Your persona's drama, that you acquired in high school in acting class/ Your whole aura is plexiglass -- O.C., "Time's Up"
On November 22, 2013, Maurice Lasel Williams woke up with his birth name and when his head hit the pillow, he was legally known as Enzo Valido Dunamas Weinberg.
The 41-year-old rapper's petition for a name change stated that he "desires...to distance himself from the public exposure linked with the current name, and adopt a name with real personal meaning after the birth of his sons, and to satisfy the desire of [his] late father." Included on the petition was one of at least three Social Security numbers he's used when signing official documents.
At the time, the circle of people who knew him by either name was pretty small -- there were the women who were owed child support; the six children who were owed a present father; the men who won civil judgments against him and were owed more than $150,000; and his doting mother.
If anyone knew him, it was more likely under his latest nom de hip-hop: Jefe Wine, which he would later have to change to Hefe Wine because people were mispronouncing the "J" and making him sound like a brand of peanut butter. Or maybe they knew him by the name of one of his most recent singles, "Black Jew." He explained in a press release that the moniker "represents financial freedom. Also, my mom and Jewish friends call me 'Black Jew' probably because I'm so tight with money."
But the circle of people who knew him also included a 23-year-old Australian rapper named Amethyst Kelly, known professionally as Iggy Azalea, who was a few months away from tying the Beatles' record of having her first Hot 100 hits reach the top two spots. Azalea would do this before the official release of her major-label debut. She had set out for Miami when she was 16, and after seven years, she had tasted more success than Weinberg could have dreamed of after two fallow decades in the business.
Prior to suing Azalea and becoming famous by proxy, Weinberg achieved his greatest fame in the late 1990s, spitting Christian rhymes under the name Nuwine. Laid down in a low, slow voice, his songs told of growing up in Houston's rough-and-tumble Fifth Ward -- his debut was titled "Da Bloody 5th." -- but he mostly grew up in the quiet enclave of Humble, about 20 miles north of Houston. By 2005, he had swapped rhymes about the Holy Spirit for gats and hos, changed his name to Wine-O and started wearing an eye patch. By 2007, in perhaps the most un-gangsta move in hip-hop history, he signed over the rights to his catalog to a science professor in Seattle. By 2008, he was all but forgotten.
But then Azalea blew into town, eager to hone her hip-hop skills. She sought tutelage from a local producer called Mr. Lee, an associate of Weinberg's. At the time, Weinberg was still Maurice Williams, a 36-year-old father of five (from three women), separated from his second wife, living in a downtown condo he couldn't afford and from which he was about to be evicted. He met Azalea through Mr. Lee, and, he would later say, the two struck up a professional and personal relationship.
The relationships fizzled by 2009, after Azalea moved to Atlanta. Shortly after her single "Fancy" blew up in May 2014, Weinberg posted what he claimed were remixes of songs he had produced for Azalea but that she said were demos he stole from her laptop and had no right to release. Azalea immediately sought an injunction in federal court, and also sued him for copyright infringement. In October 2014, he countered with what is possibly the second least-gangsta move in the history of hip-hop: He claimed that Azalea was his common-law wife, and he filed for divorce in Harris County District Court. This was followed by a threat to release a sex tape.
Azalea denies the two were ever married, common-law or otherwise, and described him in court documents as a dangerous liar and thief. She also claimed that, if there really was a sex tape, it would have been recorded before she was 18. (The site XMGhiphop.com has posted a document of dubious origin that purports to be Weinberg's version of events. It bears no court stamp or sworn signature, and it's unclear if the document was ever filed in court, which is why it will not be excerpted in this story.)
Since the case file is sealed -- and a gag order is in place -- it is difficult to discern what evidence, if any, there is of a common-law marriage. Both Azalea and Weinberg declined to comment for this story. But Weinberg's well-documented history of dishonesty doesn't help his divorce case, which at face value looks like a naked money-grab. Or perhaps the case is Weinberg's desperate attempt to right a wrong: On paper, Weinberg -- an African-American man who grew up close to a city that birthed the Geto Boys, DJ Screw and Rap-A-Lot Records -- seems the more likely candidate for a successful career in hip-hop. Instead, the fame and money went, seemingly overnight, to a white Australian woman straight outta Mullumbimby.
