Even more than other hip-hop musicians who have spent time in prison, Philadelphia's Beanie Sigel made music that, for all its gangster bravado, sometimes seemed haunted by the jailhouse and the prospect of going there. Rapping about prison became prophetic for Sigel, who began serving a one-year sentence in a New Jersey federal prison after pleading guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm in early 2005. Sigel's album The B.Coming was released while he was still incarcerated in March of 2005, and the rapper's life story became part of journalistic and music industry discussions about what effect imprisonment might have on his career and those of other jailed artists. Prior to that, writer Bret Love of All Music Guide had called Sigel "arguably the hottest thing to come outta Philly since [hip-hop group] the Roots."
Beanie Sigel was born Dwight Grant in Philadelphia on March 6, 1974. Sigel was a name he took from that of a street in his tough south Philadelphia neighborhood; "Beanie" was a nickname his grandmother gave him. Sigel ran afoul of the law and notched the first of an eventual eight arrests when he was only 14. "I'm from the streets, straight off the block," Sigel told the Philadelphia Tribune. Among his more legitimate activities when he was young were selling Coach leather goods and working as a "squeegee man"—cleaning the windows of cars stuck at busy city intersections and then collecting money from their drivers.
Like many other young people in musically rich Philadelphia, Sigel tried out his hip-hop wordsmith skills, appearing on a mixtape assembled by producer DJ Clue and contributing a verse to the Roots' "Adrenaline." In the fall of 1998 he caught the attention of the duo Philly's Most Wanted, later famed for their album Get Down or Lay Down, who were at the time little known beyond Philadelphia. The duo persuaded Sigel to join them at a meeting with the heads of the Roc-a-Fella label, rapper Jay-Z and entrepreneur Damon Dash, who were then well on their way to becoming the most consistent hitmakers in hip-hop music. At the meeting, Sigel impressed both Jay-Z and Dash with his rhymes. He wasn't a virtuoso poet, but his material was straightforward and vivid, filled with detail about the violent life on Philadelphia's streets.
Three days after the meeting, Sigel was in the studio recording "Reservoir Dogs," a track to be included on Jay-Z's Vol. II … Hard Knock Life album. "Everything was new to me," Sigel told the Tribune. "I had never been in the studio. I never knew how to construct songs. Jay had to teach me how to count music and how to construct a hook." Jay-Z's album spent five weeks atop Billboard magazine's album sales chart, and a buzz began to build around the hip-hop kingpin's new find. In one of the tracks he laid down for his debut album The Truth, Sigel was able to boast that "I ain't even chased this dream." Blaze magazine featured the brand-new artist on its cover, and The Truth featured guest appearances from Jay-Z and other top Roc-a-Fella stars.
When The Truth appeared in 2000, it established Sigel, in the words of Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times, as "Jay-Z's most promising protege, a hardboiled storyteller who seemed to chew on each syllable before he spat it out". David Segal of the Washington Post felt that Sigel "can't shoulder the weight" of the hype that preceded him, pointing out that "only Samsonite outlet stores open with this much baggage". But Steve Jones of USA Today checked in with a positive review, arguing that "with tracks like the gritty 'Stop, Chill,' the ominous 'What Your Life Like,' and the inventive 'Mac Man,' he doesn't need a posse to tell his truth".
The Truth reached the top five on Billboard magazine's album sales chart, rising to number two on its R&B/Hip-Hop tabulation. The downbeat portrayal of prison existence in "What Your Life Like," as Sigel told of "hearing grown men moan at night," was anything but a glorification of the outlaw lifestyle. But Sigel's State Property clothing line, released along with his album The Reason in 2001, featured gun holsters that Sigel claimed were designed in such as way as to keep the weapon hidden during a police chase. "You know how you put your gun in your waistline and you gotta worry about it slipping?," Sigel asked in an allhiphop.com interview quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times. With these clothes, you don't got to worry about that." Some reviewers felt that Sigel broke no new ground with The Reason, but the leadoff single "Beanie (Mack Bitch)" received strong airplay, and the album equaled the chart performance of its predecessor.
