted to beating up Menace II Society directors Albert and Allen Hughes — a confession that’d earn him 15 days in jail.
Shakur was in New York for much of ‘93 filming the cult classic Above The Rim. He played Birdie, a New York gangster — much like Haitian Jack — who wooed people through his flash and charisma while ruling through paralyzing fear. Shakur had always been privy to the horrors of life in the ghetto. His mother’s crack addiction nearly severed their relationship and his father was nowhere to be found. Drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes were unintended role models.
Still, hanging around Haitian Jack was a master class in how to operate within that ghetto political infrastructure. In his now-landmark Vibe interview from Rikers Island a few years later, Shakur admitted that Haitian Jack introduced him to a life he had only previously flirted with.
“I used to dress in baggies and sneakers. They took me shopping; that’s when I bought my Rolex and all my jewels,” Shakur said. “They made me mature. They introduced me to all these gangsters in Brooklyn.”
“One day Shakur said to me: ‘I’m glad I met you when I did because it really helped with that character I was working on,’” Jack recalls on Hip Hop Uncovered. “Then I said, ‘You got something from me?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, man. Just your swagger, the way you handle yourself, how everybody’s always around you. That was important for me to see that that happens. That people gravitate to a gangster.’ ”
The honeymoon phase abruptly ended on Nov. 18, 1993. That night, shortly before Thanksgiving, would lead to the single most consequential accusation in rap history because of the dominos that would fall later. Shakur, Haitian Jack and others were charged with sexually assaulting 19-year-old Ayanna Jackson in Shakur’s 38th-floor room at the Parker Meridien Hotel. Shakur and Jackson had first met at the Manhattan, New York, nightclub Nell’s and engaged in consensual sex. A few nights later, Haitian Jack informed ‘Pac that Jackson was coming back over. Shakur said Jack was making everyone drinks in what appeared to be an evening that was nothing out of the ordinary. Biggie Smalls was reportedly there, waiting to accompany Shakur to a New Jersey show. But he left shortly after Jackson’s arrival. According to Jackson, she and Shakur were in his bedroom alone when other men entered and they proceeded to rape her. Shakur said that when the other men walked into the room, he left, feeling weirded out by the group setting. He said he talked with his publicist in another room, felt groggy and went to sleep. He awoke to Jackson yelling at him for allowing them to assault her.
Tupac Shakur on the set of Above The Rim in Harlem, New York, in 1993.
In Hip Hop Uncovered, Jack seems annoyed with Jackson, but his anger is reserved for Shakur.
“’Pac was all good when I was doing things for him. Until we caught that punk ass case that easily could’ve been beaten by both of us,” Haitian Jack said. “He let his attorneys turn him against me and that’s the part I’ll never forgive him for because I’m going ride or die with you, home. I expect you to do the same. See, that’s what I call a fair-weather friend.”
One of the biggest mysteries in rap history is what exactly took place that night. Jackson was clearly assaulted. Shakur and his road manager, Charles Fuller, were both convicted of first-degree sexual abuse. At his sentencing in February 1995, Shakur apologized to her while denying that he had committed a crime. It’s a stain that never left Shakur’s career, one he admitted left him with regret. Shakur, who also was charged with weapons possession that night, spent much of 1994 proclaiming his innocence. The thought of being remembered as a rapist haunted him. Naturally, ‘Pac and Jack’s relationship deteriorated. Through the press, he called Haitian Jack a “hanger-on” and on Nov. 29, he delivered one of his most emotionally charged interviews when he pleaded his innocence once more and expressed resentment his rape case was being tried separately though he wasn’t the only one charged that night. From prison, boxer Mike Tyson was telling Shakur he was “out of his league” hanging with Haitian Jack. Biggie Smalls also told him to be careful about some of the street guys, Haitian Jack included, that Shakur was courting and later taunting.
“He really liked her and she realized he wasn’t who he said he was. ’Pac wasn’t no gangsta. And they told her I was that dude, some people are like, ‘Jack’s with Madonna. Madonna doesn’t seem to be into you anymore.’ He was like, ‘F— that n—a and f— that b—-.’ Don’t bring no man into this. Cause I’m a man, my n—a. Don’t play those games with me, playboy. Cause I’ll take you there.”
