Maiysha brings on world renowned journalist and author Toure to speak about his riveting true crime book “Ivy League Counterfeiter” which is about an Ivy League alum who turned to the world of crime as a professional counterfeiter. Toure details how this counterfeiter was a person who he grew up with and the world of crime was something that many didn’t expect.
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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Maiysha Kai [00:00:09] Hello and welcome to Writing Black. I am your host, Maiysha Kai, lifestyle editor here at theGrio. And today we have a very special guest who is one of my colleagues here at theGrio. We have with us veteran journalist and acclaimed author and interviewer and pop culture critic Touré, who you should know very well from the opinion pages here at theGrio, but you should also know him from his written work. He has produced, he tells me, I believe, eight books. This might be the eighth, which is his latest, The Ivy League Counterfeiter, which is out now on Scribd. This is a short form book, so it’s a brief format that you might be used to, but it is an amazing, complex, nuanced, really gripping story about a real life figure. And Touré is here to tell us all about it. Welcome, Touré.
Touré [00:01:02] Thank you for having me. That was a lovely intro. Appreciate it.
Maiysha Kai [00:01:05] Well, you know, it’s all true. And I’m sure I left some things out, so please forgive me. But, you know, we don’t get we have not roasted our many of our colleagues here at theGrio. So this is exciting for me to talk to somebody who I see in those Slack streets and, you know, when we’re out and about. But this is the other work you do when you’re not writing opinion pieces for theGrio. You are writing other things. And this story, you know, it’s a short form book, as is my understanding of this format on Scribd. And you are one of a wave of authors lately to kind of take to this format, and I’m really enjoying it. My cousin, Keith Boykin, who was also a guest on the show, recently released something on Scribd as well. That is my cousin. That is my cousin. He is the best. But yeah, so, you know, it’s very fun to see people kind of working with these new formats and people getting to engage with your work in a whole new way. I mean, this is obviously a different and somewhat more digestible format, I think for a lot of people, you know, clocks in in about 80 pages. And it is the story of Cliff Evans, who is an absolutely fascinating figure, who you happen to know personally. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the genesis of The Ivy League Counterfeiter?
Touré [00:02:21] Yeah. I mean, you know, I knew this brother, Cliff Evans in high school. We went to private school together in New England, in Massachusetts. He had come from the streets of Chicago. Was one of those people you would not have forgotten. Some people you went to high school with, you may not remember. There’s a couple of people who, like everybody, would remember Cliff was one of those guys. He was funny. He was aggressive. He talked really fast. He was a football star. He made sure everybody knew that he was a tough guy from Chicago. Now, high school, we weren’t really sure how much of that to believe, but we weren’t going to test him to figure it out. He went on to Columbia, where he also quickly made sure everybody knew that he was a tough guy and again, he was a football star. But at Columbia, they didn’t doubt that he was telling the truth because he was running all kinds of little scams. Remember, in high school, in college, they were handing out credit cards to anybody who could sign their name. He would get lots and lots of people to sign up, give him the card. So while they could prove I was over here, he was over here buying stuff with the card, they would call and say, my card was stolen and the two of you split up a bunch of free merchandise. Some people who listen to this might have said, Yeah, somebody on my campus did that two or three times. Cliff did this like 30, 40, 50 times, like a lot.
Excerpt from “The Ivy League Counterfeiter” [00:03:54] Cliff Evans sat in his Harlem apartment, smoking a blunt near stacks and stacks of counterfeit twenties, unaware that in the hallway outside, several plainclothes federal officers were in position just waiting for the moment to bust in and arrest him.
Touré [00:04:13] And they were like, He’s always into some hustle. He was one of the biggest weed salesmen on campus. And toward the end of his time at Columbia, he found a copier and somebody said, this copier is perfect. A photocopier. And he put a dollar on the machine and it came back perfectly. And he told me later, right then I knew exactly what to do. And he saw the steps that he needed to take to become a professional counterfeiter. This lasted this is 1996, and this lasted for a good little while. He and I don’t want to give away the whole story because I want your listeners.
Maiysha Kai [00:05:00] Definitely don’t.
