They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.

Advertisement
They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
Mario Rosemond (center top) and his brother Jimmy (second from left) clawed their way from the streets of Brooklyn to the top of the music industry. Then it all came crashing down.Gary Reyes/Oakland Tribune Staff Archives; Janette Beckman/Getty; Johnny Nunez/WireImage; KMazur/WireImage for Interscope Records; Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty; Dakarai Akil for Insider

The incredible saga of the Henchmen brothers, hip-hop's forgotten moguls

Advertisement

The first time in eight years that Mario Rosemond heard his name, it filled him with terror. Almost as much as the men surrounding him with machine guns.

It was March 2019, and Rosemond was living in Mexico under an assumed identity. Born in Haiti and tossed out on the streets of Brooklyn as a teenager, he was on the run from the FBI, for his role in a cocaine-trafficking empire run by his younger brother, Jimmy. But the Rosemond brothers were no ordinary hustlers. As founders of Henchmen Entertainment, rap's most notorious management firm, Jimmy and Mario had made millions the legit way: by deftly cultivating artists such as The Game, Salt-N-Pepa, Akon, Sean Kingston, and Gucci Mane. During their meteoric rise in the 1990s, Mario had kept a low profile, the Wall Street-trained numbers guy who quietly managed the company's fortunes. Jimmy, five years younger, served as Henchmen's flashy and intimidating front man, the self-described "gangster manager" of hip-hop. "They figured out how to go from the streets to the boardrooms," says Skee, one of rap's most influential producers and DJs. "They have that respect."

But according to the Feds, Jimmy never left the streets at all. "Rosemond styled himself a hip hop mogul, bringing the music of the streets to a wider audience and expanding opportunities of artists," as the Justice Department put it. "In reality, his image as a music impresario was a cover for the real Jimmy Rosemond — a thug in a suit who flooded those same streets with cocaine, and shuttled drugs and money from coast to coast."

Arrested in 2011, Jimmy was convicted of running a massive drug empire and of ordering the murder of Lowell "Lodi Mack" Fletcher, an associate of 50 Cent who was gunned down in the Bronx. Some in the rap world also suspected him of masterminding the 1994 shooting of Tupac Shakur at Quad Studios, igniting the bicoastal rap feud that led to the murders of both Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Now serving two life sentences in federal prison, Jimmy continues to maintain his innocence, claiming he served as the "fall guy" for the drugs and violence that plagued the music industry. "That dark force that we grew up on, that Joker character, that nemesis of good," he tells me on a recent call from prison. "Unfortunately, I became that in the music business, and to reporters, and eventually to prosecutors who felt they needed to rid the business of me."

Advertisement

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
Jimmy Rosemond was arrested in 2011 and received two life sentences on charges of drug running and murder for hire.AP Newsroom

It was Jimmy's arrest that drove Mario to flee to Mexico. Faced with having to testify against his brother, Rosemond pulled a Saul Goodman. He paid $50,000 to be smuggled down to Cuernavaca, where he adopted a new identity: Tommy Davis. Leaving behind his family and friends, he spent eight years living with "my head on a swivel," as Mario puts it, always on the lookout for anyone who might recognize him. He kept a low profile. He learned Spanish, steered clear of serious relationships, and went to church on Sundays. "You're not trusting nobody," he says.

It didn't help that Cuernavaca had become a battleground, with one of Mexico's fiercest cartels erupting in an internal war. Driving to the gym, Rosemond would pass the corpse of a freshly butchered gangster on the side of the road. A friend he knew got shot dead by the cartel, and his roommate, a steroid-jacked Colombian, had been kidnapped for three days before managing to escape. It was a dangerous place to be living on the lam.

The moment Rosemond's past caught up with him felt nightmarishly surreal. He was doing his laundry in the courtyard of his apartment building when he spotted five armed men climbing the fence.

"We're looking for Mario Rosemond," one of them told him in English.