In a letter written from Rikers Island on the same day of his historic Vibe interview, Shakur apologized to Madonna for their fallout. He admitted their relationship ended partly because of how he would be perceived dating a white woman. His ego was crushed when she, in an interview, boasted about “[rehabilitating] all rappers and basketball players.” This caused him to lash out, but in the letter’s postscript lies an ominous request:
“If there is any information you can share with me regarding Jack & crew, please do,” Shakur asked. “It could very well be a matter of life & death.”
Haitian Jack had been in the orbit of two transformational moments in rap history between the night of the reported rape in Shakur’s hotel room and the shooting at Quad Studios. Shakur served time while Haitian Jack didn’t — something Shakur never forgot in the short time he had left. Hip Hop Uncovered also explores Haitian Jack’s connection to the event that would ignite the East Coast-West Coast strife. It’s often assumed that Suge Knight and Death Row’s actions at the August 1995 Source Awards were the starting point for the feud. Though indeed a cultural harbinger, it was only the undercard. On Sept. 23, 1995, the same night as Biggie Smalls’ hilarious appearance on the hit sitcom Martin, Death Row and Bad Boy Records camps partied in Atlanta at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party. Of course, Haitian Jack was in attendance.
“Suge and Puff got into a screaming match,” Haitian Jack recalled. “It looked like it was getting serious.”
The end result was that Knight’s close friend, Jake Robles, was killed in the parking lot. Many reported Sean “Puffy” Combs’ bodyguard and close friend Anthony “Wolf” Jones as the culprit. The Source Awards may have been drenched in pettiness. But now blood had been shed. How the next year panned out is as common knowledge: The disputes between Death Row and Bad Boy intensified and led to Shakur’s 1996 slaying and Biggie Smalls’ death six months later.
One interesting twist Hip Hop Uncovered reveals is Haitian Jack’s feelings about the diss record from Shakur, “Against All Odds,” (and the unreleased liner notes) in which Haitian Jack is labeled a snitch. Rap had seen scathing diss records before — including from Shakur himself in the venomous ode to Biggie Smalls on “Hit ’Em Up.” But this was the first time a rapper was openly dissing actual street figures such as Haitian Jack, Jimmy Henchman and Walter “King Tut” Johnson, though at the time of its release the confrontational rapper was already dead.
“Listen while I take you back and lace this rap/ A real live tale about a snitch named Haitian Jack,” Shakur spewed. “Knew he was workin’ for the feds/ Same crime, different trials/ N—a, picture what he said.”
“ ’Pac wouldn’t have put no song out like that before he died because he’d have to see me. Cause I’m gon’ ask him some questions,” Haitian Jack says in the documentary. “That’s not something I can let somebody get away with, dog. The code of the streets is this, man. ‘If you got proof, then show it.’ ”
Agnant’s career in the music industry involves far more than the short time he spent with the genre’s most beloved martyr. The music business enabled Haitian Jack to go legit over the next decade, working with names such as the Fugees and Clive Davis. His reputation in the streets earned him respect in an industry that, in its dog-eat-dog ethos, was not all that different from the business that turned Jacques Agnant into Haitian Jack. But even the music industry wasn’t enough to satisfy a man that saw the right way to make money as the ski mask way.
“All that [music industry money] added up, but now if you said when I was sticking up drug dealers, right? I was making millions in one shot,” Haitian Jack said. “I realized I missed that … that street life.”
With being a gangster, though, there’s always a downfall. His biggest setback was a 2004 shooting in a Los Angeles nightclub that led to prison time and, ultimately, his deportation in 2007. Haitian Jack hasn’t seen the United States since. He says he’s living comfortably in the Dominican Republic, with the material possessions to prove it. But, he acknowledges, it’s a far cry from the life he once lived. In his most vulnerable moment in the series, Haitian Jack acknowledges there are itches he can’t scratch.
“Family and my paper,” he says about what he misses the most. “That’s it. In that order.”
Haitian Jack knows his connection to Shakur is a lifetime scar. Some will always see him as the man who sent an icon spiraling toward his demise. Even with this opportunity to tell his own story, it’s Shakur’s voice that carried the larger cultural weight. Hip Hop Uncovered is an unabashedly subjective presentation because of how rare it is to get these figures to speak on the record on such sensitive topics. For so long, their stories have been told only by those in their orbit. With Haitian Jack, in particular, it’s a revealing presentation of a true hip-hop boogeyman.
We still don’t know the complete story of Haitian Jack. Given how the streets operate, we likely never will. It’s almost foolish to expect otherwise.