Touré [00:05:02] Because, you know, it’s a true crime story. And those don’t usually end well and.
Maiysha Kai [00:05:09] They don’t.
Touré [00:05:10] But one of the questions that I’m really trying to interrogate here is why did this happen? Because he had an extraordinary life opportunity. He’s one of the people we both know. Many people who came from the hood or a tough situation, got into some amazing prep schools, some amazing private school, New York, you know, New Jersey, New England, many places and got an opportunity in life. And I know a lot of people like that who are thriving at, you know, law firms, Goldman Sachs, doctors, this and that, whatever. And then there’s a couple of people who did not take it as far as they could have. And you think about why? You knew all the opportunities that happened. And, you know, if you stay on this path that you get to there, you could see it right. Through the parents, through the teachers, through the through the alums. You see it. And yet and still, he still insisted on going the criminal route. And so I’m trying to explore why that is. And like I said, like I said, Cliff was a friend of mine. And after he got out of prison, we sat on his mother’s stoop in Chicago and talked about what happened and why for, you know, like a whole many, many hours. So I had a deep understanding of what happened. However, after I left him, he went into a whole nother criminal conspiracy, which is.
Maiysha Kai [00:06:43] Well, we’re going to talk about that in a second, because I’d want to get into this why, too. Because I have I have some thoughts for sure. But we’re going to be right back to talk more about Cliff Evans, The Ivy League Counterfeiter with our friend Touré, with more Writing Black. All right, Touré we were just talking about this incredible story of yours, The Ivy League Counterfeiter. I mean, it’s your story. It’s also Cliff Evan’s story, obviously. And your rendering of it is, you know, I want to talk about craft for a minute because I think your rendering of the story is so effective and so gorgeously written. So I wanted to shout out your writing style on this because this story could have been told a lot of ways. There was something very intimate to me personally about this middle class kid who, to your point, you know, had. It wasn’t that he was lacking examples. He wasn’t a child who had no examples of successful or upright or even striving people in his life. I mean, they may not have been a rich family, but his mother owned a popular beauty salon. His father was, you know, worked his way up to be a lieutenant in Chicago police. And then there’s his brother.
Excerpt from “The Ivy League Counterfeiter” [00:08:00] Friends say Cliff looked up to his brother and spoke of him with an air of reverence. Cliff admired his brother street cred and wanted that for himself. I got his hustler good qualities, he said. My brother is a horse and I’m a horse that’s slang for I’m a thoroughbred. I was bred to be like this.
Maiysha Kai [00:08:23] So there’s something there to be said about who we choose as our heroes. Right? And that to me was such a strong chord that you you know, when we talk about the writing of this story, one of the things that struck me is that as much as it was this recounting of this really incredible, untold, largely unknown figure, there was a bit of allegory there. Right. In terms of and some archetypes as well. Was that something really intentional for you? Was it something that just kind of revealed itself as you were writing the story?
Touré [00:09:06] I don’t think you start by saying, is this going to be boy meets girl or stranger goes on a journey or a stranger comes to or hero goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town? Which one is it going to like? You don’t do that, right? You kind of know those are that’s the core of what most stories are, one of those three arcs. And you sort of start pursuing the story on your own. I mean, I knew I had a super compelling, charismatic, central character, and I wanted to draw as much clarity around who he was. And even though I knew him, I didn’t know I didn’t know everything about him. I didn’t know him that well when he was at Columbia and he’s actually doing all this stuff. I didn’t know what he did after he got out of prison. So there was a lot of real reporter work in terms of finding your friends. Yeah, like finding one. And, you know, who else can you introduce me to? And then that person.
Touré [00:10:10] And like, as a reporter, you always want to, like, let one person lead you to the next person, lead you to the next person. And, you know, I did a lot of interviews around his Columbia community. Some people told me things that turned out to be wrong. Some people gave me interviews that turned out to be useless. However, at the end they said, You know, you really should talk to so-and-so. And that person was a gold mine. It was definitely like getting closer to the truth. And part of the thing you do as a journalist is you’re like, What do I believe? Do I believe that or do I believe this? Which makes more sense. And sometimes as a journalist or historian, you have to make those sort of choices, and you don’t want to make them recklessly. But, you know, again, the whole thing, if you have a compelling central character, the whole thing can sprawl around that. What does this crazy character do in a crazy situation? And, you know, you have somebody who has streetwise ness and a desire to be part of the underworld, plus Ivy League education and training and they find a niche that isn’t really violent, that doesn’t require them to hurt people.
