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  • Kamilah Stevens

Azie Faison Shares His Feelings About the Death of Alpo Martinez, Obeying God, and Life Reflections

While having many emotionally charged discussions with Azie Faison, I quickly realized he is deeply introspective.. Our conversations were often high-energy, with him discussing right versus wrong and reflecting on the time in his life when Alpo Martinez, Richard Porter, and he made up one of Harlem’s most popular street crews. In 2002, a snippet of their lives made it to Hollywood when Azie created the screenplay for Trapped, which was later released as the movie Paid in Full.

Today, Azie, Alpo, and Rich are so revered that laypersons, creatives, and bloggers (most who are generations younger) create online content—even fake social media accounts—pretending to be them. They have made it hard to believe that the original crew would now be in their fifties (Azie is the only one still alive), and decades away from the days that made them so popular.

During my talks with Azie, we also slipped into riveting topics, such as the spiritual world, God, and obedience, which are all things that Azie says most of us should pay more attention to.

After spending time with Azie and Alpo in Harlem last summer, I understood why so much tribute has been paid to their fascinating lives. They are interesting, regal, and powerful men who had to learn how to survive in the streets. They didn't necessarily choose their paths in life. Even while Alpo was serving a 25-year prison sentence, media outlets reached out to him for answers about his choices that put him behind bars, and documentaries were created that featured his story. He was never gone and forgotten. And, for the six years that Alpo was home from jail, prior to his death, it oddly seemed like the collective energy of Azie, Alpo, and Richard had resurfaced again in Harlem. Although Azie continued to live his low-key lifestyle, and Alpo appeared to be living somewhere between redemption and enjoyment, any interaction with either person was considered a celebration for most people who encountered them. People still asked them for pictures and acknowledged them with respect in public. I witnessed it firsthand when Azie and I had lunch at the Caridad Restaurant in New York City. A gentleman approached our table and asked Azie if he could take a picture with him. Before he walked off, he reminded Azie that he’s still a legend. I saw people greet Alpo with the same enthusiasm and acknowledgement..

Prior to his death, Alpo confirmed that he had some creative projects in the works so he could speak his own truth and explain his past actions on his own terms. Many people were looking forward to this, considering that most of his interviews were done while he was still behind bars and with smaller bloggers. There were so many answers that people wanted answered directly from Alpo's mouth. Nevertheless, Alpo met his demise in Harlem during the early morning hours of Halloween 2021. I thought it was fake news, but Azie and one of Alpo’s close friends both confirmed his death to me.

Volume 82: Some people don’t believe that Alpo’s dead. The rumors surrounding his death are interesting, and some people are publicly saying that he faked his death. People have been making statements online, claiming that they are still in communication with him!

Azie: I try not to listen to any of that. At one point, the thought crossed my mind that he was still alive, but I got confirmation from a reliable source who saw the body after the crime that he’s gone. It’s sad. Things weren’t supposed to end this way for so many of us. … I went to the crime scene. I couldn’t believe it. It was a very sad day.

Volume 82: It seems like someone was waiting for the opportunity to hurt him. What do you think happened?

Azie: I think he got too comfortable. I don’t think this was from an old beef; something else happened. I don’t think anyone from the past or in our age group would ever attempt to hurt him. I don’t know who did it or why; I just know Alpo died on Halloween. May his soul rest in peace. … He was powerful, though. I don’t think he realized his own power.

Volume 82: Have you had the chance to speak to his family?

Azie: No.

Volume 82: You and Alpo were working to have an on-camera sit-down. How therapeutic do you think the sit-down between you and him would have been?

Azie: It would have been good for the viewers to see that he’s a human being. You would never believe some of the things that are said about Alpo if you saw him and interacted with him in person. He doesn’t come across like he’s done some of the things that he’s done.

Volume 82: Do you think it would have helped you both clear the air?

Azie: Remember, I told you that we cleared the air. We met up and spoke after he came home.

Volume 82: Right, but did you fully clear the air?

Azie: We cleared the air enough. He never did anything wrong to me, but there were some things that I asked him about, and I don’t think he was being fully truthful with me. I felt like he was still “playing the game,” instead of answering and being honest and saying, ‘Yes, A, I thought about harming you back in the day, but I was tripping.’ [Azie thinks that when they were younger, Alpo had planned to hurt or kill him.]

Volume 82: Do you think the sit-down would have helped Richard’s family heal?

Azie: I don’t know if they would have listened or been interested in what he had to say. They never listen to Alpo’s interviews; they didn't care about what he has to say.