"Yo no sé," Mario stammered in Spanish. "Mi nombre es Tommy Davis."

Advertisement

Then they threw a bag over his head, and everything went dark.


Today, four years later, Rosemond's life still hangs in the balance. "It's kind of hard even speaking on it right now," he tells me. "Because I don't know what the endgame is."

We're talking over breakfast at a Friendly's near Rahway, New Jersey, a universe away from Rosemond's takedown in Cuernavaca. At age 64, dressed in blue jeans and a blue polo, he comes across as less urban gangster than suburban grandad. It's a status he has earned by spending his days babysitting his 2-year-old grandson. The only sign of his hip-hop past are the tattoos on his right arm memorializing his late mother and sister. Whatever choices he has made in life, he says, it was always his family that drove him. "I don't have too many people in my circle," he says. "It's family." Now, as he awaits sentencing for participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, he's sharing his incredible saga for the first time, from his meteoric rise in Brooklyn to his inglorious fall in Mexico.

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
Jimmy (far left) and his son Jimmy Jr. with Mario (far right) and their mother, Andrea. "I don't have too many people in my circle," Mario says. "It's family."Courtesy of Leeann Hellijas

Mario's working-class parents migrated from Port-au-Prince to New York City when he was 7. Constantin was a carpenter; Andrea got work as a nurse. "Like every immigrant family," Mario says, "they wanted a better life." The family settled in Vanderveer Estates, a housing project of 59 rundown buildings that sprawled across 30 acres of East Flatbush. Quiet and intellectual, Mario tried to provide an example for his four younger siblings, especially Jimmy. But their home life was troubled. Constantin, an abusive womanizer, "would beat us with anything and everything," Mario recalls. At age 16, after Mario stepped in to stop his father from assaulting his mother, Constantin told him there wasn't room for two grown men in the house and threw him out. "My parents worked hard to keep us out of the street," Mario says. "And, you know, the street always come and get you."

Mario tried street life himself, joining a gang of petty thieves called the Jolly Stompers. But after a high-school guidance counselor helped him secure a Wall Street internship, Mario learned how to build a fortune the old-fashioned way. "Legal money, not having to worry," he says. "I learned how people really got rich." The Masters of the Universe, he realized, did it by keeping a low profile. "When you're in the background, nobody knows about you," he says. "They don't know that you're actually running things. They don't know that you're watching everything."

Advertisement

But while Mario worked to ascend the ranks of Wall Street and started a family of his own, Jimmy remained behind in Brooklyn, where he hung out in the projects. With his father out of the picture and his mother working two jobs, Jimmy "had to fend for myself," he tells me. "I had no guardianship, so the streets is what adopted me." At 10, he fell in with a local Jamaican gang called the Untouchables. At 13, he owned his first gun. At 18, he landed in Rikers Island on a firearm charge. Jimmy considered Rikers "gladiator school." He studied the Black Panthers, converted to Islam, and learned his trade from the city's most experienced drug dealers. Despite "everything that I know better," he says, "this is the only family I had." Jimmy worked his way up to become, as he later boasted, "the biggest drug dealer in Brooklyn."

In 1992, after the cops busted down his door looking for drugs, Jimmy approached his brother Mario with a proposition: Let's start a music-management company. For Jimmy, as he later put it, music was a way to create a "hideout" for his drug money. "I didn't know anything about the music business," he said. "I don't care about the music business. But one of the fascinations of being a gangster or a drug dealer is you want to rub shoulders with guys who have money, or guys of your stature, and you look at entertainers as those guys."

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
Jimmy (left) with his client, The Game. He got into the music business, he says, to create a "hideout" for his drug money.Johnny Nunez / Getty Images

Jimmy was hitting up his brother at a vulnerable moment. Mario was just out of Rikers himself, where he was sentenced to spend every weekend for 18 months for — unwittingly, he claims — cashing stolen checks for a friend. Out of a job and unemployable on Wall Street, with a young daughter to support, Mario was a sharp-enough businessman to spot an opportunity. Plus he loved music, and had been DJing at clubs under the name Mr. Slick. With the popularity of rap on the rise, emerging artists and producers needed someone to represent them — someone who could navigate the treacherous waters of the music industry.