Excerpt from “The Ivy League Counterfeiter” [00:11:34] For a decade, Cliff had been molded by teachers at one of America’s greatest prep schools and then at an Ivy League university. But all that work was flushed down the toilet the night he decided to run a criminal enterprise built around distributing money that came from a photocopier.
[00:11:54] And I interviewed other counterfeiters. They’re like, you know, it feels like a victimless crime because the real victim is the general economy and the government. So who’s really like, you know, who’s really mad that you stuck it to the government? I mean, they people feel like, yo, I got over on them, right? Because by the time they figured out your money was fake, you’re gone. But I actually did find a friend of mine was paid in this fake money. So he goes to Con Ed the next day to pay his bill. And he’s like, so here’s, you know, $80. And she’s like, okay, okay, okay. No, this ones fake. And he’s like, What are you talking about? That what? What do you what do you mean? I mean, can you imagine? You handed somebody some money and they were like, this bill is fake. And my friend was like, I really couldn’t see it until she pointed it out. And even then, I was kind of like a is it? I don’t know. He couldn’t really tell. Cliff had worked really hard on finding the paper. On giving texture to the paper.
Maiysha Kai [00:13:00] Yeah.
Touré [00:13:01] Creating color. Those things are very, very difficult to do.
Maiysha Kai [00:13:04] Well, I also think it’s difficult to track down counterfeiters. And I want to talk about how you did that because I think like you just dropped some journalistic gems in terms of how you research a story. But that was one aspect that I found myself, like, how did you find these people and get them to talk? And we’re going to talk about it as soon as we come back with more Writing Black. All right. We are back with more Writing Black and with our friend Touré, our colleague here at theGrio. Touré has written an amazing story called The Ivy League Counterfeiter. It is the latest of his many, many published works. And this one is fascinating. It’s about a real life character, Cliff Evans, who literally did counterfeit in The Ivy League. And you found in the process of researching this book, you found more than one counterfeiter to talk to you about process and nuance and the and the politics of it and the morals of it, which I just thought was so I’m like. What you know. How did you how do you even go about like what network do you tap into to get the counterfeiters to talk to you like. Who are those friends?
Touré [00:14:14] That’s a great question. Part of the thing is that criminals like to tell their story. They also understand on the other side of their brain they should not tell their story.
Maiysha Kai [00:14:26] Right.
Touré [00:14:27] If you can give them that space in which they can talk their shit and like, yo, you seen how I killed it on these? Right. Because if you play basketball or you write a book or whatever, you, you know, you throw down in the kitchen, you can tell people like, yo, I’m great at making chicken or playing spades or playing basketball. What if if you kill it as a criminal like you got to keep it to yourself, like you rarely get the chance to be like, Yo, let me tell you how bad ass I was, how much I know, you know, if you can get a criminal, a working criminal and you really he trusts you and he can and he knows you’re not going to give up his name and you’re not going to give up him or her. They can talk to you. And, you know, so, I mean, like, if there’s somebody who knows, you.
Maiysha Kai [00:15:16] Mmmhmm.
Touré [00:15:16] To talk to you Maiysha, if somebody can vouch for you, he’s not the po po.
Maiysha Kai [00:15:22] You said that like I would know. I don’t know. I’m wholesome girl from the south side of Chicago like Michelle Obama. I do not know what you are referring to, sir.
Touré [00:15:35] Well, if you can just convince them somehow that you are cool, like you’re not going to give them up, you’re not the police or whatever. They’ll tell you some things. And I definitely had some professional counterfeiters who told me some really, really interesting things about the making of the money, about the process of spending the money. You remember that movie, Brewster’s Millions?
Maiysha Kai [00:16:03] They’re absolutely I love that you made that reference cause I was like, that was such a Gen-X reference to me and I was so here for it.