'I been misunderstood my whole life," the 42-year-old Weinberg says in a self-produced interview on his YouTube channel.
"I grew up in an area where niggas was getting murdered just for having [Air Jordans] on...I come from the city and the neighborhood of the original, first gangsta rap." It's understandable then, according to Weinberg, that "according to my mother, I was the baddest little kid...[a] bad little nigga." He was so bad, he got kicked out of day care. Then, by age 14, he was "real heavy in the car-stealing department."
Weinberg's story hits all the right notes: He was shot in the face by a thug with a 9mm. He was incarcerated.
"I've even died and came back to life" after being shot (a different time) in the head, he says.
That brush with death, and the looming specter of 15 years in prison for aggravated -robbery, woke him up to walking a different path, he claims, saying, "I'm one of the pioneers of what they call gospel hip-hop, because I would rap about my problems, and I would rap to God."
In truth, Weinberg never served time in prison. The harshest sentence he ever received was six years' probation in 1990 for auto theft. It's also unclear if Weinberg ever spent as much time in Fifth Ward as he claimed. The family lived in the Scenic Woods neighborhood northeast of Fifth Ward until he was in the sixth grade; afterward, the family lived in Humble, and he attended Humble High through the tenth grade.
In 1997, he signed with a Houston Christian rap label called Grape Tree Records and released his debut album. The beats and production were decent, and if you had tinnitus and were standing in a wind tunnel 20 yards away from a cheap transistor radio blaring "5th Ward Screw" -- and you squinted really hard -- you might think you were hearing Tupac.
Weinberg rapped in churches and accumulated a considerable following. He started a ministry called Newinery, produced a public-access TV show called Ghetto Mission, and drew financial backing from fellow Christians who believed his redemption spiel and thought his message was genuine. In 1999, he jumped ship to boxer Evander Holyfield's record label, Real Deal.
"I knew that Evander and I share the same vision to make Christ shine and not fail," Weinberg told Gospelflava.com after the 2000 release of his first album for the label. "He had the money that we needed to put Jesus all up in the people's faces."
One of Weinberg's most ardent supporters was Alan Alldredge, an artist and member of a ministry called Bread of Life, who won a $100,000 judgment against Weinberg in 2001. Alldredge claimed he spent a small fortune on Weinberg and his family and was never paid back. Alldredge also accused Weinberg of punching him so hard in the head that it perforated Alldredge's left eardrum. Weinberg had argued that he had no contract with Alldredge and that whatever money Alldredge spent on him should be considered donations. Alldredge's itemized list of cash and in-kind payments, included in the court records, indicates that Alldredge bought Christmas gifts for Weinberg's children; paid for Weinberg's utilities and phone bill; and paid "travel expenses for the MC Hammer concert."
Around this time, Weinberg's first wife, with whom he had two kids, filed for divorce, accusing him of "cruelty" and adultery. (The ex-wife declined to comment for this story.)
The erstwhile Christian rapper -- who had rebranded himself as Wine-O -- told the Houston Press in 2005 that the divorce unintentionally jump-started his career in secular music: "Big-name preachers started speaking real negatively about me. I just needed to get out of that arena. Because I made a mistake, they turned their back on me coldly." (He told writer Craig D. Lindsey he was 27, but he was actually 33 at the time the story ran.)
He added, "If anybody asked me if I believed in God or Jesus, I would say yes. I still believe in them with all my heart."
In 2005, Weinberg scored a regional hit with "Pop My Trunk," featuring a verse from local phenomenon Paul Wall. At the same time, he was going through a lengthy divorce proceeding with his second wife, a preacher's daughter with whom he had two more children.
"What a hell that was," Pastor Benny Holmes says of his daughter's marriage to Weinberg. Holmes says his daughter was young and naive when she met Weinberg at one of his shows in Tulsa. The pastor says he knew right away that Weinberg was trouble.
"I went through a lot with Maurice Williams," Holmes says. "He told my daughter that they was married according to the Bible and Old Testament, that all he had to do was make a covenant and they [were] married. I said, 'Well, that don't fly -- you're either common-law or [married] in the eyes of the law...So before you send my daughter to hell, [it's] best y'all just go get a license." Holmes officiated the ceremony, right there in his Baytown living room. (While Holmes is a devout man of God, he's also someone you don't mess with. He made worldwide headlines in 2014 when he caught a woman stealing packages off his front porch and held her at gunpoint until police arrived.)