To gather all the top talent in one place, Jimmy and Mario organized a conference called "How Can I Be Down?" Held in Miami Beach in 1992, the event attracted a Who's Who of hip-hop's early moguls: Russell Simmons, Benny Medina, Lyor Cohen, Chris Lighty, Mona Scott. While Jimmy worked the crowd, Mario practiced the skill he had learned on Wall Street. "I was just a fly on the wall, so no one really pays attention to me," he recalls. "As opposed to my brother, he wanted to be a front man. That's why in the music business we worked so well."

That fall, the brothers proved their prowess by engineering one of the biggest rap songs of the year. Salt-N-Pepa, the pioneering female rap trio from New York, were on their fourth record and in need of a hit when Jimmy hooked them up with Mark Sparks, a producer friend. Jimmy had zero experience in music, but it didn't matter. "I was young enough to where I trusted my ears," he tells me. Released in September 1993, the resulting single, "Shoop," became a runaway hit, topping the rap charts and going gold in only two months.

Advertisement
They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
The brothers engineered their first hit: Salt-N-Pepa's 1993 single "Shoop."Paul Bergen / Getty Images

The brothers quickly followed up with another hit, "Tell Me," by the R&B duo Groove Theory. The band's cofounder Bryce Wilson remembers Jimmy as a small, geeky guy in glasses. "He didn't present himself as a gangster. Jimmy was a nerd," Wilson tells me. "But he was extremely loyal and extremely unselfish and would do whatever it takes to make things happen." He was also a canny businessman. Jimmy hit on a groundbreaking idea: He and Mario would sign rap producers instead of artists and make them stars in their own right. "What I understood was the real estate of the music," Jimmy says. "Everything else you're selling in music is intangible but the publishing."

All they needed for their management company was a name. Jimmy wanted something that evoked his personal history, his move from Rikers to rap. "He was bringing the street into the music business," Mario says. The kid who fought his way out of the projects rebranded himself as Jimmy Henchman, and he dubbed their new enterprise Henchmen Entertainment.


Jimmy and Mario have a lot in common: intelligence, loyalty to those who deserve it, no time for those who don't. They also share a way of speaking, punctuating their comments with the occasional mmm-hmm, as if preaching to themselves, a looping call and response. When I ask Jimmy what he learned from the street that he took into the music business, the convicted drug dealer delivers a gospel on integrity. "If you're known to be a thief, that's how they're gonna deal with you," he tells me. "If you're known to be trustworthy, they get to trust in you more. So it applied the same way in the music business. People buy into the person."

With Jimmy as the public-facing godfather and Mario the calculating consigliere, the brothers styled themselves as hip-hop Corleones. Adopting the name Henchman not only bolstered Jimmy's reputation but also helped him dodge the cops, who were after him on gun charges. "They don't know where he is," Mario recalls, "because he's Jimmy Henchman now."

The company's 15 or so employees also used the Henchman name, even printing it on their business cards. Mohammed "Tef" Stewart, a friend from Brooklyn who joined the team, became Tef Henchman, a title he wore with the same pride he took in Jimmy. "Henchman was his name," he later testified, "and it felt like we were under him." The new moniker helped them get into clubs, score meetings, and ward off trouble. "It was like a free pass," Mario says, "because everybody knew we had muscle." Only one member of the crew refused to use the new handle: Mario. "I didn't want no part of that name," he tells me. He had a motivation for playing it safe. He wanted to protect his 12-year-old daughter, who was living with his ex-wife in New Jersey.