Volume 82: Considering everything that’s happened over time, especially with the recent death of Alpo, how do you feel about life?

Azie: I wish Alpo could have reached the state of mind that I’m in, to come to realize that that shit is out. Period! It’s over; our time has come and gone. After all the things the game made him do, how could he want to go back in there? For what? But, I came to the conclusion that we don’t have a lot to learn; we have a lot to unlearn. There are so many temptations that come with the game you could lose yourself in a microsecond. There’s a lot of money that we left, but those days are over.

Volume 82: What was the good part of Alpo that you saw?

Azie: People loved him! They loved the bikes and the fun, the cars, the jewelry, the money, him doing wheelies. It was fun. It was fun! You always knew that this man was going to be the show. I was quiet. How would I put it?If Alpo wasn’t a part of us, to be honest, we maybe wouldn’t be as well known to everybody; because we was trying to hide, and he was like, ‘Fuck that, I’m living my life!’ And I get it now … I get it now!

Volume 82: When people talk about Alpo’s bad deeds, I don’t believe that you, he, and Richard would have connected if you saw him as grimey.

Azie: I didn’t see no grime towards us. It was always love, to my knowledge. I didn’t see it, I didn’t feel it.

Volume 82: So, he treated people well?

Azie: I didn’t see him disrespect people unless he was disrespected, and he might have took it over the top like ‘Nigga, take your clothes off in the middle of the streets’ and really embarrass you and shit. He didn’t do it for no reason. They went on a trip, and somebody stole Big Dave’s watch [a Rolex], and he was like ‘Fuck that, nobody is leaving this hotel until we find the watch.’ When they found the watch, he made this nigga do some of the craziest shit in the world in front of everybody! You know, these are the types of things I heard.

Volume 82: What did he make him do?

Azie: I don’t know, I’m not even gonna go there, man [Azie laughs] I’m not even gonna go there about what I heard! But, aah! Horrible stuff, man. But, you know certain things … I don’t even know how to put it. I don’t know what makes him make his decisions in his mind. He’s walking in his own brain. I’m walking in mine. In other words, somebody might do something to me, and I’d be like ‘Fuck it, that happened, let it pass.’ But Alpo, he’s not gonna let it pass! For him, it was like ‘Fuck that, you ain’t gonna play me like that. You don’t disrespect me like that!’ Sometimes, he might do something for me, like ‘Fuck that nigga, A!’, and then punch a nigga in the face who was being disrespectful to me. … One time, I had told this dude to leave my sister alone, and one day we saw him with my sister, and Alpo got out the car and just knocked him out ‘Boom, fuck, I told you, B?’, and the dude was like fucked up behind that. [Azie ponders for a second.] Certain things, to this day, to this very day, when I look back, Alpo ain’t never do nothing wrong to me, so I don’t understand. I can’t get it to save my life for why, for what reason. It just makes me think it was something deeper than what we see on the surface, man, on why that happened to Rich.

Volume 82: Did you ever have the chance to regroup from the loss of Richard and his brother, and finding out that Alpo killed Richard?

Azie: No. I don’t think so. I try to stay out of that mindset.

Volume 82: Do you feel like you were the brain, Richard was the personality, and Alpo was the muscle?

Azie: You can say that! You definitely can say that. Alpo would have been good in the game, he looked Black, but he spoke Spanish! He could have played a couple of sides. Alpo had that fuck that attitude; I ain’t having it attitude. You feel me? I was more laid back; Rich was kind of a laid-back person, too. He was off the radar. Alpo, he loved it, he loved the lifestyle! He was very social and at many events, but he represented us to the fullest! Alpo had a lot of respect for me and a lot of respect for Rich, and it was a lot of love. If Alpo heard something about us, something somebody was saying or doing, he would come back and report it to us.

Volume 82: I understand. The way you three influenced others is still present in today’s culture.

Azie: Looking back 30 years, if you look back at it, looking through hip-hop through fashion, on the internet with YouTube, the love and the hate, what we did, being honest, was amazing! We was breaking the law, but were we? Somebody sent in the drugs to destroy us, and we used it and created a world, a lifestyle that a lot of people benefitted from. People were feeding their families, and the things we thought we never would have, we had: foreign cars, jewelry. -A lot of things came from this world: movies, books, rappers taking our names and making songs that are making them millionaires. So, was it wrong, or was it right? It ended very nasty. May Donnell’s soul rest in peace because I felt that it came to an end for us with the death of Donnell Porter. But what we did, they love it, man, they love it! Even though it ended that way, the lifestyle, they loved it just as well, still to this day. And that’s what makes me believe that this story is biblical. …

As far as our lifestyles, we would have been nobody without the customers (the drug addicts we sold to). We were no better than them. We fell in love with a lifestyle, they fell in love with the drug, and I think a lot of us need rehab today because we still can’t get it out of our minds. Niggas are 50 and 60 years old and still trying to live out what we did as kids. We lost so many lives to the game, and a lot of people served time in jail. And I’m not bragging or boasting or talking like my shit don’t stink, cause trust me, it smells very bad.

