A couple of months ago, someone here at Complex started asking around the office: Did they know anything about the middle-aged lawyer, backstage at the Yeezus tour, handing out $2 bills?
They'd seen him around before, and heard about him. It was generally assumed—given his apparent closeness with some of the biggest acts in music—that he was just their lawyer, just another backstage fixture, except one who liked to stunt more than the others (or at least, the others who looked like him: a middle-aged white guy, often dressed in a suit).
But was he? Nobody seemed to know. And moreover: What was with the $2 bills?
So we poked around. As it turns out, if you're a fan of hip-hop, or follow it at all on the Internet, you've probably seen him. Maybe in the foreground, maybe the background. At the very least, you've seen his influence, and you might not even know it. You don't have to be into hip-hop, even. You could be into Justin Bieber, or One Direction, or the New York Giants. You could also just be a person on the street who happened to be handed a $2 bill, on any given day, anywhere in America.
There's a chance he had something to do with it.
Not a huge one, but a distinct one. "He's definitely given me $2 before," one backstage hip-hop fixture explained, "but I have no idea who he is. Some kind of lawyer. But he seems down with the cause."
Another one, a famous hip-hop visual artist, was also reluctant to talk about him: "Yes, he is an attorney," the artist said, but didn't know for who or what. The pattern emerged quickly: He was assumed or reported to be one or any number of these acts' lawyer, but nobody could come up with a law firm, let alone a firm answer on whose lawyer he was. Or, if he wasn't their lawyer, why he was backstage at the Drake show. Or the Jay show.
And not just backstage, but standing with—and often, next to—the star of the show. Smiling. Talking them up, and being talked to.
And as always, handing out those $2 bills.
There they are on Elliott Wilson's Instagram, captioned simply "Steve":
And evidence of a sighting backstage at the Jay Z show:
And take a wild guess how 2 Chainz got these:
Here's Jay with Bey...and a stack of $2s:
But Bey's got a few for herself, too, as detailed in her 200th Instagram post:
And of course, Drake with a stack of $2s:
And then there's the MTV Rap Fix post featuring Sway's interview with J. Cole's new artist Bas, which included this quote from Bas buried towards the bottom:
"It's funny. I came offstage and I went in the green room and Jay Z came up to me and was like, 'Dope set.' Then he dapped me and gave me two $2 bills," Bas said on "RapFix Live" Wednesday. "I got 'em in my wallet right now. I'm keeping them forever." Bas didn't reveal if there was any significance behind Jay's gesture, but he did say that the Magna Carta MC had a stack of the bills. He was still blown away by it all.
Oh, there was significance to it (but Bas probably wouldn't know it). Even Bieber got in on the action:
So did Vampire Weekend lead singer Ezra Koenig:
And if you thought the $2 bills that got thrown into the air in Eminem's recent video for "Berzerk" were a random detail...
But as we later found out, it wasn't an intentional one, either. At least by design.
- - -
We kept asking around—we knew his first name was 'Steve,' but nobody knew of a lawyer for Jay, and for Kanye, and for Drake named 'Steve.'
And this is where shit gets really crazy. Because—where we thought we'd found just another quirky character who appears backstage at a show every now and again (which, in New York City, there are plenty)—we found much, much more.
Here he is, in the cut, at Made In America:
And with Big Sean:
Here he is on Macklemore's Instagram—wearing Air Yeezy 2s, no less—as Macklemore notes that he doesn't know who this guy is (but that he's living the American dream):
And of course, mean-muggin' with Yeezy:
Here's Reisman in an Ed Sheeran tour diary representing for Brooklyn and telling a story about Jay Z (at the 4:40 mark):
The more we looked, the more we found: Steven Reisman is everywhere. With everyone. Always smiling, and always with the $2 bills, universally adored.
On an episode of Live with Kelly and Michael, Michael Strahan shows love: "My friend Steven Reisman, a big attorney here in New York, he came into the show last week, and every time I see him—he's the nicest guy in the world—he hands everybody a two dollar bill! For good luck!" (Kelly: "Yes! I got a two dollar bill!") Strahan goes on to say that he gave everyone in his staff a $2 bill, and ends up chastising one of the producers who spent hers on a lotto ticket.
Like every appearance of Reisman, he's there in spirit, and not much else. But the regard he's held in by boldfaced names—both in front of the curtain and behind it—is pretty impressive.
For example, when asked about Reisman via email, the first words from Def Jam executive vice president Shawn "Pecas" Costner: "I love Reisman. He's the best."
And when reached by phone, both Mike Camargo of Billionaire Boys Club and En Noir, and Lenny Santiago (the senior VP of A&R at Roc Nation) responded only with praise.
"You know how some of these guys are," Camargo explained. "Some of them don’t fuck with nobody. This is like a 350-pound, 60-something-year-old Jewish guy who’s into rap like he’s 16. It’s dope."
Here's a great example of just how much they fuck with Reisman—a picture with Drake is one thing:
But sitting in the audience of Drake's SNL taping is another thing entirely:
Again, nearly all of the people we spoke with for this story, when asked if they knew what Reisman did, were less than clear. The closest answer we got was that he was a lawyer who didn't work in music—"I used to think he was Drake's entertainment lawyer," Camargo confessed—but one who really, really loves music. Who's as crazy about rap as anyone else you'd see at a Jay Z or Drake show. Who was charitable, too.