Advertisement

But on November 30, 1994, the Henchmen name became etched into the history of hip-hop. Jimmy had agreed to pay $15,000 to have the industry's hottest rapper, Tupac Shakur, stop by Quad Studios in New York and record a track with the Henchmen artist Little Shawn. Mario had known Tupac since the '80s and felt a kinship with the introspective young artist. "He was down to earth, a quiet, quiet, quiet dude," Mario says. "He didn't even have any bodyguards. He would be by himself. He was a regular kid."

That night, Mario recalls, he was back at Henchmen's headquarters, opting for the quietude of the office over the scene at the studio. Then his phone rang. It was Jimmy, sounding agitated. Tupac was late, and with the rap stars Puff Daddy and Biggie Smalls milling around the studio, Jimmy was losing not only time and money but something even more dangerous: face. Jimmy wanted Mario to track down his old friend and get him to the studio.

Mario called Tupac. "Yo, dude, where you at?" he asked. Pac said he was uptown making drops with a DJ, but promised to show up for the studio gig. "I'm gonna be there, man," he promised Mario.

A few hours later, Mario got another, more alarming call from his brother. "Yo," Jimmy said, "Pac just got shot!" Suspicion immediately fell on the Henchmen brothers. Tupac's manager, Freddie Moore, called Mario and accused him and Jimmy of setting Tupac up. "Yo, somebody shot my man five times and y'all guys didn't know about it?!" Moore shouted.

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
On the night Tupac was shot in 1994, he was supposed to record a track with the Henchmen artist Little Shawn.Al Pereira / Getty Images

"Dude, do me a favor and think about this," Mario replied. "'Cause me, I start trying to think logic: If we wanted him dead or if we wanted him hurt, wouldn't we have done the record first? If he's dead, that would've been the last song. You know, my artist would be blowing the fuck up!"

Advertisement

The police found no evidence linking Jimmy to Tupac's shooting, which ignited a deadly war between the East Coast and West Coast branches of rap. And Jimmy continues to claim, against all evidence, that Tupac accidentally shot himself with his own gun. "I look guilty as fuck to anybody who's standing around, right?" Jimmy tells me. "But this guy never was shot up — he shot himself." Still, with the police looking for him on gun charges, Jimmy wasn't taking any chances. As Tupac lay bleeding in the lobby of the studio, Jimmy slipped away.

Mario is cagier about Jimmy's involvement in the shooting. "If he did do that," he tells me, "that would have been stupid." When I ask Mario if he thinks Jimmy is innocent, he laughs. "I didn't say he's innocent," he says. "I'm saying I believe he's innocent."


Not long after the Tupac shooting, Mario was at his home in Plainfield, New Jersey, when the police came crashing through the door, guns drawn. They were looking for Jimmy.

Avoiding drama is what had driven Mario from Brooklyn in the first place. But the streets had followed him to the suburbs. Luckily, his daughter wasn't there to see the cops raid his home, looking for her uncle. The experience left Mario more resolved than ever to stay out of his brother's affairs. "From that experience, I stay squeaky clean," he insists. "'Cause that would put my daughter and family in danger."

In the rap community, Tupac's shooting only served to burnish Jimmy's reputation — especially after Pac recorded the diss track "Against All Odds," vowing "to pay back Jimmy Henchman in due time." Jimmy was thrilled. "He puts me in that record," he says, "that's what give me notoriety." But Mario was far from pleased. "It made Jimmy more famous, and for him, he loves that, right? For me, I hate it, because now it brings more light to you."

Advertisement

With his gun charges still looming, Jimmy began working out of his car to evade the police. "Mario was in the office, so I was able to move around," he says. With more clients, more hits, and more money pouring in, the brothers made themselves indispensable to those around them. "Flush with cash, we was able to do things for folks," Mario says. With their reputation growing, they began attracting more and more top stars, from Brandy to Junior Mafia. They'd make deals, settle beefs, lend money with interest. When I ask Mario what happened when someone didn't make a payment, he dismisses the idea as unthinkable. "Everybody always did," he says.

