“I’m the Beanie Sigel of Far Rock. I’m the Nas, Shan, whatever you want to call me. That’s me.”
- Stack Bundles
“We took losses that never, ever happened in hip-hop history.”
In the early morning hours of June 11, 2007, an up-and-coming rapper was shot and killed in the lobby of his building in the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway, Queens. Murder was not unusual in Redfern—the New York Times described the development as being in the midst of “a private war.” But this killing would have resonance far beyond the building, and well past that sad morning.
Rayquon Elliott, best known to fans as Stack Bundles, hadn’t yet released an album. To casual listeners, if they knew him at all, he was familiar for his appearance on the Jim Jones/Lil Wayne collaboration “Weatherman.”
But to die-hards, the type of person to scour the tracklist on the latest DJ Clue tape to determine who was in and who was out—and, even more, to the people in Far Rockaway—Stack was a revelation. He was a star in the making and we’ll never know what he could have achieved had his life not been cut short.
A full decade after his death at 24, his legacy is still in flux. Last year, his long-awaited debut album, The Rock's Star, was announced with a fall release date. That came and went, and it appears that the full artistic statement we never got during Stack's life is still in limbo. While his full-length record still isn't here, his continued impact on hip-hop is as clear as day—if you know where to look.
To make sense of why Rayquon Elliott’s clever, flashy, funny, and shockingly ahead-of-his-time music lives on more than ten years after he passed, you have to look at his very beginnings. By the time he was in seventh grade, Elliott was way into dancing. That’s when he first met the rapper Bynoe, who would later join Stack in the crew Riot Squad.
“I met Stack in junior high school, probably seventh grade,” Bynoe tells me. “I used to see him around the neighborhood when I’d go to my aunt’s house when we was younger, but I never spoke to him. We started talking and kicking it in seventh grade. [He] was dancing, and I was playing basketball.”
He knew, ‘This could really happen, I could really become that guy. I could be the first guy out of Far Rockaway to put the neighborhood on the map'
It was only a few years later, in his early teens, that Elliott’s dancing moved him into some pretty big places. He appeared in the videos for Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” (“He’s in the third row, where they have the African masks on,” Bynoe says) and 702’s “Where My Girls At.” But it was a change of venue that would move Elliott from dancing in rap videos to making music himself.
Bynoe explains that a key moment for Elliott came when he got kicked out of Far Rockaway High School, and started attending August Martin, in Queens’ South Jamaica neighborhood. While there, he would meet a number of aspiring rappers, including a young Lloyd Banks. So Elliott decided to give it a shot himself.
When Bynoe reconnected with his middle school pal, he was amazed.
“I was still playing ball, but I got into making music also. And then my man was like, ‘Rayquon rapping.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He came to my crib one day, and he was freestyling for me, and then we went and bought a four-track recorder. We put some songs together, and then we was on our whole thing like Kobe and Shaq. I was Shaq, he was Kobe.”
It was during this period, circa 1999, that Stack worked in a crew called GRITS, short for “Greatest Rappers in the Streets.” Another member of the crew was the well-regarded Brooklyn rapper Skyzoo. Even back then, Sky noticed his new friend’s ambition, and how tied it was to his neighborhood.
“He knew, ‘This could really happen, I could really become that guy. I could be the first guy out of Far Rockaway to put the neighborhood on the map,’” Sky remembers. “He wanted it bad. You could tell from jump. He was an animal, he was hungry, and he just wanted to succeed at being an emcee and being a superstar rapper.”
Stack, while still young—just about 18—was incredibly ambitious. So he did what NYC rappers did in those days in order to get put on: He waited outside of radio station Hot 97 in order to get the attention of Funkmaster Flex. Somehow, miraculously, it worked, and Flex referred the teen to a rep from Epic Records. After a series of introductions, Stack ended up on the radar of an up-and-coming rapper from Chicago named Lupe Fiasco.
In 2001, Stack traveled to Chi-town, and moved in with Lupe for about six months. (Bynoe places the sojourn as “around the time Training Day came out,” which was that October). During that period, the still-teenaged rapper encountered some of the city’s best producers, including Needlz and the team of Prolyfic and Boogz, as well as this guy with a funny name who was trying to get on as a rapper himself.
“I remember him telling me about getting Kanye’s beats when he really wasn’t Kanye the rapper, superstar artist yet,” Skyzoo recalls. “I remember him being like, ‘Kanye did my whole demo.’”