The rumors of the extent of that charity run wild. We heard stories that Reisman's handed out $50,000 to $70,000 a year in $2 bills. One figure was $20,000 a month. "A lot of fucking money, man," was how one backstage fixture characterized the amount Reisman gives away. None of which, we should note, is likely tax-deductible.
We heard stories about Reisman going outside of concerts, and handing out front-row tickets to fans who couldn't afford to cop them. About his first encounter with Drake, who, at the close of one show, pointed out to Reisman in the crowd, and told everyone that he had given him one of the greatest fan experiences of his—yes: Drake's—life that night, and how he knew every lyric to every Drake song. "I was about to fuck the words up, and you knew them," Drake says to Reisman, before walking off stage.
But not before Reisman could hand him a $2 bill.
- - -
And here's where we should note that Reisman didn't want to speak for this article. We figured that'd be the case, but we were wrong about why.
Not because he was worried about how it would look at his job, which—for the record—has absolutely nothing to do with the music industry. Reisman is a lawyer at the kind of white-shoe law firm where "business casual" is defined as not wearing a tie. He works in the kind of corporate law that requires a Talmudic understanding of finance regulations, corporate restructuring and insolvency (and not, say, helping A$AP Ferg be out tomorrow).
But the other lawyers at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle already know of Reisman's love of music—hell, he's even employed the occasional Jay Z bar in explaining why a legal brief was written a certain way. That's not why Reisman didn't want to talk. Nor because he was worried about embarrassing his three teenage kids, whose fandom might one day come within striking distance of their father's.
The reason Reisman was reluctant to speak was, as he told us, two-fold.
The first was that he didn't want to be quoted for this story because he didn't want to publicize himself, which would seem odd, coming from a guy who hands out $2 bills everywhere. But his concern was rooted not in being seen as self-promoting for the sake of self-promoting, but self-promoting for the sake of his relationships with artists. He doesn't do business with them. He's pretty happy with the job he has. His closeness with artists wasn't planned, either—it just kind of happened. One guy introduced him to the next. That guy tells the next guy that they have to meet this Steve Reisman guy, he's just a really great guy. The next thing you know, Pete Wentz is on Twitter, blowing up his spot. Paul Rosenberg hands someone a stack of twos, and they get tossed in the air in an Eminem video. And so on. It's less by design and more incidental than anything else.
The second was that it would ruin it, by way of promotion. And "it," of course, being the whole thing behind the $2 bills, which Reisman finally got on the phone to explain: Eight years ago, he's sitting in a cab. And he's thinking about how lucky he is—he came from the sticks on Long Island, didn't go to an Ivy, makes a more than decent living—and he's been mulling over the idea of how to give back.
"You can buy a table [at a charity dinner]. You can donate money. You can give a guy money on the street. You can do charity work. Stuff like that. But how can you have a greater impact on a daily basis? And I gave [the cabbie] a $20—I was going back to my office—and the guy gave me change. And when he handed me the change, in the change was a $2 bill. And that's it. Right? This guy just gave me a $2 bill. If I gave people $2 bills, wouldn't that make them feel a little bit more lucky?"
And so that day, he goes to the bank, breaks a $20, and starts giving them out. In taxis. Leaving them on the subway. And so on. Before long, he's giving them out at parties, to friends, wherever. And not just giving them to people, but entrusting them with the task of giving them to other people. It's the old pay-it-forward idea on a micro level. And there's not much discretion used in deciding who does and doesn't get them. Eight years later, and Warren Buffet has pulled his $2 out to show Reisman that he still has it from the last time they met. Bill Clinton has one, somewhere (unless he gave it away). And no, Reisman's never signed one with his name. Maybe he'll sign one with a quote from a favorite song ("It was all a dream..."), but even that's rare. Because it'd ruin it. He doesn't want to get in the way of the end result, which is: Can you imagine what kind of day you'd have if someone randomly handed you a $2 bill? Or better yet, if one of your favorite rappers just happened to hand you a $2 bill?
It sounds far-fetched. When do you hear of rappers handing out two dollar bills to random fans? After all, the pay-it-forward style of charity is nice in theory, but how often do you see it in practice, or when it's not just another ginned-up, Upworthy-ready feelgood hoax?
Except, occasionally, this kind of thing happens:
And if Reisman's intentions are anything but benevolent, he's got everyone fooled: Nobody we spoke with took him to be anything but a nice guy. "I don’t know anybody who thinks this dude is annoying or a groupie," said Camargo. "He’s always very organic and cool, trying to make sure everybody’s having a good time. Every time he's around Jay, he quotes Jay." And Jay? By all accounts, Jay is a fan of Steven Reisman's. And by all accounts, Jay loves to give out those $2 bills.
Reisman is fully aware that, in his words, "there aren't many 40-something white guys who'd be Drake fans." Or at least the kind who know all the words. But towards the end of our conversation, when asked about the core of his relatively unique take on charity, Reisman started talking about his favorite rappers, rap albums, deep cuts, and so on. He spoke with genuine excitement and reverence—like the rest of us, music gets him hyped.
"What is the one thing that transcends race, creed, color, ethnicity, money? Music," he said. "In hip-hop, the music tells a story. It's not about Maybachs and whatever. It's about the culture of making it." Not long after that, it became readily apparent that Reisman's knowledge and passion for rap—and pretty much every other kind of music—was beyond proficient. And before we could even begin to express surprise at this, Reisman chimed in, summing the situation up with—what else?—a Jay Z bar:
"Shoutouts to old Jews, and old rules. New blacks, and new stacks."