But Jimmy could run for only so long. In 1996 he was arrested in Los Angeles and sent to prison. Mario kept Henchmen running while Jimmy was behind bars, but by the time his brother got released three years later, he felt increasingly concerned. "It was hot up here," he says. "My brother, some of the moves he was making at that time, I didn't necessarily agree. Now, more so than ever, the street is definitely in the office." To protect his family, he decided to put some distance between himself and his brother. "I'm gonna go to the West Coast," he told Jimmy. "And I'm gonna start my own thing."

In 2001, at the age of 43, Mario moved to Los Angeles and built a new life far from the troubles back home. He started an adult-film company called Joy Ride ("it was just as a business thing"), bought a palatial house in the Hollywood Hills, and started a new family. For a guy who always wanted to live the quiet life, it felt as if he had finally found some peace.

But back in New York, Jimmy didn't stray far from the streets. Through his management company ­— now called Czar Entertainment — he continued to manage top artists. He brokered a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis that became the highest-grossing bout in history, with over $100 million in revenue. He even branched out into politics, holding a free concert in Haiti with Wyclef Jean and Akon to raise awareness about the country's plight. But the generosity came with a price. "Jimmy was always there for the people," says Garland "Ghetto" Cyrus, who ran Czar's record distribution in the South. "He was just a guy that you couldn't cross."

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
Jimmy organized a free concert for Haiti with Wyclef Jean. "He was always there for the people," one employee recalled.THONY BELIZAIRE / Getty Images

Jimmy's tough-guy approach to the music industry erupted into open violence when he signed one of his biggest artists: The Game. A member of G-Unit, the pioneering hip-hop group that included a young 50 Cent, The Game had ties to Violator Management, a rival music company whose offices happened to be directly across from Czar's on West 25th Street. Violator had a powerhouse roster, including Mariah Carey, LL Cool J, and Missy Elliott, and it didn't take The Game's defection lightly.

Advertisement

In February 2005, when 50 Cent went on Hot 97 radio to throw The Game out of his group and dismiss him as "gone," an outraged Jimmy dispatched The Game and the Henchmen soldier Tef Stewart to the station with a small crew, according to Stewart. When they arrived, they were greeted with gunshots. The two sides clashed again the following year at the annual Mixtape Awards at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. As Jimmy fled the scene, one of his soldiers shot up a white Bentley belonging to a member of G-Unit.

Then, in March 2007, a G-Unit associate named Lowell "Lodi Mack" Fletcher took the feud too far. As he was leaving Violator's office, Fletcher spotted a 14-year-old boy wearing a Czar sweatshirt outside Jimmy's office. Racing across the street, he pushed the kid against a wall, slapped him, and threatened him with a gun. The boy turned out to be Jimmy Rosemond Jr.

When he got the news, Jimmy Sr. was enraged. "I just couldn't believe somebody would do that," he tells me. "The kid was only 14, he looked like he was 12. Then I found out it was these clowns. They crossed the line with my son."

After Mario learned what had happened, he urged Jimmy to stay cool. "I passed word that he need to chill on that," he recalls. "I told him revenge is best served when it's cold."

Fletcher was sent to prison for assault and endangering a child, but that didn't satisfy Jimmy. War broke out on the streets of New York. Tef Stewart's barbershop was burned down. The Henchmen suspected a G-Unit associate. Stewart later testified that he and others in Jimmy's crew bombed the associate's bulletproof truck with Molotov cocktails. Then, in 2009, Fletcher was released from prison for the assault on Jimmy's son. Two weeks later, as he stepped off a train in the Bronx, someone burst out of the shadows and gunned him down, shooting him five times in the back with a .22-caliber handgun. The feud over Jimmy's music business had turned fatal.

Advertisement

"I need you to help me out," Jimmy told Mario.