Touré [00:16:09] Yeah.
Maiysha Kai [00:16:10] Yeah.
Touré [00:16:11] I mean, Brewster’s Millions for for the millennials listening. He, he, his his uncle or something or is dying. And he says, you know, I’m going to give you, let’s say, 100 million to spend and you have to have nothing to show for it. And if you do that a certain amount of time, I’ll give you a billion and I’m messing up these numbers. But like, you know, it’s like I’m going to give you a gigantic amount of money. And if you do this, you do this game for me, you’re going to have a and it’s an insane amount of money.
Brewster’s Millions [00:16:41] You have 30 days in which to spend 30. He inherited it. If you can do it, you get 300. But if you fail, you don’t get diddly.
Touré [00:16:52] You see quickly within that movie and within the process of counterfeiting that constantly spending money on things you don’t really, really want or need? Gets really tiresome. I mean, I think all of us who spend sometimes we have like this sort of retail therapy thing that we can like made to feel better because we bought something cool or whatever. Keep doing that. And after like a hundred or 200 times of doing that, you’re going to be like, this is not fun. And like, just sort of having to get rid of money becomes draining. And then you have all this money. Can’t buy a house, can’t buy anything big, can’t buy anything lasting. So then what are you going to do with all the money that you’ve accrued from counterfeiting? It’s it’s tricky. And yet they’re like, this is one of the biggest criminal industries in America.
Maiysha Kai [00:17:47] Yeah, that was amazing. That was amazing. We’re going to get into more of The Ivy League counterfeiter and more with Terry when we return with more Writing Black. All right, we are back with more Writing Black and Touré. Who has written The Ivy League Counterfeiter We Are. We were just discussing the whole counterfeit industry and what a major I don’t think most people think of counterfeiting is like in the top three. And I thought you made a really great point about that in the book, if you don’t mind repeating it here, why that is like why we don’t know that.
Touré [00:18:21] Oh, yeah. No, it’s actually really, really interesting because counterfeiters talked about drug dealing being number one criminal enterprise in America, prostitution number two, in terms of the size of the industry and counterfeiting, being number three. And yeah, you notice that whenever they make a drug deal, they they lay out all the bags and all the money and all the guns. They want you to know. We caught a 3 million, a 10 million, a $30 million drug ring, and we stopped them and blah, blah, blah. You didn’t stop anything. But anyway, with counterfeiting, it’s a little bit different because the authorities understand we want to stop counterfeiting. But even worse than counterfeiting happening is people losing faith in the American dollar. If people thought 5% of every bill out there was fake, then the faith in the U.S. economy and the dollar would take a beating and losing that would be worse for everybody.
Maiysha Kai [00:19:30] Yeah.
Touré [00:19:30] So they’re trying to stop counterfeiting while also saying nothing to see here, folks. No big deal. It’s all. They’re all small rings. It’s nothing. No, don’t worry about it. You know, your money is fine. You’re, you know, so I mean, they don’t want to have some busts where they’re like, look, we found $2 billion in counterfeit money like like this.
Maiysha Kai [00:19:53] But then that’s like the wildest thing because, of course, it is a big deal. I mean, George Floyd was stopped over a counterfeit bill. Right. You know, is a big deal.
Touré [00:20:03] Did we ever actually establish that he knew that it was a counterfeit bill?
Maiysha Kai [00:20:08] No, we did not. We did not establish that. So that’s certainly not what I’m inferring.
Touré [00:20:12] That word that word got thrown out. I was curious as person who did a bunch of researching in counterfeiting like that word got thrown around, did he know that it was counterfeit?
Maiysha Kai [00:20:21] Because if there’s that many circulating around, that means the odds are most of us have handled one. Right. You know, it’s like at some point, some, you know, no matter how small or large denomination, you may or may not have encountered one. And then what? Right.
Touré [00:20:38] I mean, the government would be horrified to hear you thinking almost everybody has had a counterfeit bill at some point, like we like we don’t want that. Anybody thinking that at all.