The couple had a daughter in 2004, but Weinberg didn't seem to show much interest, according to Holmes. That's when, he says, his daughter started to see in Weinberg what Holmes saw from the beginning. She and the little girl moved back in with Holmes and his wife, and, Holmes says, Weinberg began making threatening phone calls. Ultimately, in 2007, Weinberg pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and paid a $500 fine. (Holmes also says Weinberg crammed Holmes's neighbors' mailboxes with DVDs filled with profanity-laced rants against Holmes and his wife.)
The conviction wasn't the last time Holmes heard from Weinberg.
"We had numerous encounters after that...ugly encounters," the pastor says. "If I wasn't saved, I wouldn't be talking to you right now."
Holmes also says Weinberg hurt his daughter financially, putting every bank account or vehicle purchase in her name. (The woman's bankruptcy records show nearly $25,000 owed to the Texas Comptroller for unpaid franchise taxes for a business Weinberg put in her name. This appears to be a record label, Wine-O Records, that Weinberg incorporated in 2001.)
It took three years for the divorce to become final. By then, Weinberg had already found someone he hoped would be his next meal ticket.
While "Pop My Trunk" was giving Weinberg his first taste of success in years, a 16-year-old girl on the other side of the world was posting videos of her rap songs on MySpace when she wasn't busy cleaning hotel rooms.
Amethyst Kelly lived in the small town of Mullumbimby, Australia (not to be confused with Murwillumbah; it's about 800 miles northeast of Wagga Wagga and just a hop, skip and jump from Goonengerry), known for its laid-back attitude and proximity to the coast. Before she became trademark-registered Iggy Azalea, Kelly was a self-described oddball whose world changed the first time she heard Tupac.
"When I was 13, I heard 'Baby Don't Cry'" Azalea told Complex.com in 2011, "...I didn't really love any music until then; I just loved what was on the radio. Then I heard that song, and I don't know what it was about it that made me love it so much...I would sit at home all day long and be obsessed with it because I lived in this small town and I had nothing else to do. I would be in this little Tupac world."
In 2006, her MySpace videos caught the attention of Houston producer Leroy Williams, a.k.a. Mr. Lee, who saw promise in the teenager.
"She could rap," Mr. Lee told the Press. "She just wasn't rapping about the right thing." The problem was, Mr. Lee did not work with underage talent. He told her that, if she found herself in Houston after a few years, he'd love to work with her. In 2008, Azalea was in Houston, and she was ready to take Mr. Lee up on his word.
"Mr. Lee taught me how to rap like a girl," she told Complex.com in 2011. She had started out in Miami, cutting her teeth on harder-edged artists who recorded for Cash Money Records, but, as she told the website, "When I was in Miami, the shit that they would say was hard shit and it was cool to say. I wanted to say hard shit. Mr. Lee used to always say, 'You rap like you have a knife in your pocket, like you're really angry. You need to rap like a girl."
At the time, Mr. Lee was also putting together a deal with Weinberg. He wanted to produce Weinberg as a solo artist, but he also wanted him to write songs for Azalea. Mr. Lee invited Azalea to a meeting he had planned with Weinberg at a now-defunct label called Yippee Records.
As with most great romances, Weinberg's and Azalea's relationship was born at Saltgrass Steakhouse. The two, along with Mr. Lee and a coterie of others, wrapped up a night of business dealings at the restaurant, just off U.S. 59, on a day that -- Weinberg claims -- happened to be Azalea's 18th birthday. Weinberg says he and the newly minted adult didn't spend the night together, but he gave her a ride back to her Galleria-area hotel. It just blossomed from there.
Delbert Harris, a Christian hip-hop artist better known as Lil Raskull, or RAS, says that Weinberg always introduced Azalea as his wife during that time. RAS says he and Weinberg met each other around 1993 or 1994, when they were both starting out. At the time, RAS was a gangsta rapper, and Weinberg had just decided to rap for Christ. As RAS puts it, "He was actually the instrument that led me to God."
