Most have heard the common saying “everything that happens in the dark comes to light.” Insinuating an air of inevitability when it comes to the truth. In the world of hip hop the truth can often be found in the shadows, and for a genre that was built on the struggles of the inner-city, the light shines upon 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. In between the chaos, he built a name and legacy that will continue to ring throughout the inner cities of New York for years to come and served as an acquaintance or close associate to many of hip hop’s most fabled emcees.
Hailing from Brooklyn’s Sumner Projects, Smith attended Westinghouse high school, along with The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay – Z, cultivating a close relationship with the former, while his dealings with the latter would eventually turn cantankerous. Smith earned his name for being about his bottom line and would resort to the streets to earn his living. From selling drugs, to being a stickup kid, extortion and even murder, he built quite a reputation with friends and enemies alike. In fact, for residents of Queens and Valley Stream who would frequent the now destruct, Sunrise Multiplex Cinema in Valley Stream and wondered, why were there metal detectors in a movie theatre? Well, Smith’s crew and an opposing posse began to argue during a showing of The Godfather III and thus a shootout erupted between the conflicting gangs, with Smith shooting a rival 15-year-old in the head and killing him. He was beloved by his friends because he was supportive and showed lots of love, while he was hated by his enemies for his cunningness and ruthlessness.
After relocating from Brooklyn to Lefrak City, Queens, Smith once again began to run with legends of the hip hop world. One he was particularly close to was, Tupac Shakur, whom he met in the early 90’s due to their street ties. While rappers hold most of the sway in this day-and-age, this was the era where the rapper’s looks, style, lingo and subject matter derived from whatever the street dudes were into. Most importantly, record contracts were still so shitty back then, that the rapper might be broke, while the hustler would be rolling in dough. Which is why, Smith and Shakur’s relationship cultivated so quickly. Not simply because of their similar mindsets in uniting people for a better cause, but because they would do street dealings in tandem. When Shakur was incarcerated as a result of his sexual assault case, Smith was one of the few people to visit him and even informed him on who gave the order that led to his infamous shooting at Quad Studios.
After Shakur’s release and subsequent rebranding as a West-coast act (despite being born in Harlem and spending much of his time in Hollis, Queens), Smith had developed relationships with many other prominent-turned legendary hip hop acts. Having befriended the likes of 50 Cent, Noreaga, Nas, Cormega, and Prodigy — who he became especially close to and spent many of his finals days and weeks with — while steadily treading the line between family man and street hustler.
Prodigy goes in detail on their relationship and much more from hip hop’s golden era in a 2010 interview with Planet Ill,
I know Bags from my man Shameek. Me and Shameek grew up together in Hempstead, Long Island and we bumped into each other going down the block. He like I just moved out here, I’m like I just moved out here! So down the line, Shameek started bringing E Moneybags out to Queens Bridge. So that’s how I meet Bags. They started hanging out with Nas and all that, we got real close through Shameek and through Nas.
Ironically, their relationship began to forge at a time when Prodigy was embroiled in a rap beef with his former schoolmate, Jay – Z. The tension between the emcees was a result of a line heard in Hov’s “Money, Cash, Hoes” record, the third single from his 1998 Grammy-winning album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life.
What’s the dealings? (huh) It’s like New York’s been soft
I’m trying to restore the feelings
He was referring to Snoop Dogg and west coast duo, Tha Dogg Pound (Kurupt and Daz Dillinger), crushing the twin towers in their video for their record “New York, New York.” Prodigy and many other New York rappers took great offense to Jay – Z’s lyrics, because it was as though he was dissing them for not standing their ground. But, from their perspective, when the tension between the East and West coast was at its peak, Jay – Z was nowhere to be found, even when Tupac dissed him, it was rappers like Prodigy and Havoc who took it upon themselves to defend New York with records like, “L.A., L.A.”
So, years later he’s [Jay-Z] trying to restore the feeling? What feeling you trying to restore? What are you talking about son? Who are you talking about and why are you talking? Shut the f**k up son you should have said something a long time ago. Me and Fat Joe were in Loud offices one day and I even heard Fat Joe say it. I didn’t even come out and say nothing, I was just chillin’ in the office and Fat Joe came out and said, ‘Yo, this mother**ker Jay-Z said he’s trying to restore the feeling.’ I looked at Fat Joe I said ‘Word! I feel the same way son, I feel you on that!’ He was like, ‘Yo, that n***a is a funny n*** for saying that. Who is he talking about?’
Upon learning of Prodigy’s tension with Jay – Z, Smith made his feelings on Hov clear,
I went to high school with Jay-Z. Me, and Jay-Z went to high school. Sauce Money is married to my sister. F**k Jay-Z, that n***a is a bitch son. I know that n***a man.
While the beef between Jay – Z and Prodigy intensified, it would get personal between Smith and Jay – Z as well. While listening to a Roc-A-Fella freestyle on Hot 97, Smith was stumped to hear that Jay – Z had marketed one of his upcoming artists as “H-Moneybags,” which left him incensed. He had Prodigy call up the radio station and after getting on the phone with Hov, he let him know how he felt about his artist biting his style.
How the fuck are you going to let some random n***a bite my name. You know me n***a and you know how I get down, I done put in work for this 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 rap career. After all, he was close to some of the biggest rappers out and he felt as though it was easy money, referring to it as “stickup without a gun.” He would release his only project, In E Money Bags We Trust, in 1999.
Unfortunately, Smith would not live long enough to see his hip hop dreams pan out. There are conflicting stories as to what led to his demise. One theory is that Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff — leader of the infamous and feared Supreme Team — refused to return a down-payment Smith had placed on a Lincoln Navigator. Once again feeling disrespected, Smith resorted to street rules and sought out McGriff to kill him.
Bags had beef with ‘Preme ‘cause bags was going to buy a car and ‘Preme was selling it. So he put a down payment 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 from him.’ Bags like let me get that back, ‘Preme like nah, you cant get that back. Bags like what? Bags seen him behind The Coliseum, one day. Seen him chillin in the car, walked up to his car and shot his car up. Nothing hit ‘Preme, the shit hit Black Just. Black Just was still alive, he got shot in the thigh and probably somewhere else, I don’t know, but the thigh was the bad one.
Mary Immaculate [Hospital] is right around the corner. Preme takes Black Just to the hood and tells somebody else to take him to the hospital. Black Just dies from bleeding to death, so now n***as is after Bags for that.– Prodigy in a 2010 interview with Planet Ill
Another theory is that his death was the result of him robbing Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti, his brother Irv Gotti and Ja Rule, which Irv Gotti referred to during a 2020 appearance on Noreaga’s Drink Champs podcast.
Nonetheless, Smith’s street dealings caught up to him in July 2001. While at a barbecue at his friend Majesty’s house, four gunmen crept up while he sat smoking and eating in his Navigator. The gunmen fired over 40 rounds into his vehicle hitting him over 10 times and ultimately killing him.
For a period, E-Money Bags’ name rang bells throughout the streets and while he never got the chance to fully escape that life, his contributions to hip hop and the street culture that fuels it will never be forgotten.