Maiysha Kai [00:20:53] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And that is one to me. That was one of the stunning revelations of this of many of many. I mean, I cannot again, I cannot impress enough on our listeners how much is packed into this 80 page. I devoured this book like oh one sitting. And then I went back. I was like, What did I just read? And then I read a portion aloud to my boyfriend. Like, You got to hear this part, like, and we’re going to talk about that part, actually, when we come back with more Writing Black and more from Touré. All right. We are back with more Writing Black and Touré, my colleague here at theGrio. And we are talking about his newest work, The Ivy League Counterfeiter. And, you know, one of the things we touched on earlier, Touré, was this idea of archetypes. And, you know, we were talking about the why, the why of somebody like Cliff Evans, who, you know, I think to the person who just works on surface, maybe maybe the the your average racist even, you know, it’s so easy to flatten a figure like this and and, you know, talk about him as being, like, depraved or whatever, whatever. And when he’s really obviously highly intelligent, highly driven.
Touré [00:22:07] Yes.
Maiysha Kai [00:22:07] And what he chose to do, you know, very dynamic. But there is a rush, clearly, that he is looking for for a certain type of success. Right. And, you know, we were talking earlier about who you choose as your heroes. And there is another character in this book that stood out to me so sharply. I came back to him again and again and I don’t know why. Because you really using him for context. I believe that there is this character and I hope I get his name right. Was it was it Randall? Was his name Randall?
Touré [00:22:42] Randall. Randall Dunn.
Maiysha Kai [00:22:43] Randall Dunn. Thank you. Randall Dunn, who is one of your schoolmates at Milton Prep. Milton Academy, excuse me. And Randall Dunn is this young man who confronts the insults of being told that he’s landed someplace because of affirmative action. And you have a very nuanced approach to explaining that, explaining why. Yes, that is true. But it’s just oh, such a was so striking to me because again, I think he represents another archetype. You know, that kid who we don’t know his background. Actually, I don’t think you give us that. We know that Cliff came in through a better chance. For all we know, Randall, you know, has well-to-do parents. We don’t know.
Touré [00:23:30] Randall story he’s really powerful is actually the story I tell in this book I lived through. And I also talked about in my book about What it Means to be Black Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness, that story has been so, so resonant for me. And it kind of gets at the way that no matter how much we achieve, no matter how great our resumé may be, there will always be a white person who will say, Oh, maybe it’s just affirmative action. And they use that as a cudgel to say you’re not worthy of your achievements rather than, you know, yeah, it’s affirmative action because a generation ago, no matter how great our parents were, we were not getting into Harvard and Brown, Stanford, etc. and now we are. So if you just level the playing field, then we have a chance. But no, you know, part of the big thing with Milton was where you got into college and Randall Dunn was an extraordinary student, an extraordinary person, varsity and three sports like A’s across the board.
Excerpt from “The Ivy League Counterfeiter” [00:24:42] Everyone looked at the Black students as the ones taking slots we supposedly didn’t deserve. Which brings us to the story of Randall Dunn. Randall Dunn was five years older than me and an amazing teenager. He was popular, charismatic, without even trying, and a great athlete. He made varsity in football, basketball and lacrosse. Everyone looked up to him when he was a senior, he was head monitor, a position that some other schools might refer to as senior class president. Students voted on who got the job. Dunn Was the first Black head monitor in the history of Milton.
Touré [00:25:22] Despite being, you know, great grades, great recommendations. Three sport varsity athlete, president of the school in his senior year, he gets into Brown and someone says, well, you just got in because of affirmative action. And instead and he’s such an extraordinary person that instead of beating that kid up, which he surely could of or verbally snapping on him, which he surely could have, he went to the morning assembly where all, in the eighties, Milton was separated by gender, so all the boys from ninth to 12th grade would meet together in the morning, and all the girls from ninth 12th grade would meet in another big room. He came to that assembly and said, you know, somebody said you only got into Brown because of affirmative action, didn’t even name the person. So he sparing him the direct shame. Right. Like the people in the dorm surely heard and knew like, Oh, that was Tim and Tim’s always saying some fucked up shit. But like, you know, he’s just saying like, you know, this was said it’s inappropriate, you know, everybody knows how hard I work to get here and you know, like, you really shouldn’t do that to people.
