Azie Faison, The Former Harlem Hustler Behind Paid In Full

Published November 21, 2023
Updated November 22, 2023

Azie Faison started selling drugs to get out of poverty, but the lifestyle nearly led to his death after he was shot nine times during a robbery gone awry.

Azie Faison

X (Formerly Twitter)Azie Faison, the former kingpin who now tries to steer youth away from drugs.

Harlem in the late 1980s and early 1990s was plagued by a sudden increase in the amount of cheap crack cocaine. The effects were devastating on the local community — but dealing also made a select group of people incredibly wealthy. In particular, three of Harlem’s most notorious cocaine dealers: Alpo Martinez, Richard Porter, and Azie Faison.

In an infamous betrayal, Martinez shot and killed Porter in 1990, only to wind up being shot and killed himself in Harlem in 2021. Faison, on the other hand, eventually went down a different path.

After his years in the drug trade, Faison decided to turn over a new leaf.

He became an author and screenwriter, turning his life story — and the life stories of Martinez and Porter — into the highly successful film Paid in Full, as well as his own published book, Game Over. In doing so, he helped reveal the grim reality behind the so-called glamorous lifestyle his crew lived.

Growing Up Impoverished In New York City

Azie Faison was born on Nov. 10, 1964. He had seven brothers and sisters: Wanda, Kevin, Robin, Rosalyn, Julie, Ingrid, and Wayne. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, Faison’s family, like many others on the block, essentially lived on public assistance or welfare.

“Things were so tight back then that nine of us lived in a one-bedroom apartment,” Faison writes in his memoir Game Over. “My parents occupied the bedroom, and we slept in the living room on a pullout couch or the floor… It wasn’t comfortable, but we didn’t have a choice so we made the best of it. Poverty robs you of options.”

Faison’s parents tried their hardest to provide for their children. His mother tried to instill values of responsibility in them, and taught them the importance of making money. His father worked hard and served as a role model — he didn’t smoke, drink, gamble, or chase after other women.

Despite his parents’ positive influence, though, Faison eventually fell in with the wrong crowd. As he wrote, “Poverty also influences your decisions.”

Scarface Inspires Him To Get Into The Drug Business

In an interview with VladTV, Azie Faison revealed that he first met Rich Porter when they were each around 13 years old and living in Harlem. Porter had, by that point, already begun selling heroin.

Faison eventually dropped out of high school to “make ends meet.” He had been working part-time for a cleaning service while attending school, and figured he’d make more money if he worked full-time. His income didn’t change, however. He was still making just $75 a week.

By 1981, Rich Porter was already swimming in cash. He bought his first car, a brand new black BMW, when he was just 15 or 16 years old.

Then, Faison saw Scarface for the first time in 1983, and suddenly he thought that maybe he had found his ticket out of poverty. Around the same time, he met a man named Lulu, another drug dealer, who gave him some work.

“I took it to the streets, and next thing you know, I’m in the game,” Faison said. “I’m in the game. Overnight success.”

How Azie Faison Became One Of Harlem’s Biggest Dealers

Azie Faison And Rich Porter

X (Formerly Twitter)Azie Faison and Rich Porter.

Azie Faison began dealing coke for himself around 1983 — and suddenly found himself with more wealth than he could have ever imagined.

“Cocaine sales made me the main breadwinner in the house,” Faison wrote. “I paid the rent, bought food and items for the apartment, and gave my mother rolls of money whenever she needed it. I figured that since I took care of the home, nobody could tell me shit.”

It seemed everyone in the family was willing to accept Faison’s money — everyone except his father, that is. Faison’s father actively refused to accept any money from him, and demanded that his wife do the same. One day, he came home to find his son with a “huge mound of coke, baggies, a scale, and hundreds of little vials.”

Faison’s father warned him that nothing but trouble would come of dealing with narcotics, but Faison shrugged him off. He would later say that this moment marked a turning point in his relationship with his father, and that his father essentially cut him off until years later when Faison got shot.

The Day He Was Almost Shot To Death

A New York Times article from August 22, 1987, detailed the events surrounding a shooting that would change Azie Faison’s outlook.

According to the article, around 2:30 a.m., police responded to a call reporting the sound of gunshots from a third-floor apartment near East 169th street in South Bronx. Upon arrival, the police found six people, all of whom had been shot in the head and body at close range. Three of them — 50-year-old Myra Enoch, 44-year-old Joane Blue, and 23-year-old Charles Parker — were already dead.

The other three were still alive. They were 34-year-old Michael Lamar, 13-year-old Lynette Bell, and, of course, 23-year-old Azie Faison. Bell had been stabbed in the stomach before being shot. There was also a good amount of drug paraphernalia in the apartment.

Azie Faison In 1986

X (Formerly Twitter)Azie Faison in 1986.

As it turned out, the apartment belonged to Faison’s aunt, and he was using it as one of his stash houses. Faison was shot nine times that night, after a group of robbers broke into the stash house. He was sent to the hospital, where he lay in critical condition.

Faison’s business took a major hit while he was recovering. By this point, he was working closely with Porter and Martinez to expand their drug empire, but with Faison temporarily out of commission, the relationship between the three began to be strained.

Then, on Jan. 3, 1990, Alpo Martinez killed Rich Porter and buried his body in the woods, allegedly because he believed Porter was cutting him out of deals. He would later express regret over having to kill someone he considered a brother, but also noted that it was just how he conducted business.

For Faison, though, Porter’s death was the final nail in the coffin.

After Rich Porter’s Death, Azie Faison Retires From The Drug Trade

Roughly a year after Porter’s death, Alpo Martinez was arrested on a litany of federal drug charges — charges for which he would ultimately work out a plea deal, which involved him selling out a number of his former friends. This would also lead Martinez to enter witness protection and change his name.

Faison, meanwhile, was trying to get out of the game. In 1989, he had started a hip-hop group called MobStyle, and eventually released an album of his own.

But Porter’s murder also made Faison realize how violent and screwed up his world had become. He couldn’t wrap his head around the violence, and he came to realize that the drugs he had been pushing were actively ruining people’s lives.

Azie Faison Interview

VladTV/YouTubeAzie Faison opened up about his life in an interview with DJ Vlad.

Shortly after, he gave up dealing and started putting in work to turn kids away from drugs. He began working on the script for Paid in Full, which came out in 2002 and told Faison’s story of growing up in the Harlem drug scene alongside Porter and Martinez.

He also worked with documentarian Troy Reed to produce the documentary Game Over, and writer Agyei Tyehimba to write the autobiographical version of his story in book form, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler. Both were released in 2007.

By that point, Faison was almost a completely different man, one who loathed the idea that he and his former friends would be considered “legends.”

“Too many people admire the drug lifestyle,” he wrote, “but that lifestyle and that world are based on falsehood and illusion. Despite popular music videos that glamorize street life, I can honestly say that almost everybody who was somebody in the drug world is dead, incarcerated, or working in collaboration with law enforcement.”

“I wish I never played this game.”

After learning about Azie Faison’s life, read the story of Frank Lucas, the Harlem kingpin who built a heroin empire. Or, travel back in time with these 36 colorized photos of early organized crime in America.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
Cite This Article
Harvey, Austin. "Azie Faison, The Former Harlem Hustler Behind Paid In Full.", November 21, 2023, Accessed April 18, 2024.