It was the spring of 2011, and Jimmy had called his big brother in distress. By then, Jimmy was allegedly the biggest drug trafficker in the music business. With a dozen underlings at his command, he ran what the Feds later called "a large bicoastal narcotics-trafficking organization," moving thousands of pounds of coke. Now, the lieutenant who ran the operation, Khalil Abdullah, had been arrested, and Jimmy wanted Mario to make sure a coming payment got handled. "He could only trust me," Mario says, "because money, lots of money, is coming down."

Czar Entertainment had become both a nexus and a cover for the trafficking enterprise. Cocaine would be wrapped in plastic, slathered in mustard, packed in musical equipment boxes, and sent from Los Angeles to a rehearsal studio in New York. Once the drugs were retrieved, the equipment boxes would be sent back to LA, loaded with millions in cash. Jimmy and his henchmen used burner phones, encrypting their messages and emails. With so many artists coming and going on various projects, no one was the wiser as contraband-filled road cases shipped through Interscope Records, the label co-founded by music legend Jimmy Iovine. (Interscope denied any involvement in the drug enterprise.)

Until now, Mario had determinedly stayed out of Jimmy's underworld. He was remaking his life in LA, and he wanted nothing to do with the streets he had left behind. But there was one problem for Mario. "He'll do whatever for his family and for his people," says his friend DJ Skee. "He's extremely loyal to a fault." So when Jimmy asked him for help, Mario couldn't say no. "That's how I got back in," he tells me. He made sure the drug money "got to where it's supposed to get," he says.

But the brotherly favor put Mario in the crosshairs. A few months later, he got a late-night call from a neighbor, the only other Black guy who lived in his ritzy Hollywood Hills development. The Feds had busted down the guy's door by mistake, looking for Mario. It was only a matter of time before Mario found himself in custody. And that meant, as he saw it, there was only one choice. He called up a loyal contact in the Henchmen network. "They busted down my man's door looking for me," Mario told him. "What do you have in your trick bag?"

Advertisement

"We gonna need 50 grand," the guy replied. "I'll go to Mexico and set it up for you."

He called his daughter to say goodbye. "I'm in trouble," he told her. "I gotta get outta here." 

The guy said he would spread the money through a decentralized network of people who could smuggle Mario across the border. In the meantime, Mario couldn't go home. "This place don't exist anymore," the guy told him. Another handler picked him up and took him to a hotel, the first of three he'd be staying at over the next few days until they could get him to Mexico. From this moment forward, Mario was on the run — just as Jimmy had been for years.

To get his phony identity, Mario slipped an envelope containing $5,000 in cash to a contact at the Department of Motor Vehicles. When his new ID was ready, the contact called him from a burner phone and told him what day to come by the DMV. When Mario arrived, he snaked around in line until the contact lit his red light, signaling him to come over. That's when Mario was handed an authentic California driver's license with his new identity: Tommy Davis. When I ask how he felt about the random name he was given, Mario chuckles. "Didn't make no difference to me," he says.

Once he was over the border, however, Mario would lose what mattered most to him: his family. It would be too risky to speak with them again. He called his eldest daughter back in New Jersey to say goodbye. She was in her 30s, with a family of her own. "I'm in trouble," he told her. "I gotta get outta here." All he could do was listen to her cry as he explained that he didn't know when he'd be back. Then he told his two little kids in Los Angeles. "Daddy's sorry, but he has to go take care of something," he said. "It's just like when I go out and travel for business. So you're not gonna see me for a little while." He ate his last meal at Crustacean in Beverly Hills, ordering his favorites: crabs, garlic noodles, and the mango lobster appetizer.

The next morning, he got instructions to go to a nearby supermarket, where a black Suburban would be waiting to pick him up. He took one duffel bag of clothes and another filled with $50,000 in cash — enough, he hoped, to last him wherever he was going in Mexico. During the drive south, Mario called Jimmy on his burner phone. They had to be vague, since the Feds could be listening. "Yo, dude," Mario said. "Man, you should really make this move with me, Jimmy."

Advertisement

"I can't go with you," Jimmy replied. "Because the two of us together is gonna bring too much heat." But he too had an escape plan. "I'm working on something," he said. "Based what I'm working on, maybe someday I'll be able to come and see you."

Mario's driver zipped them through the border patrol at San Ysidro without Mario needing to show his new ID, and then handed him off in Tijuana to his next liaison, who checked him in to a hotel. "Be at the airport at 8 a.m.," the man told him. Once there, Mario went to the specified counter where the attendant, who was on the take, issued him a ticket under his Tommy Davis alias. His destination: Mexico City.

Mario's mouth went dry. He didn't speak Spanish, didn't know a soul in Mexico, and had no clue where he would be sent. "I was thirsty cuz I was nervous," he says. "I'm like, 'What am I walking into?' 'Cause I don't know nothing. But I trusted my man, you know, I trust him with my life. I don't have a choice."

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
Living on the run in Cuernavaca, Mario changed apartments every six months. "I was never attached to anything," he says.GummyBone / Getty Images

After arriving in Mexico City, Mario called a number he'd been given. An athletic Colombian guy pulled up outside with his Mexican fiancée in the passenger seat. "Welcome to Mexico City, man," he told Mario with a smile. The Colombian had been on the run from trouble in San Diego for 15 years. Mario didn't ask why, and the guy didn't inquire about Mario's predicament. They drove 50 miles south until they came to the hillside town of Cuernavaca and the apartment Mario would share with the couple. From there, he was on his own.


As he adjusted to his strange new life in Mexico, Mario went to an internet café each day, checking the news from back home. On June 21, 2011, scanning the New York Post, he saw a headline: "Fugitive hip hop talent agent Rosemond charged with running drug ring." The story was accompanied by a photo of Jimmy in handcuffs, escorted by two agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They had busted him on his way out of the W Hotel in Manhattan. The complaint, which mapped Jimmy's vast trafficking network, revealed that he'd been brought down, in part, by two DEA informants in his organization. One was his longtime friend Tef Stewart. The other was his top lieutenant, Khalil Abdullah.

Advertisement

The news got worse. The next day, Jimmy was indicted on an even more serious charge: murder for hire. The Feds accused him of recruiting a crew of hitmen to kill Fletcher in return for $30,000 of cocaine. When I ask Mario whether he considers Jimmy capable of murder, he dodges the question. But he isn't shy about disparaging how the killing was handled. "It sounded like some Keystone Cop-type of stupid," he goes on. "It wasn't planned out properly. Like I said, justice is best served when cold." He doesn't seem bothered by the murder, which he takes as a given: "Everybody knew somebody was gonna get dead." It's the sloppiness that irritates him. "I'm always calculated about things," he says.

With Jimmy behind bars, Mario felt even more in danger of getting busted — or killed. Living on the run in Cuernavaca, he calculated his every step. Rule No. 1: Stay off the phones. If he had to make a call, he made it from a phone booth at a local convenience store. Rule No. 2: Change apartments every six months. "I was never attached to anything," he says. This included girlfriends. As one of the few Black men in Cuernavaca, he says, he attracted more than his share of attention from the Mexican women. "I was exotic to them," he tells me with a laugh. But he could never risk being himself. "You can't have a meaningful relationship with anybody," he says.

But as the years passed, the dream of returning home slipped away. He would make a quick call now and then to let his family know he was alive, but he couldn't let them know anything about his location or situation. His $50,000 was dwindling, and he didn't have a way to drum up more money. So he worked out twice a day, and went to church to pray, and hoped for something to change.

Then one day, after eight years on the run, something did.

Mario, normally so careful and meticulous, acknowledges he had gotten sloppy. Tired of his life as Tommy Davis, alone in Cuernavaca, he had started calling home more often, and took fewer precautions to cover his tracks. "I got lazy," he says.