So by the time Azalea came along, RAS says, he knew Weinberg enough to see his friend was truly in love. He thinks that's probably what's at the root of the litigation.
If you could take away all the lawyers "and put the two people in the room, I think at the end of this...it's about love and bitterness, man," RAS told the Press.
But love aside, RAS also says it's hard to believe that Weinberg didn't have the rights to the demos.
"Iggy spent two years with him, and it's impossible for me to believe they recorded no music together," he says, adding later, "Iggy didn't pop out of nowhere and get this major deal. She had people to help her out along the way, and I believe Wine was one of those people."
RAS believes that Azalea's copyright infingement lawsuit is just a smear campaign meant to damage Weinberg's credibility and hurt his divorce case.
As for Weinberg, he got the chance to share his story of how he met Azalea with a large local audience when he met with interviewers at Houston radio station 97.9 (The Box) in October 2014: "I'm a little different man; I ain't like everybody else. I get attracted more, oddly, to what's on the inside of a woman that adds to the beauty. And she was real creative, and I noticed that off the bat as we spoke...We just talked about everything." He claimed that Azalea "was begging me to produce her, begging me to work with her," and while he intended to have only a professional relationship with the teenager, "We fell in love. I couldn't control that."
Azalea's version is a smidge different. In a sworn statement filed in the federal copyright infringement case, Azalea stated that she met Weinberg in March 2008, about a month before her 18th birthday.
"He said he was in the oil business and the music business and that he owned vacant properties in Houston," Azalea stated, explaining that Weinberg suggested she crash with him until her new home was ready.
But, Azalea claimed, "Williams became aggressive and possessive and made unwelcome sexual advances" after she moved in. She also accused him of isolating her and cutting off her contact with "musical collaborators."
"When I told him I wanted to leave, he threatened to ruin my career by calling his supposed music industry contacts and telling them not to work with me," she stated.
Instead of Azalea leaving Weinberg's condo, they both left: He was evicted for not making mortgage payments, a transgression Weinberg allegedly raged against by peeing on the property and leaving dead fish in the building.
Moreover, Azalea declared, she didn't find out until later that Weinberg's claims of being "in the oil business" and owning a record label were embellished. Presumably, Weinberg maintained a straight face while he told Azalea of his diversified portfolio. If so, that, more than anything else, shows Weinberg's true talent.
In late March 2007, a year before Weinberg met Azalea, the 89-year-old head of a dubious oil company called National Equities Holdings, Inc., issued a press release announcing that the company had "aligned corporate operations with Maurice Williams, president and CEO of Wine Enterprises."
Wine Enterprises, "a progressive company that aggressively promotes hip-hop, the fastest-growing segment in the entertainment industry," now owned a major interest in National Equities, according to National Equities' head, Bill Knollenberg.
The press release touted the abilities of the artist known as Wine-O, boldly stating that the rapper "has already recorded, produced, and sold over a million CDs (and this is a conservative estimate). He now has two new major albums ready to be released, with three new hot singles. These five titles are expected to top the charts this year."
Wine Enterprises' achievements were certainly remarkable for a company that had been incorporated only a month prior. National Equities itself had filed for bankruptcy in 1999, and in 2005 was suspended by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission -- not for any wrongdoing, but because it had fewer than the statutory minimum of 300 shareholders. The company could still sell stocks, just in an "over-the-counter" capacity and not through regulated systems like the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. In its last SEC filing before it was delisted in 2003, the company was in the red and described -itself as having "no significant operations or -assets."
The financial woes may have been spurred in part by a series of civil judgments against Knollenberg in the mid- to late-'90s for defrauding investors. According to those lawsuits, Knollenberg and his associates solicited investments in two companies in which Knollenberg had controlling interests. One of those was National Equities. According to the civil suits, the other company was called Erin Oil Exploration. On paper, the companies were not affiliated, but Knollenberg's scheme relied on his control of both.
Four years before the Wine Enterprises press release, Knollenberg and Erin Oil Exploration agreed to pay $182,000 to a Michigan woman who invested all the money she had -- $151,000 in life insurance proceeds from the death of her husband, a Vietnam veteran who came back from the war disabled from the effects of Agent Orange. (It does not appear from Harris County District Court records that the defendants ever paid the woman.)
