Troi Torain adjusts his white snap-brim cap, leans back, and surveys the surroundings. Justin's, the upscale soul-food restaurant owned by Sean "Puffy" Combs, is jumping, and rapper turned novelist (and Puff employee) Sister Souljah is holding a book signing by the bar. But Torain, 33, known professionally as just Star, is unimpressed. Though the restaurant touts itself as the rap industry's clubhouse, Star derides the place as a magnet for "every fuckin' joke, has-been, loser, and wannabe in the hip-hop game." As if on cue, an emcee announces that "if you want to ask Sister Souljah any questions about her book, her tour, or her career -- "
"Absolutely not!" Star blares. "I don't give a fuck what Sister Souljah's talking about. Do you?" Laughing scornfully, Star's 20-year-old half-brother, Timothy "Buc Wild" Joseph, shakes his head and takes another swig of his Red Stripe. This may seem like the envious sniping of music-biz outsiders, but Star and Buc Wild's willfully impolitic criticism has just landed the pair a slot hosting the daily MTV show Beat Suite -- the latest in a series of increasingly high-profile gigs.
Star and Buc made their names in the early nineties with Around the Way Connections, a Crown Heights-based magazine in which they gleefully attacked rap icons and young comers alike, and which reached a peak readership of 20,000 before succumbing to the economic strain of DIY publishing. The brothers next wrote the hilariously nasty column "Reality Check" in The Source before going on to broadcast their vitriol on a public-access show, Star & Buc Wild: Universal Player Haters, and, until MTV came calling, writing jokes five days a week for Hot 97's morning show.
Breaking hip-hop taboo, Star and Buc taunted rappers, including A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, and Nas, by name, and won a rabid cult following. Beat Suite's format -- an hour of rap videos punctuated by skits and commentary -- lends itself to subtler jabs: Star's top-of-the-hour dedications skewer "part-time Muslims who turn their noses up at a good piece of pork while sucking down beer and cigarettes by the truckload" and "studio gangsters who still live at home with Mama."
MTV talent director Rod Aissa, who signed Star and Buc to the network, is as impressed by their survival skills as he is by their comic abilities: "I read a bunch of those 'Reality Checks,' and I was like, 'No way! How are these guys still walking around?' "
Apparently through raw nerve. "Back in '97," Star recalls, "we interviewed Russell Simmons. I said, 'Hey, Russell, can we borrow twenty bucks to catch a cab back to Brooklyn?' He pulls out his wallet and says, 'Aw, man, if I had it, you guys would have it.' We looked at each other like, 'Yeah, right.' Maybe that's why he won't take our calls now," he muses. "Plus, Buc fell asleep during the interview."