Most have heard the common saying “whatever happens in the dark comes to light”. Insinuate an air of inevitability when it comes to truth. Well in the world of hip hop, often the truth lies in the shadows. And for a genre that was built on inner-city struggles, the light shines on the streets. The streets are where Eric Smith, widely recognized as “E-Money Bags” made his name and his bones and where he met his untimely end. Between the chaos, he built a name and a legacy that will continue to resonate in downtown New York for years to come and served as an acquaintance or close associate of many of hip hop’s most legendary entertainers.
Hailing from Brooklyn’s Sumner Projects, Smith attended Westinghouse High School, along with The Notorious BIG and Jay-Z, cultivating a close relationship with the former, while his relationship with the latter would eventually turn sour. Smith earned his name because he cared about his results and resorted to the streets for a living. From selling drugs to kid robbery, extortion and even murder, he has built a solid reputation with friends and foes alike. In fact, for residents of Queens and Valley Stream who would frequent the current destruction, Sunrise multiplex cinema at Valley Stream and wondered why were there metal detectors in a movie theater? Well, Smith’s crew and an opposing group started arguing at a screening of The Godfather III And so a shootout broke out between the feuding gangs, with Smith shooting a 15-year-old rival in the head and killing him. He was loved by his friends because he was supportive and showed a lot of love, while he was hated by his enemies for his cunning and cruelty.
After moving from Brooklyn to Lefrak City, Queens, Smith resumed running with legends of the hip hop world. He was particularly close to Tupac Shakur, whom he met in the early 90s because of their street connections. While rappers hold most of the influence these days, it was a time when the rapper’s looks, style, lingo, and subject matter derived from whatever street dudes were. More importantly, record deals were still so shitty back then, the rapper could be broke, while the hustler would roll in the dough. That’s why Smith and Shakur’s relationship grew so quickly, not just because of their similar mindset to unite people for a better cause, but because they would do street business in tandem. When Shakur was incarcerated over his sexual assault case, Smith was one of the few people to visit and even let him know who gave the order that led to his infamous shoot at Quad studios.
After Shakur’s exit and subsequent rebranding as a West Coast actor (although he was born in Harlem and spent much of his time in Hollis, Queens) , Smith had developed relationships with many other legendary hip-hop groups that rose to fame, such as 50 Cent. , Noreaga, Nas, Cormega and Prodigy – with whom he became particularly close and with whom he spent many finals days and weeks – while continuing to distinguish between family man and street hustler.
Prodigy goes into detail about their relationship and much more about the golden age of hip hop in a 2010 interview with Planète Ill,
I know my man Shameek’s bags. Me and Shameek grew up together in Hempstead, Long Island and crossed paths going down the block. He like I just moved here, I feel like I just moved here! So down the line Shameek started bringing E Moneybags to Queens Bridge. This is how I meet Bags. They started hanging out with Nas and all that stuff, we got really close through Shameek and through Nas.
Ironically, their relationship began to forge around a time when Prodigy was involved in a rap with his former classmate, Jay-Z. The tension between the hosts was the result of a phrase heard on Hov’s “Money, Cash, Hoes” record, the third single from his 1998 Grammy-winning album, Flight. 2… The life of hard knocks.
What are relationships? (huh) It’s like New York has been sweet
Ever since Snoop came along and smashed the buildings,
I try to restore the feelings
He was referencing Snoop Dogg and West Coast duo Tha Dogg Pound (Kurupt and Daz Dillinger) smashing the Twin Towers in their video for their record.”New York, New York.” Prodigy and many other New York rappers were very offended by Jay-Z’s words, as it was as if he was arguing with them for not holding on. But, from their point of view, when the tension between the East Coast and the West Coast was at its height, Jay-Z was nowhere to be found, even when Tupac rejected him, it’s rappers like Prodigy and Havoc who have taken it upon themselves to defend New York with records like “LA, LA”
So, years later, it’s [Jay-Z] try to restore the feeling? What feeling are you trying to restore? What are you talking about son? Who are you talking about and why are you talking about? Shut up son, you should have said something a long time ago. Me and Fat Joe were in the Loud offices one day and I even heard Fat Joe say it. I didn’t even walk out without saying anything, I was just chilling at the office and Fat Joe came out and said, “Yo, that mother**ker Jay-Z said he was trying to restore the feeling.” I looked at Fat Joe, I said ‘Word! I feel the same son, I feel you on this! He was like, ‘Yo, this guy is a funny guy for saying that. Who is he talking about?
Upon learning of Prodigy’s tension with Jay-Z, Smith made his feelings about Hov clear,
I went to high school with Jay-Z. Me and Jay-Z went to high school. gravy money is married to my sister. F**k Jay-Z, that nigga is a motherfucker. I know this nigga.
As the beef between Jay-Z and Prodigy escalated, it would also get personal between Smith and Jay-Z. While listening to a Roc-A-Fella freestyle on Hot 97, Smith was puzzled to learn that Jay-Z had marketed one of his upcoming artists as “H-Moneybags”, which infuriated him. . He asked Prodigy to call the radio station and after phoning Hov he let him know how he felt about his artist biting his style.
How the fuck you gonna let some random nigga bite my name. You know me nigga and you know how I get down, I worked for that name. Feeling disrespected by Jay-Z’s indifference to his words, Smith told him, “when I see you, you know what it is” and hung up.
From there, Smith decided to seriously consider a career in rapping. After all, he was close to some of the biggest rappers and felt like it was easy money, calling it “a gunless snack.” He would release his only project, In e-money bags we trust, in 1999.
Unfortunately, Smith wouldn’t live long enough to see his hip hop dreams come true. There are conflicting stories as to what led to his disappearance. One theory is that Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff – leader of the infamous and feared Supreme Team – refused to return a deposit Smith had placed on a Lincoln Navigator. Feeling disrespected again, Smith resorted to street rules and had McGriff kill him.
Bags had beef with ‘Preme’ because Bags was going to buy a car and ‘Preme was selling it. So he put a deposit on it and I was doing music with Bags and I paid him for it. So Bags is like, ‘Oh shit, I got this money now. Let me get that money back. Bags like let me get this back, ‘Preme like no you can’t get this back. Bags like what? Bags saw him behind the Colosseum one day. I saw him relaxing in the car, he approached his car and shot his car. Nothing hit ‘Preme, shit hit fair black. Black Just was still alive, he was shot in the thigh and probably somewhere else, I don’t know, but the thigh was the bad one.
Immaculate Mary [Hospital] is just around the corner. Preme takes Black Just to the hood and tells someone else to take him to the hospital. Black Just bleed to death, so now niggas be after Bags for it.
– Prodigy in a 2010 interview with Planet Ill
Another theory is that his death was the result of the theft of Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti, his brother Irv Gotti, and Ja Rule, which Irv Gotti referenced during a 2020 appearance on Noreaga. Drink Champs Podcast.
Nevertheless, Smith’s street business caught up with him in July 2001. During a barbecue at his friend Majesty’s house, four armed men slipped away while he smoked and ate in his Navigator. The gunmen fired more than 40 rounds into his vehicle, hitting him more than 10 times and ultimately killing him.
For a time, the name of E-Money Bags rang through the streets and although he never had the chance to escape this life completely, his contributions to hip hop and street culture that feeds it will never be forgotten.