Weinberg celebrated the business venture by posting an artful black-and-white photo to his MySpace page; Weinberg looks resplendent in a three-piece suit and eye patch. "Hip-Hop Meets Wall Street" is printed at the top, and "The 100 Million Dollar Man" is splashed across Weinberg's waist.
These titans of industry also celebrated this alleged partnership in a penny-stock money pit by posting a brand new Wine-O video on National Equities' website. Titled "Hokey Pokey," it features an eye-patch-wearing Weinberg touting National Equities' stock symbol and also includes a fake "breaking news" segment in which an Asian--American news anchor breathlessly states, "Rapper and producer Wine-O has just signed a merger with an oil and gas company. And believe it or not, he is the first rap artist you can own stock in. Man!" The "anchor" then becomes so excited she blurts out something that's either indecipherable or in another language.
It's unclear how Weinberg and the Knollenbergs found each other. Brad Knollenberg, who joined the board of National Equities Holdings, denied having any involvement in that company's short-lived Wine Enterprises era. Bill Knollenberg did not return calls. His wife, Doris Knollenberg, told the Press that he was "very, very deaf" and therefore would be difficult to interview. She also claimed to have no knowledge of National Equities Holdings and Wine Enterprises, despite the fact that her 2010 bankruptcy filing shows that she owned 30 million shares of National Equities Holdings' successor company. (In case you're wondering, those shares were worth $1,000 at the time.)
In truth, Weinberg hadn't sold anywhere near 1,000,000 albums. Moreover, he didn't even own the rights to his music: In 2005, he put his catalog down as collateral for a $30,000 loan from a professor at a school near Seattle called the Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Court records do not indicate what the $30,000 loan was for, only that Weinberg defaulted. (In the rich Weinberg tradition, court records show that when Weinberg registered his music with the U.S. Copyright Office, he gave a birthdate that made him six years younger.)
Nielsen SoundScan figures included in the court filings indicate that, between 1996 and 2005, Weinberg sold between 74,000 and 104,000 singles, EPs or albums.
So when Weinberg met Azalea, he was in need of a hit. Mr. Lee says the two worked on some tracks, which they would send to Mr. Lee, who'd give feedback.
"When you listen to the songs that she did in 2008 [with Weinberg], she sounds just like she sounds today, because that's the way that I developed her," Mr. Lee says.
But the producer says that he didn't know that the two had a romantic relationship as well.
"I did not support Maurice being with Iggy Azalea," he says. "...It interfered with my business."
The interference became permanent when Azalea suddenly moved to Atlanta. With Weinberg not far behind.
'With support from my family and law enforcement, I escaped from [Weinberg] and returned briefly to Australia," Azalea declared in a sworn statement. "Then in January 2009, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, to continue working on my music."
Azalea stated that Weinberg followed her to Atlanta and then put her in touch with Kareem Chapman, nephew of the hip-hop artist T.I.
Azalea said that, around February 2009, Chapman took Azalea to New York City, where he promised to introduce her to record-company executives.
"I thought this was my big break," she stated.
She stated that Weinberg followed them to New York, where she signed a contract with Chapman making him her personal manager. She claimed that Chapman never introduced her to any label bigwigs, and that "after the trip, I never heard from him again."
Azalea did, however, hear from Weinberg. She stated that he tried to pressure her into making him part of the management contract with Chapman, but she refused.
Once again, Azalea stated, she tried to get away from Weinberg. She moved to Miami, but it wasn't long before she heard from him.
She claimed that Weinberg called her and told her he had "stolen the entire contents of my personal computer, including all my music, and uploaded it to a thumb drive. He emailed me some of the files he had stolen to prove what he had done. He threatened to find me and 'drag me back' to him."
She stated that Weinberg's "threats" scared her enough that she briefly returned to Australia.
When she next heard from Weinberg, it was on the heels of her chart-topping song "Fancy," when it seemed as if anything bearing the Iggy Azalea brand would sell. Weinberg had -- illegally, according to Azalea's suit -- sold remixes of Azalea's 2008 cuts to several distributors, and also posted videos on YouTube. The tracks purported to be "produced by Hefe Wine."