Volume 82: There is something unique about the three of you. You all could have done something positive in life and made it. I think you all had that capability.

Azie: So, just imagine if Alpo would have never done that to Rich. I believe that the seats that the P. Diddys and Jay-Zs are sitting in would have been our seats, and it would have been more respected coming from us if we repented and stopped selling drugs. We would’ve known what’s real and not real to put out there, and lead the next generation in the right direction. We would have been able to say nah, we ain’t doing that because when we were doing what we were doing, we were never recruiting younger dudes to sell drugs with us. We were making sure they went to school and stayed away from this. It’s just amazing how we’re suffering from what we’ve done, and the people pretending they did it are making millions of dollars off our stories, and it’s deep. It’s deep! This story is still relevant, like it happened yesterday to people, and people still make this their number one topic in prison and the streets. It’s something about this story that makes you want to listen. Look how many views people got on YouTube just by putting those names up there: Azie, Alpo, and Richard Porter. People watch it!

Volume 82: It’s crazy.

Azie: It’s amazing.

Volume 82: As far as the three of you, what were your individual strong points?

Azie: Everything wasn’t all bad in the beginning. There was a time when everything was good, all good! Everybody wanted to be like Azie, Alpo, and Rich; everybody was following our lead. We used to spend at least $20,000 each, every year, during the summer renting buses to take the whole Harlem to Dorney Park or Great Adventures. The whole Harlem would look forward to that day! My mother used to make me throw a Christmas party for the children every year. We used to give away bicycles, mopeds, TVs for the adults, and every child that came would leave with a toy. It would cost a lot, but the money was nothing, because people always looked up to us and expected us to do this. They would look forward to Alpo coming through the hood doing nine block wheelies. He was like Evil Knievel. Alpo was a showman at one time! They wanted to see what clothes Rich had, since he never wore the same outfit twice. They loved me for my cars! It was like when we left the house, we were going on stage, and the people on the sidewalk were the audience. It was like a show; you came out to see what was going on!

Volume 82: It sounds like good times. The movie Paid in Full didn’t fully capture these things!

Azie: No. What we were doing in Harlem, buying a lot of cars, people loved that. Buying girls cars and furs, parties, bus rides, throwing money up in the streets. It was so much money being made, like, every day was like an adventure. We had a six-year run. I stayed in Harlem; I didn’t really go anywhere, Rich mainly stayed in Harlem to my knowledge just as well, but Alpo was the one going out of town. It’s like he took what we were doing in Harlem on tour, you know? And then that day came, August 20th, 1987. [on this day, Azie and others were shot, and some people didn’t survive] And it shifted the energy. It’s like the stage lights in Harlem were cut off, and the streets became nasty, ugly, evil, and mean. [Azie reflected for a moment and then shared the following memory of him and Richard Porter. He thinks this moment foreshadowed all of the violence that had yet to come in Harlem, beginning with his shooting.]...

Rich didn’t hang out late at night a lot. One particular weekend, Richard bought a new 190-16 valve, champagne color, Mercedes Benz; and he pulled up on me around 1:00 am on 132nd Street and said ‘Yo!’ ‘ I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing out so late?’ He said, ‘I just feel like hanging out. I wanna see what Willie’s Burgers joint is looking like. Get in!’ So I got in the car with him, and we rode up Eighth Avenue. Eighth Avenue always had heavy traffic this time of night, but it felt like we pulled into a scene from The Matrix movie. It really felt like all eyes were on us and everybody was waiting on us, but as soon as we turned the corner, it seemed like time stopped, and a spirit was present with us. The energy felt crazy, not like the normal Harlem nightlife energy, then a moment of silence came over us, and we just looked at each other. Rich passed by the burger spot and drove me back to 132nd Street, and we were still silent; it was just an eerie, unexplainable feeling. He dropped me back off at my car, and we went our separate ways for the night. When we saw each other the next day, we both said, “‘What happened last night?’ … Looking back on things, I think that night was a spiritual warning that our lives were going to unravel in the worst ways. Over the next couple of years, all hell broke loose in Harlem. On August 20th, 1987, I got shot nine times and nearly died. And others who were with me were also shot; some of them died. There were always murders and crime to some degree, but after my shooting, it truly seemed like the closeness, protection, and the order that we had in the streets disappeared. This feeling was confirmed when Richard’s baby brother, Donnell, got kidnapped and killed in November of 1989, after Richard was found dead.” [Alpo said he killed Rich over drugs.]

Volume 82: Rich wasn’t alive long. What were his good parts?

Azie: Rich was strictly business to me. He was more like a businessman. He’d get up, handle his business early, and by 6:00 or 7:00, he was finished. We might still be out there hustling, but he’d be ready to go in by 9:00 and up at 6:00 in the morning. He and LA were in the game before me. He was thirteen years old, walking around with a B.M.W. When you’re making money, it’s so many creeps out there: it’s jealousy, it’s stick-up kids, it’s so much stuff you have to defend yourself from. You can’t be a sucka, you feel me? I’m not up here saying that Rich’s shit didn’t stink; he did some things that I know for sure, where I was like ‘Wow’ when I found out about them, but was it out of self-defense. If he didn’t do that, something else might have happened. Rich got in the game under the circumstances that I gotta do this to feed my family, my little sister and my little brother, and he took it seriously.

Volume 82: Was he good to people?

Azie: To my knowledge, I never saw him shit on nobody. If he did, I never witnessed it. There are a lot of things I never witnessed with Alpo or with Rich. When I was in the presence of them, they knew, like A ain’t with none of that bullshit. It was all good when they were around, now whenever they left, whatever they did, I don’t know. … A lot of girls maybe wanted to get with him, but he wasn’t out there trying to deal with anything, everything, and anybody. He respected women that had respect for themselves more than just a woman throwing herself at him. He liked what he liked, and if you respected yourself, he would get with you and treat you right. If he was fucking with you, he was fucking with you. He would get you a crib and make sure you were alright.

Volume 82: What does it feel like to be the last man standing?

Azie: I’m not the last man standing; God is.

Volume 82: Yes, God is, but you’re the last man standing in your situation, out of Azie, Alpo, and Richard.

Azie: You know everything seems to connect spiritually. I think God took me through everything that I went through for a reason, but he blessed me to still be here. It’s all kind of creepy. In my book, Game Over, I talked about Halloween being a significant date, and then years later, Alpo gets killed on Halloween!

Volume 82: It seems like you’ve spent the past several years reflecting on life and spirituality.

Azie: I’ll say this when we come out of the womb, we learn how to cry, then we learn how to yell, then walk. In life, we have learned so many bad things, and we have a lot of things to unlearn! We are living under man’s law instead of under God’s law. So, we are somewhat frozen in time. That’s the definition of hell to me. And anything is likely to happen in hell. If we were in our right state of mind, we would be one with the universe. A lot of people say that I bugged out after I got shot! No, I was bugged out before I got shot, then God gave me the vision to understand what’s going on here, in our world. Everybody is doing whatever they have to do, by any means necessary, to survive in hell. We are doing anything for money because without money, you can’t do nothing! The human race has gone too far, and we’re living in a lie.

Volume 82: Why do you say we’ve gone too far?

Azie: We’re at the point where we’ve disconnected ourselves from the laws of God. We have gone too loose and far from what God intended us to be. If you say those words (loose and far) quickly, you get the word Lucifer! Once you’re dealing with the law of light, you can understand the hand of God and the hand of Lucifer. There are too many different languages and opinions in this world that don’t have anything to do with God. We have to put this thing back in divine order.

Volume 82: I see.

Azie: If Malcolm X had never got assassinated, the black man wouldn’t be as ignorant as we are today. Malcolm X was sent by God. Our true cross (the ankh) represents life. We have to come back to life, we have to come back to who we are, we have to come back to the laws of God, and that’s how we become one and true. We must seek the wisest, the ones who have knowledge of the law of light to get in position to be the real leaders of the world because it’s not about money. Because these people don’t do it for money, they do it for God. The rappers control a lot of thoughts of the people because they are like shepherds. I once sat in the seat of controlling the thoughts of people trying to be like me because I was in the game … Until I got chastised by God and was able to see right from wrong.

Volume 82: I understand. This is very deep. You’ve given us a lot to think about. Thank you for everything.

Azie: No problem. I don’t work for man; I work for God.

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-Azie at The Caridad Restaurant in New York City, posing with a customer who recognized him and asked for a picture.

Photo Credits: Volume 82 Magazine/@jolemiprductions


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