The first of the videos features well-known New Orleans rapper Curtis “Kidd Kidd” Stewart and another local voice, Quincy “Qp” Briggs. It starts at Second and South Prieur streets, bouncing between street corners, day and night.
At each scene, the rappers are flanked by other young men, some of them accused or now-admitted members of the “39’ers” gang.
One man in the video sports a T-shirt reading, “3NG We DA Best Team 39’ers,” as the two rappers take turns.
Federal prosecutors say the gang, blamed for a dozen murders in a 45-count indictment handed up last year, was an alliance of 3NG, named for its turf at Third and Galvez streets, and “G-Strip,” a 9th Ward gang.
“Yo, ho, you wanna ride a gang 39er/ so that’s why her old man can’t find her,” Briggs rhymes.
“I ain’t a boxer/ I’m a pine-boxer,” Kidd Kidd raps. “You run to coppers/ running your choppers/ (messing) with them pigs/ we got them pork choppers.”
Superimposed on the video are graphics. One says “39ers Uptown”; another reads “Downtown/39ers.”
Gregory “Rabbit” Stewart, who has since admitted to numerous murders and is now a key cooperating witness in the government’s 39’ers case, is seen in one shot standing with a pistol tucked under his arm, and later draping an arm over “Kidd Kidd” Stewart.
The two men are not believed to be related.
The video’s producer, Jeremi Brock, calls the mix of low-budget music videos and street shoutout sessions “a little bit of both art and documentary.” But to federal prosecutors, they’re evidence of a criminal conspiracy, and Kidd Kidd, a former Young Money rapper, is less entertainer than “agent” for the gang.
Neither Kidd Kidd nor Qp faces any charges, but their work is among more than a dozen recordings that federal prosecutors want a jury to review in a trial for 10 remaining defendants in the racketeering conspiracy case.
Prosecutors allege the 39’ers committed a dozen murders and several other violent crimes over a two-year period, beginning in late 2009, to further their heroin business.
Kidd Kidd’s words and the video go a long way to showing the particular gang known as the 39’ers in fact existed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Myles Ranier argued at a hearing this month.
Kidd Kidd’s rap celebrity, Ranier argued, burnished the group’s street bona fides, and vice versa.
“There’s a public relations aspect of this organization, including intimidation,” he said, “keeping potential victims and witnesses in fear of the enterprise.”
The use of rap videos to help prove a racketeering conspiracy is not unprecedented in courts in New Orleans or elsewhere. But it’s rare when the artists involved aren’t themselves the accused, just allegedly doing public relations for others.
“What’s interesting (in this case) is that the rappers are uncharged. In many cases, there have been allegations that the rappers are involved in the gang, and somebody has been charged,” said University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis, author of “Poetic (In)Justice? Rap Music Lyrics as Art, Life and Criminal Evidence.”
“It indicates a new path that prosecutors might be going down,” she said. “Even though the defendants aren’t the actual artists, they’re hanging out with gangsta rappers. It’s part and parcel of creating this story: This is how they live, how they do business.”
Dennis said a limited body of research suggests airing gangsta rap recordings at criminal trials can have a prejudicial effect on juries.
“There’s certainly an inflammatory effect,” she said, adding that prosecutors in the 39’ers case appear to be seeking “a rub-off effect” through the videos featuring Kidd Kidd and Briggs.
“It’s still this notion (from the prosecutors) that rappers must be rapping about what’s accurate and truthful, and here they are assisting with gang members, and they’re all bad.”
In the 39’ers case, that leaves U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, to decide how much to leave in and what to take out before letting a jury sort true-life tales of violence from chest-thumping bravado and bloody lore.
A trial is slated for September.
At this month’s hearing, prosecutors played a second Kidd Kidd video, from a performance also featuring Kangol Slim and Big Freedia. In it, Kidd Kidd mentions the “gang 39 boys” in one verse.
Ranier argued that Kidd Kidd’s association with members of the 39’ers, as seen on Brock’s video, was “a mutually beneficial relationship,” amounting to more than hearsay evidence of the 39’ers’ exploits.
“It was good for his career to associate with known gangsters, and good for them to have their name shout(ed) out and rubbed in the faces of rival gangs,” Ranier said. “I have to prove this organization existed. To me, the fact it’s called out in a song that I can hear on my way home from work is proof that the organization existed.”