The contract Azalea signed with Chapman would come back to haunt her, and it stands at the center of Azalea's lawsuit against Weinberg. It appears that Weinberg rather crudely used Azalea's signature page on that contract to fabricate a new contract that purportedly gave Weinberg the right to sell Azalea's 2008 demos. The actual document contains mismatched fonts, paragraphs numbered out of sequence, and contact information for a random attorney who had nothing whatsoever to do with either Weinberg or Azalea. One page also referenced a gospel recording artist who likewise had no connection to either party. The contract couldn't have looked more ridiculous if it were written in crayon.
"Anything I say, I can prove it in black and white," Weinberg said in his September 2014 interview for The Box. "I got a contract on her. Yes, here's her signature. Yes, it's real; here, take the contract; you can see it's real." Referencing the single he had recently recorded about Azalea, Weinberg said, "In court, the judge is gonna be like, 'I guess you are a Beautiful Liar.'"
As it turns out, though, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell's examination of the contract noted "obvious discrepancies in the Agreement indicating that it is a fabrication."
When Weinberg testified to the veracity of the contract, O'Connell asked him about the document's origin, leading to this exchange:
Weinberg: "I used a bunch of contracts that were actually sent to me -- because I'm an artist myself -- and put it together."
O'Connell: "When you say 'put together,' you mean you put it -- you typed it, or did you take your scissors and cut out paragraphs? Or how did that -- how did that work?"
Weinberg: "It was done mainly at Kinko's, mainly. Most of it."
O'Connell: "On the computer, or on a -- by using scissors and tape and stuff like that? I don't understand what you're saying."
Weinberg: "Tape and scissors and -- and the computer. I did a little everything."
Still, Mr. Lee disputes the notion that Weinberg doesn't have at least partial ownership of the songs, saying, "There is no way that he could have stole [the] demos, because he recorded them, first of all." The producer also claims that the demos couldn't have been on Azalea's computer in the first place, saying, "In 2008, there was no real solid programs for laptops and portable recording equipment. It wasn't that far along yet."
In his interview with The Box, Weinberg said, "How can I steal music I produced -- most of the music -- and I wrote all of it. How can I steal it off your hard drive? That's crazy."
The more Weinberg spoke, the more it seemed as if he believed he deserved an equal portion of Azalea's fame. That should have been him. When he met Azalea, he'd been rapping at least 12 years and was pushing 40 in an industry that favors youth. Then some foreign white girl who raps in a carefully studied "blaccent" comes along with a monster hit. It just didn't seem fair.
"Nobody taught me how to rap," Weinberg told The Box's hosts. "Nobody wrote my first music. Nobody recorded and produced all my stuff, spent hours...and patience building you as an artist. Spending their blood, time, money, energy. The whole nine...And you run off and you totally disrespect them. And she ain't just disrespect me...she never gave credit to me, period. Nobody even knew about me."
Fortunately for Weinberg, The Box's hosts stuck to the Azalea controversy and didn't ask Weinberg about his assault charge from three months earlier -- a misdemeanor that would be upgraded to a felony in February 2015.
Annette Buitrago, with whom he had a child, accused Weinberg of hitting and choking her in January 2014. In November 2014, after claiming that Weinberg had failed to return their child after a visit, she filed a motion to compel him to return the boy, who she claimed not to have seen for five months. She claimed that she couldn't find out where Weinberg and the boy were staying and that Weinberg told her in an email that he and the boy didn't live in Houston anymore -- which she later learned was untrue. She declared that she was worried for the boy's safety, partly because Weinberg had been talking about a "secret society" who wanted him dead.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Weinberg has denied beating Buitrago. The case is pending.
Azalea tweeted about the accusations in October 2014, claiming, "I've avoided Texas entirely for the last five years. When I do go now, I have a police escort & two armed bodyguards, evidently for good reason."
Azalea also commented on how the media seemed to be more interested in Weinberg's litigation with her than in his criminal charge: "The thing that I find awfully sad about this whole story is that the mother of this mans [sic] 3 year old child is in court right now saying he stalked, headbutted and tried to strangle her...Why is her truth being overlooked in favor of sensationalism?"
It's a good question. The likely answer: Without Iggy Azalea, Enzo Weinberg is nobody.