Touré [00:26:44] And his presentation was very calm. It was not angry at all, is very powerful. It still sticks in my spirit decades and decades later. But the notion that Randall had succeeded so wildly at Milton and still there, like it’s just affirmative action. And I’m like, I could not possibly hope to put together a high school resumé like Randall’s and I didn’t him. Couldn’t have. So I’m like, Well, surely they’re looking at me like, well, you’re just, you know, it’s just affirmative action, which is a way of minimizing us and our abilities and our accomplishments of otherising us. You know, we could cause you going down the rabbit hole. In terms of, you know, when they say, where are you really from because you’re not right here. Right. Otherising. Minimizing.
Maiysha Kai [00:27:41] Well, it also made me really think of, you know, that thing that we all get, all of us kids get all all of us Black children, that we have to be that much better. And then it still doesn’t count, because all I can also think is that one of the things that stuck out to me about that is, is that, you know, well, he. Yes. Would have been fully entitled to react to that insult. Part of the way that he actually did respond is also the reason he had gotten that far. You know, it’s like it’s all it’s all a pace with with with that particular archetype of of who he needed to be. But, you know, I just found it. So I found that so striking and such a striking story. And I want to talk more about this story in just a second when we come back with more Writing Black.
Maiysha Kai [00:28:27] We are back with more Writing Black and our friend Touré, who has written The Ivy League Counterfeiter. This is a short form book now out on Scribd. If you didn’t know it’s pronounced Scribd and that scribed. And Touré, we were just talking about one of the ancillary characters in this story about Cliff Evans. But, you know, it always does come back to Cliff, obviously, and this this tragic kind of anti-hero of yours. You know, you talked you made reference earlier to the hero’s journey. And I thought it was an interesting reference. You know, it’s one that we’re told in one way or another makes its way into every book, whether we intended to or not. And I don’t know. I think I do see a hero’s journey and Cliff’s story. This really I mean, however tragically it ends, there’s not a resolution necessarily.
Touré [00:29:25] There’s a moment of, let’s say, familial betrayal. Mm hmm. That when you come to that part of the story, the audience is like, oh, no. Oh, that. He’s stabbed in the back by somebody very close to him. That you’re like, oh, my God, I can’t I can’t believe that happened.
Maiysha Kai [00:29:48] But you can, right? Because there’s no honor among thieves. Right. You know, it’s interesting that, you know, the whole time I was reading this book, like I said to you earlier, the whole time I was reading this, I was like, this has to be option for something like there’s no way. Like, this is such a screen worthy story. Is that something are you at liberty to say? Is this something that you are working on?
Touré [00:30:13] I mean, no. I mean, I’m dying to make this into something visual for television. I’m starting to work on that, starting to visualize how that would be and what that would look like. And, you know, you’re just starting to navigate the thicket of of, you know, basically agents and managers and producers and who can take it on. You know, somebody said to me, this is a great story, but it’s not a redeeming story. Right. And they’re like, it’s not an uplifting story. I’m like, this is true. But every story doesn’t have to be.
Maiysha Kai [00:31:00] Does it need to be.
Touré [00:31:02] And like, you know, it’s it’s Black opportunities to make these sort of projects are still so infrequent, right? More frequent now than ever, but relative to the entire world, less frequent that we still want representation to be positive. We still want to tell a story that we can say, okay, this has some redeeming value and I can show this to children or young people and say, look at the Woman King. Look at the the Black man who fought through the privation to make it. Look at that. And then, you know, somebody comes up and they’re like, Yeah, I want to tell the story about a counterfeiter.
Maiysha Kai [00:31:57] Listen, some of the best stories out we got. We got a series about a strip club down in the Valley. We got you know, we have a godfather up in Harlem. Listen. Sometimes the streets is just the streets. This is what it is.
Touré [00:32:12] The streets is so interesting to talk about. I’m like, let’s talk about. And, you know, part of it.
Maiysha Kai [00:32:19] As you see, you can say you can take a brother out the street sometimes.
Touré [00:32:23] Right?
Maiysha Kai [00:32:23] He gonna take it with him.
