By Nass Metcalfe
As the Kidd Creole, an original member of the legendary hip hop collective, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he is a respected, influential early pioneer of the culture. Today, he is Nathaniel Glover, a man battling in two different courts—the court of law and of that of public opinion. “The Boat”—also known as the Vernon C Bain Correctional Center (an 800-bed maritime dormitory jail barge anchored off the southern shore of The Bronx, directly across from Rikers Island), currently houses Glover. He has been held, without trial, since early August 2017.
Glover, 61, is charged with murder in the second degree after a run-in with John Jolly, 55, a registered sex offender who confronted him just before midnight on a midtown Manhattan street as the rap legend headed to his nearby night job as a copy operator. Later that evening, Jolly died after being admitted to Bellevue hospital. Glover has been in custody ever since, accused of stabbing John Jolly twice in the chest.
The details of exactly what transpired between the two men are best suited for courtroom deliberation but a trial date has yet to be set. Meanwhile, Glover was shocked to find himself depicted in the press as a “homophobic rapper” who killed in a fit of rage. His account is starkly different. After three-and-a-half years of incarceration, and for the first time since that fateful night, he speaks about inaccurate reports, false charges, and character misconceptions. “What would be ideal for me would be for the total truth to come out,” says Glover over the phone from the correctional facility where he is being held.
He has never disputed that he had a knife that night and used it against Jolly, yet contends it is a clearcut case of self-defense—not murder and certainly not the result of some misguided hatred toward the LGBTQ community. “Now I’m fighting the image that they portrayed me as a person who’s intolerant of people with alternative lifestyles and that’s not true,” Glover asserts.
Glover’s account begins as he walks to work, listening to music in his ear pods. He passes John Jolly who is leaning against a wall, drinking a beer in a paper bag. When Jolly speaks to him, Glover stops and removes his ear pods to hear him. His initial impression is that Jolly is attempting some form of a pick-up. Glover attempts to walk away and Jolly follows, aggressively pressing him a second time at which point Glover smells alcohol on Jolly’s breath, reassesses his initial thought, and is now certain that Jolly’s intention is to harm him. Glover attempts to walk away again and Jolly pursues, trying to grab Glover who ultimately defends himself against an apparent assailant. “They basically portray me as the villain when I was the one just walking down the street minding my business,” states Glover. “I had no intention when I left my house that night to do anything harmful to anybody, for any reason.”
Glover’s depiction is supported by video surveillance footage from the scene. The moment that any violence occurred is out of camera frame yet the footage of the preceding moments appears identical to Glover’s description. What may be most telling, and bolsters Glover’s claims of innocence the strongest, are the moments in the footage after the two men part company. In addition to the matter of who was really the assailant and who was the victim, it also raises serious questions as to whether the injuries Jolly suffered in his encounter with Glover were the actual cause of his death.
While Glover (who kept walking) is not seen again; Jolly walks back into the frame and returns to drinking his beer, displaying no indication of suffering a deadly attack just seconds earlier. Presumably, any mortal stab wounds—as well as Jolly’s resulting condition from them—would be visible and yield a reaction from passersby. Yet numerous pedestrians pass Jolly without a second glance, including a street sweeper there the entire time without looking up. The footage continues to show Jolly then attempting to follow in Glover’s direction again, apparently change his mind before casually walking—without staggering—in the opposite direction, again passing numerous pedestrians who display no reaction.
Jolly’s altercation with Glover was apparently one of several confrontational episodes he had that evening. Documents indicate after his run-in with Glover, Jolly was found one block over on 44th street having to be restrained after displaying erratic and combative behavior toward paramedics called to assist him. Medical reports show when admitted to Bellevue hospital, Jolly had a semi-circular laceration to his head; an injury not there when he had his run-in with Glover, indicating some incident afterward. It was further reported that Jolly continued such volatile behavior once admitted to Bellevue and was administered a sedative, after which Jolly’s heart stopped and he expired.
Nathaniel Glover’s journey to fame began in 1976 when along with his brother Melvin, he became immersed in a fledgling art form taking root in their South Bronx neighborhood. Having been introduced to poetry as a craft by their sister Glander, the Glover brothers developed syncopated rhyme patterns, clever lyrics, and a polished stage presence under emcee names, Kidd Creole and Melle Mel. “When we did the things that we did in order to try to develop a culture, we did it genuinely for the love of it,” Glover recalls, “We didn’t try to emphasize any negative things like drugs, violence or disrespect to women. We modeled ourselves after the Motown artists.”
