The Black Mafia Family gets a documentary treatment

Short feature retreads the rise and fall of a cocaine empire

About 25 minutes into BMF: The Rise and Fall of a Hip-Hop Drug Empire, a wiretap recording provided by the Drug Enforcement Agency plays.

An animated, swaggering voice answers with an enthusiastic, "What up, dog?"

The other voice on the line does not say hello and makes no small talk. He says in a low, serious murmur, "I need you to fly to Florida and drive this compact to Detroit for me."

The swagger of the first voice disappears. He responds in a quick, clear staccato, "When do you need me do that, sir?"

There is a slight pause before the low voice says, "As soon as possible."

"Yes, sir."

Before the conversation ends, the low voice adds, "You gotta drive this car like you got some sense, 'cause a hurricane is gonna come that way."

According to DEA special agent Bob Bell, it was a wiretapped phone call like this that spelled the beginning of the end for the Black Mafia Family, or BMF, one of the largest cocaine distribution organizations in the history of the United States. When agents heard that large, low voice and the respect it commanded, Bell says, "We immediately knew it was Terry Flenory."

BMF's story is old news now, much of it first reported in these pages by former CL editor Mara Shalhoup in 2006 and later in her 2010 book, BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family. In case you're unfamiliar, here's the short version: Two brothers, Terry and Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory, built a cocaine empire from the ground up, starting in Detroit, Mich. Terry eventually moved to California, where he lived quietly and handled importation over the Mexican border. Big Meech moved to Atlanta, where he became a flashy, well-connected icon of our burgeoning hip-hop scene and handled interstate distribution. At the time of their arrests and indictments in 2006, conservative estimates put the value of their organization at close to $300 million.

If this story is new to you, the documentary BMF: The Rise and Fall of a Hip-Hop Drug Empire is a fine place to start. It's a short feature, just more than an hour in length, that spans the broad points of the story. Talking heads, including the DEA's Bell, Fulton County prosecutor Rand Csehy, and Shalhoup, give some insights into the major players and police work that defined the BMF story. (Csehy's recent fall into drug-related hot water goes unmentioned.) There are some old clips of Big Meech bragging and boasting scattered throughout that should stun some with their brazenness.

But for those of us who've been following the story for years now, the documentary offers little, if any, new information. There's plenty of hip-hop club B-roll, but almost nothing about the unresolved loose ends that linked prominent figures in that community to BMF. Nor is there access to family members or friends who might give better insight into the lives of the Flenory brothers or other BMF collaborators.

The wiretap recordings of Terry, not widely heard before, are among the film's genuinely fascinating moments. It would have been better, though, to hear from someone who knows him enough to put his words in context. Instead, we hear his voice and infer the power and influence it carried, even if we still can't quite comprehend it.