Editor's note: For more details about BMF, as well as notes describing the sourcing of the story, click on the "Deep Background" link at the end of each section.
Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory, CEO of BMF Entertainment, is seated at the head of a monolithic marble-slab table, watching the events unfold with untrusting eyes. A man in a white dress shirt, the only one in the room not wearing all black, starts his spiel.
"Yo, Meech," he says excitedly, leaning into the table, "I got the deal of a lifetime..."
In the expanse in front of the CEO, stacks of bills are piled to generous heights. To his left, his chief operating officer, Chad "J-Bo" Brown, maintains a stony silence. Flanking them at the table are two more men. And in the background, two scantily clad women and a guy wearing a T-shirt that says "Free Meech" barely make an impression against the shadows.
Meech quickly puts an end to the negotiations.
"Look here, man," he says in a low, raspy drawl. "The deal don't mean nothing to me, man." He turns to the guy to his immediate right. "I'm not even supposed to be talking to this dude." Turning the other way, to face J-Bo, Meech hollers, "Get Bleu on the phone. Somebody get Bleu on the phone, man."
Bleu DaVinci, the sole artist signed to BMF Entertainment (the "BMF" standing for "Black Mafia Family," though it might as well be an acronym for "Big Meech Flenory") answers.
"What up, dude?"
"Bleu, man, this man is interfering with my business," Meech says. His agitation is clearly starting to dissolve into hysteria. "You need to get down here and talk to this man," Meech tells Bleu. "I don't know why somebody let him in the room to see what's goin' on anyway, man."
"Alright," Bleu says. "Just let me, um, run down here and check on that little shipment I was telling you about yesterday, and I'll get down there in a little while. Just give me a minute."
Not long after, Bleu, loaded with chains and his braids tucked behind a black bandana, swaggers into the room, singing,
"Cause I'm a boss ...
"When I'm runnin' ..."
By then, the man in the white shirt is gone.
Bleu glances up to greet Meech. "What up, man?"
Meech is mumbling to no one in particular about the music, the money, the problem at hand. Motioning to Bleu, he says, "You cannot be havin' that music dude comin' up in here, seein' all this money like this, man. You gotta be able to separate the two. You can't do it. We cannot do it, man."
What's going on in the room is not what it seems. Or maybe it is.
The two scenes -- Meech calling Bleu DaVinci and Bleu showing up at the secret location -- are bookends of a $500,000 video for Bleu's 2004 single, "Still Here." Directed by famed hip-hop videographer Benny Boom, bankrolled by Meech and with guest appearances by Brooklyn rapper Fabolous, California's E-40 and Bleu's protégé, an equal parts beautiful and frightening teenager called Lil Oowee, the video has all the cinematic appeal of well-done Hollywood. There is a story arc, sophisticated aerial camerawork of downtown Atlanta, a choreographed dance scene in a stylish warehouse and Meech leaning comfortably on a steel-colored Rolls Royce, taking in the dazzling production at hand.
It was brazenness at its best. Because at the time the video was filmed in 2004, Meech already had been implicated in crimes reminiscent of the fictitious deal that took place in front of the camera.
Since December of 2003, Meech had been out on bond for his alleged role in a high-profile double homicide behind a Buckhead club. Months later, investigators had begun to suspect that his recently incorporated record label, BMF Entertainment, was financed by an alleged cocaine enterprise called the Black Mafia Family. The feds also had intercepted a limo packed with nearly $600,000 and an RV loaded with 100 kilos of coke, both of which were believed to be the property of the Black Mafia Family. And they suspected that Meech was the CEO of the Atlanta-based label and the alleged drug-trafficking ring.
In fact, by the time the video was produced, local and federal investigators had been aggressively targeting Meech for several years. And Meech, in turn, had been aggressively flashing BMF's wealth -- practically in their faces.
On I-75 and on Peachtree Road, BMF Entertainment announced its message from the skies. Testaments of BMF's power were printed in white block letters on a black, 20-by-60-foot background. And the words alluded to Scarface, a frequent source of inspiration for the Black Mafia Family.
In the film, Cuban-born drug lord Tony Montana looks to the Miami sky and sees a message ticking across the side of a blimp: “The World is Yours.”