Zainey replied: “He’s a national phenomenon. Good for him. He’s making a ton of money. ... How do we know what he knows about the 39’ers except what somebody told him?”
“He is someone who is promoting the organization, furthering the aims of the organization,” the prosecutor responded.
“How do we know he’s intentionally doing that?”
“This is uploaded on the World Wide Web,” Ranier said.
Laden with accounts of violence, misogyny, harsh words for informers and claims of paying off police officers, the videos are all but sure to turn jurors’ stomachs whether the stories in them are real or not, defense attorneys argued.
In Brock’s video, Briggs raps, “And if a snitch gets me knocked before I’m booked, he’ll get rocked.”
From there, “it’s just an orgy of violence,” said defense attorney Billy Sothern, who represents accused 39’ers member Evans Lewis.
“All of it together just paints a picture where somebody who’s going to be sitting in that jury box is going to look at that and say, ‘These are all awful people. Let’s convict them,’ ” said Sothern, who described the rap as a “dramatization.”
Another video played at the hearing featured rapping by Ashton “BMG Pound” Price, an accused member of the group.
At one point, Price calls out Gregory Stewart and another confessed leader of the gang, Darryl “Breezy” Franklin, for helping the government against their former associates.
“Rabbit got popped/ he done turned state/ Breezy got dropped/ he went the same way,” Price raps. “We used to run around with the same K/ but I don’t know nothin’/ so a life sentence I’m gonna face.”
The “K,” Ranier said, refers to an AK-47 assault rifle.
Franklin and Merle “Black” Offray, a purported G-Strip leader who was slain in 2013, launched the Dusty Money record label that featured Price, said Ranier.
Price is accused of joining Gregory Stewart in the May 2010 murder of Rayshon Jones; ordering Jasmine Perry to kill “Ride or Die” associate Terrance Dennis on North Galvez Street in February 2011; and gunning down Michael Marshall, a federal informant, in September 2011 with a Glock .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
The same gun was used in several other shootings and murders involving the 39’ers, prosecutors allege.
Attorney Kerry Miller, who represents Jasmine Perry, another defendant in the 39’ers case, called the government’s attempt to introduce the videos a slick substitute for a lack of credible witnesses.
“Let’s call a duck a duck,” Miller said. “The government is trying to introduce this video to prove the existence of this organization, the 39’ers. They don’t like their witnesses, Stewart and Darryl Franklin, because they are so much damaged goods. (They are saying to jurors:) ‘You don’t have to believe Stewart and Franklin. Believe Kidd Kidd, he’s a national rapper.’ ”
In similar cases in New Orleans and elsewhere, federal judges have ruled such videos relevant, but those cases almost all involved the defendants’ lyrics.
In a motion to exclude the rap videos from the 39’ers case, Peter Strasser, the attorney for accused gang member Damion Barnes, cited two cases where federal appeals courts have pushed back, seeking to admit only video or lyrics that are relevant to the charged conduct.
Zainey expressed concern about allowing a jury to see videos in a trial with 10 defendants, not all of whom are seen or mentioned in the recordings.
“That’s the problem I have now,” the judge said. “If you throw enough stuff out there, what’s going to stick?”
Zainey has not yet ruled on the admissibility of the videos, or portions of them.
Ranier dismissed suggestions of any bias in the government’s push to include the gangsta rap as evidence.
“I’d prosecute (country star) Garth Brooks if there was a song about him and he talked about murders,” Ranier said.
One person who is not happy: Brock, the videographer, who no longer shoots many street rap videos and corner shoutout sessions.
The feds already ruined his future in that line of work, at least in New Orleans, Brock said, by calling him to testify last year in a high-profile gang trial that brought convictions and pending life sentences against three convicted St. Roch-area “Ride or Die” gang members.
Brock authenticated the videos on the stand for prosecutors, saying he would sometimes get called out to a street corner to shoot for a few hours but didn’t know the gang members personally.
Now, he fears the worst. “I’m not going to lie, they put my life in danger. I never wanted them to use none of my videos,” he said.
“People are like, ‘Is this guy ... working for the FBI?’ ... Every time I walk outside, I don’t know if somebody’s going to blow my head off.”