Touré [00:32:27] If you are close to people who went to one of these highfalutin private schools or you are somebody that, you know, part of what they teach is a sense of intellectual superiority. You walk out of there feeling like, I’m one of the smartest people in the world, I’m one of the smartest people in the room. And you kind of have to learn a certain humility after that, which is, you know, that they’re not really teaching you that. Right. And and it’s not like they just tell you, like, be arrogant. You’re the smartest people in the world. But, you know, everybody telling you, oh, my God, you go to Milton Academy, you go to Phillips Andover, you go to, you know, Exeter, you go to Mount Herman, oh, my God. Like, you know, and all the colleges are fighting for you, and, like, you know, you feel a superiority.
Maiysha Kai [00:33:13] Mm hmm.
Touré [00:33:13] I think this brother definitely thought going into the criminal underworld. I’m smarter than all these.
Maiysha Kai [00:33:23] Right. Street smarts.
Touré [00:33:24] You may not have fully even articulated it in his mind, but in his spirit. You are Milton Academy and Columbia University. I’m smarter than all you. Just because you did not go to the greatest schools in America does not mean you are dumb. You could be brilliant and not have and not have dropped. Have dropped out of whatever single number. Great. Absolutely. So if you think just because I got this and this degree, I’m smarter than him, like, absolutely not. Especially he’s coming from, you know, the university of the corner of Lenox Avenue. Like he might run circles around you, or she might run circles around you, you know, in a in a criminal enterprise or whatever, in a business context, whatever. But we who go to high schools are taught to have this superiority, superiority. So I think that he may have been sort of suffused with that a little bit.
Maiysha Kai [00:34:20] First of all, I promise you, it’s also it was the combination of now I have the greatest education that my money didn’t have to buy and I have these street smarts. But then there’s also the part that his mother talks about, which is, you know, we always talk about, you know, in the Black community, well, if you can’t see it, you don’t believe it, you know. And he’s seeing this wealth. He’s seeing this stuff. And, you know, maybe one, you know, is like, okay, I don’t have the generational thing. I’m never going to get that. So how am I going to. And the fact is, let’s be really honest, a lot of their ancestors were robber barons, too. So, you know, so he he wasn’t totally he wasn’t totally off base in terms of its approach. But, you know, also.
Touré [00:35:06] He had a foot in the criminal underworld in terms of being a significant marijuana salesman at Columbia University. Mm hmm. So that made it hard for him to be cool with, like, okay, sure. I can go do this job and get yelled at and make $40,000, or I can keep doing that and, you know,.
Maiysha Kai [00:35:30] Or I can print $40,000.
Touré [00:35:32] Well well, weed I think weed might have been bringing in six figures. Easy.
Maiysha Kai [00:35:37] Right.
Touré [00:35:38] You know, like, you know, I’m chillin. I’m doing it on my own time. You know, over here, it’s harder, you know? I mean, you know, but he talked about seeing the hustlers as a child. Mm hmm. And the power, the strength that they exuded, the whole thing of, like, I’m making it without any sacrifices, without the getting up early, getting dressed, traveling to a space you may or may not want to be in. All those sacrifices that a lot of us make on a daily basis, getting yelled at by a boss or a direct reporter, whatever. And the hustler is like, Yo, I got all the money. I do whatever I want, whenever I want. That is very attractive. And most of us see the massive risk involved in being that figure. And then a couple are like, you know, a couple out of every thousand are like, you know what, I can beat it or I have no other options, so I just got to be that any way. And I’ll take it as it comes and, you know, I know I’ll go away at some point or get killed at some point, but it is what it is.
Excerpt from “The Ivy League Counterfeiter” [00:36:48] He said he couldn’t see himself working at the post office for the rest of his life. He thought that was a perfectly fine job for someone else, but he wanted to leave a mark. I wanted Rolling Stone to be writing articles on me, he told me. And I knew I wasn’t going to get what I wanted if I stayed there in Chicago. So I took off and I said I wasn’t going back till I got to where I needed to be. He paused. My brother taught me how to make it out here.
