Mon, Mar 28, 2005 - Page 16 News List

True playas need an entourage

Pop stars nowadays like to flesh out their presence in public with gaggles of hangers-on. Ain't that cool?

By John Perry  /  THE GUARDIAN

Sean ''Puffy'' Combs made the entourage the ultimate celebrity accessory.

PHOTO: REUTERS

When Ice Cube threw a chair at me, I began to suspect I'd upset him. Seconds later, as I was bundled out of the room by angry men with tattoos, it definitely began to look like he was about to cross me off his Christmas card list.

In hindsight, I had failed to read the signs. We were, after all, in Compton only weeks after Cali-rap superstar Tupac Shakur had been gunned down in a drive-by. And the tough-looking "homies" in Ice Cube's entourage were dressed predominantly in blue, following the style of murderous LA gang The Crips. So perhaps it wasn't the wisest move to imply that Ice Cube was in fact a member of murderous LA gang The Bloods.

At the time, I had assumed the grumpy rapper had lobbed a stool at my head because he was upset about the question. But on reflection, perhaps he was just terrified one of his entourage might shoot him. And then he'd have never got to be in Anaconda.

Now that every rapper under the sun has an entourage, it's much easier to see why Ice Cube was worried. When entourages attack -- as they so often do -- people can get hurt. Last November, R Kelly accused one of Jay-Z's crew of dousing him in pepper spray as he was about to go on stage. Earlier this month, a member of The Game's posse was shot in the leg outside New York radio station Hot 97 in a confrontation over 50 Cent's on-air announcement that he was dropping The Game from his label.

And last week, rapper Lil' Kim was convicted of perjury and conspiracy for lying to a US federal grand jury about a shootout she witnessed. In 2001, Lil' Kim's entourage (loosely affiliated with the ominously-named rap crew Junior MAFIA) ran into Foxy Brown's entourage (loosely affiliated with the ominously-named rap crew Murder Unit) outside Hot 97. The ensuing "exchange of views" featured at least five guns and 21 shots, with one "bodyguard" being shot in the back. Lil' Kim now faces up to 20 years in chokey for her rather transparent "Honest guv, I wasn't there, never met my entourage, never heard of this newfangled rap stuff" defense.

Such is the fascination with the entourage, it has become the subject of a new HBO comedy-drama in the US partly inspired by exec-producer Mark Wahlberg's personal experiences with the rap crew the Funky Bunch.

The message is clear: in today's fame-obsessed society, anyone who's anyone has to have an entourage. To use the parlance of rap, the entourage are the 24-inch rims on your Lexus. They pimp your ride.

The entourage doesn't necessarily mean trouble though. Outkast travel with 40 people, including a yoga practitioner and a personal vegan chef, while Mariah Carey's support team of 30 includes three animal wranglers whose sole function is to provide kittens for her to stroke.

The undisputed king of the entourage is Sean Combs. At one glorious point a few years ago, Puffy's circus was so big it even swallowed Jennifer Lopez herself. Duff Battye was in charge of Puff Daddy's publicity machine at the time. "Puffy himself was great," says Battye, "it was the entourage which was a nightmare."

When Puff Daddy came to London to promote his Forever album, he brought so many people with him, they needed the entire top floor of the Metropolitan Hotel to house them. "The entourage had this long list of crazy demands," recalls Battye. "Things like 50 shoulder-high scented candles, life-sized pictures of Puffy on every wall, bowls of multi-colored Cheerios (not the brown ones) and white orchids in bloom. It was made very clear that if the orchids were not in bloom, Puffy would walk. I ended up with a portly Peruvian florist literally stroking the orchids for an hour -- apparently it's the only way to get them to bloom."

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