Advertisement

At first, as he was in the courtyard doing his laundry, he thought the men he spotted scaling the fence were Mexican Federales. He tried to play it cool when they confronted him, but they ordered him to lie face down on the ground and pointed their weapons at him, freckling him with red laser dots. Oh, my God, he thought. I'm gonna die today. They're gonna kill me. It was only after a long, silent ride in the back of a pickup truck when his hood was removed — and he found himself staring into the eyes of a US Marshal at the Mexico City airport. He still doesn't know who ratted him out.

Mario was headed back to New York to face the drug-trafficking charges he'd evaded for nearly a decade. But he felt as though his arrest had actually released him from the prison of his assumed identity. Tommy Davis was no more. All that remained was Mario Rosemond.

"It was a relief," he says. "Cuz no matter what anyone say, a double life is the most difficult thing to keep."


After his arrest, Mario spent a year in federal prison in New York before he was released to live with his daughter's family in New Jersey, where he's now awaiting sentencing. He will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, which could send him away for five years to life. But Mario, who spends his days taking care of his grandson, isn't running anymore. "I'm at peace now," he tells me outside his daughter's home. "I'm ready to pay for my bad deeds and then go on with my life."

One of the reasons he's sharing his story with me, he says, is to discourage others from following his path. "Dealing with any kind of illegalities, it ain't worth it," he says. "I've had all the money that I could possibly have, right? No matter how smart you think you are, the government has enough people on their payroll to outsmart you. It can go for a month or it can go for years, like for me. But sooner or later it catches up to you. So I would like to tell the younger generation coming up to try to do it a different way."

Advertisement
They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
NFL star Jim Brown and the actor Michael K. Williams lobbied to secure a presidential pardon for Jimmy. "Let's get this guy home for Christmas," Donald Trump told his staff.Arturo Holmes / Scott Olson / Al Pereira / Getty Images

While Mario awaits his sentencing, Jimmy is trying to get free with the help of an unlikely ally: Donald Trump. In 2020, a month before Trump left office, Jimmy enlisted celebrity friends, including the actor Michael K. Williams and the NFL legend Jim Brown, to try to secure a presidential pardon. During a call with Brown on December 18, 2020, according to affidavits filed by Jimmy's attorneys, Trump told his staff, "Let's get this guy home for Christmas."

Last August, a federal judge ruled that Trump's "vague" comments did not constitute clemency. Jimmy is now hoping Trump will win reelection in 2024 so he can make good on his remark. "My hope would be that a guy like Trump would be in charge," Jimmy says. "People have this misconception about Trump, especially in the Black community."

They started out as pioneering hip-hop moguls. They wound up building a drug empire.
While Jimmy serves out his prison sentence, the brothers remain close. "I'd ride or die for him," Mario says.Courtesy of Leeann Hellijas

In the meantime, Jimmy's legacy as a music mogul lives on. Fourteen years after the murder that landed his father in prison, James Rosemond Jr. is now a manager himself — representing one of the top artists in hip-hop, Ice Spice. "It feels like some sort of redemption," Jimmy says. "I'm able to rest a little better at night because he's doing so well."

Both Jimmy and Mario tell me their bond is tight as ever. "I'd ride or die for him," Mario says. When he was extradited from Mexico, he and his brother spoke by phone for the first time in years. Jimmy, who isn't known for accepting responsibility for his actions, offered his older brother an apology.

"Sorry I got you into this, man," Jimmy told him.

Advertisement

Mario was having none of it. They'd been through too much — two immigrant kids from a broken home who grew up in the projects, clawed their way to the top of the music industry, and helped transform hip-hop into one of the most influential and lucrative art forms in the world. Above all, they were brothers. And brothers stick together to the end. "It's all good, man," Mario told Jimmy.

"What am I going to tell him?" he says now. "Yep, it's all good."


David Kushner is a long-time contributor to Rolling Stone. His new book is "Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master: Pong, Atari, and the Dawn of the Video Game."

{{}}