By 1978, the Glover brothers teamed up with fellow emcees Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, Guy “Rahiem” Williams, Eddie “Mr Ness” Morris and turntable whiz, DJ Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler to form the unit, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. Eventually signing to Sugar Hill Records and becoming architects of a then-burgeoning culture. It was Kidd Creole who first coined the phrase “Yes yes y’all” which has since been widely used by generations of rappers. The star of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five rose quickly and steadily, with tours around the globe and hit records in heavy radio rotation. Their 1982 social commentary smash hit, The Message, was honored with the coveted number 1 slot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time and was selected by The Library of Congress to be entered into the National Recording Registry. In 2007 the group received the supreme honor of becoming the first hip hop act ever to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This accolade has been their most prestigious tribute to date until recently.
In December of 2020, it was announced that Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five would be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the upcoming 63rd annual Grammy Awards. While the group is being honored as a collective, each member is due to receive their own individual personalized statue as a commemoration. Each member that is, except for Kidd Creole.
Due to Glover’s current legal situation, the Recording Academy decided to exclude Glover from receiving his own statue or any other individual acknowledgment. Glover remains pragmatic yet is clearly disappointed. “It’s unfortunate that they can’t understand the truth because I was never placed in a position where the truth could come out. They can only go by the news stories that they heard and those stories were distorted by the people who control them,” says Glover, “I understand them looking at my situation and saying that they can’t reward me for behavior that’s considered deplorable. If I was on the committee, I wouldn’t reward a person who was accused of behaving such a manner, myself.” He does however leave room for optimism. “I’m just hoping that at some point the truth will come out and that maybe the academy will reevaluate their decision and we will have some sort of resolution for this.”
At the time of his arrest in 2017, numerous media reports depicted the incident as the result of homophobic rage. Glover explains he gave a full statement to detectives, portions of which were later repeated by the Assistant District Attorney at a press conference. Glover disclosed his first impression of Jolly hitting on him—as well as how that perception quickly changed. His initial assessment of Jolly was emphasized as the conflict’s main motivation. In spite of such character assassination in the press, the legal case makes no mention of such bias as the motive. “I think they took that narrative in order to justify charging me with murder. Because if you look at the prosecutorial line that they’re trying to take right now, they’re not even saying anything [like that],” Glover explains. Indeed, there are no pending hate crime charges against him. “Now they’re taking the [position] that he was basically standing on the side of a building minding his own business, then I walked by, pulled a knife, and started assaulting him. They made me seem like I was the villain and the person who actually attacked me was the victim. How do they justify charging me with murder when this guy attacked me?”
Glover’s previous arrests were also widely reported, however, a closer examination tells a not-so-apparent story. He has three prior arrests for weapons possession charges. At 5 feet 6 inches tall and slim in the frame, he is not considered physically imposing. Regardless, since his youth, he has found himself repeatedly targeted, even being shot once as the victim of an attempted robbery, and felt the need to carry something to defend himself. John Jolly had a much lengthier criminal record consisting of 16 arrests, 3 of them being violent felonies, for which he served time. One conviction was for rape and kidnapping, leading to him being a registered sex offender.
Glover’s formidable legal battle has not been entire without support. He says rappers LL Cool J and Fat Joe put up the money to retain his first attorney who represented him for one calendar year, only meeting with him twice, and missed a total of eight court dates on his case. Since, he has made do with a succession of court-appointed lawyers equally, if not even more disappointing to Glover. Now on his third public defender, and lacking the funds for better representation, he is less than optimistic. There is still no trial date set. Glover says, “I’m suffering. I’m locked in a room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, day in, day out, not knowing what my fate is going to be because my case is dragging on. It’s very difficult for me right now.”
Glover’s ordeal further underscores a larger issue in hip hop where pioneering progenitors of the culture are far too often left without financial wherewithal that properly reflects the significance of their contributions—unlike their counterparts in other genres. Had the scales been more justly balanced, would a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee have needed to be walking to a night job, and therefore encounter a John Jolly in the first place? “I was basically trying to uphold my responsibilities. I had to make sure those responsibilities were met. That’s the reason why I was on 43rd street that night,” contends Glover.
Nathaniel Glover is now left to do his best to stay warm as he ponders these things on “The Boat” awaiting his day in court. “I regret that this incident happened. I never intended on hurting him. It would have been better for me if he would have just left me alone but he scared me and I was just trying to defend myself.”
The defense is something Nathaniel Glover has become all too familiar with. While dedicating himself to entertaining others, he has defended himself against attackers (such as Jolly) his entire life. He now defends his reputation as he fights for his freedom despite daunting odds and the highest stakes.