Bynoe remembers a session with Kanye the following year, once Stack was back in New York.
“He came in the studio and did a song at Quad [Studios]. And he was trying to convince us he was a rapper. He was trying to out-rap us in the studio! He was being persistent. He was like, ‘Mase is my favorite rapper, and I love Jay Z. I’m gonna start wearing pink Polo, and I don’t care if I’m gonna be the illest rapper, but I’m gonna be the best-dressed rapper, and they’re going to remember me.’ I swear to God, that’s what Kanye West said in 2002: ‘I’m gonna be the best-dressed rapper. They’re gonna remember me as a fashion icon.’”
The Lupe-Kanye-Chicago connection eventually flamed out (Bynoe attributes it to Elliott’s youth and homesickness), and Stack Bundles returned to Far Rockaway. It was then that the seeds of the Riot Squad began to form.
Before there was Riot Squad, though, there was S5. Riot Squad member Cau2Gs remembers talking to Stack during the Chicago period, and laying the groundwork.
“I spoke to him one day, like, ‘We should put together something like the Wu-Tang,’ because I knew that movements move. ‘If we can get at least one person from every hood out there, it’d be good for us because you can bring 20 people, I can bring 20 people, he can bring 20 people, and we’d have like a big Far Rock movement.’ We were thinking of something like a basketball team, and we had formed S5, which was me, Stack, Mike Millz, Bishop, and Bynoe. That’s when I introduced all of them to Mic Doc, and he became the manager of everything.”
S5 recorded two freestyles—one over “Welcome to New York City,” and one (of course) over “Grindin’.” The latter got the attention of DJ Clue—after, Cau tells me, they had already put fake Clue shoutouts on the track and played it in public. (“We used to always be talking about Clue,” he says. “We put that out there so much, it happened.”)
Clue took Stack under his wing, and tried to get the rapper a record deal through his Desert Storm company. As a part of that effort, Stack and the Riot Squad (which is what S5 had evolved into after losing Mike Millz and Bishop and picking up Chinx Drugz) ended up with a whole bunch of music on Clue tapes, and Stack started making the industry rounds. His unique look and magnetic personality really started making a difference at this point. Stack, who referred to himself as the “Gorgeous Gangster,” was as likely as not to be dressed in a blue fur coat with a matching hat, and he always had his hair in long braids.
“In the beginning, nobody liked Stack,” Cau tells me. “I used to have arguments with everybody, even people that was hanging with us. They don’t like how he rapped, or they didn’t like how he dressed. It was always something. They wanted to judge him because he’s a pretty boy. Then, later on, those same people are fans.”
But despite his outwardly flashy ways, Stack maintained a humbleness and energy that drew people into his orbit—including Dipset capo Jim Jones.
“Jim Jones used to always see him in clubs,” Cau says. “Sometimes he would wear a fur or dress different, so he stood out. And they were like, ‘Who’s this young guy?’ because he was only in his 20s. They used to see him all the time in the Cherry Lounge and things of that nature. Then, when they start hearing him on the Clue [mixtapes], they’re like, ‘Who’s that kid from Far Rock?’ So when he comes around, they want to deal with him.”
You could play one of his records right now, and it won’t sound like an old record. All of those records still sound now. It’s rap for the future.
That same charisma was evident onstage as well. Mic Doc, who managed the Riot Squad, still remembers the first time he saw Stack perform, at an event he was throwing in Far Rockaway. The rapper showed up “[with] his hair in two ponytails coming down from the side.”
“To this day, I don’t know what he was saying. I don’t know what beat was playing. All I know, I heard the boy say, ‘Far Rock, scream at me!’ He put the mic out, and the girls loved him. They said, ‘Aaah!’ So that right there, I said, I want to work with this guy. His confidence, what they call today swag, it was on a hundred already, and this was without him even having a song.”
During this whole time, Elliott was making music at a frenetic pace.
“He just kept working, like a 2Pac type of work,” Bynoe remembers. “We couldn’t keep up with him. He would go in the studio, he wouldn’t use no paper or pen. He’d just walk around funny, like a penguin. He’d start moving around, bopping his neck, and be like, ‘Come on. Plug me in. I got the rap. Hurry up before I forget it.’ And then he’d just do it effortlessly. He’s a freak of nature. There’s certain things you can’t teach. You see how Shaq is just born big, and you just throw him on the basketball court, and it’s either you got it or you don’t? He just had it.”
