In the late ’80s, I remember one of my Brooklyn neighbors, a dude who was fond of firearms and always kept a stash of pistols at the ready “just in case”, talking about what was popping on the NYC drug scene.
It was a beautiful summer day as we sat on the stoop of his mother’s house on St. James Place, a block that would later become famous due to another neighbor named Fat Chris who would later emerge to the world as the Hip Hop icon Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious BIG.
We’d just come from hooping on the courts at nearby P.S. 11, the excited banter from the stoop spilling out into the street about our basketball exploits from earlier that afternoon. As more Heineken’s got drained, the talk drifted away from my man Baretta’s jumper being on point, the homie Jimmy Jam using his squat build, ample backside and bevy of low-post moves to befuddle cats that were a foot taller down low, and how me and my lanky partner Larry Love sliced and diced with our intuitive pick-and-roll repertoire that had been honed after years of playing together on the neighborhood blacktop.
Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace (Wood Harris) is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends. Then when he sees his chance, Ace makes the move that suddenly changes his life.
I don’t recall when the conversation shifted, but it had something to do with a fearsome set of brothers in the neighborhood who were making inroads on the Washington Avenue drug corridor, the recent shootings at local barbershops that also served as stash houses, and other crime related news that was taking place on the streets that surrounded us.
“I tell you what though,” my man said. “That Uptown kid, Alpo, and Rich Porter an’nem up in Harlem, their name is ringing bells right now. They gettin’ some serious paper. I heard millions.”
The convo transitioned into something else eventually, I don’t recall what exactly, but I do remember that being the first time that the grapevine had brought the names of Alpo and Rich Porter to my ears.
As time progressed, like other NYC drug lords like “Supreme”, “Pistol Pete”, “Puerto Rican Boy George”, “Fat Cat” and others, those names started to enter an entirely different level of criminal lore on the streets.
Nas dropped Alpo’s name on his phenomenal debut album Illmatic, saying, “Uptown was Alpo son, heard he was kingpin yo,” on the cut Memory Lane.
track number 6 of illmatic
By the early ’90s, Alpo was doing numbers in abundance in the federal prison system, Rich Porter had been murdered and their associate Azie was supposedly out of the game, but their story continued to resonate as hustlers who parlayed a flashy, legendary run as teenagers during the apex of the crack plague into short-lived millions.
So when the movie Paid In Full, which was produced by Dame Dash, Jay Z and others under the Roc-a-Fella Films umbrella, dropped on October 25th, 2002 there were some mixed emotions in the hoods of NYC where the story of those young men meant something in one way or another.
A day on the job gets a little more interesting when Ace’s (Wood Harris) new customer, Lulu (Esai Morales), starts asking him about his drug-dealing friend. For more Paid in Full: http://miram.ax/paidinfull In this scene: Ace (Wood Harris), Mitch (Mekhi Phifer), Lulu (Esai Morales) About Paid in Full: Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends.
Starring Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer and Cam’ron as Ace, Mitch and Rico – the characters that were loosely based on Azie Faison, Rich Porter and Alpo during their brief moment in the spotlight of the Harlem drug game – Paid in Full was a fictional account, though based on real people and some true events, about the rise and fall of some gifted young businessmen who flourished in the harsh environments that surrounded them.
It was a tale of opportunity, through illegal means. And one can only wonder if characters like Ace and Mitch, and to a lesser extent perhaps the more volatile and criminally vicious Rico – had they been given different educations and upbringings – would have been able to parlay a Wall Street internship through some family connections into laudable and sustained success in the straight world. But that is one of those “What if…” scenarios that takes us off on a tangent.
I Love To Hustle
The movie exceeded all expectations in terms of its storytelling, script, acting, and drilling things down to the essence of the clothes, vernacular and feel for the Harlem streets in the time that it was based, the late ’80s.
Ace is a hard working teenager with a job at Mr. Pip’s Dry Cleaners, who stares out of the window at the fast cars that seem to be passing him by while he remains stagnant.
