Beginning in the late 2010s, Brian Valmond started shining a light on stories that are often shaded by secrecy, exaggeration, self-protection and self-aggrandizing.
His subject matter is, by and large, the world of Black gangs and drug kingpins of the 1980s and ’90s — topics that have also long driven the aesthetics and narratives of hip-hop. Since 2017, Valmond, 25, has been using his @_ValTown_ account on Twitter, now known as X, to unravel these tales bit by bit in threads that become mini events. His stories are tantalizing and sometimes surprising, especially when he highlights the links between the criminal underworld and the realm of celebrity, underscoring the blurred lines between those two milieus.
“The Italian Mafia, they’re all in the media, they’re glamorized and they have their underworld legends, whereas the Black underworld is very villainized as predators,” Valmond said in an October interview at a Brooklyn park. “So, I wanted to show, not to glorify it, but say, we have our underworld legends as well.”
On his accounts — he’s accumulated more than 180,000 followers on X, and over 100,000 on Instagram — Valmond has examined drug lords and gangsters from all over the country: well-known figures like Harlem’s Rich Porter and Azie Faison (whose stories shaped the film “Paid in Full,” starring Cam’ron); or Atlanta’s Black Mafia Family, crucial in the early career of Jeezy; or the original 50 Cent, from whom the rapper got his name. After he wrote about Freeway Rick Ross, the Los Angeles cocaine kingpin, Ross invited Valmond to spend time with him in California.
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