Cau remembers how even Stack’s reading habits went against the grain. The rapper was a regular reader of The Robb Report, the luxury lifestyle magazine that often features products well before they’re available to the public.
“He’d be talking that talk that was already updated,” Cau tells me. “You could play one of his records right now, and it won’t sound like an old record. All of those records still sound now. It’s rap for the future.”
Cau’s assessment is right on the money. While listening to Stack, one thing that pops out is that his music has aged better than that of many of his mixtape peers. There’s a lot of the expected slick talk, wordplay, and punchlines, but his work is focused on more than just how much this is like that. The references, like Cau said, were cutting edge at the time, and still hold up. But there are also ample life lessons hidden in the hustling and dope talk. And there was joy—joy in quoting Jeezy or Hov; joy in letting off one of his patented ad-libs; joy in shouting out Far Rock; joy in talking about his Porsche and his two-tone Beamer; and, of course, plenty of joy in being the Gorgeous Gangster.
With his compelling raps, magnetic personality, and unique fashion sense, Stack was well-positioned to be the star he always wanted to be. The next big leap for the young rapper after finalizing the Riot Squad lineup came when Jim Jones took Stack under his wing. Jones featured Stack on a bunch songs, even turning the Far Rock rapper’s love of Christmas into the album A Dipset X-Mas.
But even more than Christmas cheer, it was “Weatherman” that would begin to launch Stack into the mainstream. The Jim Jones tune featured a verse from Lil Wayne at his “best rapper alive” peak and had Stack on the song’s final verse and on the hook.
As a result of the tune’s success, Jones and Stack went on tour with Wayne in early 2007. According to Bynoe, Stack and Weezy F. Baby got along great.
“I think Stack probably would have signed with Wayne,” Bynoe speculates. “After we got off that tour, the relationship he was building with Lil Wayne, he was really feeling his energy. He’d go on the tour bus, kick it with Stack, and they’d be at the hotel, kicking it. Stack used to come back to me and be like, ‘Yo, I really fucks with Wayne, man. I could see myself doing something with him. I like how he move.’”
If Stack’s path to stardom, via association with Jim Jones or Wayne or both, had continued (and if his planned Gangsta Grillz mixtape with DJ Drama had been finished, thereby putting him in the elite leagues of people like Wayne and Jeezy), it would have meant the world to his neighborhood. Far Rockaway had spawned just a few successful rappers in the past—early ’90s rapper Father MC and 3rd Bass’ MC Serch were the only names that came to mind among the residents I spoke to.
“We really didn’t have no people where we could actually say, I was born in St. John’s [Hospital], I was born in Far Rockaway, I lived in those project, I ducked those bullets, I was under the bed when they was shooting—I was a part of all of that,” says Cau. “Stack is just a legend. That’s somebody that they’re gonna musically praise forever. He’s like a Martin Luther King, a JFK. He’s the person that is the blueprint.”
Part of the reason Stack still resonates, in fact, is because he never fully got a chance to shine.
“I think it has to do with, people wondering what could have been,” Skyzoo says of his teenage friend’s continued presence in the collective imagination. “I think if you old enough to comprehend the music and become a fan of it, you grew up ten years later thinking, what if? What could have happened?
“The way certain people move, the way certain people rap, especially coming out of New York—he was doing that, he was on that. That still matters today. It may be a different brand of clothing—it may not be Evisu no more, it may be PRPS now—but he was on that. He was on whatever was moving back then. But I think the biggest part is, ‘What if?’”
Perhaps the saddest epilogue to Stack’s story is that the Riot Squad actually had another chance at stardom with Chinx Drugz. Chinx began building a name for himself in the years after Stack’s death, after serving several years in prison in the mid-aughts. Chinx, much like his Riot Squad friend and high school classmate Stack, was killed in an early-morning shooting in Queens—this one in May, 2015, just weeks before the release of his proper debut album.
“This has never happened in New York history like this—for somebody to really come up like that, with him and Chinx, and then get taken down right when you’re about to graduate,” Cau concludes. “This happens, and nobody has any words or anything to say about it. It just destroys you inside. No matter what people say or speak about Far Rock, you’re always gonna say Stack, Chinx, or the Riot Squad, regardless.”