When Ace (Wood Harris) and Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) talk success, Mitch tries to coerce Ace to turn his ten-year plan into a ten-day plan. For more Paid in Full: http://miram.ax/paidinfull In this scene: Ace (Wood Harris), Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) About Paid in Full: Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends.
His homeboy Mitch is doing his thing out in the streets, has a pocketful of money and is wheeling through the Uptown streets with the spanking new Saab 900 convertible with gold BBS rims, of which he says through the widest of smiles, “White niggas ain’t even got this.”
In the same way that Goodfellas is narrated through the voice of its main character Henry, along with Casino being told from the direct perspective of another cat whose nickname was “Ace” in the character of Sam Rothstein, Paid in Full’s narrative comes straight from the mind and mouth of Ace.
Ace (Wood Harris) finds a surprise in the pockets of some pants, but it’s nothing compared to the one Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) is about to show up with.
Through his voice, we see the ridiculous piles of money, sometimes falling through the air like robust snowflakes, that reach a point of superfluousness. Energetic and ambitious, with yet a restrained quality that speaks to his seriousness, Ace, through the exceptional acting of Wood Harris, is emblematic of the larger film.
Paid In Full is a scaled down, yet equally compelling Harlem version of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, with the same roller coaster ride from poverty to illicit opportunity to cash in abundance to the eventual violence, death and imprisonment that accompanies it.
Ace (Wood Harris) reveals his new-found coke stash to Mitch (Mekhi Phifer). For more Paid in Full: http://miram.ax/paidinfull In this scene: Ace (Wood Harris), Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) About Paid in Full: Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends.
On the real, I will not trust you as far as I can throw you if you can’t quote lines from the movie in rapid-fire fashion.
If I hit you with – “What kind of name is Lulu?” or “I just made enough money to bake biscuits for the projects”, or “Hey Ace, pull your skirt down B, dudes get shot everyday,” or “Ten days!”, or “Did you videotape that shit?”, or “I’m about to be on some real murder shit, A!”, or “I got a G for every bump on your face,” or “How many times I gotta tell you about playing this Boopity-boop shit in the store?” or “You be cool like you be cool” or “I’m wit you ’cause I’m boring too, a’ight” or “Tuck that lil butt in, don’t nobody wanna see that lil’ butt” or “That’s my lil’ man too” or “Different time, different circumstances” – and your face is an empty expression with no recollection, in my mind I’m looking at you like you’ve got seven heads.
Kiesha (Regina Hall) explains to Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) why they are a perfect match. For more Paid in Full: http://miram.ax/paidinfull In this scene: Mitch (Mekhi Phifer), Kiesha (Regina Hall) About Paid in Full: Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends.
Despite its initial mixed reviews and underwhelming financial showing at the box office, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic. It’s an important piece of work within the landscape of American film.
If you love great movies, if you love great gangster films and if you love cinema that speaks to the American urban condition as I do, Paid In Full has to be considered a monumental piece of work. It will forever reverberate through the collective consciousness, capturing a pivotal slice of who we are as a society in the same way that all great movies do.
Ace’s (Wood Harris) new strategy to selling coke is benefiting the whole community. For more Paid in Full: http://miram.ax/paidinfull In this scene: Ace (Wood Harris) About Paid in Full: Stuck in a nowhere job, Ace is a restless teenager who envies the expensive cars, flashy clothes and high-rolling lifestyle of his drug-dealing friends.
And no matter if you can rattle of dialogue and are familiar with every scene nuance, from the understated subtlety of Lulu or Keisha to the over-the-top boasts of Rico, Calvin or Ice, no matter how many times you watch it, you walk away with an enhanced sense of the brilliance, power and edginess that oozes out of the production.
Mitch’s best scene from the movie Paid in Full (2002)
Every time you see it again, Paid In Full feeds you something more in some form or fashion. As Ace implores, “Everybody eats!”