How much of Sigel's thug persona was an act crafted for public consumption was open to debate. He threatened rival rappers who lacked respect for him: "I'll put a little blood in ya mouth," he declared, in the allhiphop.com interview. In conversation with the Philadelphia Tribune, however, Sigel claimed that "somebody who knows me personally could say I'm the humblest person they know, the most generous, outgoing, funny, real."
That said, Sigel opted against testing the weapons-concealment properties of his clothing line during a Philadelphia police chase in April of 2003, tossing a loaded semiautomatic weapon from his Cadillac Escalade. Arrested on July 3 of that year after a concert tour stop in Camden, New Jersey, Sigel faced trial on charges of attempted murder in connection with an earlier incident. His trial the following year recalled those of the gangsters of an earlier era, with the rapper dressed elegantly in a fedora hat and Dash, Jay-Z, and female star Beyonce in the audience; Dash filmed the trial for later video distribution. The trial ended in a hung jury, with Sigel slated to be re-tried in January of 2005. He pleaded guilty, however, to an unlawful weapons charge arising from the police chase.
Living under house arrest in Dash's New York loft, Sigel worked feverishly at new projects before reporting to begin his one-year sentence early in 2005. In an underground mixtape, Public Enemy No. 1, Sigel delivered rants against police informers and boasted about his sharp attire during the trial. But The B.Coming, released on the new Damon Dash Music Group label, found him in a more philosophical mood. The laid-back instrumental tracks of Sigel's recordings, which sometimes evoked the soul music of the 1970s, were effective on such tracks as "Feel It in the Air," in which Sigel contemplated his upcoming incarceration. With Dash making the interview rounds in Sigel's place, anticipation of the rapper's new release gathered steam. The album sold 131,000 copies in its first week of release, good for number three on Billboard's top 200 and for the top spot on the R&B/Hip-Hop ranking. Before going to prison, Sigel also starred as a character named Beans in the hip-hop film State Property 2.
For the Record …
Born Dwight Grant on March 6, 1974, in Philadelphia, PA; took stage name Beanie Sigel from a grandmother's nickname (Beanie) and the name of a south Philadelphia street (Sigel).
Signed to Roc-a-Fella label, 1998; released debut album, The Truth, 2000; released The Reason, 2001; arrested on weapons and attempted murder charges, 2003; began serving one-year prison term, 2004; appeared in film State Property 2 and released The B.Coming, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Island Def Jam Music Group, 825 Eighth Ave., 28th Fl., New York, NY 10019.
Sigel was released from prison on August 9, 2005. He immediately went to work promoting The B.Coming, as well as DVD released of three shows that aired on the BET (Black Entertainment Television) network in 2005, "The Truth," "The Trial," and "House Arrest." The DVD, The B.Coming of Beanie Sigel, was released in late August of 2005, and Sigel began a club tour to promote his projects. The career of rapper Tupac Shakur had flourished after he emerged from prison, but others had found it hard to sustain momentum after time away from important promotional activities. With his career under the direction of some of urban music's sharpest talent managers, however, Beanie Sigel still seemed to have a shot at becoming a household name in hip-hop.
The Truth, Roc-a-Fella, 2000.
The Reason, Roc-a-Fella, 2001.
The B.Coming, Damon Dash Music Group, 2005.
The B.Coming of Beanie Sigel (DVD), Damon Dash Music Group, 2005.
Boston Herald, August 26, 2001, p. 64.
Chicago Sun-Times, July 15, 2003, p. 30.
Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN), April 17, 2005, p. E2.
Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2005, p. E1; April 7, 2005, p. E8.
New York Times, March 24, 2005, p. E1.
Philadelphia Tribune, June 1, 2001, p. F6.
USA Today, March 7, 2000, p. D4.
Washington Post, March 8, 2000, p. C1.
"Beanie Sigel," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 24, 2005).
"Beef According to Beans," Allhiphop.com, http://www.all-hiphop.com/features/?ID=73 (May 24, 2005).
Additional information was obtained from Damon Dash Music Group press releases.
"Sigel, Beanie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sigel-beanie
"Sigel, Beanie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sigel-beanie
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