Maiysha Kai [00:37:17] You know, I actually I do want people to really read this story. I think, you know, again, aside from the story itself, the way that it’s told is is so effective and so gripping. Like it stuck with me for days. So, you know, guys, whoever is listening, I want you to look on Scribd. Find The Ivy League counterfeiter. It is there for you. It is great. Do not wait for it to come on TV. Thank you. It’s so good to read. This is the part of the show we always ask people and I think especially from you, this should be fascinating. I can’t wait. No pressure. We always ask our guests, who inspires you? Like, who do you. You know, we were just talking about the hustlers inspiring Cliff. But who were the voices? Who are the voices who inspire you? Like, what are you reading? What do you maybe return to for inspiration? I don’t know.
Touré [00:38:17] In no particular order, I think about James Baldwin, Greg Tate, Joan Didion, Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. And like reading their sentences and reading. How they told the story and what details and what rhythm and pacing of the sentences. And, you know, like a magician, like what you show and what you hide. And when you decide to show something and the arc of a story. I was definitely a huge Morrison fan from early on. I was such a Ralph Ellison fan that the years before this fairly good collection, you know, the second novel that was sort of cobbled together by somebody else. There’s about ten or so pieces of the second novel that were in different literary journals in the seventies.
Touré [00:39:25] So I figured out a way of getting all of those, and I read all of those, and there’s some extraordinary storytelling there. He you know, Ellison was just a master. Baldwin sentences just, you know, gorgeous and his description and the power. And, you know, in Didion, also a huge, hugely important figure in me learning how to write. And, you know, my friend Greg Tate, I read Fly Boy in the Buttermilk a hundred times. And all those pieces are, you know, his work, he would talk about music in a way that was musical and artful in and of itself. So you’re trying to figure out, like, this is not descriptive, this is art on its own, and how do we get to that? You know, I mean, everybody who sort of came up in music in the generation after Greg was like, okay, so that’s Michael Jordan and we’ll always be chasing him. And there’s just no way that you could hope to be number two, but you can never hope to be ahead of him. And, you know, he was just an extraordinary person as well.
Maiysha Kai [00:40:44] First of all, we we definitely us two Gen-Xers from New York in a certain era, I could talk about that all day. But more than anything, I want to thank you so much for joining us. Again, I think you might be our first colleague on Writing Black. I could be wrong, but little Grio little in-house Grio love here and we are happy to share it. Again, you guys go check out The Ivy League Counterfeiter on Scribd with Touré and Touré thank you so much for joining us on Writing Black Thank you.
Touré [00:41:16] Thank you for having me.
Maiysha Kai [00:41:17] We will be back in a minute with more Writing Black. All right. Let’s get back into it. Welcome back to Writing Black. Now, this is the part of the episode I always love, which is what I recommend to you. Some books based on the author we just spoke to. We like to call it my favorites this week. You know, it’s very impossible for me to think about to write without thinking about music and music criticism and music journalism. And, you know, one of the books that came out this year that I hope people engage with, but I don’t know if I got enough love, was this biography of Whitney Houston called Didn’t We Almost Have It All by Garrett Kennedy, Foreword by Brandy. You know, we’re hearing a lot of buzz about the Whitney movie coming out. It’s a great time to reengage with her and her story. And if you can, her incredible voice. Tis the season to put on the preacher’s wife. I say get into it.
Maiysha Kai [00:42:11] But also, you know, Touré was totally on point when he talked about the impact of Greg Tate. Greg Tate was one of the greatest pop culture writers, essayists, critics of our generation of a generation, maybe of several. And this is his landmark book, Fly Boy in the Buttermilk. And I opened opening collection of essays. And there’s a Forward Here by Henry Louis Gates Jr. This is his seminal work, you know, of a man who was not just talking about music, was a musician himself, really had some of the most thought provoking insights and ideas about pop culture, particularly Black culture that I think will remain relevant for hopefully for generations to come. And so a salute a year after his death to Greg Tate. And this is a great gift and a great read for yourself. So I do. Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s episode of Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.
[00:43:32] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment. As Panama Debates Culture Wars, Janet Jackson versus Michael lack precedence. Black Monday sins and everything Black. Well, listen, today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard.